SPRINGFIELD, IL – Facing an April 24 deadline to move legislation through the full Senate, hundreds of bills were debated and passed on the Senate floor this week, according to State Senator Dave Syverson (R-Rockford).
In response to a suspension of grants for state programs that serve Illinois’ most vulnerable populations, the Senate approved an amendment this week that gives Gov. Bruce Rauner authority to transfer $26 million from special funds to restore funding for public health and social service programs affected by the cuts.
Senate Republicans pushed several important measures this week that address everything from reforming Illinois’ grant process to officially recognizing sweet corn as the Illinois state vegetable.
Also, in recognition of Child Abuse Prevention Month, Senate Republicans are raising awareness about the 30-year high in reports of child abuse and neglect in Illinois by sharing their awareness video in their communities and on social media—calling Illinoisans to take action.
Senate Authorizes Governor to Restore $26 million to Social Service Programs
On April 22, the Senate passed an amendment to Senate Bill 274 that authorizes Gov. Rauner to transfer $26 million from special state funds to restore grant funding for public health and social service programs.
Grants that pay for programs such as funerals and burials of public-assistance recipients, smoking cessation, teen programs, autism and HIV and AIDS programs were suspended in early April. Providers strenuously opposed the cuts, which they said would have a devastating impact on their ability to provide important services. In response, Senate lawmakers agreed to give Gov. Rauner the authority to restore these funds.
As amended, Senate Bill 274 gives Gov. Rauner emergency budget-making powers to transfer up to $26 million from 105 specified special funds, with the exclusion of the Road Fund, Motor Fuel Tax Fund, and State Construction Account Fund.
While Senate Republicans agree that fixing Illinois’ budget woes will require making difficult, undesirable decisions, they also stress the importance of properly funding programs that provide vital resources for children’s health, addiction prevention and treatment and autism programs. Senate Republicans emphasized that moving forward, lawmakers must push for balanced, common-sense budgets that emphasize planning for the future, and avoid the type of short-term thinking that leads to crisis-budgeting, which places important social service programs at risk.
“I am happy that we have taken the first step to restore cuts made to Epilepsy and Autism programs. The cuts were initially made by the Governor after Democrat leaders would not support cuts in other areas of the budget. Today, we were able to work in bipartisan fashion to agree on cuts in others areas so that funding could be restored to Epilepsy, Autism, and Teen Reach,” said Senator Syverson. “Illinois continues to face financial hurdles and unfortunately more difficult decisions will have to be made in the upcoming budget. However, for now at least, Illinois is close to fixing the $2 billion dollar hole left by the passage of last year’s budget.”
Senate Bill 274 passed the Senate 57-1-0 and awaits further consideration in the House.
NRI Scandal – Never Again
In 2010, just weeks before re-election, former Gov. Pat Quinn unveiled a $55 million program supposedly aimed at curbing violence in Chicago’s most dangerous neighborhoods. But due to widespread mismanagement, a lack of oversight, and a rush to spend the money ahead of Election Day, the program served as little more than a political slush fund, catching the eye of multiple criminal investigations and a scathing state audit.
This week, Senate Republicans pushed legislation to prevent scandals like NRI from ever happening again. The reform measure, Senate Bill 1058, does the following:
· Bans the promotion of new state programs and grants in the two months ahead of an election – Gov. Quinn made 61 such announcements in the final two months of the 2014 election.
· Closes the accounting loophole that allowed Gov. Quinn to bypass the budget process and take $55 million for NRI, a practice slammed in the 2014 audit;
· Updates the Grant Accountability and Transparency Act with stricter oversight and new disclosures to root out conflicts of interest.
The NRI scandal was a low moment for Illinois, and another black eye on the state’s still-damaged reputation. But according to Senator Syverson, this bill can go a long way in improving public trust and ensuring that such a scandal can never happen again – an important step on the road to fiscal recovery.
IDOC Chief Stresses Reform to Reduce High Costs in State Prison System
Illinois has one of the most expensive state prison systems in the country, spending an estimated $38,268 per inmate per year. For years, Senate Republicans have sought reforms intended to reduce costs, improve safety and increase efficiency within the state’s correctional system—efforts the state’s new head of corrections says he intends to pursue.
In a memo to Gov. Rauner, Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC) Acting Director Donald Stolworthy identified several cost contributors that he says must be addressed to improve efficiency and accountability within the $1 billion-plus agency. In response, Stolworthy indicated he plans to outline a long term “action plan” to influence positive change within the system.
