SPRINGFIELD -- Governor George H. Ryan today signed legislation that will benefit consumers by increasing competition among electric utilities, by speeding up residential rate cuts for Commonwealth Edison customers and by establishing a trust fund to support various consumer initiatives, including the Citizens Utility Board.
"This legislation makes sure Illinois consumers are well positioned as we enter the new era of competition for electric service," Ryan said. "I want to thank the members of the General Assembly and all those who worked together to ensure Illinois keeps moving in the right direction when it comes to electric deregulation."
Creating a $250 million "Clean Energy Community Trust" to be funded by ComEd to provide financial assistance for projects that help improve energy efficiency, develop renewable energy resources and support environmental protection. From the Trust, $25 million is earmarked for clean coal projects and $7 million over the next seven years for the Citizens Utility Board to represent interests of consumers in utility matters before the state and federal governments.
Also under the legislation, ComEd's residential customers will receive a 5 percent rate cut seven months earlier than originally scheduled -- on October 1, 2001. Previously, this rate cut was scheduled to take effect May 1, 2002. During these seven months, ComEd customers will save an additional $75.8 million, or about $24 per customer.
Senate Bill 24 also allows Commmonwealth Edison to increase their "earnings cap" from 5 percent to 7 percent between 2000 and 2004. This change provides the opportunity for Commonwealth Edison to grow and maintain their presence as a corporate leader in Illinois.
Senate Bill 24 was sponsored by state Sen. William Mahar, R-Orland Park and state Representatives Phil Novak, D-Bradley and Vince Persico, R-Glen Ellyn and is effective immediately.
Also today, Governor Ryan signed legislation expanding property tax relief for qualifying Illinois seniors.
House Bill 1327 requires county assessors to apply the lowest possible assessment value in calculating the property tax liability for seniors who qualify for the Senior Citizen Assessment Freeze Homestead Exemption. Under this legislation, a senior enrolled in the program whose equalized assesseed value decreases below the initial "frozen" level will have future propety taxes based upon the lower assessment.
"This legislation will give seniors who qualify for this program a break based on how much the value of their property decreases," Ryan said. "Many seniors on fixed incomes struggle with property taxes and in some cases are denied the full benefits of the program."
Senate Bill 861, also signed into law today, raises the annual income threshold for seniors eligible to apply for the Senior Citizen Assessment Freeze Homestead Exemption from $35,000 to $40,000. "Now, even more senior citizens will be able to take advantage of this property tax relief program," Ryan added.
To qualify for the assessment freeze, a property owner must be at least 65 years of age and have a total annual income less than $40,000. The assessment freeze exemption is an amount equal to a home owner's current EAV minus a base amount. The base amount is the property's EAV in the year before applying for the program, plus any added improvements that would increase the tract's value. The property assessment is then "frozen" at the base year EAV.
For tax year 1999, House Bill 1327 requires county assessors to review all tax records for applicable property back to 1993 and use the lowest EAV to determin the exemption.
Approximately 285,000 Illinois seniors took advantage of the Senior Citizen Assessment Freeze Homestead Exemption in 1997, resulting in an average tax savings of $250 per household.
House Bill 1327 was sponsored by state Rep. Mary Lou Cowlishaw, R-Naperville and state Sen. Adeline Geo-Karis, R-Zion. Senate Bill 861 was sponsored by Sen. Louis Vivertio, D-Burbank and Rep. Jack Franks, D-Woodstock. Both bills are effective immediately and impact 1999 property taxes collected in 2000.
Governor Ryan also signed measures that get tough on sexual predators who don't register with local authorities and protect police informants who are threatened by gang violence.
House Bill 2721, signed by the governor, amends the existing Sex Offender Registration Act and notification laws to add the terms "juvenile sex offender" and "sexual predator" and imposes registration requirements on ex-felons convicted of these crimes. The new law brings Illinois into compliance with federal sex offender laws.
The bill was sponsored by state Rep. Gwen Klingler, R-Springfield, and state Sen. Dick Klemm, R-Crystal Lake.
Ryan also signed House Bill 424, which changes the automatic sunset date of the Gang Crime Witness Protection Act, which was scheduled to expire June 30, 1999. The new sunset date for the act is July 1, 2004. The law was first passed in 1996.
The legislation was sponsored by state state Rep. Eileen Lyons, R-Western Springs, and state Sen. Kathleen Parker, R-Northbrook.
Also today, the governor signed four bills which "re-enact" existing laws that are being challenged in court based on violations of the Illinois Constitution's "single-subject" clause governing legislation. The legislature took action to assure the uninterrupted continuation of important laws.
Senate Bill 732 re-enacts the state's child pornography statutes. Without this legislation, the future outcome of child pornography prosecutions could be adversely effected. Effective immediately.
Senate Bill 144 creates the Governmental Tax Reform Validation Act to validate and allow local home rule governments to maintain their administration of home rule sales taxes. The legislation is intended to allow the Department of Revenue to continue administering the tax. Effective immediately.
Senate Bill 145 re-enacts the Water Revolving Loan Fund -- loan programs for wastewater treatment facilities and public water supply projects -- as well as portions of the State Finance Act. The legislation is intended to prevent or minimize any disruption to the wastewater and drinking water revolving loan programs. Effective immediately.
Senate Bill 146 re-enacts sections of the General Obligation Bond Act, the Build Illinois Bond Act, the State Finance Act and the Baccalaureate Savings Act, addressing the state's authority to
issue bonds. Effective immediately.