The state’s population decline continues to be a cause for concern as Illinois enters a new decade with nearly 160,000 fewer residents.
In other news, a Senate committee discussed the controversial use of seclusion rooms in public schools, and the state’s Comptroller Office announced that it will no longer help cities collect fines for red-light camera violations.
Also during the week, the first phase of Illinois’ minimum wage increase took effect Jan. 1 and some small businesses are being advised to look into a tax credit to help offset increased costs.
Real reforms needed to stop population loss
Illinois ended 2019 with the largest population loss in the country, according to newly released census data.
Despite being one of the most populous states in the nation, Illinois has continuously declined in population over the years, underscoring the need for lawmakers to address the reasons for the continued outmigration of residents and employers, such as Illinois’ disproportionately high property tax burden and unfriendly business climate.
As we start a new spring legislative session, I remain committed to working with local and state officials to make the kind of changes that will help boost Illinois’ economy, keep our residents and businesses from leaving, and protect taxpayers.
Seclusion rooms face public scrutiny
Following a public outcry about the investigation released by the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica detailing the use of isolation rooms throughout the state’s public schools, lawmakers held their first hearing about the controversial practice.
The scathing report described overuse of physical restraint and isolated timeouts, prompting state lawmakers to gather on Jan. 7 for a joint hearing in Chicago to discuss legislation to ban the use of solitary confinement rooms. According to the report, more than 20,000 incidents of isolation were used in schools in less than two years.
Until the report, students could be isolated or restrained if they were deemed a safety threat to themselves or others. After the report was released, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) took action to ban “isolated seclusion” in schools.
Further investigation is being done by the ISBE to gather data on public schools’ seclusion practices and incidents. Meanwhile, two bills—Senate Bill 2315 and House Bill 3975—have been introduced to ban schools from placing a student in seclusion.
Comptroller pumps brakes on red-light camera debt
In the midst of ethical probes at the Capitol, the state’s Office of the Comptroller has recently announced that it will no longer assist municipalities in collecting fines for violations caught by red-light cameras. The red-light camera industry and contracts with local municipalities and political officials have recently come under scrutiny as federal investigations continue.
In 2012, the General Assembly authorized municipalities and other local governments to use the Office of the Comptroller to help collect debts resulting from unpaid traffic tickets. Outstanding debts were collected from violators by withholding state income tax refunds or other payments.
According to the Office of the Comptroller, this method of collection has been used to recover unpaid child support, overpayment of benefits, and other types of debt.
The Comptroller Office’s assistance with unpaid traffic tickets from red-light cameras will come to an end on Feb. 6.
It is anticipated that red-light cameras will be a topic of discussion during the spring legislative session. Legislation has been filed to analyze the use of the cameras and to ban red-light cameras.
Tax credit offered to small businesses in wake of minimum wage hike
Effective Jan. 1, Illinois’ minimum wage increased from $8.25 per hour to $9.25 per hour, putting additional cost burdens on small-business owners across the state. Wages will continue to increase incrementally to $15 per hour by 2025.
To help offset increased costs to the business community, small businesses are being encouraged to take advantage of a tax credit available to businesses and nonprofits with 50 full-time equivalent employees or fewer.
The Minimum Wage Credit will allow small businesses a maximum credit of 25 percent of the difference between the new minimum wage and what each employee was paid previously. The percentage allowed each proceeding year will decrease before it sunsets in 2026. Businesses can begin to claim the credit on their quarterly Illinois Withholding Income Tax Returns.
While this is not a long-term solution for small businesses, it will provide a measure of relief to employers as they face the hardships imposed by the minimum wage increase. For more information on the Minimum Wage Credit and how to calculate this credit, visit tax.illinois.gov.