Though security staffing levels are down in Illinois prisons—many say dangerously so—the Director indicated high personnel and overtime costs contribute significantly to DOC costs. Additionally, he said DOC is hurt by its failure to embrace time- and money-saving technologies. Stolworthy noted the Department is reliant on an outdated and inefficient system to track employee time and inventory, which he said “wastes staff hours and generates accountability issues.” He also pointed out unreasonable numbers of DOC personnel are required to simply open and close gates at some of the older facilities.
The Rauner Administration continues to stress the importance of long-term reforms in state government. The Governor’s budget proposal sought an additional $65 million in Fiscal Year 2016 funding to hire more prison guards in order to increase safety and reduce costly overtime expenses. This will be just one aspect of the final budget plan lawmakers will be negotiating in the coming weeks.
IDOT Announces Listening Tour to Discuss Capital Projects
The Illinois Department of Transportation announced that it will be joining the Illinois Capital Development Board to host a series of listening sessions across the state in the coming weeks to discuss Illinois’ infrastructure needs as a way to help prioritize future capital projects.
The goal of the listening tour is to create a comprehensive package of capital project recommendations for the Rauner Administration to consider this spring. Meetings will be open to the public to engage residents, businesses and local leaders on identifying key infrastructure priorities in each community and region.
Gov. Rauner has called for a capital infrastructure program to finance improvements to the state’s transportation infrastructure system. Past capital programs have financed maintenance and upgrades of roads, bridges and transit systems, and direct funding to improvements to state facilities, like schools and state parks.
Future dates and locations will be updated regularly at www.idot.illinois.gov.
Senator Syverson meets with members of Leadership Rockford at the Capitol.
Legislation Approved by the Senate
Several interesting legislative measures passed out of the Senate this week before the April 24 deadline and have been sent to the House for further review.
New Business Website (SB 659): Requires the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation to create and maintain a website to help anyone wishing to start a business in Illinois, or relocate a business in Illinois.
School Security Task Force (SB 1340): Extends the date by which the School Security and Standards Task Force must submit its report to the GA and Governor to January 1, 2016. This allows the task force to begin its work studying the security of Illinois schools and making recommendations to increase safety at school facilities.
School Suspensions (SB 100): Redefines what constitutes expulsion and suspension behavior. Requires written rationale from the school board if a student is expelled or suspended. Prohibits zero-tolerance policies unless otherwise required. Requires schools to limit the number and duration of expulsions and suspensions. Requires school district to provide educational services to students who are suspended from the school bus if they have no alternative transportation to school. Adds limitations on the use of out-of-school suspensions, expulsions and disciplinary removals to alternative settings and requires provision of behavioral support services until successful return to regular school.
Child Care Employee Vaccination Requirement (SB 986): Mandates any child care facility that cares for children ages 6 and under to require child care employees to provide proof of two doses of the Measles Mumps and Rubella (MMR) Vaccine or provide proof of immunity. Also requires child care employees to also show proof having received the tetanus, diptheria and pertussis vaccine (Tdap).
Synthetic Drug Classification (SB 1129): Schedules entire structural classes of synthetic cannabis and bath salts versus simply scheduling individual and specific molecular structures which can be slightly altered to avoid being illegal. This bill represents a significant step towards addressing the prevailing approach to addressing synthetic drugs by scheduling them as they appear only to have a very similar but technically “legal” drug hit the streets before the law goes into effect.
Immunization Exemptions (SB 1410): Authorizes children to forego immunizations and other health exams if the parents object on religious grounds, however requires the parents to present to the school a signed Certificate of Religious Exemption detailing the grounds for objection, which sets forth specific religious beliefs that are conflicting to the immunizations, exams or tests. The local school authority is responsible for determining if the content constitutes a valid religious exemption in accordance with established DPH rules.
Narcan Distribution Act (SB 1466): Authorizes licensed pharmacists to dispense Narcan without a prescription as long as they follow written procedures developed by DPH, DHS and DFPR. These procedures must be filed at the pharmacist’s place of practice and with the Board of Pharmacy before implementation. Requires a pharmacists to complete a training program before dispensing Narcan. The training program must be approved by DHS.
Obama Library (HB 373): Grants the corporate authorities of cities and park districts that are in control of any public park(s), adding parks located on formerly submerged land, to purchase, erect and maintain a park, adding presidential libraries, centers and museums.
Powdered Caffeine Ban (SB 9): Prohibits the sale or offering of powdered pure caffeine to persons under age 18 in Illinois. Sets forth penalties. Requires the Comprehensive Health Education Program to include information regarding the use of powdered pure caffeine.
Hepatitis C Therapy (SB 1465): Authorizes prior approval by the Department of Healthcare and Family Services for interferon-free Hepatitis C therapy as long as the recipient meets specific criteria. Changes the qualifications of a physician who is authorized to prescribe interferon-free therapy. Ensures that a written consultation report is submitted to the Department when a formal request for prior approval is made.