GOP lawmakers love the idea of transparency, but question statewide pension hearing broadcast proposal
Broadcasting retirement system or pension fund hearings in real time and archiving the recorded video on a website for public access is a great idea, but not necessarily feasible to some GOP lawmakers.
HB4413, sponsored by Rep. Carol Ammons (D-Urbana), which mandates broadcasting pension fund meetings statewide, was a hot topic of discussion during House floor debate April 18, with Rep. Peter Breen (R-Lombard) questioning opposition from the Illinois Municipal League and the Fraternal Order of Police.
“I can’t answer as to why since no one testified in committee,” Ammons said, adding it could be the agencies are concerned with the capability of broadcasting smaller meetings.
Beyond broadcasting, Breen questioned archiving the meetings and the legislation’s language, noting Ammon's language regarding the grace period implementation.
“It doesn’t have to be maintained," Ammons said. "It just has to be shown in real time."
Rep. Thomas Morrison (R-Palatine) questioned internet connections and technical breakdowns during broadcasting, which Ammons said has not been a question thus far.
After noting he believes there are technical hurdles to overcome, Morrison said, “While we all want transparency, I would love to see the consolidation of a lot of these pension funds because we have over 600.”
He then urged a "no" vote.
Rep. Allen Skillicorn (R-East Dundee) asked Ammons to “paint a picture” of how a small fire pension fund would successfully broadcast live.
“My obligation is not to tell you how it will work in their meetings, to which I don’t attend," Ammon said. "My obligation is to make sure public pension funds that use public dollars are transparent and available to the public."
Smartphone or Facebook live would suffice, she added.
“I love the idea that the representative mentioned about using public funds and making it transparent and protecting pensioners,” Skillicorn said. “I like this bill; I like this bill a lot, and I would encourage my colleagues to vote for it.”
Rep. Keith Wheeler (R-Oswego) questioned the language and archiving by reading the bill synopsis.
“A retirement system or pension fund must make audio and video available for the meeting broadcast and maintain under this subsection,” Wheeler read before asking what the word "maintained" meant.
After Ammons said it applied to making the broadcast available anywhere on the website, Wheeler explained the word "maintained" implied it must be stored, but Ammons said that is not the case.
“I like the theory of the bill," Wheeler said. "I am a big supporter of transparency. I just think this is going to be interpreted as a mandate that is going to require more than we are trying to do here."
Rep. Jeanne Ives (R-Wheaton) then noted the situation in Harvey and the pension fund controversy that called for the state comptroller to intercept state revenues to pay underfunded pension accounts.
“This is a contagion that is going to take over the entire state of Illinois,” Ives said.
Even if passed, Ives said local governments would likely not adhere to rule and "real reform" must come from the state level.
“Instead of doing the real work to solve the problem, we are passing meaningless bills like this one off the floor,” Ives said.
That was not Rep. Grant Wehrli’s (R-Naperville) opinion.
“I am going to disagree with the representative from Wheaton that one small step with multiple steps after that would not lead to one large step,” Wehrli said.
Transparency trumps, he added, while holding up his Smartphone and saying streaming a meeting live would not be an issue as he discussed in committee last week.
“This moves us in the right direction to avoid long-term problems of mismanagement,” Wehrli said before strongly urging the approval of Ammons' bill.
HB4413 passed 71-39 and moved to the Senate.