by Shawn P. Flaherty (Winter 2019)

One of the primary impacts of the November 6, 2018 General Election is that the voters of the State of Illinois have returned state government to one-party control after four years of a Republican governor. The 100th Illinois General Assembly has ended, but that legislature managed to pass several new pieces of legislation impacting fire protection districts, including a few bills passed over ex-Governor Bruce Rauner’s veto. Below is a summary of recent legislation that impacts fire protection districts:

Enhanced Legal Benefits for Full-time Paramedics

The Illinois Public Labor Relations Act (5 ILCS 315/3) has been amended to add “paramedics employed by a unit of local government” to the definition of “firefighter”. This change will allow non-firefighting paramedics employed by a fire protection district to avail themselves of interest arbitration and other labor relations rights enjoyed by commissioned full-time firefighters. P.A. 100-1131 (Eff. 11/28/18).

 The Public Safety Employee Benefits Act (“PSEBA”) (820 ILCS 320) was amended to include “paramedics employed by a unit of local government” in the definition of “firefighters” who are potentially eligible for paid health insurance premiums and educational awards under PSEBA. Also included in the definition of eligible “firefighters” are emergency medical technicians holding an EMT, EMT-I, or A-EMT license and who are employed by a unit of local government. This is an expansion of PSEBA benefits but a fairly limited one. P.A. 100-1132 (Eff. 11/28/18).

 The General Assembly overrode the Governor’s veto in adopting an amendment to the Public Employee Disability Act (“PEDA”) (5 ILCS 345/1) into law. The term “eligible employee” was expanded by this amendment to include full-time paramedics or firefighters who perform paramedic duties as persons who may be eligible for the disability benefits provided by PEDA. P.A. 100-1143 (Eff. 1/1/19).

 Employment Matters

 The Illinois Municipal Code and Fire Protection District Act were both amended to clarify the requirements that a full-time fire chief or department head must hold in order to serve as head of a fire department for more than 180 days. Clarifications to the previous language were made to allow for both military and out-of-state firefighter service to meet the qualifications to serve in this role. Home rule municipalities were also now included in this legislation. P.A. 100-1126 (Eff. 1/1/19).

The Governmental Severance Pay Act was created which will impact any contract or employment agreement entered into between a unit of local government and any “officer, agent, employee or contractor.” The Act caps the amount of severance pay that may be paid to 20 weeks of compensation and prohibits the provision of severance pay when the officer, agent, employee, or contractor has been fired for misconduct as greater defined in the new Act. Nothing in the new Act creates any entitlement to severance pay in the absence of its contractual authorization or law. P.A. 100-0895 (Eff. 1/1/19).

The Local Records Act (50 ILCS 205) was amended to require the reporting of severance agreements entered into between units of local government and an “employee or contractor” when sexual harassment or discrimination has occurred. Certain severance agreements must now publish information about the severance agreement including names, titles, and payment sums on the internet within 72 hours of the approval of the severance agreement. (50 ILCS 205/3c(a)). However, this Act is fairly ineffectual in that it contains four exemptions from public disclosure which would seem to apply in many instances. P.A. 100-1040 (Eff. 8/23/18).

 The Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act has been amended to require employers to “reimburse an employee for all necessary expenditures or losses incurred by the employee within the employee’s scope of employment and directly related to services performed for the employer.” (820 ILCS 115/9.5). Observers of this legislation have noted that this reimbursement would be sure to apply to the usage of personal cellphones and home internet expenses for work-related calls and business. Necessary expenses are those “reasonable expenditures or losses required of the employee in the discharge of his or her employment and which primarily benefit the employer.” Employees are required to submit requests for reimbursement with appropriate supporting documentation (or signed statement) within 30 calendar days after incurring the expense. Employers are allowed to establish written policies on expense reimbursement that set forth the parameters under which reimbursements shall be made. The employer is not required to reimburse an employee for losses or expenses due to employee negligence, theft, normal wear or when the employer’s written reimbursement policies are not adhered to. P.A. 100-1094 (Eff. 1/1/19).

 Procurement

An amendment to the Local Government Professional Services Selection Act (50 ILCS 510/8) has been passed that would allow units of local government to waive the requisite public hearing, evaluation and selection criteria process for the hiring of architects, land surveyors and engineers for certain smaller sized projects. The dollar threshold for waiving the Act’s requirement has been increased from $25,000 to $40,000, and an annual percentage multiplier tied to the federal Consumer Price Index-Urban unadjusted percentage increase was added. P.A. 100-0968 (Eff. 1/1/19).

 OSFM Oversight

The Office of the Illinois State Fire Marshal (OSFM) has been provided with expanded authority and responsibility in performing necessary fire inspections for licensing requirements of Community-Integrated Living Arrangements (CILAs), while local jurisdictions retain authority to conduct local code inspection and enforcement functions and fire incident planning activities. P.A. 100-0593 (Eff. 6/22/18).

 In an amendment to the Illinois Fire Protection Training Act (50 ILCS 740/2), the OSFM is required to reimburse local governmental agencies and individuals participating in firefighter training programs in an amount equaling one-half of the total sum paid during the period established by the OSFM for tuition, salary, travel expenses, and room and board, subject to appropriations. Other minor changes were implemented. P.A. 100-0600 (Eff. 1/1/19).

Additional progressive legislative developments are expected from the 101st General Assembly. Fire protection district leaders should remain proactive in the legislative process and continue to nurture positive relationships with local legislators whenever possible.