Senate Week in Review: October 31 – November 4, 2022

SPRINGFIELD – Fifty-eight lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the SAFE-T Act were officially combined into one comprehensive suit during the week, while yet another report ranks Illinois toward the bottom of the list of tax-friendly states.  

In other news, former Speaker of the House Mike Madigan pleaded “not guilty” in Chicago federal court to new charges that he accepted bribes in exchange for the passage of controversial legislation, and the former Chairman of the Illinois Tollway is in hot water as two former high-ranking executives filed a lawsuit claiming they were wrongfully terminated after accusing their boss of cronyism.  

And agritourism businesses across the state can now apply for up to $1,000 in relief from liability insurance costs for 2022 and 2023. 

Illinois Supreme Court consolidates 58 SAFE-T Act lawsuits filed by state’s attorneys

Over the last few months, 58 of Illinois’ 102 state’s attorneys have filed lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the SAFE-T Act. On Oct. 31, the Illinois Supreme Court consolidated the suits into one.

Counties involved in the consolidated suit include Adams, Boone, Brown, Carroll, Cass, Clay, Coles, DeKalb, DeWitt, Douglas, Effingham, Fayette, Ford, Franklin, Fulton, Greene, Grundy, Hancock, Jackson, Jasper, Jefferson, Jersey, JoDaviess, Johnson, Kankakee, Kendall, Knox, LaSalle, Livingston, Logan, Macon, Madison, Massac, McDonough, McHenry, McLean, Mercer, Monroe, Montgomery, Moultrie, Ogle, Perry, Pope, Pulaski, Randolph, Saline, Sangamon, Scott, Shelby, Stephenson, Tazewell, Union, Vermilion, Washington, White, Will, Winnebago, and Woodford.

Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jim Rowe and Sheriff Mike Downey filed the first lawsuit, and the others were added with Kankakee now serving as the primary case. The new suit lists Rowe and Downey as the chief respondents, and Attorney General Kwame Raoul, Gov. JB Pritzker, Speaker of the House Emanuel “Chris” Welch, and Senate President Don Harmon as the defendants.   

While the initial county lawsuits were not identical, they all made similar claims that the SAFE-T Act: 

  • Violates a State Constitution requirement that laws be “confined to one subject”; 
  • Violates a State Constitution requirement that a person charged with a crime “shall be bailable by sufficient sureties”; and 
  • The law should be nullified because it was passed in a matter of hours rather than meeting the statutory requirement that bills be before the General Assembly a minimum of three days. 

State Senator Dave Syverson (R-Cherry Valley) says the number of state’s attorneys who have challenged the SAFE-T Act is further proof that the new law is not ready for statewide implementation. While there is talk of a fourth trailer bill to the SAFE-T Act, no legislation has been read into the record. 

Former House Speaker Madigan pleads not guilty to latest bribery charges

Former House Speaker Mike Madigan has pleaded “not guilty” to new corruption and bribery charges, this time in relation to an admission of guilt by telecommunications giant AT&T Illinois. 

AT&T recently entered into a deferred prosecution agreement that included an admission that the company engaged in a multi-year scheme to bribe and influence Madigan through payments and jobs for associates in exchange for the passage of controversial legislation that allows the company to refuse landline service connections to consumers. AT&T agreed to pay a $23 million fine as part of the deferred prosecution agreement. 

AT&T is the second Illinois utility company to admit it engaged in efforts to bribe the former Speaker. Commonwealth Edison entered into a deferred prosecution agreement in 2020 after admitting that it engaged in a similar years-long scheme to bribe the former Speaker to gain approval of energy legislation that cost ratepayers millions in higher energy costs. ComEd paid a $200 million fine in its deferred prosecution agreement. 

Gov. Pritzker’s Ex Tollway Chairman accused of cronyism in lawsuit 

Former Illinois Tollway Chief Administrative Officer Kimberly Ross and former Chief Procurement Officer Dionna Brookens have filed a lawsuit that claims the two were fired without cause after they drew attention to departmental meddling and questionable hiring and contract awarding practices by then Tollway Chairman Will Evans. Tollway attorney Kathleen Pasulka-Brown is also named as a defendant in the suit. 

The suit claims that Evans exerted an enormous amount of control over Tollway operations shortly after he was appointed Tollway Chairman by Gov. JB Pritzker in 2019, and claims he tried to steer contracts toward preferred vendors and pushed for his friends to be hired. A third individual who blew the whistle on the questionable practices at the Tollway, former Executive Director Jose Alvarez, left the agency earlier this year.  

New study ranks Illinois near the bottom in tax climate

A new study by the independent and non-profit Tax Foundation, has ranked Illinois 36th in its 2023 tax climate report, which looks at each state’s comprehensive tax burden. 

The Foundation looks at every state’s corporate taxes, individual income taxes, sales and property taxes, and unemployment insurance data when creating the list.  

In a recent interview, Jannelle Fritts of the Tax Foundation noted that if not for the state’s flat income tax, Illinois’ ranking would have been lower. In 2020, Illinois voters soundly rejected a proposal by Gov. JB Pritzker to amend the State Constitution to eliminate the flat tax so he could charge higher rates on small and large business owners.  

Fritts also noted that Illinois is one of only four states that has yet to fully pay off unemployment trust fund debt. That debt hole in Illinois remains at $1.3 billion and will likely be passed along to business through higher unemployment insurance premiums, and to unemployed people through reduced benefits. 

Agritourism businesses can apply for liability insurance tax credit 

The application portal is now open for Illinois agritourism businesses to receive up to $1,000 back on their liability insurance costs for 2022 and 2023. 

The tax credit, approved through Senate Bill 157, seeks to lessen the costs associated with opening working farms up to the public for recreational activities, like apple and pumpkin picking, hayrides, corn or sunflower mazes, petting zoos, and educational opportunities. Senator Syverson says he was proud to support the bill, which was signed into law as Public Act 102-0700 in April. 

Additional information about the agritourism tax credit can be found here, and the application can be accessed here

Dave Syverson

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