General Assembly made history, but much left undone

Illinois legislators ran out of time on bills to, among other things, expand vote-by-mail, allow lawmakers to conduct business remotely during the pandemic and eliminate newly expanded income tax deductions for business owners.

SHARE General Assembly made history, but much left undone
Illinois State Capitol in Springfield.

The Illinois State Capitol in Springfield.

AP file

SPRINGFIELD — The 101st Illinois General Assembly took historic action that ranged from passing legislation to end cash bail prior to electing a Black House Speaker for the first time.

But lawmakers ran out of time on several consequential measures — including bills that would have expanded vote-by-mail, allowed lawmakers to conduct business remotely during the pandemic and eliminated newly expanded income tax deductions for business owners. Another bill relating to the state’s rollout of legalization of adult-use marijuana also failed to pass, as did a measure that was part of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus’ health care agenda.

House Democrats fell 10 votes short of passing a bill, endorsed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, that would have eliminated certain tax deductions for Illinois business owners created under the federal CARES Act. Pritzker has argued this change is needed to prevent revenues from shrinking by more than $500 million during the current fiscal year, thus enlarging the state’s $3.9 billion budget deficit.

Specifically, the bill would end the CARES Act amendments that expanded income deductions business owners can claim as net operating losses, carryback losses or excess business losses.

In a Jan. 8 news release, Pritzker encouraged the General Assembly to “decouple” Illinois’ tax law from the federal tax amendments under the CARES Act, an action that would have kept the state tax code consistent with previous years.

Pritzker claimed those changes would preserve $500 million in state tax revenue.During House floor debate early on Jan. 13, lawmakers of both parties described the bill as preserving up to $1 billion in state revenue.

Democratic Rep. Michael Zalewski, D-Riverside, the bill’s sponsor, said the proposed changes would impact about 440,000 taxpayers statewide.

State Rep. Mike Zalewski, D-Riverside, shown during debate on the House floor at the Bank of Springfield Center in January.

Rep. Mike Zalewski, D-Riverside, shown during debate on the House floor at the Bank of Springfield Center on Jan. 13. The bill would have eliminated tax deductions for Illinois business owners, created under the federal CARES Act. That bill was one of several important measures that failed to pass during the 101st General Assembly.

Despite Zalewski’s appeals, 10 House Democrats voted present while another eight did not vote on the bill, including former House Speaker Michael Madigan, of Chicago, and the newly elected Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, of Hillside.

At least a dozen Republicans condemned the proposal as a last minute “tax hike” on small business owners already crushed by the pandemic.

During the House floor debate, Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, said the bill amounts to the tax increase Republican lawmakers had anticipated.

“This is the textbook definition of a late-night, no-one-is-watching, lame-duck, back-door tax increase. This is exactly what people hate,” he said.

Zalewski characterized the proposal as an effort to prevent loss of revenue, rather than an effort to raise new revenue.

House Republicans also criticized the Pritzker administration and the Illinois Department of Revenue for not notifying taxpayers or the legislature sooner of the state’s plans to decouple from the federal changes that were made in March.

During a news conference Friday, Pritzker said he expects the legislature will bring the proposal back in the 102nd General Assembly.

Remote voting, more

The remote voting bill, which passed the Senate unanimously, would have permitted the House and Senate to convene remotely and cast votes during a public health emergency where “in-person participation poses a significant risk to the health and safety,” of lawmakers, their staff or the public.

The Senate changed its rules during the brief May session to allow for remote hearings but the House failed to pass similar changes. Two lawmakers voted remotely in the lame-duck session.

Both chambers released tentative calendars last week showing they are scheduled to meet in-person several days each month through May.

Since the pandemic hit Illinois in March of 2020, members of the House met briefly the following May and earlier this month at the Bank of Springfield Center, while the Senate continued at the Capitol for those brief sessions.

The vote-by-mail bill, which passed the Senate by a vote of 40-18, would have made permanent some changes implemented in response to the pandemic for the 2020 general election. This would have included the use of drop-box sites to collect ballots without postage and curbside voting during early voting or on Election Day.

Meanwhile, House Bill 122, which would have added another round of 75 marijuana dispensary licenses among other actions, passed the Senate but did not receive a vote in the House as well.

Senate Bill 558, which was a wide-ranging bill consisting of several health care reforms backed by the Black Caucus, passed the House but did not receive a vote in the Senate.

Contact Sarah Mansur at smansur@capitolnewsillinois.com. Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

The Latest
Since being traumatized by a violent assault, woman has put her mate through a lot, and she feels bad that she’s no longer interested in a physical relationship.
Thinking ahead to your next few meals? Here are some main dishes and sides to try.
The fatal shooting occurred in McKinley Park on the Southwest Side.