Shelby Co., Ill. (ECWd) – When Shelby and other counties were questioned on their practices of leasing out county-owned farmland to private farmers for their own personal profit, at least one county, Shelby, attempted to make it legal by convincing an out-of-district State Representative to introduce legislation, known locally as the “farm bill.” The Illinois
Shelby Co., Ill. (ECWd) –
When Shelby and other counties were questioned on their practices of leasing out county-owned farmland to private farmers for their own personal profit, at least one county, Shelby, attempted to make it legal by convincing an out-of-district State Representative to introduce legislation, known locally as the “farm bill.”
The Illinois Constitution prohibits this practice, several appellate and supreme court cases prohibit this practice, the 2018 Legislator’s Annotated Constitution and numerous written Attorney General opinions agree that the constitution does not permit a county to lease out its property without a proper public purpose. As recent as 2021, the AG provided a letter to the former Shelby County State’s Attorney Nichole Kroncke stating that there must be a public purpose and even referenced the constitution, caselaw, and previous AG opinions in their 2021 letter. There is a public purpose test found in caselaw which is applicable to this issue.
“The constitutional limitation on the use of public property is not avoided merely because a unit of government may be compensated for the private use of its property. Redmond, 86 Ill. 2d at 382; Yakley v. Johnson, 295 Ill. App. 77, 81 ( 1938). If the principal purpose and objective of a governmental activity is public in nature, it does not matter that there will be an incidental benefit to private interests. People ex rel. City of Salem v. McMackin, 53 I11. 2d 347, 355 ( 1972). Conversely, if the primary benefit of the use of public funds or property is private, an incidental benefit to the public will not justify a use or expenditure.”
On January 1, 2023, State Representative Lance Yednock filed HB1076 in the Illinois House of Representatives with its initial language purporting to state that counties may lease out their farmland to public or private parties and that the receipt of monies for such leases was deemed to be the “public purpose of financially supporting the operations of the government.”
On March 20, 2023, Rep Yednock filed House Floor Amendment 1 replacing the affirmative vote requirement from “majority” to “three-fourths” of the county board then holding office and the maximum term of a lease from “99” to “5” years.
On May 17, 2023, Senator Jason Plummer filed Senate Floor Amendment 1 to HB1076, which removed language from the original bill referring to the receipt of funds having the public purpose of financially supporting the operations of government.
During a Senate Committee Hearing on the bill, several Senators knew this language was unconstitutional, and questioned Yednock on the language and asked him if he was attempting to change Article VIII, Section 1 of the 1970 Illinois Constitution with the inclusion of the public purpose language within the bill. He denied he was attempting to change the constitution.
On May 19, 2023, Senator Plummer clarified Senate Amendment 1 to HB1076 on the Senate Floor, and stated this bill does nothing to address the fact that counties and local units of governments must still abide by the constitutional [mandate of public purpose]. Passed the Senate with a vote total of 54 yeas and 1 present.
On May 25, 2023, Rep Yednock filed a Motion concurring with Senate Floor Amendment 1. Later, HB1076 with Senate Amendment 1 passed the House with a unanimous vote.
On August 4, 2023, upon the Governor’s signature, HB1076 became Public Act 103-0415.
For people to insinuate that this Farm Bill supersedes the Constitution and makes leasing of county farmland to private farmers a public purpose (or not needing a public purpose) is just plain wrong. To think that the legislature can simply pass a law and think doing so means the Constitution no longer applies is ludicrous. Those supporting such a warped interpretation are doing a disservice to the community when they speak on that point during public comment because it is spreading false information to the community and frankly becomes an embarrassing diatribe.
Watch for this public comment yourself, then read the actual Public Act: