May 3, 2010
In this issue:
· Governor Seeks More Budget Authority
· Healthcare Premium May Rise for Retirees
· Partisan Redistricting Efforts Fail in House
· Nursing Home Safety Legislation May Move
· Most Groups Agree to Telecommunications Reform
· Legislation on the Move
Do you remember “finals week” in school? Students at Northern Illinois University and across the state are preparing for it; studying class notes, reading chapters that were missed, or finishing up a project or paper. There is an air of anticipation and finality.
Such is the feeling in Springfield as we begin what is reported to be the final week of Spring session. A host of controversial bills await action including “gun bills,” downstate police and fire pension reform, Chicago school vouchers, legalizing marijuana for medical purposes and telecommunication law reform. Debate on all these topics is building to a crescendo.
Groups have been lobbying “their bills” for several weeks; trying to reach agreement with antagonists, sharing the advantages and negatives with legislators and working with the Speaker’s Office to avoid a last minute road block. It’s been hectic but not atypical. The big issues mostly get held until the final week of session, when after mind numbing hours of debate and votes, adjournment arrives.
One topic that hasn’t been debated is the state budget. Oh my colleagues and I have tried to present ideas to the Governor, petitioned for debate on the House floor and met with bipartisan groups. Appropriation committees have again failed to build a budget from the ground up. The legislative leader—Speaker Michael Madigan—does not want debate. He wants control and in the twinkling of an eye will drop a budget bill on the General Assembly and call for a vote hardly before anyone can read the bill or understand the consequences. To change this process, citizens need to change leadership next election.
Governor Seeks More Budget Authority
Governor Quinn, sensing that the legislature again will appropriate lump sum amounts and expect him to balance the budget, is seeking unprecedented authority to control where money is spent. Typically, the General Assembly creates a detailed spending plan, program-by-program, that directs how money is to be allocated. The last two years have been different.
As a consequence, Governor Quinn wants authority to give state agency directors expanded powers to make changes without General Assembly approval. He wants to be able to cut spending in areas currently required by law. It’s a bold but dangerous step.
Healthcare Premium May Rise for Retirees
In an effort to reduce costs, the Governor is proposing to reduce the health insurance subsidy paid for retired state employees on a non-Medicare health care plan. Currently, retired employees receive free health care coverage after 20 years of service though they are responsible for deductibles, co-payments and other cost sharing requirements. At age 65, most state employees are required to enroll in the federal Medicare program which reduces state costs.
The Governor is proposing to pay a $300 monthly healthcare subsidy for non-Medicare retired workers. The cost of providing coverage can total $804 per month for the Quality Care Plan (QCHP) and $590 for the Health Maintenance Plan (HMO).
The change would total $6,053 per year for non-Medicare retirees on the QCHP plan and $2,193 for the HMO enrollees. A retiree who was a union member receives an average $20,000 per year pension income. This change would reduce state costs by an estimated $255 to 325 million per year.
In a related note, the state run group health program has seen an unprecedented growth in the amount of bills pushed off into the next fiscal year. From 2003 to 2008, the amount of health care unpaid bills for employees and retirees at the end of the year totaled less than $100 million. Since then, the carryover has grown to nearly $482 million dollars this fiscal year and an estimated $1 billion next year.
Partisan Redistricting Efforts Fail in House
SJRCA 121–legislation that would have perpetuated the politically-driven redistricting system in Illinois– failed to garner a three-fifths vote in the House last week after passing in the Senate. A Republican plan that would have taken politics out of redistricting failed to pass out of committee on a partisan vote. As a result, voters will not have an opportunity to modify the process for realigning districts following the 2010 census.
The Senate constitutional amendment was developed solely along party lines and continues the practice of allowing legislators to select the citizens they represent during redistricting. This legislation is another example of falling short of the real reform needed in government.
A citizen petition drive to change the redistricting process also has failed to gather sufficient signatures to place the initiative on the ballot this fall. I will continue nevertheless to work with my colleagues for real redistricting reform.
Nursing Home Safety Legislation May Move
Last fall a Nursing Home Safety Task Force was challenged with investigating and proposing solutions to the causes of violence and inadequate treatment in some Illinois nursing homes. The Task Force’s Final Report contained 38 recommendations focusing on three ways to improve the nursing home industry: 1) Improve the pre-admission screening and background check process, 2) set and enforce higher standards of care, and 3) expand home and community-based residential and service options.
Many of those recommendations have been drafted into bills that are moving through the legislature. One of the most expensive bills, HB6440, would increase nursing home fees to cover costs of licensing and regulation. While nursing homes are struggling to provide quality care at an affordable cost, this bill would raise nursing home fees from $1.50 per bed per day to $2, and the annual fee from a flat $995 to $100 per bed. For a 100 bed facility that would mean an increase in fees paid of over $27,000.
Most Groups Agree to Telecommunications Reform
Over the past several months dozens of groups have been negotiating a bill to rewrite Illinois’ telecommunications law. HB 6425, which has the support of all but two or three groups, would provide consumer protection but would leave the variety, quality, and price of telecom services largely to market competition. The bill is expected to come to a vote this week.
HB 6425 would also eliminate some service quality standards, de-regulate broadband, phone-over-internet and wireless technologies, allow telecom providers to change prices without ICC approval, as well as leave small telecommunications providers unregulated.
According to a study by the Discovery Institute, Illinois’ telecom laws are far behind other states and are affecting consumers and businesses by hindering growth in broadband infrastructure. The study found that a seven percent increase in broadband investment would create or save 105,622 jobs across the state. Greater broadband availability would also mean more than $6.2 billion in annual economic impact.
Legislation on the Move
Early Voting Pilot Program. SB 2925, now in the House, requires a pilot program on public university campuses to offer early voting, grace period registration, and grace period voting for the 2010 general election.
Returning Veteran Homestead Exemption. SB 2350, passed by both Houses, provides that the property tax exemption for returning veterans can be applied the year following returning home. The principal residence can be acquired the year upon returning home.
Sunshine Commission Reviews State Programs. HB 4836 passed both houses to create a thorough review of the state budget. The so called “Sunshine Commission” will include citizens and file a report with the legislation in six months.
College Tuition Freeze Extended. SB 3222, as passed both Houses, will freeze university tuition for entering students for up to six years. While this will provide a stable tuition rate for some students who may have to take a smaller course load or longer time to graduate, it will unnecessarily raise the tuition for all students. Universities have had to anticipate future cost increases and include them in the average rate charged each entering class.
Nutrition and Physical Activity Database. SB 3706, passed by both chambers, provides that the State Board of Education shall develop and maintain a nutrition and physical activity best practices website. School districts and others will be invited to post on the website the results of any wellness-related fitness testing, as well as information on successful programs and policies to improve nutrition and physical activity in the public and charter schools.
Ban on Lead Tire Weights. SB 3347, as passed both houses, bans the use or sale of a weight to balance a vehicle tire that contains lead or mercury. The bill will take effect next January 1 and seeks to reduce lead and mercury in the environment from weights thrown from vehicles.
Tollway to Get Auditor. SB 3118, on order of concurrence in the Senate, provides that the Governor shall appoint a Toll Highway Inspector General for a 5-year term. The intent is to detect, deter, and prevent fraud, corruption, and mismanagement in the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority.
Have a great week.
Observations and comments about state government by State Representative Robert W. Pritchard. District Office 815-748-3494 or E-Mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
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