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Legislative Update: Congress takes a break

August 6, 2012
Lori Clark

Lori Clark

In Washington, D.C. …

Congress begins a five-week Summer Recess.

Prior to adjourning, Congressional leaders and the White House agreed to a bi-partisan deal that will keep the government funded for six months, through March 31, 2013, at a level consistent with the 2013 level ($1.047 trillion) set forth in the Budget Control Act passed last summer. Congress will not vote on the actual resolution until September.

The agreement provides that the continuing resolution will not include any controversial or ideological riders, a tactic that has been used in the past to kill various appropriations bills.

According to a recent Federal Policy Update issued by the Division of Government Relations and Policy Analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, the U.S. Department of Education has made two decisions regarding recent court decisions on regulations issued by the Department.

Recently, a federal court ruled that the Administration did not properly follow the law in promulgating a regulation with respect to distance education. The Department has decided not to pursue review of this decision.

However, several weeks ago, a federal court ruled that the Education Department acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner in determining a threshold for gainful employment programs. One consequence of this ruling was the removal of an institutional reporting burden around areas like average loan debt, default rates and placement data.

The Department has decided to appeal this reporting decision. We will provide you with updates as they become available.

In Springfield …

Gov. Pat Quinn has called a special session of the Illinois General Assembly on Friday, Aug. 17, “for the purpose of considering any legislation, new or pending, which addresses pension reform.”

The House already was scheduled to convene that day to vote on the expulsion of Representative Derrick Smith who is under federal indictment for alleged bribe-taking.

Even before the special session was called, Speaker Madigan reportedly had agreed to call HB 1447 for a vote on Aug. 17.

HB 1447 was amended and passed out of the Senate late on May 31, but it was not taken back up in the House before the Spring Session adjourned. The legislation involves pension reform for the State Employee and General Assembly Retirement Systems; the State University Retirement System is not included in this bill.

Interior of the Illinois State Capitol Building in Springfield

Interior of the Illinois State Capitol Building in Springfield

It will take a super-majority vote to pass out of the House. There has been considerable skepticism about the ability of the General Assembly to pass comprehensive pension reform in one day.

While the Governor is pressuring the General Assembly with the threat of massive future budget cuts to school districts, there does not appear to be any legislative agreement on the issue of shifting the pension costs to downstate school and community college districts and public universities.

Although nothing is impossible, it is far more likely that this issue will be pushed back until after the General Election in November, either during the Fall Veto Session in late November/early December 2012 or the “lame duck” session in early January 2013.

On Aug. 6, 2012, Governor Quinn signed HB 4757 that amends the Fire Sprinkler Dormitory Act to provide an exception of the requirement of all post-secondary educational institutions have fire sprinkler systems by 2013 if a post-secondary institution files a compliance plan with the Office of the Fire Marshal, approved by the Office, by Jan. 1, 2013.

NIU is compliant with the requirements of the Fire Sprinkler Dormitory Act.

On July 31, 2012, the Governor issued an Amendatory Veto of SB 681 that would ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines in Illinois.

SB 681, as passed by the General Assembly, permits an Illinois resident to purchase ammunition from a person within or outside Illinois if shipment is by U.S. mail or by a private express carrier authorized by federal law to ship ammunition.

This amendatory veto has created considerable controversy, and no one knows whether the General Assembly will move to override the Governor’s amendatory veto. Many believe that the Governor has exceeded his authority in issuing the amendatory veto and changing the substance of the original legislation, while others believe that this will renew the debate over concealed carry in Illinois. We will monitor this closely.

Governor Quinn signed HB 4687 (now Public Act 97-0827) on July 19, 2012, to further improve transparency in Illinois government.

This law expands the Open Meetings Act to require public bodies conducting a public meeting to ensure that a copy of the meeting notice and agenda is available to the public for the entire 48 hours preceding the meeting.

Posting the notice on the Internet is acceptable notice. In addition, the law also ensures that meeting agendas provide the public with adequate information about the meeting’s actions. The law takes effect Jan. 1, 2013.

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