Federal Issues:

On November 21st, Congress passed and the President signed into law a bill that cancels an impending cut of $7.6 billion in federal highway funds. If the previously scheduled rescission had gone into effect, Illinois would have been subject to a $452 million cut on July 1, 2020, across a number of important programs for road, bridge, bicycle / pedestrian, planning, and research projects.

Repealing the rescission protects the surface transportation program’s budget baseline, ensuring that decreased funding levels do not become the new norm. The timing of the repeal also provides certainty for IDOT and other recipients of federal highway funds as they plan for the coming construction season.

President Trump on November 21st also signed a funding stopgap measure just hours ahead of a shutdown deadline, extending funding levels from the last fiscal year until December 20.

The measure, which passed in the Senate earlier that day and in the House two days before, bought Congressional negotiators an additional four weeks to hammer out a deal on how to spend the agreed $1.37 trillion for the 2020 fiscal year, which began October 1.

Global markets were not cheered when The Wall Street Journal reported that Chinese negotiators were reluctant to commit to the size of purchases of U.S. farm goods in an interim agreement aimed at ending a tariff war. The dispute over farm purchases is one of several issues that have delayed completion of the limited trade accord announced by Mr. Trump and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He on Oct. 11. Both sides are also at odds over whether—and by how much—the U.S. would agree to lift tariffs on Chinese imports, Beijing’s core demand that is linked to its offers on other issues.

Don’t forget that the Department of Labor overtime rule for salary exemption rises to nearly $36,000 ($35,308 or $684 per week) in 2020 which is more fair than the original proposal of $47,476.

State Issues:

Senate President John Cullerton informed his Democratic caucus in a meeting right after the fall veto session ended that he will resign from the General Assembly sometime in January. Senate President Cullerton has met with our Chamber legislative group every year since being elected Senate President in 2009.

A bill consolidating downstate police and fire pension systems, SB 1300, which has been touted by supporters as a way to improve investment returns for hundreds of systems which would in turn help take pressure off of local property taxes that help pay for them was approved during the veto session. The bill was passed on a bipartisan basis and will help deal with a decades-old problem, but certainly does not come close to solving the unfunded pension issue. The bill combines 649 downstate police and fire pension plans into two — one for police officers and one for firefighters. It does not include the city of Chicago departments. Administration of benefits remains with local pension boards, but investments will be handled centrally for each fund. The belief is that combining financial resources into two much larger funds will allow them to leverage better investment returns than the hundreds of smaller funds can achieve, producing an additional $820 million to $2.5 billion over the next five years.

Lawmakers approved legislation that beefs up disclosure requirements for lobbyists. However, they did not prohibit lawmakers from also having the ability to lobby local units of government on issues. Legislators also created an ethics commission that will develop more comprehensive ethics reforms that lawmakers can take up during the spring session. Gov. Pritzker will appoint some members as will the four legislative leaders, Secretary of State Jesse White and Attorney General Kwame Raoul. The ethics bill passed requires lobbyists to disclose more information about who they are lobbying for and whether or not they hold elected or appointed office. It also requires White’s office to create a searchable database that provides information about lobbying activities, expenses and economic disclosure reports.

Language that was needed to clean up the original Recreation Cannabis legalization bill was added in the cannabis trailer bill to codify the workplace protections that were raised in legislative intent from the Spring session.  The changes codify several key issues for employers and protects from litigation actions taken by an employer for random drug testing, pre-employment testing and for failure of a drug test. It clears up the concern that an employer might have to prove impairment when an employee fails a drug test. An employer still will need its drug and alcohol policy to meet the standards of reasonableness and non-discrimination. These changes provide greater clarity and protections to employers that need and want safe employees, safe workplaces and a safe public.

Dispensaries and special smoke shops will be the only place people can publicly consume marijuana next year under this change as well. The law signed by Gov. Pritzker in June would have allowed municipalities to regulate pot use at cannabis businesses. It gave an exemption to the Smoke Free Illinois Act to those establishments and other businesses that receive local governments’ approval for on-site consumption. The new legislation says on-site consumption will be allowed only at dispensaries where marijuana is sold and at licensed smoke shops which — similar to cigar shops — will be granted an exemption to the smoke-free law.

SB 471 was advanced out of the House Labor Committee.  This legislation would require all employers to provide paid time off to all employees. For each 40 hours worked, an employee is to receive 1 hour of paid time off up to 40 hours per year. It limits how an employer can implement the law and significantly reduces flexibility for employers as to how they design their leave and paid time off benefits. The House sponsor met with the Illinois Chamber, other members of the business community, organized labor and women advocacy groups prior to the House Labor Committee hearing. There was an agreement to move the bill to the House floor and hold the legislation for an amendment that business and organized labor try to hammer out between now and when the General Assembly returns in 2020.

