SPRINGFIELD - The Illinois General Assembly returned to Springfield on April 13 after a two-week break to address district issues. Lawmakers resumed legislative work, including what State Sen. Pamela Althoff (R-McHenry) said was a contentious vote on the pressing issue of redistricting reform.

The Senate advanced the highly debated Senate Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment (SJRCA) 121 to change the way legislative districts are drawn in the state. The measure was opposed by Senate Republican lawmakers who said that the redistricting amendment passed by the Democrat supermajority does nothing to end the practice of legislators drawing their own districts and further entrenches the power of incumbents.

SJRCA 121, proposed by Democrats, would continue to allow legislators to draw their own map, which can be passed by a simple majority. If a redistricting plan fails to be approved by the Legislature and is signed into law by the Governor, then legislators have another opportunity to draw their own districts with the House and Senate each getting the opportunity to draw its own map. If lawmakers still could not agree on how to gerrymander the state, a “Special Master” would be appointed to draw the map. If the Special Master’s map is rejected by a court, legislators would then have yet another opportunity to draw their own districts.

Sen. Althoff pointed out that the plan was designed to benefit incumbents every step of the way, noting that under SJRCA 121 those drawing the map could consider the residence of incumbents and examine the voting history of potential constituents. SJRCA 121 now proceeds to the Illinois House for consideration.

Also during the week, bipartisan pension reform legislation, Senate Bill 1946 was signed into law. The pension reforms will not affect existing public employees, but beginning next year, new employees will be subject to a higher retirement age, limits on cost-of-living adjustments when they retire and an imposed ceiling on the maximum earnings that can be counted toward their pensions. Under the new measure, no additional benefits will accrue for salaries above the current Social Security maximum level of $106,800 (inflation adjusted).

This bill was pushed through the General Assembly in a single day when threats of a major credit downgrade motivated majority Democrats and Gov. Pat Quinn to action. Under Quinn, the budget deficit has increased to at least $13 billion with close to $9 billion in unpaid bills continuing to add up. His mismanagement and failure to advance a solution to the state’s budget problems have contributed to the worst credit rating in Illinois history.

In other news, legislation was approved that will enable the governor to grant up to $50 million in job creation tax credits to small-business owners who hire new workers. Senate Bill 1578 (PA 96-0888) allows employers a credit against their liability for employee withholding, per employee.

Businesses employing fewer than 50 workers would receive a $2,500 tax credit for each new employee hired between July 1, 2010, and June 30, 2011. Workers must stay in the job for at least one year and earn a minimum of $25,000. Proponents say that the measure could stimulate up to 20,000 new jobs.

Finally, the Senate Elections Committee approved House Bill 5820, which would require the Governor and Lt. Governor to run together as a team in the Primary Election. Though critics say that the  measure  prevents voters from choosing the one person they believe would be the best candidate for either one of the offices, proponents say that marrying the positions would require voters to choose a team of candidates they most believe in—and will promote additional examination of Lt. Governor candidates.

The measure was introduced in response to the controversy surrounding the 2010 Democrat primary election victory of Scott Lee Cohen. Cohen’s personal history was subjected to intense scrutiny and criticism following his primary win, and he ultimately dropped out of the race. However, the incident prompted some lawmakers to pursue legislation that seeks to ensure Lt. Governor candidates are more adequately vetted prior to an election. Some people have proposed eliminating the position altogether.


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