State Roundup: Concerns raised about proposed change in DUI pot standard

From Illinois News Network

Despite passage of a measure to make possession of small amounts of marijuana a civil offense, rather than a criminal offense, there are concerns about the bill’s changes to standards of driving under the influence. Cassidy’s Bill amends the vehicle code to go after those who do drive under the influence of marijuana with a new DUI standard. Current law says someone is DUI if there is any concentration of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, in their blood. Cassidy’s change would only allow for DUI charges if the driver has, within 2 hours of getting behind the wheel, 15 nanograms or more in their blood. Republican Representative David Harris worries that’s the wrong threshold.

“I don’t know what the right standard is but if this standard is too high I think this is a cause for concern.”

Cassidy says lower levels will still show if someone is driving under the influence.

“Let’s be clear. An impaired driver is still going to be charged appropriately. These thresholds provide a legal presumption absent proof of impairment.”

The bill also goes after the production of butane hash oil, a manufactured substance derived from processing THC with butane gas. Governor Bruce Rauner’s office, when asked about the bill, responded “no comment.” The measure now heads to the Senate.

Measure to study recreational pot fails

Meanwhile a House Bill directing a study on the possible impacts of legalizing and taxing marijuana in the state of Illinois failed the pass. The measure from Democratic Representative Will Guzzardi would have tasked the Illinois Sentencing Policy Advisory Council to determine several things, including how taxation and regulation of the drug could generate employment and revenue for Illinois. Several republican representatives said there doesn’t need to be another study when Illinois could just look at how well recreational use of marijuana is going on in states like Colorado where pot has been legal recreationally for several years. Guzzardi says the issue of legalizing marijuana will come to the General Assembly before too long and the study would help provide legitimate information. But, the measure failed on a vote of 29-78.

Property tax freeze measure passes House

Some Illinois communities smaller than 100,000 people will have a property tax freeze under a proposal that passed the House Thursday. Representative David McSweeney says his bill is a start to addressing Illinois’ “skyrocketing property taxes”. Democratic Representative Jack Franks says areas impacted by the property tax freeze won’t get less money, but they’ll have to tighten their belts in future years. Franks says there’s something else the measure will help address–outbound migration.

“We are losing population. And we are losing population because we have one of the highest property tax burdens in the entire country. Our folks can not handle it. They are getting buzz sawed.”

The measure has some representatives saying it runs afoul with principles of Democracy. Democratic Representative Robert Martwick says the freeze doesn’t fix a broken property tax system. Martwick says those issues should be decided locally.

“If there was one form of government that should not be telling any other form of government that they’re fiscally irresponsible it’s us right here in the Capitol.”

If local voters don’t like their property tax, Martwick says voters can elect new local leaders. Martwick opposed the measure and said there needs to be true property tax reform. The measure does allow for local voters to pass tax increases via referendum. Republican Representative Mark Batnick says let’s see if this practice works.

“If it works for these townships maybe it is something we should expand to park districts, library districts, school boards and everything else.”

The measure passed 75-37 and now heads to the Senate. Illinois has one of the highest average property tax rates of all the country.

Wheeler: Bill’s passage is sign of things to come

A measure the Department of Children and Family Services says creates a substantial new financial liability for the state passed the House Thursday with only 61 votes. And, passage of the measure provides at least one Republican representative with concerns of things to come for upcoming budget discussions. The measure would provide transitional and independent living programs, among other services, for people up to 21 years old. Despite several requests to hold the measure another day so lawmakers could work on several issues the Democratic majority voted in favor while 44 representatives voted present. After the vote, Republican Representative Barbara Wheeler says she’s worried that’s a sign of upcoming budget actions.

“It was, however, revealing how this budget process is going to proceed. Please don’t insult us anymore by asking us for bipartisan support. As my colleague from the supermajority just reminded me, “that’s just how it goes,” very disappointed.”

In a fiscal impact note for House Bill 3507 DCFS says the measure increases the state’s liability by possibly expanding the number of lawsuits that can be brought against the state, provides statutory requirements regarding $100 million in projected service expenditures, and disincentivizes youth from engaging in services. The measure now heads to the Senate.

Memo: Test opt-out bill jeopardizes federal education funds

A measure that would allow parents to opt their children out of taking standardized tests in public schools would risk Illinois losing over $1 billion in federal funds for education. That’s according to a memo from Beth Purvis, Governor Bruce Rauner’s Secretary of Education. The memo, provided to Illinois News Network by the Governor’s office, says that a recent waiver to No Child Left Behind requires the state to assess at least 95 percent of students from 3rd to 8th grade and a subset of high school students. If the state doesn’t meet that threshold, Purvis says the state is at risk of not only losing over a billion dollars in title funds and significantly disrupting the education system, the memo also says local school boards and districts would lose control over how the federal funds are used in their district. House Bill 306 remains in the House.

Unemployment numbers

Another month, another drop in the unemployment rate for every metro area in Illinois. For the thirteenth month, March saw the unemployment numbers in all 102 counties go down, according to Department of Employment Security analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Illinois added jobs in eight metro areas but saw decreases in several others. Kankakee saw an increase of 1,000 jobs for the largest percentage gain. The Chicago-Naperville-Arlington Heights Metro Division saw an increase of 1.5 percent, or 52,100 jobs. Decatur dropped 800 jobs, as did Carbondale-Marion. Bloomington saw a decrease of 600 jobs. IDES Director Jeff Mays says the unemployment decline is because of the decline in the overall labor force. Mays says this is very troubling and merits more study.

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