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New Illinois House Speaker Welch promises to ‘possibly make a lot of changes’ to House rules
Other
Thursday, January 14, 2021  |   Article  |   By Greg Bishop | The Center Square
Legislature (56) Durkin, Jim--State House, 82 , Madigan, Michael--State House, 22 , Welch, Emanuel "Chris"--State House, 7

(The Center Square) – For the first time in decades, there’s a new speaker of the Illinois House and he’s making history.

But he also comes in under a cloud of recently revealed allegations of abusive behavior from years ago, and a close connection to the former controversial House Speaker.

On the eve of Chris Welch’s election to Illinois House speaker, replacing longtime House Speaker Michael Madigan, media reports highlighted allegations against Welch made by women.

After conducting his first session Wednesday as the new speaker, Welch told the media that reports of abusive behavior against women are behind him.

“People mature, they look back and would do things differently and I think my life’s work here in the legislature shows my respect for women,” Welch said.

In recent years as speaker, Madigan had his office rocked with allegations of mistreatment of women both at the statehouse and within his political operations during the peak of the #MeToo movement.

Madigan, D-Chicago, had maintained despite the repeated reports of improper behavior in his office, he never fostered a culture of harassment.

There was also last year’s revelations of the ComEd bribery scheme where Madigan associates allegedly received bribes in the form of contracts and do-nothing jobs with utility ComEd.

ComEd admitted to the bribes, saying the utility was trying to influence Madigan. Madigan has not been charged and maintains he never knew of any attempt to influence his office.

Illinois House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, said one way for Welch to distinguish himself from the culture of Madigan, who is now just a state Representative from Chicago, is to bring fairness to the House Rules, which Madigan has controlled for decades.

“We want to make sure that when [Republicans] have bills that they will a fighting chance for at least a hearing and for an up or down vote,” Durkin said. “That’s all I ask for.”

Welch said House rules will be among the first things he’s open to addressing.

“Possibly make changes, possibly make a lot of changes,” Welch said. “I don’t know what those changes are until I have these conversations that’s going to take place pretty quickly.”

Leading up to Welch’s election to Speaker, Durkin had said Welch will be an extension of Madigan. Thursday, Durkin said he hopes to work with Welch to leave the past behind them.

Durkin also said he doesn’t anticipate filing another petition to have the House investigate Madigan’s involvement in the ComEd bribery scheme.

Welch chaired the House Special Investigating Committee last year where he and other Democrats blocked Republican motions to subpoena Madigan and others to testify about the scandal. Welch said they didn’t want to interfere with an ongoing federal investigation.


The Story Behind Illinois’ Latest Public Pension Liability Boost, And Why It’s So Very Illinois
Forbes Online
Thursday, January 14, 2021  |   Commentary  |   Elizabeth Bauer - Senior Contributor
Fire Marshal, fire, fire fighters (84) , Pensions (70) Martwick, Robert--State House, 19

In the Chicago Sun Times on Monday, a headline: “Illinois Senate passes firefighter pension bill over mayor’s strenuous objections.”

“With the spotlight focused elsewhere [Illinois’ General Assembly is in the midst of its 5 day lame duck session], such as the Mike Madigan saga and the Black Caucus push for criminal justice reform, the Illinois Senate voted Monday to raise retirement benefits for 2,200 Chicago firefighters in a way that would saddle beleaguered city taxpayers with $850 million in added costs by 2055. The bill already had passed the Illinois House and now awaits Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s signature or veto.”

As a reminder, the Chicago Firefighters’ Pension Fund is 18% funded, with assets of $1.1 billion, and liabilities of $6.3 billion, according to its most recent actuarial report. If that $850 million represented an actuarial present value (that’s unlikely), it’d drop the funded status down to 16%. So what possible rationale could there be for this?

The bill was introduced by Sen. Robert Martwick, D-Chicago, at a point at which he was still a member of the state House. The bill removes a date of birth requirement in the provisions for COLA benefits, in which Tier 1 plan participants born before 1966 and meeting certain other requirements receive a COLA of 3% (noncompounded), and those born after, 1.5%.

The Sun Times reports that, although Mayor Lightfoot opposed the bill, Martwick’s rationale was sound, even adhering to actuarial principles:

“In late February, Martwick argued the ‘birth date restriction’ has already been moved five times as a way of masking the true cost to a firefighters pension fund with roughly 25% of assets to meet its future liabilities.

‘Remember, they have traditionally given that 3% simple COLA [Cost-of-living adjustment] to these firefighters. They’re going to get that. This just writes it into law. It’s really not adding cost. It’s making that cost transparent,’ Martwick said then.

‘If we don’t change the provision and we give them the more generous, 3% simple COLA, then payment on the back end will be enormous. There’s no doubt that would make the mathematical calculation of their payment go up. But what it will do is prevent us from kicking the can and making a huge disaster down the road. It’s making the law comply with what the actual practice is.’”

The article further cited a firefighters’ union spokesperson, Rob Tebbens:

“This is potentially an age discrimination issue because you’re basing the benefit off of an individual’s age and not their years of service. Based on their age, they’re gonna get a benefit that is less than a Tier 2 benefit.”

But Martwick is being disingenuous in his statements. Here’s some history:

There were indeed multiple increases to the age cut-off for the higher COLA, though I’m at a loss as to how there were five separate instances. Based on the plan legislative history in the valuation report, the age differential first came about in 1982, when the COLA was increased to 3% for all employees born in 1930 or earlier. In 1995, the birth date cut-off was raised to 1945; in 2004, to the present 1955.

Then, for 13 years, no further changes were made, perhaps finally recognizing that it was indeed not acceptable to boost benefits of such an underfunded plan. The years after 2004, after all, were a period when Illinois actually tried to restrain its pension costs, with the implementation of the Tier 2 pension system for workers hired beginning in 2011 and with an attempt at pension reform, later ruled unconstitutional, in 2013.

