The Morrison Memo: January 25, 2016

Morrison Files Bill to Protect Privacy for All Students
On January 20, I filed important legislation that seeks to clarify the Illinois School Code with regard to bathroom and locker room usage for students. When Palatine-based Township High School District 211 announced late last year that a male student who identified as female would be provided limited access to girls’ locker room facilities, my office was inundated with calls and emails from parents who were concerned about potential violations of their children’s rights to privacy at school.

The Board of Education for District 211 made the decision after the U.S. Department of Education, in an extreme overreach of their authority, threatened to withhold the District’s federal funding last year if they did not adhere to the student’s request. HB4474 would provide clarity through fair and objective legislation, so that school districts can set policy that aligns with federal Title IX laws. The bill states that students will use the bathrooms and locker rooms at school that match the sex identified at birth, or schools may provide a single occupancy unisex restroom or changing area for those individuals who need an accommodation to that policy.

Through Title IX we already have existing case law that allows for the separation of bathrooms and locker rooms based on biological sex. As schools have become more and more utilized for school and non-school sports, recreation and arts programs, families deserve to know there is a statewide and objective standard in place for bathroom and locker room usage. HB4474 would provide privacy for transgender and all other students.

Republican Leaders Seek Independent Authority and Bankruptcy Provision for Chicago Public Schools
On Wednesday, January 20, House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno, and State Representative Ron Sandack (R-Downers Grove) held a press conference in Chicago to unveil a legislative package that offers a “lifeline” for the City of Chicago and the financially-strapped Chicago Public School System (CPS).

HB 4498 (Durkin) would allow for a state-created Independent Authority to assume control over CPS. The proposal is consistent with current state law governing all other school districts in Illinois (HB5537/PA 98-1155). In the face of continued financial mismanagement and near-collapse, HB 4499 and HB 4500 were also filed. HB 4499 (Sandack) would allow CPS to undergo a neutral evaluation to determine whether a bankruptcy filing is an essential last resort, and HB 4500 (Sandack) would allow local public entities and school systems throughout the State to undergo a neutral evaluation to determine whether a bankruptcy filing is an essential last resort.

Two dozen other states have enabled struggling municipalities to file for bankruptcy, and the concept is not new in the Illinois General Assembly. As recently as 2012, Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Westchester) and Rep. John Bradley (D-Marion) introduced bills (Senate Bill 3679, House Bill 5609) to allow for municipal bankruptcy in Illinois.

The legislation introduced last Wednesday specifically accomplishes the following:
  • Recognizes CPS’ financial difficulties and amends current state law, established by HB5537/PA 98-1155, to include CPS in the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) District Intervention law
  • Specifies the process for the ISBE to establish an Independent Authority (IA) to run the school district and the removal of the current CPS Board of Education
  • Specifies the State Superintendent of Schools must appoint 5-7 members to the Authority, who shall be selected based on expertise and knowledge in education policy and governance including local community members, in cooperation with local officials
  • Specifies that Authority members must not be CPS employees or have a financial interest
  • Specifies that Authority members will serve without compensation
  • Grants the Authority the power to serve as the School Board, with the same powers and duties
  • Specifies the Authority cannot unilaterally cancel or modify existing collective bargaining agreements
  • Specifies that the Authority would serve until the State Board of Education determines CPS is no longer in financial difficulty 
  • Provides the phase-in process for an elected CPS Board of Education and prohibits union contributions to those candidates
  • Establishes that the state is not liable for the school districts’ debt
It is very important that Illinoisans understand that this is not a bail-out. This is a thoughtful response to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s request for $500 million in Illinois taxpayer funds to help support ongoing financial mismanagement at CPS. Through the legislative package introduced last week, taxpayers statewide would not be held responsible for historically wrong decisions made by the politicians who govern CPS and the City of Chicago.

Governor and Republican Leaders Call for Meaningful Illinois Pension Reform
The proposal, issued by Governor Bruce Rauner, House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, and Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno on Thursday, calls for the State to offer a choice to pension-eligible State and education-related employees.

Under this proposal, the State would narrowly define wages in the Illinois Labor Relations Act to exclude any future salary increases as pensionable. Eligible individuals would be then able to examine their personal financial circumstances and the circumstances of their families, to irrevocably decide whether they would like to keep a 3% compounded cost-of-living adjustment and forfeit future wage increases as part of their pension calculation, or move to a lower cost-of-living adjustment (lesser of 3% simple or ½ CPI) and use all future wage increases for purposes of a pension calculation.

The most recent actuarial valuation of a similar proposal, SB 2404 (Cullerton/Hoffman) in the 98th General Assembly, indicated that if this choice was offered, the State could save as much as $1 billion per year in ongoing, actuarially-required pension payments.

Illinois’ pension crisis continues to worsen. Its unfunded pension liability has ballooned to $113 billion, giving Illinois a lowest in the nation 41% funded ratio. In the next fiscal year, the State’s required pension contribution will rise to $7.8 billion, taking money away from schools and social services. This pension crisis is unsustainable and is perhaps the biggest challenge facing efforts to pass a balanced budget.

Governor to Present State of the State Address on Wednesday
Lawmakers from the House and Senate will meet on Wednesday, January 27 in joint session to hear Governor Bruce Rauner’s annual State of the State address. The day also marks the first time in 2016 when the House of Representatives will convene. An original General Assembly schedule called for the House to be in session last week for two days, but Speaker Mike Madigan cancelled those days, saying he felt lawmakers did not have an adequate workload to warrant them being in Springfield. I was shocked and disappointed by the Speaker’s lack of commitment to bringing us together, especially since we are now approaching our eighth month without a budget. You can watch the address by going to www.ilga.gov and navigating to House Audio and Video and clicking on the link for live session.

Invitation to Join a Constituent Road Trip to Springfield on Feb. 17
On February 17th, Governor Rauner will deliver his annual budget address. This will be a very interesting day at the Capitol because Illinois (up to this point) still does not have a budget for the current fiscal year, and the state is spending several more billion dollars than it is currently taking in. There will be calls for a tax increase and/or major budget cuts.

Many of my constituents have always wondered about taking a trip to Springfield during one of these exciting spring session days, and with non-state funds we are going to organize such a trip. The plan is to leave Palatine around 6:30 am and return around 7:30 pm. In addition to these events, if the schedule permits, I will also give a tour of the Capitol and we will have Q&A time over a late lunch. An agenda of the day will be provided closer to the date.

If you are interested, please call my office in Palatine, as there are limited spots available. Transportation, breakfast, and lunch will be provided.