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Legislators faced two tough votes as the Illinois GA wraps up 98th session

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

 

Posted: 12/13/2013 9:08:09 AM
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