Dan Reitz | IOGA Lobbyist
The Illinois General Assembly returned to Springfield last week. The COVID-19 Special Session was scheduled for three days. Lawmakers returned for a fourth day on Saturday and worked past midnight into Sunday before approving a fiscal year 2021 (FY 21) spending plan. This was the first-time lawmakers had met since the State’s stay-at-home orders were put in place. The Special Session’s agenda was limited to just seven issues:
- COVID-19 pandemic or other disasters;
- The State Budget and its implementation;
- Economic recovery, infrastructure projects, and funding thereof;
- The explanation, arguments for and against, and the form for constitutional amendments as required under the Illinois Constitutional Amendment Act;
- Laws or authority scheduled to be repealed prior to June 1, 2021;
- The 2020 General Election and the State Board of Elections; and
- The hospital assessment program.
Budget: The House and Senate passed a $42.8 Billion budget package. The plan is not perfect, and the budget is not balanced. The main reason for an unbalanced budget is uncertainty associated with the State’s revenue. Fallout from COVID-19, including business closures, increased unemployment, and changes in consumer spending, make it difficult to predict how much money the State will collect in tax and fee revenues as well as how much federal assistance will be made available to the State.
Legislators’ most important goal was to approve a FY 21 spending plan, but they also had to address several statutes that were set to expire or needed immediate attention and ensure the state was set up to capture federal stimulus dollars. In the end, lawmakers accomplished their goals and will most likely not return to Springfield until veto session in November. They will then have a better picture of the budget shortfalls and will have to adjust accordingly.
The bill requires election authorities to expand public education efforts on the State’s vote by mail process and ease vote by mail application process for many voters. Vote by mail applications will be automatically sent to people who recently registered to vote and to every person who applied to vote in any election since 2018.
Election day will be a school holiday under the bill. While the day is already considered a holiday for most state employees, expanding the status for schools enables empty school buildings to be used as election day polling places.
The bill also calls on local election authorities to appoint panels of election judges to verify the mail in ballots. The panels will be made up of 3 election judges from different political parties. The judges may reject a ballot if 1) all three judges agree the voter’s signature on file does not match the signature submitted with the mail in ballot or 2) if a majority of the judges agree the mail in ballot does not contain a signature, the mail in ballot was opened, the voter already voted, or the voter was not registered in that precinct. If a ballot is rejected, both the voter and the State Board of elections must be notified, and the voter may be given an opportunity to cure the issue.
Election authorities will be required to accept mail in ballots, even if the ballots are returned with insufficient postage, and they may set up secured, ballot drop boxes for voters to leave ballots postage-free.
These changes will only be in place for the remainder of 2020.
This bill also provides permissive language for counties choosing to waive penalty fees and interest on some or all late property tax payments.
In counties that have declared a local disaster, eligible property owners that qualified for a homestead exemption for disabled persons, veterans, and senior citizens assessment freeze in tax year 2019 may not be required to file an application in order to receive the exemption for the 2020 taxable year.
In addition, this bill would postpone tax sales and scavenger sales until there is no longer a statewide COVID-19 public health emergency.