The Illinois Chamber with input from members of the Employment Law Council and other business groups drafted an amendment that focused on providing employers the flexibility to implement the requirement. Attached is a copy of the amendment. It does the following:

  1. Retains 40 hour paid sick time mandate, but provides greater flexibility for employer compliance;
  2. Employer definition the same as Wage Payment & Collection Act and limiting to Illinois employers of 25 or more and to Illinois employees;
  3. Preemption of similar local ordinances;
  4. Clarifies the calculation of how leave is earned, whether it can be carried-over and how an illness is certified;
  5. Clarifies that the new Act does not provide additional time off for VESSA or the Federal FMLA;
  6. Reduces statute of limitations from 3 to 2 years, remove punitive damages from remedies and provide recovery of legal fees for employers when faced with a frivolous or meritless claim determined in a civil action at circuit court;
  7. Repeal of the Employee Sick Leave Act; and
  8. Effective date of July 1, 2020.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s drive to revive plans for the proposed Chicago casino by restructuring the tax load on the gambling center came up short.  Lightfoot had floated a plan to lower some taxes on the facility and revamp others, particularly a large “reconciliation fee” that a developer would have to pay, a fee that a state consultant said was so high that it might make the casino unprofitable.

New legislation takes effect January 1, 2020 that requires all Illinois employers to provide sexual harassment prevention training to all employees on an annual basis, regardless of employment classification. There is no timeframe specified in which the training must be provided to a new hire, but just that training must be provided annually. The Illinois Department of Human Rights has announced that employers have until December 31, 2020 to comply with the training requirement.  In addition to the training requirement, employers are also required to have a written sexual harassment policy, available in English and Spanish.

HB 252  Amends the Illinois Human Rights Act. Provides that “employer” includes any person employing one (instead of 15) or more employees within Illinois during 20 or more calendar weeks within the calendar year

SB 1919 Creates a new workforce development program to addresses the skills gap in manufacturing, healthcare, and technology industries.

Remember that the minimum wage increases to $9 per hour on 1/1/2020 and then again to $10 on 7/1/2020.  On January 1st of each year through 2025 will see another $1 per year to ultimately bring the minimum wage to $15 per hour in 2025.

Finally, a recap on the transportation/infrastructure projects that will be coming to our region with the passed capital bill:

  • I80 from New Lenox to Minooka including the bridge over the Des Plaines River
  • I55 & Airport Rd. interchange
  • I55 & Rt. 126 Interchange
  • I55 between I80 and Rt. 52 including work on IL Rt. 59 interchange
  • Rt. 52 from Houbolt to River Rd.
  • Rt. 53 from Rt. 52 to Arsenal Rd.

Local Issues:

The Joliet City Council voted to give final approval for allowing recreational marijuana sales in the city after the Joliet Plan Commission gave its stamp of approval to the Joliet City Council recommending zoning regulations for marijuana businesses at a special meeting. At a past City Council meeting, members voted to authorize a sales tax for recreational marijuana, but that decision did not indicate if the city would permit it. Municipalities across the state have the authority to opt in or opt out of allowing recreational marijuana sales under the Cannabis Sales and Taxation Act, which goes into effect Jan. 1, 2020. After which, the sale of recreational marijuana will become legal. The final vote did prevent businesses from occupying space in proximity to certain downtown Joliet institutions such as city hall, the courthouse, the library and the museum. Additionally, distance requirements will be in place restricting establishments from setting up shop within 500 feet of pre-existing schools, nurseries and daycare facilities, as well as within 250 feet of residentially-zoned properties.

The City of Joliet’s existing water source will no longer be sustainable by 2030. The City Council is looking at a decision in January as far as an alternative water source. After looking into a dozen plus potential sources, the final decision looks to be amongst five possibilities:  

  • Illinois River
  • Kankakee River
  • Lake Michigan – DuPage Water Commission
  • Lake Michigan – Chicago Department of Water Management
  • Lake Michigan – New Indiana Intake

The Phase II study, which analyzed each alternative for cost, sustainability, water quality, governance, and risk, has been completed and the draft report is available on the website at RethinkWaterJoliet.org/ Reports. This information will be presented at the December 5, 2019 Public Forum at the Catigny VFW, located at 826 Horseshoe Dr. in Joliet from 5 to 7 PM.

The 2020 City budget is on the table and includes a number of tax increases. Proposed increases include:

  • Hotel tax increase of 3%
  • Gas tax increase of 3 cents
  • Increase in building permit fees from $6.25 per $1,000 of value to $10 per
  • New fee for contractor registration – $200 to register / $150 renewal
  • Increase in various fees for city parking
  • Garbage collection fee hike of 2.4%