2020 Special Legislative Session Update

By July 1, 2020 News No Comments

In May 2020, the Illinois General Assembly convened for a Special Session after a two-month hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Special Session focused on limited issues, including those related to the COVID-19 pandemic and economic recovery, the state budget, the 2020 General Election, and K-12 education. The Governor has now taken action on many of the bills from the Special Session, including all of the relevant bills below. We summarized these laws, discussing what school boards and administrators need to know immediately and as they are planning for the 2020-2021 school year. Below is a list of the laws, and summaries of the laws, by category and by specific topic. You can navigate by clicking on the links below.

 

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STUDENTS 

Remote & Blended Learning (SB 1569; P.A. 101-0643, eff. 6/18/20)

SB 1569 creates new Section 10-30 in the Illinois School Code to address remote and blended remote learning. 105 ILCS 5/10-30. Section 10-30 codifies aspects of the Illinois State Board of Education’s Emergency Rules regarding remote learning days (23 Ill. Admin. Code Part 5); however, the new provision includes key differences. Importantly, Section 10-30 applies only if the Governor has declared a disaster due to a public health emergency. If the Governor has issued a disaster proclamation due to a public health emergency, the State Superintendent may declare a requirement to use remote learning days or blended remote learning days for a school district, multiple school districts, a region, or the entire state.

Once declared by the State Superintendent, districts may utilize hybrid models of in-person and remote instruction for blended remote learning days, and remote and blended remote learning days are pupil attendance days for calculation of the length of a school term under the School Code. Furthermore, the clock hour requirements for a school day do not apply during the term of a gubernatorial disaster proclamation, though the State Superintendent may set minimum clock hour requirements for these days. Per the ISBE/IDPH Part 3 Joint Guidance for reopening schools for the 2020-2021 school year, the State Superintendent determined that remote and blended remote learning days must ensure at least five clock hours of instruction or school work for each student. Districts have flexibility to determine how to best meet the five clock hour requirement and may count all learning activities toward the five clock hour expectation.

Districts may use remote and blended remote learning planning days, consecutively or in separate increments, to develop, review, or amend its remote learning day plan or provide professional development to staff regarding remote education. Up to five remote and blended remote learning planning days may be pupil attendance days for calculation of the length of the school term under the School Code.

For districts that have approved e-learning programs under Section 10-20.56 of the School Code, a remote learning day or blended remote learning day may be met through a district’s implementation of an e-learning program. 105 ILCS 5/10-20.56.

A district’s remote learning plan must address the requirements set forth in new Section 10-30(4) (105 ILCS 5/10-30(4)) and must be approved by the district superintendent, posted on the district’s website, and provided to students and faculty. All statutory and regulatory curricular mandates and offerings may be administered via remote and blended remote learning, except individual behind-the-wheel instruction cannot be offered. Moreover, districts are not relieved of completing all statutory and regulatory curricular mandates and offerings when in remote and blended learning days. For districts that subscribe to the IASB PRESS policy service, a new administrative procedure to Policy 6:20 on remote and blended learning days was included as part of the June 2020 update.

In addition, SB 1569 includes a provision that school districts are prohibited from withholding report cards for students who have not had dental or eye exams during a gubernatorial declared disaster due to a public health emergency. SB 1569 also codifies the waiver of particular student curricular mandates regarding physical education, patriotism and principles of representative government curriculum (constitution exam may be taken remotely), and other requirements during a declared disaster due to a public health emergency and waives student assessment requirements if ISBE has received a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education. Lastly, looking back to this school year, SB 1569 validates any diploma awarded during the 2019-2020 school year under graduation requirements that were modified by an executive order, emergency rulemaking, or school board policy as a result of COVID-19.

Response to Intervention, IEP Drafts, and Service Logs (SB 1569; P.A. 101-0643, eff. 6/18/20) 

As previously reported here and here, on August 23, 2019, Governor Pritzker signed HB 3586 to law, which provided, among other things, additional requirements for school districts to provide draft documents to parents at least three school days in advance of IEP meetings and to the Response to Intervention (“RtI”) protocol. On December 6, 2019, Governor Pritzker signed SB 460, delaying the “draft document” requirement in HB 3586 until July 1, 2020, and amending the RtI mandate regarding eligibility determinations for specific learning disability.

