Harmon 05312017Today marks Day 6 in the 10-day special legislative session convened in an effort to reach agreement on a state budget.

It may not appear that much has been happening on that front, but the four legislative leaders met Sunday – without Gov. Rauner – for the first time in months to talk about the budget. This is a significant development. The last time the leaders were in a room together to discuss the budget was Dec. 6.

As many of you know, in May the Senate passed a responsible, balanced budget and reform package – much of it based on priorities set by Gov. Rauner – and sent all of those bills to the House for consideration in an effort to bring stability to the state as soon as possible. The House did not to vote on any of the Senate’s bills before the May 31 deadline.

I have been engaged daily in discussions with other state lawmakers and with the Senate president about possible changes to our budget and reform bills that we could accept, and we are proposing ideas that could help to move the process along so that we can send a budget to the governor’s desk by Friday, the final day of the fiscal year.

I have every reason to believe the governor and my colleagues in the General Assembly understand the gravity of the situation we face and are ready to engage productively in good-faith budget negotiations.

Today also marks 726 days since Illinois last operated with a full-year budget. Here is what’s at stake if Gov. Rauner cannot come to an agreement with lawmakers on a budget by midnight Friday:

  • Illinois likely will be downgraded to junk status by bond ratings agencies, which means state and local governments, including school districts, will pay higher interest rates when borrowing money. No state in the history of the country has ever been downgraded to junk status.
  • As of August, Illinois no longer will have enough money coming in to cover expenses mandated by court orders. This, too, is a historic development for Illinois. Under the best of circumstances, the state will fall $185 million short of what it needs to make payments required by court orders and consent decrees in the absence of a budget. In addition to our looming failure to fully comply with court orders, the comptroller no longer will be able to triage payments to small businesses and human service providers desperate for a disbursement from the state to avoid layoffs or closure.
  • Millions of dollars worth of road construction projects statewide could shut down July 1 without a budget, putting as many as 30,000 people out of work and draining money from local economies.
  • Some public schools may not open on time this fall because the state is more than $1 billion behind on making categorical payments to school districts for transportation, lunch and special education programs.
  • Accreditation for colleges and universities is in jeopardy, according to a warning from the Higher Learning Commission. Illinois universities have endured too much – declining enrollment, the loss of faculty and staff, increased tuition and fees, elimination of academic programs, the loss of MAP grants for students in need, cancelled capital improvement projects, depleted cash reserves and more.
  • An estimated 100,000 children on Medicaid may not be immunized because doctors all over Illinois have put a hold on vaccinations until the state catches up on the money it owes them for thousands of vaccines they’ve already administered. This puts the state at risk for an outbreak of preventable diseases.
  • Illinois’ bill backlog today stands at $14.96 billion, a figure that will continue to grow the longer the state operates without a budget. As of May, Illinois had paid more than $800 million in penalties for late payments.
  • If the state doesn’t pass a budget this month, the Illinois Lottery will be suspended from the multi-state consortium that runs the Powerball and Mega Millions games, meaning customers won’t be able to purchase tickets in Illinois. While this pales in comparison to other consequences of our failure to pass a budget, it harshly illustrates the embarrassment this causes our state.

As you can see, the damage being done to Illinois is unnecessary, expensive and cruel. It will take generations to repair.

I urge you to contact the governor’s office this week and tell him to put a stop to this madness by finding common ground with lawmakers before Friday on a responsible, full-year budget that prioritizes financial stability for Illinois. The most hopeful starting point for negotiations is the balanced budget and reform package the Senate passed in May.

Learn more about the Senate’s budget and reform measures here.

As always, I encourage you to stay in touch. Should you have any questions this week, please contact my district office at 708-848-2002 or my Springfield office at 217-782-8176. You also can email my office, find me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter.

Category: E-Newsletters

Harmon: Burden of proof should be on government, not innocent property owners

ChicagoPolice ArrestSPRINGFIELD – Legislation designed to restore people’s trust in the civil asset forfeiture process in Illinois should be headed to the governor’s desk soon.

The measure, sponsored in the Senate by Senator Don Harmon (D-Oak Park), was heavily negotiated with police, state’s attorneys and civil rights groups, and it garnered bipartisan support among state lawmakers. The legislation passed unanimously in the Senate May 31, and the House took a final concurrence vote on it Friday.

The legislation (House Bill 303) seeks to end the controversial practice of “policing for profit,” which incentivizes police and prosecutors to seize cash, cars, land and other property from people suspected of – but not necessarily charged with or convicted of – criminal activity under current state law. The property frequently is forfeited and auctioned off, with proceeds going into the government coffers.

“This is a dramatic step forward for Illinois, where government has had a green light to take your property and you have had to prove you deserve to get it back. That galls me,” Harmon said. “We have more work to do to fine tune this law, but going forward the government will have to prove it has the right to take your property – not the other way around.”

Critics of current state law cite numerous problems with it. For example, it’s unclear if probable cause is a requirement for police to seize property in Illinois. Even if an owner is never charged or convicted of a crime, law enforcement agencies are not obligated to return property that was seized during an investigation.

Further, current state law makes it especially difficult for people to reclaim their property through the court system.

