November legislative session: Progress and politics

Both houses of the Illinois General Assembly met in Springfield Nov. 10, a day that turned out to be full of unexpected fireworks and tension.

The stage was set the day before, with the announcement of bipartisan agreements on three significant subjects.

· Child-care assistance program: Gov. Rauner and a bipartisan group of legislators announced an agreement that would significantly expand eligibility for the state’s child-care program, which had been in limbo pending movement on the state budget. As a result of the agreement, eligibility was raised from 50 percent of the federal poverty level to 162 percent – or about $32,500 for a family of three.

· Unemployment insurance: Gov. Bruce Rauner, legislators from both sides of the aisle, business groups, and labor organizations announced an agreement to reform and improve Illinois’ unemployment insurance system. The agreement introduces new standards for eligibility, including a denial of benefits in the case of consumption of alcohol or drugs during work hours; damage caused through grossly negligible conduct; falsification of information during application; and several other standards.

· Determination of Need for seniors: Following the earlier agreements, Gov. Rauner announced the withdrawal of emergency changes to the state’s Determination of Need score, which determines which senior citizens are eligible for specific state-provided assistance.

Senate Republicans say the agreements were a demonstration of what can be accomplished through bipartisan cooperation and meaningful dialogue.

However, that spirit of bipartisanship proved to be short-lived.

On Nov. 10, Democrats in the House of Representatives attempted a series of runarounds to the bipartisan agreements. The chamber’s leaders held roll-call votes on Senate Bill 570, a bill to increase the eligibility in the child care program to 185% and prevent the Governor’s ability to make rule changes in the future; and a veto override attempt on Gov. Rauner’s changes to House Bill 2482, affecting the Determination of Need score. 

Both attempts failed – by a single vote – to gain the supermajority needed to pass.

House Democrats also pulled a procedural maneuver on another important piece of legislation: House Bill 4305. That bill would have designated funding to pay lottery winners and release motor fuel tax funding to local municipalities and 911 centers. The maneuver means despite the legislation passing overwhelmingly in the House, the legislation cannot be placed on the fast- track to the Senate without the House’s consent.

Republicans in the House called those actions “bad-faith” and needlessly antagonistic after bipartisan agreements had been reached and a clear step in the opposite direction of a wider agreement on the state budget.

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