On June 18, 2020, Governor Pritzker signed SB 1569 into law, which amends, once again provisions of HB 3586 and Article 14 of the Illinois School Code and now includes the following requirements:

  • Beginning July 1, 2020, school districts must provide draft documents to parents at least three school days in advance of IEP meetings and provide parents with options for delivering the draft documents, including regular mail and picking up materials at school. Email or a secure portal also may be options.
  • Parents must be informed of their right to review and copy their child’s school student records prior to any IEP meeting.
  • School districts must create and maintain related service logs for speech and language services, occupational therapy services, physical therapy services, social work services, counseling services, psychology services, and nursing services, which must be available to parents at any time upon request.
  • If the IEP team is unable to implement certain services for a child within 10 school days after the service was to be initiated as set forth in the child’s IEP, the school district must provide the parents with written notification that the service has not been implemented and procedures for requesting compensatory services within three school days of the district’s non-compliance.
  • For RtI (also known as Multi-Tier System of Supports (“MTSS”)), notably, SB 1569 removed all language included in HB 3586, as amended by SB 460, regarding the use of RtI for eligibility determinations under specific learning disability. Although the School Code is now silent as to whether a school district must or may utilize the RtI process as part of the evaluation process in determining a student’s eligibility for a specific learning disability, ISBE regulations require that school districts utilize the RtI process for specific learning disability. As such, school districts must utilize the RtI process as part of the evaluation procedure to determine if a child is eligible for special education services due to a specific learning disability, consistent with ISBE Rule 226.13 . 23 Ill. Admin. Code 226.130.
  • School districts must provide parents with written notice of the district’s use of RtI for the child, as well as all data collected and reviewed by the school district with regard to the child in the RtI process.

In sum, pursuant to SB 1569, school districts must ensure that they are providing appropriate documentation and notification to parents regarding draft IEP documents, related services logs, student records, and the RtI process. Specifically, school districts should account for any delays in mail service due to the COVID-19 pandemic in order to provide parents with draft documents at least three school days prior to an IEP meeting, unless the parent has opted for a different delivery method, and ensure that they are utilizing the RtI process for evaluations for specific learning disability. 

PERSONNEL

TRS Retiree Repeal Date Extended (SB 1857; P.A. 101-0645, eff. 6/26/20)

SB 1857 amends the Illinois Pension Code concerning a TRS annuitant’s ability to return to work in a TRS-covered position without impairing his/her pension status. Currently, the Pension Code allows a TRS annuitant to be employed in a TRS-covered position for up to 120 paid days or 600 paid hours per school year, following the school year in which the annuitant last contributed to TRS. This post-retirement limitation was set to revert to a maximum of 100 paid days or 500 paid hours on July 1, 2020. However, SB 1857 extends the 120 paid days/600 hours limit through June 30, 2021, effective immediately. Because the TRS limit for post-retirement employment is set to sunset June 30, 2021, TRS retired members and covered employers should use caution with establishing timelines in employment contracts.

Unemployment and Workers Compensation (SB 2455; P.A. 101-0633, eff. 6/5/20)

Unemployment

HB 2455, effective June 5, 2020, amends the Unemployment Insurance Act by doing a number of important things. Of particular interest is the temporary suspension of eligibility for unemployment benefits during academic breaks. Usually, academic personnel (e.g., employees of public school districts) are not eligible for unemployment benefits during academic break periods (e.g., spring break, winter break and summer break) if they performed services for the employer immediately prior to the academic break and have a reasonable assurance that they will continue to perform services for the employer after the break.

For the period beginning March 15, 2020 through January 2, 2021, the Act appears to remove the eligibility restriction for unemployment benefits for non-professional academic employees of educational institutions or educational service agencies, including public or private schools, colleges, or universities, who perform services in capacities other than instruction, research, or principal administration. Of immediate concern, such removal would render non-professional academic employees in these categories (e.g., employees who are custodians, teacher’s aides, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, clerical workers, etc.) eligible for unemployment benefits over the summer break even if they were not expected to work over the summer break and will return to work in the fall.

Further, educational institutions are allowed to be non-charged for the unemployment charges for non-professional academic employees from March 15, 2020 through January 2, 2021. According to IDES, if the educational institution is a reimbursable employer, this allowance will be processed with the quarterly Statement of Amount Due for Benefits Paid. If the educational institution pays contributions, the allowance will be processed with the Statement of Benefit Charges. IDES will release additional information in August regarding how taxable employers will not be charged for the unemployment charges, and reimbursable employers will not be charged 50% and the process of federal reimbursement for the remaining 50%. Please consult your legal counsel if you have questions.

