Busy Day in Springfield Includes Votes and Protests

With the Illinois legislative session scheduled to end on Wednesday, lawmakers were busy trying to deal with some measures still needing action.

The Illinois Senate has approved a two-year property tax freeze.

Democratic Senate President John Cullerton of Chicago pushed two property-tax freezes measures through the Senate Tuesday. One would freeze property tax levies for school districts. But they'd be able to seek a waiver from the Illinois State Board of Education. The other would freeze taxes for other government bodies with exemptions to allow them to pay down debt and make contributions to employees' pensions.

Governor Bruce Rauner has demanded a permanent freeze. Democrats say that would cripple local governments. Cullerton says senators could adopt a new freeze if a two-year freeze works.

The measures move to the House.

Rauner's spokeswoman calls the plan a ``phony two-year freeze.''

The Illinois House has approved a plan to raise Illinois’ minimum wage to 15 dollars an hour.

A higher minimum wage has been a rallying point for Democrats and labor unions across the country.
Rep. Chris Welch, from Hillside, says his constituents want help bringing home more money.

“If you flip a burger, you should make a decent wage too.”

Illinois currently has an $8.25 minimum. This proposal would have it go up slowly — only reaching $15 in the year 2022.

Republicans and business groups counter that such a high wage would force employers to hire fewer people, or turn to automation.

Gov. Bruce Rauner has supported a higher minimum wage in the past, but not $15 — and only if it's tied to his economic agenda.

A bill that aims to make college more affordable and keep students in Illinois passed the House.

The measure provides up to four thousand dollars grants to students attending an in-state college or university.
Bill sponsor, Representative Lou Lang, says families would have to meet certain income guidelines and students would have to maintain at least a "B" average while they are in school.
 
Representative Robert Pritchard says it's a great idea, but that the state can't support the 300 to 400 million dollar annual price tag.
 
The bill also sets up a fund for schools to attract top faculty and creates a program to help students pay back their loans at zero interest.

It now moves to the Senate.

A spokeswoman says Gov. Bruce Rauner will sign a plan to automatically register qualified Illinois voters.      

State lawmakers have already approved the proposal. It calls for registering individuals automatically when they visit one of several state agencies unless they opt out.        

Rauner vetoed a different version of the plan over concerns that it didn't do enough to prevent voter fraud.         Rauner spokeswoman Eleni Demertzis thanked bill sponsors and stakeholders in Tuesday statement saying the ``sanctity'' of the election process must be protected.        

Roughly half a dozen other states, including Oregon and West Virginia, already automatically register voters. 

Protesters pushing for plans to close so-called corporate tax loopholes and tax the wealthy at higher rates disrupted proceedings at the state Capitol.

Roughly a dozen chanting protesters were removed from the House gallery as lawmakers were in session. Illinois Secretary of State spokesman Henry Haupt says no arrests were made.        

Some protesters were seen being dragged out of the gallery by security staff.        

The protesters are part of a coalition called Fair Economy Illinois. Some members marched from Chicago to Springfield for the final days of the legislative session to urge lawmakers to pass a budget that helps working people.