The Illinois Municipal League told its members Tuesday morning it may no longer be in support of a bill that would partially consolidate 649 downstate and suburban police and firefighter pension funds — a bill it helped to write — because of a provision inserted into the bill on Monday.
An amendment to SB 1300 filed Monday reflects an agreement made with the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police late Friday, which should have sealed the deal on the bill — one Gov. JB Pritzker indicated was his number one priority for Veto Session.
But in a memo sent to its members Tuesday morning, the Illinois Municipal League said the amendment, filed by State Rep. Jay Hoffman (D-Swansea) would make it easier for police officers and firefighters to claim disability, which could add extra burdens to municipalities’ budgets if it were abused.
The amendment includes a provision that league officials said would change the longstanding practice of allowing municipalities to intervene if it believes a police officer or firefighter’s claim for permanent disability and pension payouts is invalid or deficient.
Instead, league officials said the new language introduced Monday would not allow for any review by the municipality, and the exclusive power to grant disability claims would lie with the local pension boards.
“A third party, including the Police Officers’ Pension Investment Fund established under Article 22B of this Code, shall not have the authority to control, alter, or modify, or the ability to review or intervene in, the proceedings or decisions of the fund as otherwise provided in this Section,” according to the new language filed Monday.
League Director Brad Cole told The Daily Line that the language means any third party — not even state police” could intervene “if there’s a fraudulent claim or something.”
That amendment would not allow for a third party, including the municipality, could even review proceedings later, Cole said.
“It’s a secret tribunal,” Cole said.
Already, municipalities say they’re at a disadvantage when it comes to first responder disability claims, as the five-member local pension boards are made up of three active or retired members of the same union as the injured cop or firefighter. Two trustees are appointed by the mayor or a village president, but the majority on the board decides whether or not to grant disability benefits.
Additionally, the legal advisor for the pension board is also selected by that same board and often advocates in favor of the member seeking benefits, according to league officials. The league claims it has the potential for a biased board to determine whether or not to grant disability benefits.
Cole said the disability benefits and pension awards are “lifetime awards.”
“I mean, we’re talking about millions of dollars potentially,” Cole said. “If the taxpayer can’t have the opportunity through the municipality to intervene or at least request proceedings, how it that fair?”
Cole claimed the new language is “totally unrelated” to the issue of pension consolidation.
One month ago, Cole stood with Pritzker and others who served on the governor’s Pension Consolidation Task Force, touting the report the group had put together since being assembled in the first weeks of Pritzker’s term.
But the league memo sent to members Tuesday morning warned it was possible the group — which has for years been one of the loudest voices pushing for pension consolidation — might be unable to support the bill.
“At this critical point in the process, IML is actively seeking to correct the overreaches put forward in the new proposed legislation,” the memo said. “If IML is unable to refocus the General Assembly on the primary issue of protecting taxpayer funds through the elimination of duplicative fund administration and burdensome, costly mandates, all of which would be addressed through common sense solutions involving consolidation, it is unknown how things will end this week or if a beneficial resolution will develop.”
Hoffman declined to comment while walking into caucus Tuesday afternoon. At press time, the governor’s office had not responded to a request for comment.