IDES also stated that because the Act now allows benefits to unemployed non-professional academic employees between terms and during vacation breaks and holidays this year, a protest filed on the basis that such employees cannot receive unemployment during these periods will not be adjudicated.

As noted above, this new law only applies to non-professional academic employees. Under federal law, professional employees (i.e., instructional, principally administrative, or research employees) may still be denied unemployment between terms if they have reasonable assurance they will be employed next term. To that extent, IDES requested that each educational institution in Illinois complete the Academic Personnel Reporting Form to notify IDES of professional academic personnel who have a reasonable assurance they will return to work in the next academic year. Guidance on the amended Act and the Academic Personnel Reporting Form are available on the IDES website.

As a result of these changes, districts should carefully review unemployment notices from the IDES and protest unemployment if a valid basis exists. For example, many districts continued to operate from March 15, 2020 through the natural end of the school term (e.g., May or June) and were not considered to be “between terms” until the end of the 2019-2020 school year. Thus, if employees attempt to gain benefits for periods of time that were not “between terms,” a valid basis for protest may still exist. Also, always remember, a valid protest may exist if an employee actually resigned or refused to work during a period for which he/she is seeking unemployment benefits.

Workers Compensation

HB 2455, effective June 5, 2020, also amends the Workers’ Occupational Diseases Act in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, the amendment creates a rebuttable presumption in proceedings before the Workers’ Compensation Commission that a front-line worker’s contraction of COVID-19 is causally connected to his/her employment. In other words, front-line workers are presumed to have contracted COVID-19 by virtue of their employment for workers’ compensation purposes. COVID-19 front-line workers include, in relevant part, “any individuals employed by essential businesses and operations as defined in Executive Order 2020-10 dated March 20, 2020.” This necessarily encompasses school district employees who are required to encounter members of the general public and who, generally speaking, work in employment locations of more than 15 employees.

However, an employer may overcome this presumption by submitting certain evidence, including the following: (1) the employee was working from his/her home, or was on leave from employment, or some combination thereof, for a period of 14 or more consecutive days before contraction of COVID-19; (2) the employer was engaging in and applying to the fullest extent possible industry-specific workplace sanitation, social distancing, and updated Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) or Illinois Department of Public Health (“IDPH”) health and safety practices; or (3) the employee was exposed to COVID-19 by an alternate source.

Documentation is always important, and especially so in light of these recent changes. To the extent that your district has employees working remotely, maintain logs to track when employees are actually in your buildings versus working remotely. Document your district’s policies and practices that comport with CDC/IDPH guidelines; for example, a sanitation checklist for each building that provides for a cleaning schedule for high traffic areas or with surfaces with repeated contact (e.g., doors handles, keypads, desks, etc.).

Districts should provide employees with personal protective equipment (“PPE”) in accordance with the updated guidance from the CDC/IDPH. At a minimum, this includes face coverings. Hand sanitizer should be made widely available throughout all buildings. Districts also should contact their workers’ compensation carrier/broker to determine if additional recommendations are being made.

Teacher Licensure, Evaluations, Remediation Plans, Teacher RIFs, Pending Criminal Charges Notice (SB 1569; P.A. 101-0643, eff. 6/18/20)

Teacher Licensure Requirements

SB 1569 makes certain modifications to various licensure requirements (e.g., career and technical endorsement, provisional career and technical endorsement, requirements for educators trained in other states or countries, etc.). Among the various modifications, the law extends all ISBE-issued licenses (under Article 21B of the Illinois School Code) that were set to expire June 30, 2020, and were not renewed by the end of the 2020 renewal period for one year until June 30, 2021. For spring 2020 only, student teaching (or its equivalent) or school business manager internship requirements are waived. Lastly, during any period of a public health emergency as declared by the Governor, the new law does the following: (1) waives the requirement to pass a teacher performance assessment for a candidate seeking a PEL; and (2) during remote learning days under Section 10-30 of the School Code, a candidate seeking an educator license may complete his/her required student teaching (or equivalent experience) or required school business management internship remotely. As a result, districts should incorporate student teachers and school business manager interns in remote learning day plans.

