By CARL GREEN
Collinsville – State Rep. Jay Hoffman (D-Belleville) gave the Southwestern Illinois Building and Construction Trades Council a candid look inside his role as chairman of the House Labor Committee at its July 11 meeting.
For one thing, he’s been keeping a finger in the dam to hold back Republican legislation that could harm Illinois workers.
One Republican even filed a so-called “right to work” bill that would curtail union operations. The bill was sent to Hoffman’s committee, and he flexed his muscle as chairman.
“I put that in a subcommittee, never to be heard from again,” he told the Council.
He noted that his former election foe, Rep. Dwight Kay (R-Glen Carbon) filed a raft-full of bills, mostly concerning worker compensation. They also went to Hoffman, who considers them anti-worker. “They’re not going any place as long as I’m chairman of the labor committee,” he said.
Hoffman also reflected on the frustration of the legislature’s fruitless attempts to deal with the state’s $100 billion shortfall in public employee pension funding. As a House member, he would have gladly voted for the “We Are One” bill agreed to by Senate President John Cullerton and labor leaders that would have at least begun the process of cutting costs and meeting those obligations, in part with higher contributions from workers.
The bill passed the Senate but was blocked in the House by Speaker Michael Madigan, who supported a bill that would have made larger cuts and was questioned on constitutional grounds. As a result, the Legislature failed to act, the state’s credit rating was downgraded again, and the issue was finally shunted off to a newly formed conference committee of 10 Chicago-area legislators.
Hoffman maintained that Cullerton’s pension bill was unfairly maligned and would have been a lot better than doing nothing. “That bill would have gone a long way toward solving this problem,” he said.
The pension problem continues to hinder the state government’s efforts in other areas, including some tied to local construction jobs. “We’re not going to get a significant capital spending bill until we solve that problem,” Hoffman noted.
Among the myriad of bills introduced in the past session, one of Hoffman’s top legislative priorities was a bill he sponsored to require local governments to use the Responsible Bidder system for construction projects. In order to bid, contractors must meet certain requirements such as paying prevailing wages, meeting state business requirements such as insurance and Equal Opportunity, and providing approved apprentice programs. It is designed to keep unscrupulous low-ball bidders from driving legitimate contractors out of business.
The bill passed in the House but is currently hung up in the Senate over concerns among minority contractors. Hoffman plans to attend a meeting this week with the AFL-CIO on the matter.
“We’re trying to work that out,” he told the Council. “That would be the number one employment generator for you guys.”
Another priority was Hoffman’s bill forcing contractors to report to the Department of Labor when they pay workers for services as self-employed contractors instead of as employees. This was designed to reduce abuse of low-income workers. It was passed by both the House and Senate and awaits Gov. Pat Quinn’s signature.
Already signed into law is a bill introduced by state Rep. Dan Beiser (D-Alton) and co-sponsored by Hoffman that requires the Department of Labor to create a database compiling wage and benefit rates paid by contractors on public works projects.
All three of the bills were supported by labor groups.
Also, on July 4, Quinn signed into law a Senate bill that Hoffman sponsored in the House to make it easier for the Illinois State Police to hire military veterans. The new law waives the agency’s requirement of a college diploma for certain veterans who have served in overseas wars or in the Illinois National Guard.
Said Hoffman: “Our service men and women receive extensive training that often makes them well-qualified for a career in law enforcement upon their return to civilian life.”
Finally, Hoffman said he is now working on a plan to share local office space in Granite City with U.S. Bill Enyart (D-Belleville). His local office can be reached at (618) 416-7407.