Wishing you a merry Christmas. With Christmas Day just around the corner, Rep. Ryan Spain extends his well wishes for a very merry Christmas to all who celebrate!
Bipartisan nuclear power plant bill signed into law. The new Public Act 103-584 applies to small modular reactors which, by scale design, cannot generate enough heat to breach containment. Advocates say that small modular reactor technology are one class of devices that point the way towards a future for Illinois’ energy supply, particularly as Illinois’ coal-fired and natural-gas-powered generating plants move through their operating life cycles.
After extended discussion and debate, HB 2473 was approved in its final form by both houses of the General Assembly during the November 2023 veto session. The House vote on the final language was 98-8-0. Many of the concerns expressed by stakeholders were dealt with by new safety and security language that had been worked out through negotiations between key parties. For example, one facet of the new law will mandate that the Illinois Emergency Management Agency and Office of Homeland Security (IEMA) lead a safety and security study on how to implement small modular nuclear reactors in Illinois. The new Public Act was signed into law on Friday, December 8.
U.S. Supreme Court declines to grant injunction against Illinois’ gun ban. Under provisions of the new “Protect Illinois Communities Act” owners of certain banned firearms face a December 31, 2023, deadline from the Illinois State Police to register these firearms and items. The firearms and items subject to the registry include so-called “assault weapons,” “assault weapon ammunition,” “and assault weapon fittings,” which can only be legally possessed in Illinois on and after January 1, 2024, if the person in possession fits into certain legal categories. One of these categories is that of a firearms registrant who has registered these items with the State Police on or before December 31, 2023. As part of the registration process, the registrant must specifically identify himself or herself, verify his or her address, and affirm that the items being registered were legally in the registrant’s possession prior to January 10, 2023, the effective date of the controversial new law.
As of mid-December, many Illinois firearms owners had not registered items under the terms provided by the “Protect Illinois Communities Act” and related State Police rules. The underlying State law, even though it has been enacted, remains subject to serious federal court challenge. Many gun owners believe that the Act, and the registration requirement contained within the Act, are violations of their Second Amendment rights. Previous court verdicts on the level of the State courts, and the federal appellate court with jurisdiction over Illinois, have however found the law to be valid thus far. The legal question that centers on this Act and the Second Amendment is under continued appeal and could return to the U.S. Supreme Court.
As part of this appeal process, opponents of the Protect Illinois Communities Act have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to grant an injunction. If the high court had granted this request and issued the injunction, the injunction would have stayed enforcement of the law. Portions of the law that would have been stayed include the December 31, 2023, Illinois State Police weapons registration deadline. However, last week the Supreme Court declined to grant the requested injunction. Because the injunction was not issued, the Illinois State Police registration deadline remains in place.
Crisis pregnancy center law struck down by federal court. The State of Illinois statute originated by Attorney General Kwame Raoul, was enacted in spring 2023. Billed as an amendment to the Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Practices Act, the measure was described by its proponents as a way to push crisis pregnancy centers out of operational status in Illinois. Crisis pregnancy centers are often staffed by pro-life advocates who provide counseling and assistance to pregnant women to help them give birth to healthy babies.
Attorney General Raoul’s spring 2023 crisis pregnancy center bill was highly controversial. The sponsors of the bill described it as a way to stamp out what they called “deceptive practices” at Illinois crisis pregnancy centers. In opposition to these accusations, House members who voted against the bill described issues of freedom of speech and freedom of religion. These issues are raised by any statute that tries to bring down the police power of the State against people who offer counseling, including counseling in directions that the counselor believes are backed by universal moral law. Despite this debate, the Democrat-controlled House voted for SB 1909 on a largely partisan roll call of 72-40-1.
Following passage of the statute, plaintiffs sought injunctive relief, citing concerns like those raised by Republicans on the floor of the Illinois House. Enforcement of the flawed statute was halted one week after the bill was signed, in August 2023. A federal judge granted a preliminary injunction against the measure on federal First Amendment grounds. The injunctive action applied to state Attorney General Kwame Raoul, who had originated the controversial statute and continued to be a major supporter of it.
When the injunction was issued in August, State Representative Ryan Spain said, “I applaud Judge Johnston for issuing this injunction and affirming the right of crisis pregnancy centers to offer services to pregnant women and families. As the Judge said, ‘The bill is painfully and blatantly a violation of the First Amendment.’ I completely agree. This is a win for free speech and religious freedom against the use of government power to suppress organizations that seek to offer compassionate care to those in need.”
Now, after scrutinizing the text of the new statute and the likely outcome of the case, Attorney General Raoul’s office has agreed to a settlement. The terms of the settlement are points of agreement, between the State of Illinois and the pro-life plaintiffs, that back away from the controversial text. The Attorney General has agreed to permanently halt enforcement of the law. Even though the text of the law will remain on the books, nobody will have standing to enforce it, and crisis pregnancy crisis centers will be allowed to remain in active operation in Illinois.