Evaluations and Remediation Plans

SB 1569 amends the Illinois School Code so that not all teachers automatically default to “Proficient” when their evaluations could not be completed during the Governor’s disaster declaration due to a public health emergency under Section 7 of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency Act. Instead, during such a disaster declaration, a tenured teacher who was rated “Excellent” on his/her most recent evaluation and whose performance evaluation was not conducted when their evaluation was required to have been conducted by law, shall receive a teacher’s performance rating of “Excellent” for purposes of placement on a Sequence of Honorable Dismissal List. The “Excellent” rating shall be issued unless the performance rating was already completed or the school board and union agree to an alternate performance rating.

For non-tenured teachers, during the disaster declaration period, the school board and union may mutually agree to an alternate performance rating, as long as the agreement is in writing. Otherwise, for purposes of determining attainment of tenure or placement on a Sequence of Honorable Dismissal List, the non-tenured teacher shall receive a “Proficient” rating in a school term when an evaluation was not conducted although it was required to have been conducted by law.

As a result of these changes, districts should update evaluation plans to document any alternate default during such period of public health emergency declarations for either tenured or non-tenured teachers or update evaluation plans to include just the “Excellent” default for tenured teachers who qualify.

In addition, SB 1569 waives, during the periods when the Governor has declared a disaster due to a public health emergency that suspends in-person instruction, the timelines in the Illinois School Code connected to the commencement and completion of any remediation plans. Unless the school board and union agree otherwise in writing, any remediation plan that had been in place for more than 45 days prior to the suspension of in-person instruction resumes when in-person instruction resumes. Any remediation plan that had been in place for fewer than 45 days prior to the suspension of in-person instruction is discontinued and a new remediation period will begin when in-person instruction resumes. This requirement applies regardless of whether it is included in a school district’s evaluation plan. 

Accordingly, districts should review any remediation plans that were in effect at the time of the Governor’s disaster declaration and modify the dates the remediation plan is in effect in light of the new law. Involve the individuals who established the original remediation plan for the modification of the remediation plan. Also, districts should update evaluation plans to incorporate the new requirements regarding remediation plans during disaster declarations due to a public health emergency.

Reduction in Force for Teachers 

SB 1569 allows Boards of Education to serve a teacher with written notice of Reduction in Force (“RIF”) by electronic mail as long as the written notice is mailed to the teacher as well. Specifically, the notice must be mailed to the teacher and given to the teacher in one of the following ways: electronic mail; certified mail, return receipt requested; or personal delivery with receipt. Please note that the law was NOT modified to allow for electronic mail as an option for service for ESP RIFs.

Under normal circumstances, to be “safe,” we recommend sending RIF notices all four ways (mail, email, certified mail, return receipt requested, and personal delivery with receipt). However, due to COVID-19 social distancing measures, you may choose to skip the personal delivery with receipt and implement the other three service methods. We also strongly recommend that districts do RIFs as early as possible to ensure sufficient time to serve teachers with the written notice properly.

Pending Criminal Charges Notification Requirement

SB 1569 places an affirmative duty on certain individuals and entities to report pending criminal charges of prohibited offenses to ISBE. Specifically, if a superintendent, Regional Office of Education (“ROE”), or an entity that provides background checks of license holders to public schools receives information of a pending criminal charge against a license holder for an enumerated offense, the Superintendent, ROE, or other entity must notify the State Superintendent of the pending criminal charge within 10 days. Please refer to Section 21B-80 of the Illinois School Code for a list of prohibited offenses. 105 ILCS 5/21B-80. We recommend notifying the State Superintendent in writing so that you document that you have fulfilled this new notification requirement.

BUSINESS

Open Meetings Act Amended to Allow Remote Meetings (SB 2135; P.A. 101-0640, eff. 6/12/20)

SB 2135 codifies the Governor’s previous Executive Orders by amending the Illinois Open Meetings Act (“OMA”) to allow a public body to hold both open and closed meetings remotely under certain conditions. These changes went into effect on June 12, 2020.

