News out of the Illinois Capitol is bleak these days. The Democratic leadership in control of the state legislature appears to have walked away from the negotiating table with Republican Governor Bruce Rauner. The House, under Speaker Michael Madigan, passed a budget with a deficit of almost $4 billion and would like to raise taxes to cover the hole. Governor Bruce Rauner has removed several items from his reform agenda but says he will not accept any tax increase without at least some structural reform and will not sign the imbalanced budget the Democrats have proposed.
Prospects of a government shutdown loom large and Democrats are still unwilling to consider any of Rauner’s proposals to revive the state’s economy. This has led the Governor to declare this year’s Spring session “stunningly disappointing.”
Still, there are at least a few bright spots in Illinois politics worth remembering if for no other reason than to fight off depression at the dysfunction of Illinois government. Here are some of the best bills that the General Assembly passed this Spring which are awaiting the Governor’s approval:
- Marijuana Decriminalization: House Bill 218 would reduce penalties for small amounts of marijuana possession by making it a civil offense punishable by no more than a $125 fine. The bill would also improve the state’s policy on marijuana DUI’s to ensure that drivers are not punished unless they were actually impaired while driving, since marijuana stays detectable in a person’s system much longer than alcohol. The Department of Corrections has estimated the law will save the state $30 million over ten years and help relieve pressure on the State’s overcrowded prisons. The bill would also allow law enforcement to focus more on stopping violent crime, rather than locking up non-violent offenders who pose no threat to society.
- School Discipline Reform: Senate Bill 100 would severely limit the ability of schools to use “zero tolerance policies” unless required by law. It would also discourage the use of suspensions and expulsions prior to exhausting other disciplinary options unless the student posed a real threat to either safety or operations of the school. Unnecessary suspensions and expulsions do much more harm than good, decreasing the chances that a student will finish school and become a productive member of society. This bill will prevent excessive punishments for honest mistakes and help kids stay in school to complete their education.
- Body Cameras for Police: SB 1304 would add a $5 fee to traffic tickets to pay for body cameras for police officers. The body camera movement rose in response to a number of nationally controversial fatalities involving police officers. The bill would also ban the use of choke holds by police and would require independent investigations of all cases in which an officer uses lethal force. Unfortunately, the bill does not require police departments to use body cameras, but it does lay out clear rules for those who choose to use them including when they must be on and off. Body cameras are a great way to protect police officers from false claims, save taxpayer money on lawsuits, and protect citizens from police abuse of power.
- Crowdfunding for Entrepreneurs: HB 3429 would enable crowdfunding for start-up companies in Illinois. Specifically, the bill creates an exemption to the Jobs Act since the SEC has failed to implement its own rules for crowd funding. The bill would allow “non-accredited investors” (which basically means anyone other than rich people) to invest up to $5,000 in small to medium sized companies so long as the business operates within Illinois. The bill is a win-win for both entrepreneurs and average investors since it will make it easier for start-ups to raise capital and open up a whole new world of investment for average citizens. No other measure passed through the General Assembly has as much potential to jump start the Illinois economy as this one.
- Conversion Therapy Ban: HB 217 bans the use of “conversion therapy” on minors. The controversial practice attempts to change the sexual orientation of gay youth and is generally recognized as both ineffective and psychologically harmful.
There are also a number of good ideas which still have a chance to be sent to the governor including legislation to allow “happy hour” in bars, a move to deregulate the craft beer industry, and a measure that would give the terminally ill access to potentially life-saving experimental medication.
Bruce Rauner may be right that the Spring session was a disappointment. Speaker Madigan and Senate President Cullerton have failed to pass any of Rauner’s reform agenda, including term limits, fair political map drawing, property tax relief, workers compensation reform, and lawsuit reform. But at least the lawmakers managed to make some good laws. Bruce Rauner ought to sign every one of these bills.