Pro-life proponents of crisis pregnancy centers celebrated the legal agreement as a major victory. As a federal case, the lawsuit remains active until the judge of record, U.S. Judge Iain Johnston, affirms the terms of the agreement between the Attorney General and the plaintiffs. The agreement will require the Attorney General to pay attorneys’ fees to the plaintiffs. After scrutinizing the agreement, Judge Johnston will have standing to affirm the agreement. The judge may add language, in a court order of affirmation, to buttress the fact that the Illinois crisis pregnancy center “deceptive practices” statute contains unconstitutional language, and the statute has been permanently stricken.
Illinois minimum wage set to increase on January 1, 2024. In 2023, the minimum wage for non-tipped Illinois workers has been $13.00/hour. On New Year’s Day, this number will automatically increase to $14.00/hour. The minimum wage for tipped employees, who are overwhelmingly concentrated in the service industries and are mostly in food service, will go up from $7.80/hour to $8.40/hour.
These increases are mandated by a schedule enacted within the Illinois Minimum Wage Law. The goal of the Minimum Wage Law schedule, when it was enacted in 2019, was to move Illinois minimum wages, through a series of stairsteps, up to what advocates called a “living wage.” In 2019, a “living wage” was classified as $15/hour, and Illinois minimum wages are scheduled to make one more jump to reach this number. Under Section 4 of this Law, the final increase in the Illinois minimum wage will go into effect on January 1, 2025.
CGFA reports on Downstate police and firefighters pension funds. Once they are certified and fully hired, our first responders have been promised the right to enjoy retirement benefits, including pensions. The State of Illinois knows from the experiences posted by other public-sector pension funds that pledges of this type are often challenging to keep. The State does not control the pension funds that contain money set aside for the Downstate peace officers and firefighters who work, or have worked, outside Chicago. However, with the ongoing consent of organizations that represent these police officers and firefighters, the General Assembly has monitored these funds since 2008. As part of this monitoring, the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (CGFA) publishes an annual report on the financial conditions of these pension funds.
Any monitoring of a pension fund is going to zero in on what level of benefits has been promised to vested beneficiaries that is not represented by cash actually deposited in the fund, plus anticipated earnings as the cash is invested or lent out. The difference between the promise and the cash-plus-earnings is called the “unfunded liability” of the fund. CGFA found that the Downstate first responder pension funds, as an aggregate group, were funded at a level that is between 59% and 60% of full funding during the most recent reporting period. For the Downstate firefighter funds, this number was 59.7%, and for the Downstate police funds, this number was 59.1%.
This number, of less than sixty cents on the dollar, is sub-optimal. It means that the suburban, exurban, and Downstate municipalities that are responsible for the upkeep of these pension funds are going to have to further increase their annual deposits into these funds. They are required, by law, to deposit enough moneys into these funds to move the funds towards full funding and enable fulfillment of the pension promises made to first responders. On the other hand, these non-Chicago police and fire pension funds are funded at a level that, although inadequate, is well above the dire conditions posted by the Chicago police and firefighter pension funds. As of the most recent reporting period, the Chicago police pension fund is funded at 22.8% of its projected liabilities and the Chicago firefighter pension fund has posted a 20.8% funded level. These numbers, which come from the Chicago-based Civic Federation, indicate that these two pension funds are barely funded at all in the sense of having cash inside them. The city of Chicago now owes an actuarially estimated $35.4 billion in unfunded liabilities to all of its employees collectively (including, but not limited to, Chicago police officers and firefighters), a debt of more than $13,000 for each man, woman, and child now living in Chicago.
Illinois law grants status to Honor and Remember Flags. The Honor and Remember Flag grants permanent standing to the family of an American who fell in combat. During World War I and again in World War II, these families were granted the right to display a Gold Star in their windows as a sign that the family had offered the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
Most of the 1.3 million Americans who have fallen in battle, or otherwise fallen while in service, made this sacrifice in connection with immediate family members who have themselves passed on. The “Honor and Remember” Flag includes the gold star, but also adds an eternal flame to signal the passing of the torch of remembrance to new generations.
A bipartisan bill enacted in 2023, SB 1072, designates the Honor and Remember Flag as the symbol of the State’s concern for and commitment to honoring and remembering the lives of all members of the United States armed forces who have lost their lives while serving, or as a result of service, and to also honor their families. As enacted into law, the bill provides for the public display of the Honor and Remember Flag in numerous locations on Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, the Fourth of July, the National POW/MIA Recognition Day, Gold Star Mother’s Day, Veterans Day, and whenever there is a state military casualty. The Honor and Remember flag law will go into effect with other new State laws on January 1, 2024.