Observations and comments about state government by State Representative Robert W. Pritchard.
April 22, 2013
In this issue:
· Governor’s Designation May Help Recovery
· Appropriations Hearings End; Budget Crafting Begins
· Deadline Passes with Hundreds of House Bills Moving to Senate
· Privatization of Workers Compensation Program Progressing
· Health Care Providers Revise Care Model; Attempt to Reduce Costs
· Five-Year Transportation Construction Program Unveiled
· Compost Reforms Passed
· District Libraries Receive “Back to Books” Grants
Governor’s Designation May Help Recovery
With the ongoing flooding issues across the state, the governor has declared 42 counties as disaster areas including DeKalb, Kane, Winnebago, McHenry and LaSalle. The gubernatorial proclamation of disaster aids the Illinois Emergency Management Agency in coordinating state resources to support local governments in disaster response and recovery operations.
The Red Cross has opened 17 shelters throughout the state, including one at St John’s Lutheran Church in Sycamore. That city’s Evergreen Village mobile home park was again evacuated as homes received considerable water damage. The county has been working for many years to secure the federal and state funding necessary to move residents to new locations and close the park. The two state agencies involved in the remediation at my urging have sent a letter assuring the county that the balance of the necessary funding will be available. County staff will be asking the county board in the next few weeks for authority to begin relocating residents.
The water level in flooded areas and fields in my district are receding but the Fox River continues to rise. Please continue to support the Red Cross and offer your prayers for those impacted.
Appropriation Hearings End; Budget Crafting Begins
The five Illinois House Appropriation Committees have completed their hearings where funded agencies and providers describe their outcomes from last year and funding needs for the coming year. Northern Illinois University testified last week and Representative Sosnowski and I visited with retiring President John Peters (center) before his last budget presentation.
I serve on two of the appropriation committees—Higher Education, and Elementary and Secondary Education where I am the Republican spokes-person. The committees will be going line-by-line through their budget when legislators return to Springfield April 30. The Speaker has given each committee an allocation that is one-percent less than last year. They will have to manage $822 million in new wages from labor contracts and additional expenses including home health care for seniors.
My colleagues and I have raised objections that this level of appropriation is unsustainable without pension cost reductions, further Medicaid reforms and continuing the income tax increase beyond 2015. Illinois is headed for its own fiscal cliff at full speed and the majority party seems content.
Deadline Passes with Hundreds of House Bills Moving to Senate
During some very contentious and long days on the House floor last week, hundreds of bills came to a vote. Some of the more noteworthy bills include:
HB1: Narrowly passed setting up the strictest regulation for the production and medical use of marijuana in the country. It provides for a four-year pilot program, through which those who suffer from a defined list of medical conditions may receive a limited amount of cannabis. The bill allows for 22 growing sites and 60 dispensaries across the state with all patients, growers and dispensers being subject to background checks. Users would be licensed, monitored and punished for driving impaired.
HB997: The shall-issue right to carry bill came to a vote and like an earlier may-issue right to carry bill failed to garner enough votes to move on to the Senate. Many fear the consequences should no regulations for concealed carry pass before June 9. A court has ordered that citizens have the constitutional right to carry a weapon after that date. It appears that negotiations for a passable concealed carry bill will occur in the next few weeks.
HB226: Changes the voting age by allowing 17-year- olds who will be 18 by a general election date to vote in that election cycle’s primary election. The bill was suggested by youth who want to participate in selecting their party’s candidates and follows the language of laws in other states where this practice is allowed.
HB490: Addresses the timing of the required basic skills test that must be passed before college students can become teachers. Students must still pass the test before their student teaching experience.
HB494: Puts a one year moratorium on the creation of all new on-line charter schools until standards and measurements can be created. The legislation was brought in response to a proposed on-line charter school in 18 school districts with many of them in my legislative district.
HB207: Appropriates $173 million to keep the Community Care Program functioning and $151 million to pay down Medicaid bills. The funding comes from revenue in excess of the forecast budget number and will be used to pay unpaid bills as directed by the FY13 budget agreement.
HB924: Expands those public bodies that must require private contractors on their projects to provide apprenticeship training programs. Since most small, non-union construction companies do not provide such training programs, the bill is seen as prohibiting non-union contractors from bidding. Kane County recently awarded a contract to such a non-union contractor whose bid reportedly was over $80,000 less than other bidders.
HB1555: Improves the Illinois Transparency Portal (ITAP) by allowing property taxpayers to access the details on-line about how their taxes are being spent.
