A controversial graduated income tax plan was advanced during the week, with Democrat lawmakers and state officials claiming it is time to “let the people vote,” even though they will not allow similar votes on other issues such as term limits, pension reform and fair maps.
In other action, the Senate spent long hours on the floor passing bills to the House that range from measures to help secure classrooms in the event of an armed intruder, address the teacher shortage, and work to prevent deadly ethylene oxide leaks.
Graduated income tax offers no protections for middle-income families
On April 10, Democrat members on the Senate Executive Committee advanced a proposed graduated income tax that provides no protections for middle-income families and would give those lawmakers the ability to raise taxes in the future.
Senate Joint Constitutional Amendment (SJRCA) 1 would place a referendum on the 2020 General Election ballot asking voters if they support moving Illinois from a flat tax to a graduated tax structure.
Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady, who like his Senate Republican colleagues opposes a graduated income tax, noted that the crafters of Illinois’ current constitution chose a flat tax, which the people of Illinois embraced, because the flat tax provides middle-income families better protections from politicians.
And while the measure advancing in the Senate deals with putting the question on the ballot, there is no measure showing what future tax rates would be if it’s adopted.
In March, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced his proposed rates; however, Pritzker’s rates are yet to be introduced in legislative form. When testifying before the Senate Executive Committee, Deputy Gov. Dan Hynes was unable to give middle-income taxpayers any assurance that these rates would remain level in coming years.
In hopes of providing some protections for Illinois families, Senate Republican lawmakers have offered SJRCA 12 to require a two-thirds super-majority vote in both chambers of the General Assembly to increase any tax or fee. Currently, legislators only need a simple majority to pass a tax increase or to implement a new tax.
Senate Republicans are also calling on the Administration to let the people have their voices heard on other important issues, such as term limits, pension reform and fair maps.
Improving school safety
The Senate passed legislation during the week aimed at letting Illinois schools utilize an affordable and easy-to-use option for locking classrooms to protect students in case of an intruder or other threat to students’ safety.
Senate Bill 1371 allows school districts to use door locking mechanisms that attach to the door and are lockable and unlockable from the inside of the classroom without a key. The mechanisms must be unlockable from the outside by a key or tool, and police and fire departments would be informed of the locations of the locks.
The legislation offers a way for teachers and students to lock their classroom securely from the inside in the event of an emergency.
Addressing teacher shortage
Legislation aimed at helping to relieve the current teacher shortage also passed out of the Senate during the week.
Senate Bill 1809 aims to help students enter the teaching field, by expanding the eligibility of MAP grant recipients to include students who have already received bachelor degrees or have 135 credit hours, but are seeking to earn their teaching certificate through an educator preparation program.
The bill also requires that the recipients must teach in Illinois for three out of the next five years, and states that they can only be eligible to receive the grant for one academic year.
Targeting Sterigenics crisis
Members of the Senate unanimously passed legislation during the week that would protect Illinois residents, like those Willowbrook residents impacted by Sterigenics, from the hidden dangers of ethylene oxide.
Senate Bill 1854 prohibits any facilities from having any fugitive emissions of ethylene oxide six months after it takes effect. The IEPA will be required to study ethylene oxide levels throughout the state to set a baseline for the levels.
In addition, it would subject facilities to stack testing, which tests emissions at all release points at least once per year. The facilities would also be subject to ambient air testing, at random, four times per year. Any facility that emits ethylene oxide at a level higher than standards set in the federal Clean Air Act or by the IEPA would be required to immediately cease operations until sufficient changes are made to reduce the emissions below both federal and state standards.
Senate Bill 1852 also cleared the Senate during the week. The legislation states that the case of an ethylene oxide leak, facilities are required to notify local government officials and affected property owners within 2,500 feet of the leak.