But in 2017, that effort at cost control ended. In that year, the birth date was adjusted to 1966 and retroactive benefits were given. And who was the sponsor of this legislation?

Why, then-Rep. Martwick. In fact, this bill was designed exclusively to provide this boost. The bill was passed by the House and Senate on July 1, 2017, vetoed by then-governor Bruce Rauner on September 22, 2017, and overridden by both houses on November 7, 2017. And there was so little notice taken of it that I can find no reference to it in either the Chicago Sun Times or the Chicago Tribune at the time.

But Martwick wasn’t finished. In 2018, he introduced a bill eliminating the age restriction, which died in 2019. And the bill which is now awaiting Gov. Pritzker’s signature was introduced immediately thereafter, in 2019. In both the 2017 bill and the new one, the benefit increase is retroactive for those who have already been receiving their pensions.

And the best part? The 2017 bill’s text includes this nugget:

“The changes to this subsection made by this amendatory Act of the 100th General Assembly are a declaration of existing law and shall not be construed as a new enactment.”

This is wholly undetached from reality, and suggests that even in 2017, they knew that this increase was unjustified and inappropriate for such a seriously underfunded plan.

It would be funny if it wasn’t so serious — a legislator claiming that “they’re going to do it anyway,” when it’s he himself who had been spearheading the increase, is exactly the sort of action that is, compounded over and over, the reason why Illinois is in exactly the straits it is in.


Hoffman looks out for the lawsuit industry
Madison County Record
Thursday, January 14, 2021  |   Article  |   By Our Vew
Legal System (27) , Tort Reform (27) Hoffman, Jay--State House, 113

Thanks to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s lockdowns, Metro-East small businesses are ailing. 

So here comes State Rep. Jay Hoffman (D-Swansea), taking advantage. That’s at the behest of the Illinois trial lawyers-- and Hoffman himself is one-- whose agenda typically comes first in Springfield.

When a personal injury plaintiff files a lawsuit, if they win, they are typically entitled to interest on their damages award from the day they file the suit.

Hoffman’s House Bill 3360 would start the interest clock earlier-- not when the plaintiff files suit, but when a defendant first becomes aware that an injury was alleged. This could be as much as two years before a suit is filed.

That’s a state-mandated, nine percent interest clock that starts the moment someone claims your business is responsible for their injury. 

We chronicle such injuries daily on these pages. Plaintiffs in slip and falls aren’t the ones asking for this law. It’s the lawyers who are, because it will serve to increase the size of their money settlements and help them secure more of them, more quickly.

"This legislation further tilts the playing field in the direction of the trial bar," said John Pastuovic, president of the Illinois Civil Justice League, one of a group of business associations opposing the bill.

Pastuovic said that House Bill 3360 “encourages the expansion of frivolous lawsuits and puts pressure on small businesses and other companies to settle lawsuits or face crushing financial consequences.

“They are essentially being forced to choose between going to trial or settl[ing] to stop the interest meter from running. This is the last thing that business needs to contend with during the ongoing COVID crisis.”

Tell someone who cares, and that’s not Hoffman. 

His bill passed the State House and the State Senate. Gov. Pritzker will soon sign it into law. 


EYE ON ILLINOIS: As Welch takes gavel from Madigan, Dems still face crucial questions
Northwest Herald
Thursday, January 14, 2021  |   Commentary  |   By Scott T. Holland
Madigan, Michael--State House, 22 , Welch, Emanuel "Chris"--State House, 7

Congratulations, you’re the new speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives.

Now what?

Rep. Chris Welch has to be asking himself that question today. Moments into his fifth House term, the Hillside Democrat did what many thought was impossible. Although he didn’t run against Mike Madigan in a head-to-head ballot of the full House, Welch takes the gavel from a man who held it for all but two years since 1983.

The longest-running legislative leader in American history suspended his re-election campaign late Monday, so while the formal record will show a seamless transition of power, observers know this is the result of significant political maneuvering, closed-door negotiations and caucus controversy. I suspect there were more than a few bitten tongues along this rocky road, but the new day has arrived.

Republicans didn’t wait for the formality before attacking Welch on multiple fronts. They called him a hand-picked Madigan successor. They don’t care for how he argued in favor of past income tax increases. They pointedly skewered his work as chairman of the ultimately fruitless House Special Investigating Committee convened to examine Madigan’s role in a Commonwealth Edison bribery scandal. And they weren’t shy about revisiting reports that call into question Welch’s treatment of women in his personal and professional life predating his legislative career.

I don’t begrudge the GOP its talking points. Welch’s politics obviously aren’t going to appeal to the vast majority of Republican voters. Questions about personal conduct can be sketchy, and although Welch maintains the outcry indicates “my Republican colleagues are threatened by the potential growth of my profile,” it’s not dirty pool to at least raise concerns given the dynamics of gender relations at the Statehouse in the last few years.

Furthermore, any Democrat serving as speaker while Madigan remains in the House will be unable to avoid whispers of influence. Even if Madigan were to retire from the General Assembly, he’d have to also step down as head of the Democratic Party of Illinois to at least give the perception of a clean break from the structure he established over decades.

Democrats still hold considerable majorities in both chambers and the governor’s mansion. First they’ll draw new legislative maps, then they’ll see how the Congressional races shake out and get down to the business of campaigning to keep power — and a U.S. Senate seat — in 2022. Welch is but one cog in that massive machine, but the party overall might be best served if he keeps as low a profile as possible, perhaps even pledging to serve only a single term while his chamber adjusts to the new session’s rules and the how the speaker’s powers might be different.

Change has come. Now what?