Senator Syverson’s Week in Review: August 3 – August 7, 2015

Springfield, Ill – The Illinois Senate reconvened in Springfield this week, approving one proposal to block cost-of-living increases for state lawmakers and advancing another measure that would ensure many providers continue to receive the federal funding they rely on to keep services going while the state budget impasse continues.

Gov. Bruce Rauner also signed a number of bills into law, including legislation to protect babies and young children from life-threatening illnesses, give the terminally ill access to potentially life-saving treatments, protect Illinois students, and institute more frequent reviews of the state’s retirement systems.

Senate approves measure to appropriate federal funds

As the state budget gridlock continues into its second month, the Senate took action Aug. 4, authorizing the appropriation of nearly $5 billion in federal funds to programs that provide meals for senior citizens and supplemental nutrition programs for women and children, help crime victims, and provide community and rehabilitation services for individuals with disabilities, among others.

The state is responsible for administering many programs mandated or funded by the federal government. Although funding for these programs has been approved at the federal level, the Comptroller is unable to cut checks to agencies for these programs without appropriations authority. As a result, lacking funding, many social service agencies have said they will be forced to cut services or eliminate programs.

Senate Bill 2042 would allow the Comptroller to spend those dollars and ensure the providers receive the federal funding they rely on. Having been approved by the Senate, the measure now advances to the House for consideration. If approved in the House, the legislation would move to the Governor’s desk; a spokesman for the Rauner administration recently said the Governor supports the measure.

Senate joins House in voting to block cost-of-living increases for state lawmakers

This week, the Senate joined the House in overwhelmingly rejecting a two percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for state lawmakers during the current fiscal year.

Due to the way state law is written, the General Assembly receives an automatic COLA each year, unless they vote to deny it. While these automatic pay bumps had been rejected over the last six years, this year the Democrat-controlled legislature allowed the automatic pay increase to take effect.

House Bill 576 eliminates all Fiscal Year 2016 pay raises for members of the General Assembly, state’s attorneys, elected constitutional officers, agency directors, and other state officials whose pay is set by the Compensation Review Board. The measure also freezes per diem and mileage reimbursements rates for lawmakers at their current level.

Legislative Republicans and the Governor had repeatedly called for the COLAs to be removed, citing the state’s serious fiscal woes—a problem exacerbated by the lack of a Fiscal Year 2016 budget plan.

Childcare vaccination protection measure signed by Governor

Small children will now be further protected from exposure to contagious diseases, such as the measles.

Gov. Rauner signed legislation requiring all daycare workers who care for children younger than age seven to present proof of measles, tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis vaccinations or immunity. The legislation was introduced in response to an outbreak of measles in Cook County this year, where a majority of cases were found to be linked to a childcare facility.

Ensuring childcare workers are vaccinated is particularly important when they are caring for children younger than age seven, because babies and young children have not received the full protection of many of the important immunizations that would protect them from potentially deadly illnesses.

New law seeks to help the terminally ill

Illinois’ new “Right to Try” law will give terminally-ill residents hope for the future by allowing citizens with HIV, ALS, cancer and many other serious health conditions to move forward more quickly with clinical-trial, experimental medicines and treatments.

The federal Food and Drug Administration has a roughly five-year trial period for testing medical and pharmaceutical products and procedures, an important process that nonetheless takes away precious time that many with life-threatening illness can’t afford to lose. House Bill 1335 establishes guidelines that will allow terminally-ill patients to more quickly access experimental medical treatments that aren’t yet approved for general use.

Closer scrutiny of pension funds under recently signed law

In effort to get a better grasp of the state’s pension indebtedness, a new law signed by the Governor Aug. 3, will require more frequent review of the five state-funded pension systems. House Bill 422 requires the state’s five pension systems to move to a three-year schedule for actuarial reviews, instead of the current five-year schedule. Undertaking more frequent analysis will help provide a greater sense of the state’s long-term pension liability, and ensure state officials are better prepared when making funding choices.

The State Universities Retirement System, State Employees’ Retirement System, Judges’ Retirement System, and the General Assembly Retirement System perform a statutorily-required review of their systems to examine the mortality, retirement, disability, separation, interest and salary rates. The Teachers’ Retirement System has already adopted the three-year schedule.

Increasing student safety through concussion awareness

Concussions are a dangerous reality for many students, prompting passage of a new law requiring schools to develop policies and procedures to help young athletes and non-athletes in Illinois’ elementary, middle and high schools safely return to the classroom after suffering a concussion.

Senate Bill 7 establishes that before a student who suffered from a concussion can return to the classroom, they must be cleared by a doctor. Additionally, the new law will require school districts, based on their resources, to create a concussion oversight team consisting of coaches, trainers, and medical professionals, and require schools to create an emergency action plan in the case of a serious injury. 

The new law was pushed by lawmakers, many of whom had witnessed first-hand the impact head trauma can have on children. Students returning to school after suffering a head injury can have trouble focusing, memory problems and confusion, double vision and dizziness, headaches and nausea or vomiting, among other symptoms.

Protecting Illinois college students aim of new law

In response to the death of a central Illinois college student who took his own life, a new law (HB 3599) has been approved by the Governor to allow colleges to share mental health information with a designated individual.

As part of the enrollment process, Illinois’ colleges and universities will offer every new student the opportunity to sign a waiver authorizing the institution to disclose their private mental health information to a person of the student’s choosing. The university would only be allowed to disclose the information if they receive notice from a qualified medical examiner that the student poses a danger to himself, herself or others.

Job loss underscores need for reform

For months, House Speaker Michael Madigan has repeatedly claimed that the “number-one problem facing Illinois is the budget deficit.” But the rest of Illinois – outside of state government – is suffering as well after 12 years of Democrat control. New figures in the past month show an economy struggling to get back on its feet, even as Democrats in the Legislature fight tooth-and-nail against pro-jobs reforms.

According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, Illinois has lost 7,300 manufacturing jobs so far this year, compared to gains in competing Midwestern states Indiana (+6,700 jobs) and Michigan (+12,800).

The most recent month also showed an overall jobs decline of 7,500 jobs statewide, according to the Illinois Department of Economic Security (IDES), with job growth “still slow downstate.” According to IDES Director Jeff Mays, “the need for a full statewide recovery remains.” Disturbingly, that statewide loss was the biggest month-to-month loss of any state in the country.

And according to the state’s economic experts, the nonpartisan Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA), Illinois’ labor force, total exports, and new car/truck registrations are all down from a year ago.

According to State Senator Dave Syverson (R-Rockford), Illinois needs an honest focus on the people and the regions that are truly struggling, not just the budget’s bottom line.

Farmers and crops making progress

Another week of drier weather meant more time for farmers to finish up field work, and more sunshine for crops to make their own progress.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, last week the state averaged just .62 inches of rainfall, .13” below normal. This offered farmers an average of 6 days of days suitable for fieldwork. The second cutting of alfalfa is now beginning to wrap up, with 84% of acres harvested, and 23% of the third cutting is now finished up as well.

Both corn and soybeans are now just behind their 5 year averages for progress. 82% of soybean plants are now blooming, up ten points from last week, and 52% are setting pods, a major jump from just 31% a week earlier. 94% of corn acres have made it to the silking stage, and 46% have reached the dough stage, up 14% from the previous seven days. Crop quality is holding steady from the previous week with 56% of corn and 50% of soybeans rated as good to excellent.

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