bisstownhallLast year, we hosted our first-ever Critical Issues Series, in which we hosted monthly discussions on a variety of issues. Because of the strong interest people showed, we have decided to host these events again this year. Each forum is at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Levy Center, located at 300 Dodge Ave. in Evanston. Below is our schedule of dates and topics. I very much hope you to see you at some of these meetings! Please call my office at 847-568-1250 if you have any questions.

July 14 – Update on Pensions and Fiscal Stabilization

August 11 – Safety, Freedom, and the Status of Gun Laws in Illinois

September 15 – Exploring Criminal Justice in Illinois

October 13 – The Affordable Care Act and Upcoming Healthcare Transition

November 10 – Transportation Policy for a 21st Century Global Hub

December 15 – Addressing the Looming Retirement Crisis

Category: Latest

biss75x75gabelWHO: State Senator Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) and State Representative Robyn Gabel (D-Evanston)

WHAT: Sen. Biss and Rep. Gabel will provide an overview of the spring legislative session, take questions and hear input from constituents.

WHEN: 7-8:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 26

WHERE: Wilmette Public Library
1242 Wilmette Ave.
Wilmette, Illinois

Category: Latest

The Spring 2013 legislative session ended Friday evening, with a whimper rather than a bang. Though the General Assembly did have a few meaningful accomplishments, they were unfortunately overshadowed by the areas where we did nothing at all or stepped backwards. Here is where things now stand on some of the more significant topics we aimed to address.

Pensions. When this legislative session began, perhaps the clearest point of consensus was that we had to address the fiscal burden placed upon the state by our enormous pension debt. Given this universal agreement, it is quite simply unacceptable that we adjourned without making any progress -- this is a terrible indictment of our poor performance as legislators, and it will further a viciously unfair fiscal and psychological burden on public employees, taxpayers, and those who rely on state services.

So how did we get here? Underlying the policy debate is a legal argument regarding the implications of Article XIII, Section 5 of the Illinois Constitution. There is no question that this clause provides a very strong protection for public employee pension benefits; indeed, the historical interpretation (and the current interpretation in several other states that have similar provisions) is simply that anyone who's already in the system is entirely immune from any pension changes of any kind. At the same time, it has become pretty clear that it would be fiscally untenable for the state to hold to the more simplistic black-and-white interpretation of the pension clause. Specifically, if we were to leave the pension formula of everyone who's already hired entirely untouched (rather than taking an approach of shared pain that asks for sacrifice from all stakeholders), the resulting tax increases and spending cuts in other crucial programmatic areas would simply be crushing for our state -- for our schools, our most vulnerable citizens, our infrastructure, and our economy.

How, then, can we reconcile the constitutional protection with the need for some changes? There are two very different philosophies on this topic. One approach says that in order to save the economic and social health of the state, our current emergency condition will allow some pension changes, so long as they restore the fiscal position of the pension systems so that we can credibly promise workers that they will actually receive a pension, and if they are carefully crafted, equitably distributed to the extent possible, and adequate to resolve the problem but not so large that they relieve other stakeholders of the responsibility to sacrifice. The other approach says that even under circumstances of fiscal emergency, unilateral pension changes are still unconstitutional -- but certain changes can be acceptable under some circumstances if we give participants a choice between various types of changes (for instance, between a reduction in pension benefits and a reduction in retiree healthcare benefits).

Read more: A Disappointing Legislative Session

Category: Latest

Senate Bill 1587, The Freedom from Drone Surveillance Act
Senate Bill 1587 will require law enforcement officers to obtain a warrant before using a drone to gather information. The federal government has begun deregulating domestic drone use, leading many states to explore the question of how to put in place reasonable privacy regulations for drones. Illinois will join Virginia, Florida, and Idaho as states that have passed legislation dealing with this topic.

The technology available to law enforcement agencies is evolving rapidly and could eventually pose an extremely grave threat to our privacy. I want Illinois to take a proactive approach — recognizing that drones can make police work more efficient and keep officers out of harm's way, but also acknowledging the potential threat they pose to individual liberties.

A law enforcement officer seeking to use an unmanned aerial vehicle would have to demonstrate probable cause and obtain a warrant, just as officers must now do before searching a home. Law enforcement agencies would also be required to disclose drone ownership; currently, there is no way to know how many drones are in use in the state and who owns them. SB 1587 includes exceptions allowing a drone to be used without a warrant to film traffic accidents and crime scenes on public property and to search for missing persons.

In my view, this piece of legislation effectively balances the right to be left alone with the legitimate contributions drones may make to public safety.

Senate Bill 1366, Extension of the Early Retirement Option
Senate Bill 1366 extends the Early Retirement Option (ERO) for teachers for three more years. This is an option that teachers can exercise wherein they retire early without a penalty, and they and their school districts reimburse the pension system for the additional cost. It was scheduled to expire at the end of June, which was problematic both because some teachers were already in the pipeline to retire and also because when properly used, it's a good program for school districts, teachers, and the state.

The innovation in SB 1366 is that its ERO extension is purely voluntary for school districts -- that way, if they don't think it's worth the cost, they don't have to participate, but school districts that find this to be a good deal for their students and taxpayers are free to do so. In either case, it doesn't cost the state anything -- it's an approach that puts the cost and the decision-making power in the hands of the school districts, which is good economics, good government, and good education policy.

Read more: Highlights from my legislative session

Category: Latest

Contact Me

District office:
3706 Dempster St.
Skokie, IL 60076
(847) 568-1250
(847) 568-1256 FAX

Springfield office:
417B Capitol Building
Springfield, IL 62706
(217) 782-2119

Email:
senatorbiss@gmail.com

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