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Capitol Recap: $15 minimum wage is first major legislation of 101st General Assembly

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois Senate Assistant Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford, a Maywood Democrat, said the chamber is ready to push ahead with a bill to increase the state’s minimum hourly wage from $8.25 to $15 over an undefined period of years.

The only rate structure mentioned at a Senate Labor Committee hearing on Wednesday, Jan. 30, was a $1 increase to the $8.25 rate for each of the next six years, then a 75-cent increase in the seventh year. Lightford said the rate would be phased in by 2025.

Business interests also preferred a regional rollout of the tax increase. In Oregon and New York, high costs of living areas have a minimum wage that is higher than in more rural areas. Lightford said this would be discussed, but she was not sure it would be permissible per the Illinois constitution.

Sen. Dave Koehler, a Peoria Democrat, raised the idea of regional tax breaks for employers in lower cost-of-living areas to counteract the $15 minimum wage.

The committee also heard testimony from employers who said a $15 minimum wage would be a “job killer,” and a nursing home advocacy group proposed a measure to increase the state’s reimbursement rate to Medicaid facilities as the wage increases.

The Illinois Association of Park Districts, small business lobbyists and the Illinois Restaurant Association all raised concerns that the hike could mean layoffs for minimum wage workers as well.

While the group agreed to several points of discussion, the clock was ticking for the interest groups to get their preferred language in the bill, as Gov. J.B. Pritzker wants the bill on his desk to sign prior to his budget address scheduled for Feb. 20.

DIGITAL DAYS: If a bill mandating five hours of direct teacher-student supervision becomes law this session, schools would no longer be able to count digital day alternatives to snow days as an official school day.

The Senate Education Committee advanced the bill unanimously Tuesday, Jan. 29, while agreeing to discuss more calendar flexibility for school districts.

State Sen. Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant (D-Shorewood), the bill’s lead sponsor and Education Committee chair, said she understood that more flexibility is needed for school districts and was committed to working toward it. But she warned of the “wild, wild west” created by the repeal of the five-hour mandate.

“Right now a district could choose to have four days of school in a year,” she said.

If the bill passes both houses and is signed by the governor, the five-hour mandate would go into effect immediately. Superintendents, many whose districts were employing digital days due to the recent extreme cold, had concerns about the confusion this would cause for the current school year.

GOVERNMENT EFFICIENCY COMMISSION: Woodstock Republican Rep. Steve Reick wants a private-sector commission to examine the spending habits and management practices of state agencies by minimizing redundancies in funds the state already allocates.

His legislation, House Joint Resolution 6 and House Bill 275, would create an 18-member commission to comb through reports from the auditor general’s office and recommend ways to reduce spending, boost performance and adapt management strategies for state agencies. The group would be funded through private donations. Commission members would be chosen by each of the four legislative leaders and Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

Among the proposal’s detractors is the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability Executive Director Ralph Martire. The Center is a nonpartisan think tank that “promote[s] social and economic justice for everyone,” according to its website.

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