SB 2135 amends OMA to allow a public body to hold both open and closed meetings via audio or video conference without the physical presence of a quorum of board members, provided: (1) a disaster proclamation has been issued by the Governor or Illinois Department of Public Health related to public health concerns covering all or part of the public body’s jurisdiction; (2) the head of the public body determines an in-person meeting is not practical or prudent due to the disaster; (3) members of the public body participating in the remote meeting are verified and can hear one another and all discussion and testimony; (4) specifically for open meetings, members of the public physically present at the regular meeting location can hear all discussion, testimony, and votes of the members of the public body and, if physical attendance is not feasible, then alternate arrangements must be made and notice must be provided to the public to ensure contemporaneous access to the meeting (Note: the Governor’s June 26, 2020, disaster proclamation finds that public health concerns render in-person attendance of more than 50 people at the regular meeting location not feasible); (5) unless infeasible due to disaster, at least one member of the public body, chief legal counsel, or chief administrative officer must be physically present at the regular meeting location; (6) all votes must be conducted by roll call; (7) unless there is a bona fide emergency, the public body must provide 48 hours’ notice of a meeting to all members of the public through posting on its website and to any new media who has requested such notice; and (8) the public body must keep verbatim audio or video record of all open and closed meetings and these recordings must be made available to the public under the existing Section 2.06 of OMA, which still generally allows for confidential treatment of closed session recordings.

For purposes of determining a quorum and participating in all proceedings, each member of the public body participating in a remote meeting by audio or video conference is considered present. Further, the public body is responsible for bearing all costs associated with remote meeting compliance. Pursuant to these amendments to OMA, during the period when a public health disaster proclamation has been issued, schools may hold meetings via audio or video conference without a quorum of members physically present under the above enumerated conditions.

Electronic Construction Contract Bidding (HB 2096; P.A. 101-0632, eff. 6/5/20)

HB 2096 amends Section 10-20.21 of the Illinois School Code concerning electronic bidding. Previously, this Section of the School Code allowed for electronic bidding for all contracts with the exception of contracts for construction projects. The amendment removes the prohibition on electronic bidding for construction projects, allowing construction bids to be communicated, opened, and accepted electronically. Construction project electronic bidding will still need to meet the same technical safeguards as previously set for electronic bidding of any other contracts, including the following: (1) the use of a database requiring a unique login and password for each bidder so that no bidders may access the bid of a separate company; and (2) maintaining the electronic database on a network that (i) is in a secure environment behind a firewall; (ii) has specific encryption tools; (iii) maintains specific intrusion detection systems; (iv) has redundant systems architecture with data storage back-up; and (v) maintains a disaster recovery plan. This permanent change to the School Code allows, in the short term, for districts to more easily follow COVID-19 related social distancing guidelines and still permit any district construction projects to be able to move forward with ease without the need for paper bid drop-offs and collection. In the long term, it will allow for school districts to transition into a paper-less process and may make the bidding process more efficient for districts and potential bidders. These changes went into effect on June 5, 2020.

District Intervention Money for School Districts Under Independent Authority (SB 1569; P.A. 101-0643, eff. 6/18/20)

SB 1569 amends Sections 1H-115 and 18-8.15 of the Illinois School Code. This amendment allows the addition of District Intervention Money to the Based Funding Minimum of certain districts operating under an Independent Authority or court-ordered control of ISBE that can demonstrate sustainability under a 5-year plan. After the award of such money, the district’s progress under the 5-year plan will be monitored, and failure to file financial reports or to demonstrate progress may result in ISBE’s establishment of a Financial Oversight Panel for the district or, if the district already has a Financial Oversight Panel, ISBE’s extension of the life of that panel past the current 10-year limitation.

FINANCE 

Interfund Transfer Flexibility Extended (SB 1569; P.A. 101-0643, eff. 6/18/20)

SB 1569 amends Sections 17-2.11 and 17-2A of the Illinois School Code concerning limitations on interfund transfers. Currently, school boards may, by proper resolution following notice and public hearing, transfer surplus life safety taxes and interest earnings thereon to the Operations and Maintenance Fund for purposes of building repair work until June 30, 2020. Additionally, school boards may transfer funds among the Educational, Operations and Maintenance, and Transportation Funds, or from the Tort Immunity Fund to the Operations and Maintenance Fund, without complying with the restriction that such transfer be made only for the purpose of meeting a one-time, non-recurring expense, so long as the transfer takes place between July 1, 2003, and June 30, 2020. SB 1569 extends the end date of both school board powers from June 30, 2020, to June 30, 2021. As such, school boards may continue to make transfers in accordance with the above circumstances for one additional year.