Harmon’s measure would require more accountability of law enforcement agencies that seize property while investigating possible crimes and also demand more transparency on behalf of innocent property owners who want to get their belongings back by doing the following:

  • Improve the rights of property owners by placing the burden of proof on the prosecution instead of the property owner and creating an expedited process to have cases adjudicated more quickly.
  • Increase the government’s burden of proof from probable cause to preponderance of the evidence.
  • Require the government to do more to ensure property owners receive notice of forfeiture proceedings and understand the steps they must take to argue for the return of their property.
  • Eliminate the requirement that property owners must pay a “cost bond” equal to 10 percent of the value of the seized property before their case can be heard by a judge.
  • Exempt small sums of cash from forfeiture and provide that mere possession of miniscule amount of drugs no longer will serve as a legal basis for forfeiture.
  • Provide for new data collection regarding property seizures and forfeitures. The information will be reported to the Illinois State Police, and the aggregated data will be posted online.

According to a 2016 report co-authored by the ACLU of Illinois and the Illinois Policy Institute, Illinois police agencies collect about $30 million every year from forfeited property.

Harmon noted that Illinois’ asset forfeiture guidelines are written into 25 different laws that authorize police and state’s attorneys to seize property in cases involving everything from drug investigations and money laundering to DUIs and basic traffic stops. The result is a convoluted system that can be difficult to navigate.

“I have read enough first-hand accounts from real people that have been through this process and feel so completely victimized by it that it makes you scratch your head,” Harmon said. “I think the folks involved realize that trust in this system has been completely undermined, and that is why we all agreed to move forward with this reform.

“With this legislation, we struck a balance that ensures both sides – the government and the property owners – can make their claims, be heard quickly and resolve the issue.”

Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago) sponsored the measure in the House. It is supported by the ACLU of Illinois, the Illinois State’s Attorneys Association, the Illinois State Police, the Illinois Sheriff’s Association and the Illinois Chiefs of Police.

 

Category: News

Senator Don Harmon (D-Oark Park) hosted a town hall with Representative Camille Lilly (D-Oak Park) on Monday, June 19 to answer constituent questions about the budget process.

Harmon discussed details of the balanced budget the Senate passed on May 23, including a breakdown of the plan's spending and cuts.

The presentation Harmon shared can be viewed below.

 

Category: News

SPRINGFIELD – While Gov. Bruce Rauner took to TV news this evening to deflect blame for the state budget stalemate, Senator Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) noted that the Senate passed the governor’s balanced budget and his requested reforms in May – all of which await approval in the House.

“I didn’t hear much from the governor this evening that I haven’t heard before. I think that when all was said and done, this address of his was little more than an opportunity for him to get free, unchallenged time on the evening news all over Illinois,” Harmon said.

“Now that this ‘unity’ address is out of the way, I invite Gov. Rauner to take up the balanced budget and reforms – his balanced budget and reforms – that the Senate passed and sent to the House. This is the appropriate starting point for budget negotiations during the next 10 days and the most efficient way to get us to a resolution.”

Category: News

Harmon05312017High-poverty suburban school districts, shortchanged for decades under Illinois’ worst-in-the-nation education funding formula, could see a significant influx of funding to level the playing field with wealthier suburban districts under a landmark school funding reform measure that passed in both houses of the legislature this week.

“I proudly joined my colleagues in the General Assembly in voting for Senate Bill 1, which acknowledges the urgent need to reform Illinois’ terrible method of funding public schools, while offering property tax relief and ensuring no schools see a loss of funding in the process,” said Senator Don Harmon (D-Oak Park).

“Combined with passage of a balanced state budget that fully funds public schools, I believe this is the single most-significant statewide anti-poverty measure the legislature will pass this spring. I urge Gov. Rauner to sign it into law as soon as it lands on his desk.”

Senate Bill 1 has strong support from thousands of school administrators, superintendents, principals, educators, taxpayers and advocates for fair school funding. Illinois’ school funding formula has not been updated in more than 20 years and is considered one of the worst in the nation because it relies so heavily on local property wealth.

An analysis of Illinois State Board of Education figures released estimates this week by Funding Illinois’ Future – a coalition that advocates for school funding reform – shows potential funding increases for local school districts under Senate Bill 1, an evidence-based model that accounts for factors such as students with disabilities, English language learners and low-income students.

It also provides extra support for the neediest districts in the quest for adequate funding, and it offers property tax relief.

No school district would receive less funding under Senate Bill 1 than they have received under Illinois’ current school funding formula.

The estimated overall gain some area school districts would experience under the Funding Illinois’ Future analysis of SB1 based on FY17 funding levels:

  • Maywood-Melrose Park-Broadview District 89 — $3.07 million
  • Berkeley School District 87 — $1.47 million
  • Bellwood School District 88 — $1.14 million
  • Proviso Township High School District 209 — $414,068
  • Addison District 4 — $369,418
  • Elmwood Park District 401 — $332,095
  • River Grove District 85-5 — $287,483
  • Oak Park Elementary District 97 — $182,460
  • DuPage High School District 88 — $125,465

In addition, under Senate Bill 1, high-tax school districts are eligible for property tax relief up to 1 percent of their EAV. Estimated property tax relief for two area school districts:

  • Berkeley School District 87 — $657,853
  • Proviso Township High School District 209 — $6.74 million

To review the Funding Illinois’ Future analysis, visit fundingilfuture.org.

Category: News

Contact Me

Email Senator Harmon

Springfield Office:
329 Capitol Building
Springfield, IL 62706
(p) 217.782.8176
(f) 217.558.6013

Oak Park Office:
6941-B W. North Ave.
Oak Park, IL 60302
(p) 708.848.2002
(f) 708.848.2022

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