HB2649: Amends the Employee Classification Act and provides that employers have only 14 days to appeal any Department of Labor notice of violation and penalties. In debate, many pointed out this was another anti-business law being passed this year.
HB2675: Provides that any public school providing sex education must offer a comprehensive curriculum that includes contraception for the prevention of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
HB2762: Amends the Illinois School Code by requiring any child who turns seven years old during a school year to begin school while six years old. The goal is to increase children’s time in school and reduce truancy.
HB3232: Expands the list of school district contracts exempt from the lowest bidder requirement. It allows the opportunity for small local businesses to compete with larger businesses for school district contracts.
HB2856: Makes it easier for one 9-1-1 emergency call jurisdiction to transfer a call to another more appropriate center. The bill requires the Illinois Commerce Commission to prepare a directory of all authorized 9-1-1 systems in Illinois and their 10 digit phone numbers.
Shown at left are 9-1-1 county system coordinators and several of their board members including those from DeKalb and Ogle Counties. They visited Springfield last week to share information about a bill to change the distribution of the 9-1-1 cell phone tax.
HB 3061: Allows a person to petition the court and the court to order the sealing of certain Class 3 and 4 felonies. The intent is to help an ex-felon integrate back into society and get a job.
Privatization of Workers Compensation Program Progressing
The State Government Administration Committee received an update last week on the privatization of handling worker compensation claims. Senate Bill 2958, for which I was a chief co-sponsor during the 97th General Assembly, required that the state’s Central Management Services transfer the responsibility and administration of the program by this July.
After months of careful review of various bidders, the State signed a contract on February 8 with TriStar Risk Management. The company hired a staff of 24, opened offices in Chicago and Springfield and last month began taking on new workers compensation cases for the State. TriStar will begin transferring current cases by May 1 and assume all the cases by July 1.
I will be looking to see that the company root out the culture of claim filing, identify departments where injuries occur, trends and seek to make the environment safer, and reduce costs of accidents.
Health Care Providers Revise Care Model; Attempt to Reduce Costs
The healthcare industry is feeling extraordinary pressures to redesign their system of care in the face of significant cuts in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates, penalties for hospital readmissions and rising healthcare costs. The changes will likely alter who is delivering patient care, require more patient management and a change in patient behavior.
A group of area hospitals met with local legislators recently to explain the pressures and likely care changes in anticipation of the roll out of the national Affordable Care Act and the state continuing to reduce its Medicaid costs.
It was explained that hospitals and medical providers will continue to move more patients to managed and coordinated care. Medical record sharing and health care managers will follow-up on office visits and hospitalization to see if the patient is following the prescribed care plan and medications.
More providers will emphasize regular check-ups, use of urgent care rather than the emergency room, and utilize technical assistants rather than doctors to provide much of the care.
The industry is looking at educational initiatives and ways to incentivize people to lose weight, quit smoking, and participate in chronic condition management programs and in other health and wellness initiatives. They all hope consumers will grow more aware of the pressures providers face and are receptive to the changes.
Five-Year Transportation Construction Program Unveiled
Governor Quinn has announced plans to spend $12.6 billion in the next five years to improve 2,142 miles of highway, replace or improve 517 bridges and make significant investments in the public transit system. Approximately $24.2 million is allocated toward projects within my legislative district.
Improvements are slated for Routes 23, 30, 38, 64 and 72, and Coltonville Road in Sycamore. A $60 million regional allocation is in place for passenger rail development between Chicago and Dubuque going through Kane, DeKalb and Boone Counties. In addition, $13.5 million is to be spent on transit improvements in our area, such as bus replacements and facility improvements. Two projects at the DeKalb Taylor Municipal Airport made the improvement list with $764,000 allocated for hangar pavement improvements.
These projects will create much-needed construction jobs and provide for significant improvements to the transportation system across the area and Illinois.
Compost Reforms Passed
The House passed several bills last week that would make it easier for urban and rural farmers, community gardens and others to compost organic waste. HB3319 expands the type of materials that farmers can compost and to accept material for composting from other locations. HB2335 will allow urban and suburban farms a limited exemption for composting similar to rural farms. I am optimistic that these bills will encourage community gardens and extend the life of landfills.
District Libraries Receive “Back to Books” Grants
Secretary of State and State Librarian Jesse White announced last Friday the winners of $1 million in grants for library material. Three libraries in my district will each be receiving $5,000 grants to be used for the purchase of books, learning CDs/DVDs and other educational materials. Libraries from across the state submitted applications specifying the types of books and materials they would purchase if they received a grant. Congratulations to the Cortland Community Library, the DeKalb Public Library, and the Kishwaukee College Library!
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