Property Tax Pool Relief—Extension Base Impact Extended (SB 1569; P.A. 101-0643, eff. 6/18/20)

Last year, the legislature amended Section 2-3.170 of the Illinois School Code to require a school district receiving a State Property Tax Pool Relief Grant, beginning Fiscal Year 2020, to abate its property taxes not only for the year it receives the grant, but also the next fiscal year following receipt of the grant. An existing provision in the statute provided that in the tax year following receipt of the grant, the aggregate levy of the school district would not be affected under the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law (“PTELL”). SB 1569 amends this provision to clarify that the district’s aggregate extension base under PTELL would not be impacted by the abatement in the immediate two consecutive tax years following receipt of the grant.

Bond Authority for Specific Districts Expanded (SB 1937; P.A. 101-0646, eff. 6/26/20)

Effective June 26, 2020, SB 1937 amends Section 19-1 of the Illinois School Code by providing authority to Greenview Community Unit School District No. 200 ($3,500,000), Komarek School District No. 94 ($20,800,000), Williamsville Community Unit School District No. 15 ($40,000,000), Berkeley School District No. 87 ($105,000,000), Elmwood Park Community Unit School District No. 401 ($55,000,000), Maroa-Forsyth Community Unit School District No. 2 ($33,000,000), and Schiller Park School District No. 81 ($30,000,000) to issue bonds in the specified amounts following approval by referendum. Further, the amendment specifies that bonds issued pursuant to this amendment to Section 19-1 shall not be considered indebtedness for purposes of any statutory debt limitation. The specific school districts authorized to issue bonds are each limited to using bond funds for a specific purpose; such purposes include construction and expansion of facilities, improvement of facilities due to age and condition, and the installation of safety and security improvements.

State of Illinois Borrowing Under the CURE Borrowing Act (SB 2099; P.A. 101-0630, eff. 5/29/20)

Effective May 29, 2020, SB 2099 creates the Coronavirus Urgent Remediation Emergency Borrowing Act (“CURE Borrowing Act”), which provides the State greater flexibility to borrow money efficiently and therefore respond effectively to urgent financial needs as they arise. The CURE Borrowing Act allows the Governor, with the approval of the Comptroller and Treasurer, to effectively utilize the new borrowing programs and facilities offered by the federal government through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Stabilization Act (“CARES Act”).

The Governor may borrow up to $5,000,000,000 in funds, but only for one of the following enumerated purposes: (1) to meet revenue failures resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak and to support the emergency response thereto; (2) to provide funds for payment or reimbursement of new or increased costs of State government resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak and emergency response thereto; (3) to provide funds to respond to any other disaster or emergency or revenue failure or the costs of essential government services; (4) to provide funds for deposit into the Healthcare Provider Relief Fund for payment of costs payable from the Fund; and (5) to provide funds for payment or reimbursement of costs payable from the Health Insurance Reserve Fund. All money borrowed must be repaid by the time limits contemplated by the federal program’s rules and guidance, but no later than 10 years after borrowing.

Further, SB 2099 amends the State Finance Act by creating the Coronavirus Urgent Remediation Emergency Borrowing Fund. Lastly, SB 2099 amends the Short Term Borrowing Act by setting aside the requirements of the Illinois Procurement Code for selection of the purchaser of any bond certificates sold under this amended Act and allows certificates to be issued and sold on a negotiated basis directed by the Governor, Comptroller, and Treasurer. SB 2099 allows the State to borrow money to fund portions of its budget, therefore, funding schools.

Property Tax Penalty Relief, Automatic Homestead Exemptions, and Tax Sale Delay (SB 685; P.A. 101-0635, eff. 6/5/20)

SB 685, effective June 5, 2020, amends several provisions of the Property Tax Code concerning interest penalties for delinquent property tax payments, homestead exemptions, and the annual and scavenger tax sales of delinquent and unpaid property taxes.

For the 2019 taxable year (payable in 2020) only, SB 685 amends 35 ILCS 200/21-27 to allow the county board of a county with fewer than 3,000,000 inhabitants to adopt an ordinance or resolution waiving some or all of the interest penalty for the delinquent payment of any property tax installment other than the final installment, for a period of (1) 120 days after the effective date of the amendatory Act or (2) until the first day of the first month during which there is no longer a statewide COVID-19 public health emergency, as evidenced by an effective disaster declaration of the Governor covering all counties in the State.

