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Legislative update: State lawmakers consider constitutional amendment to contain pensions

April 30, 2012
Lori Clark

Lori Clark

In Springfield …

The majority of activity in both the Illinois Senate and Illinois House of Representatives last week and again this week will involve trying to move substantive bills through committees

The deadline to get bills out of committee is Friday, May 4.

House Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 49 (HJRCA 49), sponsored by Speaker Michael Madigan, was passed out of the House unanimously on April 18, and it was passed out of Senate Executive Committee last week, with Senate President John Cullerton as the sponsor.

It must be passed out of the Senate by Friday to appear on the ballot for the November 2012 elections.

HJRCA 49 provides that no bill can increase pension benefits under any pension or retirement system of the state, including the State Universities Retirement System, any unit of local government or school district, or any agency or instrumentality thereof, without a concurrence vote of three-fifths vote of each chamber of the General Assembly.

If Gov. Pat Quinn vetoes the bill, the reconsideration shall require a record vote of two-thirds from each chamber. Although there have been numerous concerns voiced about this HJRCA, it is likely to pass the Senate this week and appear on the ballot in November.

When Quinn announced his pension plan over a week ago, he proposed that future retiree health care would be linked to an employee’s participation in his revised pension system (such as an additional employee pension contribution of 3 percent, raising the retirement age to 67, etc.).

Last Thursday, SB 1313 House Amendment 6 was filed, with Madigan picking up sponsorship of the bill.

This amendment would do away with a state statute that has guaranteed government subsidies for state and university retiree health insurance premium. The amendment also deletes provisions which require the state to pick up state and university retiree health insurance premiums at the rate of 5 percent per year of government service. Retirees with 20 years of service currently pay no premiums.

It also would allow the director of the Department of Central Management Services to decide every year how much the state contribution will be to the health insurance program. Any new developments on this bill will be posted to the NIU State Pension & Budget Update website.

SB 2949, introduced by Sen. Ira Silverstein, amends the University Religious Observances Act to “provide that any student in an institution of higher learning, other than a religious or denominational institution of higher learning, who is unable, because of his or her religious beliefs, to attend classes or to participate in any examination, study, or work requirement on a particular day shall be excused from any such examination, study, or work requirement and shall be provided with an opportunity to make up the examination, study, or work requirement that he or she may have missed because of such absence on a particular day, provided that the make-up examination, study, or work does not create an unreasonable burden upon the institution.”

An amendment was added in the House Higher Education Committee to require that a student give adequate notice to faculty in advance of a religious observance. This bill and amendment were passed out of committee last week.

The House Higher Education Appropriations Committee heard April 26 the last of the testimony from the entities under its purview when the Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC) testified.

During testimony, the ISAC executive director said that the agency is considering opening up the College Illinois! prepaid tuition program in the short-term, but they will be undertaking an extensive review of all ISAC-administered programs and services over the coming months to develop a holistic solution to the issues that have plagued ISAC in the past.

After involving stakeholders, ISAC intends to come back to the General Assembly in the fall or spring with its recommendations for improvements, including legislative changes.

The House Higher Education Appropriations Committee now will begin examining the individual budgets of public universities, community colleges, the Illinois Board of Higher Education, the Illinois Community College Board and ISAC as its members decide how to cut the $129 million from the FY2012 base appropriations to meet the appropriations cap provided for in House Joint Resolution 69.

Again, I encourage you to check the NIU State Pension & Budget Update website for updates.

In Washington, D.C. …

Photo of hammer about to break nervous piggy bankOn April 27, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 4628, a measure that would maintain the current 3.4 percent interest rate on subsidized Federal Stafford Loans that are currently scheduled to double July 1.

The U.S. Senate is expected to vote Tuesday, May 8, on a Democratic alternative, S. 2343, that would also maintain the interest rate at 3.4 percent for one year.

The difference between these bills boils down to how to pay for the $6 billion that it is anticipated that this one-year extension of the lower interest rates will cost. The Senate Democrat version would alter the tax structure on S-Corporation filers, and the House Republican version includes funds from the Department of Health and Human Services discretionary health care account.

Also on April 27, President Obama signed an Executive Order aimed at curbing fraud and abuse in military and veterans’ education programs.

Obama’s Executive Order will help ensure that all of America’s service members, veterans, spouses and other family members have the information they need to make informed educational decisions and that they are protected from aggressive and deceptive targeting by educational institutions.

The House and Senate appropriations committees are beginning to move FY2013 funding bills. The House committee has passed Commerce; Justice; Science; and Energy and Water. The Senate committee has passed Agriculture; Commerce; Justice; Science; Energy and Water; Transportation; and HUD.

Neither chamber has scheduled time for floor debate.

The Voices section of NIU Today features opinions and perspectives from across campus. Lori Clark is director of State and Federal Relations for NIU.