Lawmakers back to Springfield next week: Elected Chicago school board, energy among bills ‘at the top of our list’

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House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, speaks on the House floor last month.
House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, speaks on the House floor last month. | Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP file

House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch has already predicted that a measure creating a 21-member board will pass the state’s lower legislative chamber. Illinois Senate President Don Harmon touted a “landmark clean energy plan that both protects thousands of jobs and moves Illinois responsibly toward the future.”

State legislators plan to return to Springfield next week to tackle a stalled energy proposal and legislation that would eventually create an elected school board — two hot-button issues left unfinished when the General Assembly adjourned last week.

In a statement announcing the Senate’s return next Tuesday, Illinois Senate President Don Harmon said the energy bill, which has yet to be released, is a “landmark clean energy plan that both protects thousands of jobs and moves Illinois responsibly toward the future.”

The House plans to return to session next Wednesday to “take care of some final-action legislation,” Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch said in his own statement.

“Items such as the energy proposal, unemployment insurance, and an elected school board for Chicago will be at the top of our list,” the Hillside Democrat said. “We were able to accomplish big things this legislative session, and I’m eager to keep that spirit alive in a quick special session next week.”

Legislators in both chambers plan to come back for only one day.

Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, gives his closing remarks on the floor of the Illinois House of Representatives on Tuesday, June 1.
Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register, distributed by the Associated Press
Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, gives his closing remarks on the floor of the Illinois House of Representatives on Tuesday, June 1.

Though it seemed stakeholders were close to a deal on an energy proposal last week, the legislation hit a snag before the slated end of session on Memorial Day, and neither chamber passed anything on the issue.

That snag was related to the proposed closure of southern Illinois coal plant Prairie State, which would have been forced to close by 2035 under a previous proposal. It’s not yet clear if that deadline for closure will be part of the new proposal.

The legislation voted on next week is likely to be a compromise between lawmakers, utility companies including Exelon and ComEd, and Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who in April introduced his own energy proposal that would end formula rates and set some ethics provisions on the state’s energy sector.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker congratulates Democrat Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, just before Harmon took the oath of office to become state Senate president last year.
Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP
Gov. J.B. Pritzker congratulates Democrat Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, just before Harmon took the oath of office to become state Senate president last year.

The House will need to approve any energy legislation passed by the Senate.

Along with that legislation, lawmakers in the House are likely to debate and pass legislation that would create a partially elected school board.

Welch, who supports an elected school board, has already predicted that a measure creating a 21-member board will pass the state’s lower legislative chamber.

“I like the bill because it’s a move towards a fully-elected school board,” Welch told the Chicago Sun-Times last week. “I believe in more democracy — not less. I’m a product of an elected school board and believe that elections work.”

The Senate voted 36 to 15, with two voting present, to advance that bill, which must head back to the House where it needs a three-fifths majority to take effect within the next year.

Assuming all 118 House members vote on the measure, it would require 71 votes to pass.

The proposal would create a 21-seat board in January 2025, initially split between 11 mayoral appointees — including the board president — and 10 elected members.

The first elected members would run in the November 2024 general election for four-year terms. Though the mayor would continue picking the board president, City Council confirmation would become necessary. The mayor currently appoints a seven-member board, including the president, without an approval process.

After two years, the seats of the board president and the 10 appointees would become elected ones in January 2027 through a November 2026 election. Those members would also serve four-year terms.

Lightfoot opposes the bill, calling the 21-member board “unwieldy” and the switch from an appointed to an elected school board “the most consequential change in governance” in decades, if not ever for the Chicago Public Schools.

“This is supposed to be about democracy, but what happened in Springfield had nothing to do with democracy,” she said last week. “But democracy — mark my word — will prevail.”

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June 8, 2021 at 04:54PM

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