What do pension reform and marriage equality have in
common? Both bills were controversial, highly publicized, and took several
sessions to move from proposal into law. Almost a year to the date since it was
first introduced, SB1, otherwise known as the Pension Reform Bill, was passed
by both houses on Dec. 3 and signed into law on Dec. 5.
State Senator Daniel Biss (D-9th) told members of the
Government Affairs Committee that the final version of SB 1 was “a piece of
legislation that had commonality with the initial legislation … but was
tailored to protect those with the smallest pensions that had worked the
longest.” As part of its reform, the bill will decrease unfunded liability by
50 percent or by 160 billion dollars and earmark new money for pension funds.
The legislation addresses 4 of 26 public pension systems
in Illinois, with the City of Chicago’s pension systems not included. The new
pension reform bill passed with 30-24 votes, with three present in the Senate
and 62-53 with one present in the House. Pending the results of a court
challenge, it will go into effect July 1, 2014 (Fiscal Year 2015).
Representative Greg Harris (D-13th), chief sponsor of the
Marriage Equality Bill, spoke on the cultural climate regarding his recent win
during November’s veto session. “There
has never been an issue in the history of this nation that has moved as rapidly
through the court of public opinion than marriage equality.” According to pollster
Nate Silver, more than 50 percent of the nation’s population now supports
marriage equality. This is a 10 percent
shift from previous polls, reflecting a critical shift in opinion as some who
had strongly opposed the idea became proponents.
Why the sudden change in support? Harris explains that
two key factors helped him achieve his goal—media coverage and conversation. “Those
that were initially opposed to the idea of marriage equality began talking
about it amongst their friends and families.”
Illinois is the 16th state to pass marriage equality and
did so without prior court intervention.
As the discussion came to a close, Erica Borggren, Director
of the Illinois Department of Veteran Affairs, spoke on the ever-changing
veteran population in Illinois. “There are 800,000 veterans in Illinois,” said
Borggren. “Next year, Illinois’ veteran population will expand by 35,000 and,
although smaller in number, their needs will be higher.”
Veterans are seen as hard-to-reach. Borggren said the
narrative needs to change in order to make veterans feel part of the community.
She notes that people are reluctant to ask veterans about their war experiences,
yet they may welcome the chance to tell their story, a story that includes
sacrifice for their country. She said Engaging veterans is more than linking
them to services; it is about hearing their stories and providing them jobs as
they seek to return to civilian life.
Mara Ruff is the Associate Director of State & Local
Government for JUF's Government Affairs department