More than 200 new laws will take effect in Illinois on Jan. 1, including one that restricts part-time office holders, whether elected or appointed, from participating in or receiving benefits from the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (IMRF).
The change means local government officials have to work at least 20 hours per week to be able to enroll in the plan that provides disability, retirement and death benefits versus 12 hours per week under former provisions of enrollment.
Madison County leaders passed a similar eligibility requirement for its workers and officials in January of this year.
While the IMRF is the least unhealthy of all state public pension systems at a funding level of 88 percent - compared to the worst funded General Assembly Retirement System (GARS) at 13 percent - critics maintain that a law that increases a work week from one-and-a-half days to two-and-a-half days for pension eligibility only "tinkers" with a more profound problem.
Watchdog group Taxpayers United of America (TUA), as well as analysts at the Illinois Policy Institute and some fiscally conservative lawmakers, say public pension systems will crush the state economically if not not overhauled because they are unsustainable.
TUA director Jared Labell has said that pensions promised to government workers are overly lavish and unfair to taxpayers.
“To receive pensions for as little as 12- or 20-hour work weeks is astonishing," Labell said in a previous interview. "If government employees are to receive pensions, taxpayers should expect these individuals to at least work full-time."
The Illinois Policy Institute says reforming the state's pension systems should begin with creating 401(k) style retirement programs for new hires, and advance from there with changes to the state constitution and municipal bankruptcy to deal with the state's massive pension debt which is estimated at between $130 and $250 billion.
But reforms to public pensions in the ways proposed by fiscal conservatives have been resisted by a Democratically-controlled state legislature because of pressure from public sector unions such as American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which do not want any erosion of benefits for its members.
A pension law passed by the state in 2013 which would have reduced benefits for state employees, General Assembly members, downstate teachers and state university employees was declared unconstitutional by the Illinois Supreme Court in 2015. The ruling indicated that the pension fix is not up to the courts, but rather the General Assembly, which over the course of many years has diverted funds that were supposed to go to pensions into other projects.
Other new laws taking effect, according to a press release from State Rep. Charlie Meier (R-Okawville):
Police job training program
The Police Training Academy Job Training program (Public Act 100-331) allows any school district to establish a partnership with a local police department, county sheriff, or police training academy to establish a jobs training program for high school students. The training program is open to all students, regardless of prior academic history. The program is limited to counties with 175,000 or more inhabitants (Cook, DuPage, Lake, Will, Kane, McHenry, Winnebago, Madison, St. Clair, Champaign, Sangamon, and Peoria counties). The law also creates a scholarship fund to provide support for the police training academy job training and scholarship programs.
Enhancing and protecting Illinois’ military bases
To help prevent future closings of military bases and other military infrastructure located within Illinois. Public Act 100-144 creates the Military Economic Development Committee (currently, the Interagency Military Base Support and Economic Development Committee) as an entity within the Office of the Lieutenant Governor (currently, the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.) It also makes changes to the composition and rules of the Committee including increasing the membership from eight to 10, and ensuring up to four members have a military background in Illinois.
“The more stakeholders we have advocating on behalf of Illinois’ military bases is certainly helpful,” Meier said. “According to data provided to my office, the military and the defense industry directly and indirectly contribute nearly 150,000 jobs and $13.3 billion in economic activity across Illinois. Scott Air Force Base is a major contributor to our state and local economy, most importantly SAFB plays a major role in our national security. This new law will help enhance and protect our military bases.”
Strengthening protections for military personnel who relocate during their active duty
This new law (Public Act 100-264) fills in the gaps in the existing Illinois Service Member Civil Relief Act by providing that any service member, at any time after receiving military orders to relocate for a period of service of at least 90 days, may terminate or suspend contracts for Internet services, television and cable services, athletic club or gym memberships or satellite radio services. The new law also provides that a returning member of the military may reinstate the original provisions of contracts upon the completion of their service.
Helping Paws for Veterans Act
Public Act 100-384 will now ensure military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression will now be included among those eligible to receive service dogs from the Helping Paws Service Dog Program. The act now insures that veterans with PTSD or depression are included among eligible disabilities.
Organ donor registration to age 16
Public Act 100-41 requires the Secretary of State to begin to offer each applicant for a driver's license or identification card who is 16 years of age or older (rather than 18 years of age or older) the opportunity to have his or her name included in the First Person Consent organ and tissue donor registry. Allows the parent or guardian of the donor to amend or revoke the anatomical gift of the donor's body.
Mammogram coverage to include MRIs
Public Act 100-395 amends sections concerning coverage for mammograms, the Illinois Insurance Code, the Health Maintenance Organization Act and the Illinois Public Aid Code to require that MRIs of an entire breast or breasts shall be covered if a mammogram demonstrates heterogeneous or dense breast tissue, when medically necessary as determined by a physician licensed to practice medicine in all its branches.
Loans for fire trucks
Concerning the ambulance revolving loan program, Public Act 100-152 provides that a loan for the purchase of an ambulance may not exceed $200,000 (instead of $100,000). This increase was enacted to help local emergency departments purchase the most modern and up to date ambulances.
Click here for a full list of all new laws scheduled to take effect Jan. 1