In provisions concerning the homestead exemption for persons with disabilities (35 ILCS 200/15-168), the homestead exemption for veterans with disabilities (35 ILCS 200/15-168), and the senior citizens assessment freeze homestead exemption (35 ILCS 200/15-172), SB 685 provides that those exemptions may be granted without application for the 2020 taxable year if the property qualified for the exemption in the 2019 taxable year, subject to certain limitations related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

SB 685 also amends 35 ILCS 200/21-145 to provide that under no circumstance may a tax year be offered at a scavenger sale prior to the annual tax sale for that tax year. SB 685 adds 35 ILCS 200/21-253, under which the application for judgment and order of sale for the 2018 Cook County annual tax sale that would normally be held in calendar year 2020 shall not be filed earlier than the first day of the first month during which there is no longer a statewide COVID-19 public health emergency, as evidenced by an effective disaster declaration of the Governor covering all counties in the State.

Fiscal Year 2021 Appropriations (SB 264; P.A. 101-0637, eff. 6/10/20)

The state budget (SB 264), which was signed by the Governor on June 10, 2020, remains mostly flat as compared to the previous fiscal year’s budget for education funding. This includes only a small adjustment for Evidence Based Funding (“EBF”) at around $2 million. Legislators made it explicitly clear that the intent was to keep the funding for each school district and education programs the same as it was the previous year, with the exception of a small increase for special education. The budget also provides for the distribution of funds under the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (“GEER”) award, which is funded through the federal CARES Act and the State Coronavirus Urgent Remediation Emergency Fund (“CURE Fund”). This means that schools will, at best, be working within the same budget as the previous fiscal year; however, school districts are facing increased purchasing requirements related to the COVID-19 pandemic and potentially lower property and sales tax receipts.

ELECTIONS

Mail-In Ballot Review Procedure Change (HB 2238; P.A. 101-0641, eff. 6/16/20)

HB 2238 amends the Illinois Election Code regarding the process by which election judges review mail-in voter ballots. The bill modifies the panel votes needed to reject a vote by mail ballot. Previously all three judges would need to vote to reject a ballot. As modified by HB 2238, a vote of three judges is still required to reject a ballot when the signature on the certification envelope and the signature on file with the election authority do not match or the certification envelope signature is in the wrong place. However, a majority vote (two judges) is sufficient to reject a vote by mail ballot if the certification envelope contains no signature, the envelope was delivered opened, or the voter had already cast a ballot by mail or in person or is not duly registered. 

Election Day 2020 as School Holiday and Other Amendments to the Election Code Applicable Only to the 2020 General Election (SB 1863; P.A. 101-0642, eff. 6/16/20) 

SB 1863 amends the Illinois Election Code (with conforming amendments to the Illinois Procurement Code, the Illinois School Code, and the State Universities Civil Service Act) in response to the public health emergency created by the COVID-19 pandemic. The amendatory Act only applies to the 2020 General Election, and its amendatory provisions expire on January 2, 2021. Specifically, in an effort to ensure the safety, health, and rights of the people of Illinois, SB 1863 amends the Election Code as follows:

