The 99th Illinois General Assembly adjourned Tuesday without passing a comprehensive state budget during its entire two-year term.
On the final day of their two-day lame-duck session, however, lawmakers did approve bills requiring schools to test water for lead, enacting a series of criminal justice reforms and extending a controversial business tax credit program, among other measures.
The House also approved a bill that would freeze the total amount of property tax revenue units of local government can collect without getting voter approval for an increase. But the vote was purely symbolic because there wasn’t enough time for the Senate to take it up before adjourning.
Still, the measure, sponsored by Rep. Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield, won praise from Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, who has made a property tax freeze one of the key pieces of his policy agenda.
Rauner said in a prepared statement that the House “took a step in the right direction and passed our permanent property tax freeze.”
“A property tax freeze where you control whether your property taxes go up or not will help change the system in Illinois, create jobs and keep families from fleeing the state,” Rauner said.
Whether that concept becomes a reality once the new General Assembly is sworn in Wednesday remains to be seen.
While there’s widespread acknowledgement that Illinois’ high property taxes are a burden on residents and businesses, opponents argue that freezing property taxes will harm school districts, which rely on the money for much of their funding.
Meanwhile, Rauner also expressed his support a measure that will require schools that were built before 2000 and house preschool through fifth-grade classes to test their drinking water for lead. The bill, which also would apply to day-care facilities, was approved in both chambers during the lame-duck session with bipartisan support.
The measure, sponsored by Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, was a response to lead being found in the drinking water of about two dozen Chicago schools in the wake of the crisis over lead-contaminated water in Flint, Michigan.
Long-term exposure to lead contamination in drinking water can lead to developmental problems in young children.
“Identifying the sources of lead is key to preventing lead in the bloodstream for kids,” Steans said.
Also passed in both chambers with bipartisan support was a measure from Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, D-Peoria, that would create local “trauma recovery centers” to provide services to crime victims. The measure also would give offenders time off of their sentences for participating in addiction and mental health treatment, job training and other programs while in prison and give judges more discretion in sentencing people to probation instead of prison.
The trauma centers will be a pilot program funded with federal money and administered by the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority.
Crediting both Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, for their support of efforts to reform the state’s criminal justice system, Gordon-Booth said the legislation is an indication of what can be done when the two parties work together on important issues.
“We are in a space in this time right now where if we have the ability to work together, like we have on this kind of legislation, we can move a lot of fantastic pieces of legislation,” she said.
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