State Roundup: Municipal bankruptcy measure gets hearing

Illinois_News_Network_logoFrom Illinois News Network

A measure to allow financially strapped municipalities in Illinois restructure their debt through Chapter 9 federal bankruptcy got a lengthy hearing Friday.

Representative Ron Sandack says his bill is not about nixing financial obligations a municipality may have but rather about restructuring debt.

Bankruptcy attorney Brad Erens says Chapter 9 allows for municipalities to preserve their assets in the face of creditors demanding payment through a plan of adjustment: “And that plan of adjustment categorizes creditors, and then determines for each class of creditors what that creditor class will get in terms of recovery, so it’s not zero–it could be zero–and it has been in certain cases where the municipality has no resources, but typically creditors have recoveries it’s just a question of what those recoveries will be.”

That was the case in Detroit’s bankruptcy, which Erens was involved.

Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey says there are no plans to declare bankruptcy in his town but covering pension obligations has become burdensome and if the state continues forward with a proposal from the Governor to reduce the amount sent to cities from the state’s Local Distributive Fund then the strain will be even more difficult to bear.

“Simply put, if cities are put in a position where they can’t pay all of their bills this provision would provide the best way amongst not a lot of good choices,” said Morrisey. “But the best way to help cities continue to provide public safety to citizens while protecting our ability to access the financial markets and provide fairness to all creditors.”

Rauner, Madigan clash over right-to-work zones

The issue of right-to-work zones is heating up in Illinois.

The state’s Attorney General says Governor Bruce Rauner’s “employee empowerment zones” would violate the National Labor Relations Act.

Late last week Attorney General Lisa Madigan said the NLRA only allows statewide or territory-wide prohibition of union security agreements. Madigan cites several cases in Kentucky and New Mexico.

Rauner released a memo from his General Counsel that rejects the AG’s findings and says that the AG cited two cases that didn’t include states that allowed for an opt-in measure.

In a memo Rauner’s General Counsel Jason Barclay says those cases challenge local ordinances establishing right-to-work locally without any state authority.

Barclay says if there’s a state law passed that allows localities to opt-in then it would be legal.

Rauner has previously said if a county or city wants to remain a closed shop, they can. What remains to be seen is a package of bills the Governor says will outline his agenda on employee empowerment zones and other issues.

Caterpillar moving manufacturing jobs

Two-hundred thirty Caterpillar jobs are headed south of the border.

The Joliet Herald-News reports the Illinois-based company is pushing ahead with the plan to move the manufacturing jobs from Joliet to Monterrey, Mexico, in order to remain cost competitive. It’s expected the jobs will begin a two-year transition in late 2016.

Last month Caterpillar announced it would be investing millions in Peoria to create a new riverside complex to be the manufacturer’s global headquarters but there was no indication of more jobs created other than temporary construction jobs. That project is expected to take about ten years.

Counties worry about special election costs

Clerks form nineteen Illinois counties are working to find resources to host two elections to fill the vacancy for outgoing congressman Aaron Schock.

The congressman announced his resignation last week amid questions of how he spend taxpayer and donor money. Governor Bruce Rauner is tasked by the federal Constitution to schedule a special election.

Last week Rauner said there will be a primary in addition to the special election. The cost for participating counties could range several hundred thousand dollars.

There’s also the issue of the recently enacted law allowing first time registration when the polls are open on designated election days.

A timeline for the special election has not been announced but is expected within four months of Schock’s official resignation March 31st.

Illinois moves to ban powdered alcohol product Feds approve

The cities of Chicago and Springfield are on the verge of banning something the Federal Government approved earlier this month: powdered alcohol.

The powdered form of alcohol can be mixed with water or other beverages and consumed. The federal Alcohol and Tobacco Trade and Tax Bureau gave the green light to the substance earlier this month.

Last week Chicago alderman Ed Burke put forth an ordinance that would ban the sale of the product in Chicago with a fine of up to $5,000. Next month Springfield aldermen will get a chance to vote on a measure requested by outgoing Mayor Mike Houston to ban the product.

There is also legislation in the Illinois General Assembly that would ban the sale of powdered alcohol but that measure remains in the Senate Criminal Committee.

State’s Department of Juvenile Justice lays out strategy

Improving youth outcomes and keeping juveniles out of prison is the focus of a plan outlined by the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice.

IDJJ director Candice Jones says there are five core priorities to create safer communities and improve youth outcomes in the state’s correctional system. Those priorities are right-size, rehabilitate, reintegrate, respect and report.

In audio provided by the state’s Central Management Services, Jones says the first step is determining what gets teens in trouble.

“What are the risk factors that are causing this individual youth to commit crime? It could be substance abuse,” said Jones.

“They’re trying to feed some substance abuse issues so they are stealing. There may also be some anti-social behavior. They don’t have the skills to deal with anger. And then having some way to objectively figure out what that is and then target those risk factors.”

IDJJ says their work is to ensure that each youth they encounter has individualized support with access to a list of high-quality mental health and counseling services on their path towards rehabilitation.

Director Jones says there must be risk assessments conducted for each teen that enters the system, including any underlying issues that there may be like mental health problems or substance abuse.

“It then looks at what we do for those youth once their in the system, whether or not we are indeed rehabilitating them and then how we think about transitioning them back to communities.”

In a document about improving youth outcomes, the reintegration goal says the department must ensure released youth receive services, supports and placements that help them successfully reenter the community and not return to state custody.

A report provided by IDJJ says some of the initiatives are already underway but there are challenges, including high caseloads, scarce resources and poor data management.

Gatekeeper function proposed for bankruptcy bill

One possible amendment would be to allow for a gatekeeper from the state to oversee the process. Representative Steven Anderson says the state does a poor job with finances and questions why bring them in to oversee anything. The Representative says there are two major things tying municipalities’ hands.

“The reason that we’re struggling, our local communities are struggling, is because number one: unfunded mandates. Number two: property tax caps. You’re building them up from the bottom with expenses that they cannot possibly afford and then you’re limiting their ability to generate revenues.”

Anderson says he’s not in support of more revenue but does support rolling back the unfunded mandates. Laurence Mssal (muh-SAWL), president of The Civic Federation, says the unfunded mandates, including minimum manning levels for certain services, puts municipalities in an untenable situation.

“But those local governments that say ‘we can’t meet the demands that Springfield has put on us, that our negotiations with our employee groups in terms of what they’re demanding. We need some help, we need some financial expertise.”

Ultimately the two agreed that mandates need to be ratcheted back. Opponents of the measure, including the Associated Firefighters of Illinois, say there must be provisions in any possible bankruptcy bill to ensure fair negotiations not just for assets and bonds, but for employee labor agreements.

House Bill 298 remains in committee. The measure didn’t advance as Friday’s hearing was merely a subject matter hearing where no votes were taken.

Measure bans use of drones to hunt

A lawmaker says people who use unmanned aerial vehicles, better known as drones, while hunting for wild game are disgracing the sport. In audio provided by the state’s Central Management Services, Democratic State Senator Julie Morison says drones take away from the thrill of the hunt.

“One of the things that keeps being repeated to me from sportsman is that the element of fair chase is really important. That using a drone while you sit in a truck to track an animal and then get out to just take it down is not really fair chase.”

Morrison’s Senate Bill 44 would make the use of drones an illegal method for taking fish or other wildlife. If passed, violators could have their drone confiscated and face a potential Class A misdemeanor.

The measure would also create the Unmanned Aerial System Oversight Task Force that would be required to consider commercial and private drone use, including landowner and privacy rights and general rules and regulations. Morrison’s bill will be in the Senate on second reading next week.

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