  • Provides that all public and private secondary schools, community colleges, and universities shall publish notification on their publicly accessible websites and notify their students of (1) the opportunity to serve as an election judge for the 2020 General Election and (2) that individuals may be appointed as election judges if they have reached the age of 16 as of the date of the election. 
  • Designates November 3, 2020, as a State holiday known as “2020 General Election Day” and requires all government offices, with the exception of election authorities, to be closed. The 2020 General Election Day also is deemed a legal school holiday under Section 24-2(e) of the School Code. Section 11-4.1 of the Election Code already required schools to make themselves available to be used as a polling place and encouraged schools chosen as polling places to either close the school or hold a teacher institute with students not in attendance on election day. However, SB 1863 now requires schools to close on the 2020 General Election Day and, for schools chosen as a polling place, requires the election authority and the school to comply with all safety and health practices established by the Illinois Department of Public Health.
  • Modifies the vote by mail application process by: (1) allowing any elector to request by personal delivery, mail, email, or via the website of the appropriate election authority, that an official ballot for the 2020 General Election be sent to them through the mail; (2) requiring every election authority to proactively mail or email an application for an official ballot, with instructions and/or required notices, by August 1, 2020, to any elector who has registered to vote or changed his or her registration address after the 2020 general primary election through July 31, 2020; (3) requiring election authorities to mail official ballots to any elector requesting such no later than October 6, 2020, if requested on or before October 1, 2020, and no later than two business days after receipt of the application if on or after October 2, 2020; (4) requiring the election authority to accept any vote by mail ballot it receives, including those with insufficient or no postage, while also allowing election authorities to establish secure collections sites for the postage-free return of vote by mail ballots; (5) requiring the election authority, within one day after receipt of a vote by mail ballot, to notify the State Board of Elections of receipt of the ballot; (5) requiring the election authority to appoint panels as needed of three elections judges for the purpose of comparing the voter’s signature on the certification envelope of the vote by mail ballot with the signature of the voter on file within two days after receiving the ballot; and (6) providing the process for rejecting a vote by mail ballot.
  • Requires that first time registrants or persons submitting a change of address be notified of the option to receive a vote by mail ballot and, if requested by the elector, provides that the registration or address change form serve as the application to receive an official vote by mail ballot.
  • Provides for the public dissemination of information prior to the 2020 General Election. Specifically, it requires: (1) election authorities and the Secretary of State to include a specific statement in their pamphlets, brochures, flyers, or newsletters related to the 2020 General Election that encourages electors to vote by mail or during early voting due to the Covid-19 pandemic; (2) the Secretary of State to send notices, no later than September 15, 2020, to any electors who received an application but have not yet applied for a vote by mail ballot no later than September 15, 2020; and (3) the Secretary of State to send notices, no later than October 15, 2020, to any electors who received the earlier notice and still have not applied for a vote by mail ballot.
  • Establishes additional early voting and election day requirements by providing that: (1) election authorities comply with safety and health practices established in written guidance provided by the Illinois Department of Public Health; (2) election authorities may establish curb-side voting, which requires at least two election judges from opposite parties per vehicle; (3) election authorities shall establish one location where all voters in its jurisdiction may vote on election day during polling place hours, regardless of the precinct in which they are registered; and (4) all permanent polling places for early voting must remain open during the hours of 8:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. on weekdays and 9:00 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays, while allowing election authorities to expand early voting hours even more to accommodate voters to whom COVID-19 presents increased health risks.
  • Allows for persons 16 years of age or older to be appointed to serve as election judges; provides the process for schools and other educational entities to give notice of the opportunity to serve as a 2020 election judge; and allows counties having a population of less than 250,000 pursuant to the 2010 U.S. Census to appoint three election judges instead of the five election judges generally required unless the judges are appointed by election commissioners.
  • Permits election authorities to authorize service of objections to candidate nominations through electronic mail, rather than personal service, if the election authority responsible for convening the electoral board (1) requires candidates and objectors to provide an email address where notices and electoral board proceedings may be sent, and (2) publishes notice of its decision to use electronic service of objections on its website within five business days of the effective date of the amendatory Act.
  • Creates additional duties for election authorities by requiring election authorities to: (1) comply with the changes to the vote by mail application process detailed above; (2) provide written confirmation of its compliance to the State Board of Elections no later than August 2, 2020; (3) provide the State Board of Elections with an electronic list of the names and addresses of every elector sent the required application and notice of who submitted the application and will receive an official ballot no later than September 2, 2020; (4) provide the State Board of Elections with an updated list of the names and addresses of every elector sent the required application and notice of who submitted the application and will receive an official ballot no later than October 2, 2020; and (5) provide public notice of its services and equipment available to assist elderly voters and voters with disabilities no later than 75 days prior to the 2020 General Election.
  • Creates additional duties for the State Board of Elections by requiring it, upon the effective date of the amendatory Act, to: (1) post an application for an additional vote by mail ballot for the 2020 General Election within two business days; (2) modify the online voter registration system to allow any new registrant to apply for a vote by mail ballot when completing online voter registration within five business days; (3) provide notice to all election authorities of the provisions of the amendatory Act and the actions each election authority must take within 10 business days; and (4) provide the Secretary of State with a complete list of the names and address submitted to the Board by the election authorities pursuant to their additional duties as noted above no later than September 5, 2020, with a second transmission to follow no later than October 5, 2020.
  • Allows the State Board of Elections to adopt emergency rules establishing a program that provides reimbursement to local election authorities, subject to receipt and availability of federal funds, for expenses related to the 2020 General Election and incurred as a result of COVID-19.
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