SPRINGFIELD – Democrat lawmakers continued to play politics with higher education during the week, voting to add more than $700 million to the deficit. With their only concern political self-preservation, Democrat legislators continued to ignore Republican proposals that would adequately fund MAP grants for Illinois college students, as well as fund community colleges and universities.
Though Republican lawmakers repeatedly offered up compromise legislation to direct state funding to the state’s universities, community colleges and Monetary Award Program (MAP) grant, the House adjourned for a month without acting on any of those proposals. As a result, Democrat lawmakers have once again left students and the higher education community hanging. While the Senate is scheduled to return on March 8, the House is out until April 4, which leaves the General Assembly without an opportunity to resolve these issues.
However, lawmakers from both parties did come together with Gov. Bruce Rauner to discuss bipartisan legislation to reform Illinois’ criminal justice system. The proposals seek to reduce recidivism, prison admissions and the length of incarceration through reforms to judicial sentencing, electronic monitoring and better preparing inmates to re-enter society upon release.
In other Statehouse news during the week, the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) released its annual economic forecast; Democrats voted for a $3 billion tax increase by once again advancing a controversial labor arbitration proposal that would remove the Governor from labor negotiations; and after more than six years of negotiations, legislation is advancing that would help recruit and retain quality nurses in Illinois.
Democrats lawmakers leave without acting on higher ed funding, MAP
Democrat legislators continued to play politics with higher education this week, leaving town after attempting to push through legislation (SB 2043) that would have added more than $700 million to the state deficit. Republican lawmakers stressed the measure gave students and community colleges the false hope of funding since Democrat legislators did not attach a revenue stream to the measure. The proposal also failed to include any operating funds for the state’s four-year universities.
Though GOP lawmakers and the Governor said there are a number of viable legislative alternatives still on table to finance MAP grant assistance and community colleges and universities, it’s unlikely a resolution will be negotiated any time soon. Though higher education and the MAP program haven’t received state aid since July 1, the House adjourned for a month without acting on any of the numerous funding proposals that have been introduced by lawmakers from both parties. The Senate is scheduled to return on March 8, but the House is out until April 4, offering no time for the General Assembly to resolve the issue before early April.
Gov. Rauner has joined legislative Republicans in advocating for legitimate alternatives to fund MAP grants and all of higher education. He vetoed SB 2043, citing the lack of a revenue stream, and though Senate Democrat lawmakers voted to override the Governor’s veto on March 2, their effort stalled in the House.
Senate Republicans join Democrats and Gov. Rauner to institute criminal justice reform.
Senate Republicans joined Gov. Rauner and Democrat lawmakers at a joint press conference on March 2 to highlight bipartisan legislation to help reform Illinois’ criminal justice system.
Three bills were introduced to address judicial sentencing, electronic monitoring, and to better prepare offenders upon release from leaving prison. The reform package includes a measure (SB 3164) requiring review of a pre-sentencing report, as well as an explanation prior to sentencing as to why incarceration is appropriate for an offender with no prior probation sentences or prison convictions.
Last year, nearly 60 percent of new prison admissions for Class 3 or 4 felonies had no prior convictions for violent crimes. Supporters of the proposal explained that probation could be a better option for offenders with no prior probation or convictions, noting that incarceration of those unlikely to repeat offend inefficiently uses prison resources and potentially makes offenders more susceptible to reoffending.
Another measure, SB 3294, expands the use of electronic monitoring to help transition offenders back into society. This will increase public safety and reduce costs by more effectively focusing IDOC’s supervision and programming resources on reducing recidivism.
In an attempt to help offenders transition into society more easily, SB 3368 requires the Secretary of State and the Illinois Department of Corrections to work together to provide state identification for offenders leaving IDOC. Proponents explain that without identification, offenders attempting to reenter society find it difficult, if not impossible, to secure employment, housing or pursue educational opportunities.
According to the Illinois Department of Corrections, Illinois prisons have reached a capacity level of 147 percent, nearly 50,000 people, and it costs nearly $40,000 to incarcerate just one individual per year. Gov. Rauner has stated many times that he would like to see the prison population in Illinois drastically reduced.
The link to the latest available report on Illinois prisons can be found here.
Rewind: AFSCME-backed union arbitration bill once again heads to Gov
Once again, a controversial “binding arbitration” measure heads to Governor. An identical measure was advanced by legislative Democrats in late 2015, but it failed to become law after Democrats couldn’t muster enough support to override Gov. Rauner’s veto of the legislation.
During the week, Democrats revived their efforts to place the process of determining the outcome of taxpayer-paid, multi-billion-dollar labor agreements between the Governor and state employee unions in the hands of an unelected arbitrator. House Bill 580 was characterized by Republicans as a $3 billion tax that removes a duly-elected governor from union negotiations in the event of a contract dispute.
Additionally, locally-elected union representatives would be removed from the process, and critics questioned a provision in the legislation that would have removed the union’s ability to strike.
The Governor is expected to once again veto the legislation.
Six years in the making, Illinois set to join the Nurse Licensure Compact
For more than six years, a number of lawmakers have been pushing for Illinois to join the dozens of other states that are part of the Nurse Licensure Compact. This would allow registered Illinois nurses to work in other states in the Compact and permit licensed nurses from other Compact states to practice in Illinois. On March 2, a compromise bill, Senate Bill 2214, was successfully pushed through the Senate Licensed Activities and Pensions Committee.
Legislative advocates say the legislation will be instrumental in helping our state recruit and retain quality nurses. It will particularly benefit those border communities of states already in the Compact, including Wisconsin, Kentucky, Iowa and Missouri, by allowing nurses from both sides to travel and work across state lines.
If signed into law, Illinois would become the 26th state to join the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC).
While this legislation expands opportunities for licensed nurses, it also establishes patient protections by requiring the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation to check the NLC database prior to granting applicants the ability to practice in Illinois to determine whether a nurse has been previously disciplined. Additionally, licensed nurses applying to practice in Illinois must submit their fingerprints to the State Police. The fingerprints will be used against the State Police and FBI criminal history records check.
Senate Bill 2214 passed committee with unanimous support and has been sent to the Senate floor for a vote.
The link to the Nurse Licensure Compact can be found here.