Senate Week in Review: August 27-31, 2018

Opioid management law offers alternative pain-management option

Friday, August 31, marks International Overdose Awareness Day, an annual global event that aims to raise awareness of overdose and reduce the stigma of a drug-related death.

The day coincides with the recent signing of a monumental new law to curb opioid addiction in Illinois. Senate Bill 336 creates the Alternatives to Opioids Act of 2018, adding those who might otherwise seek opioids for pain management to the list of those eligible for medical marijuana.

Advanced as a bipartisan effort to address the opioid crisis in our country—giving people more control over their health care and offering more pain-relief options—the new law puts in place a pilot program that will not compromise patient safety or diminish medical marijuana program standards, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Licensed physicians must certify an individual has a medical condition for which an opioid has been or could be prescribed. Participants, who must be 21 or older, must register at a licensed dispensary. Dispensations are limited to 2.5 ounces every 14 days and cannot exceed 90 days per physician certification.

Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) Director Dr. Nirav D. Shah underscored in a recent press statement that opioids can be highly addictive in a very short period of time. IDPH reports opioid deaths in Illinois increased 13 percent from 2016 to 2017. In Illinois, more people died last year from opioid overdoses than fatal car accidents.

Governor vetoes Tobacco 21

An effort to raise the legal purchasing age for tobacco and similar products to 21 from 18 was vetoed Aug. 24 by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Senate Bill 2332, known as “Tobacco 21,” arose from a nationwide movement to tighten age restrictions on tobacco purchases across the United States.

The bill would have raised the legal purchasing age on more than just tobacco products. Other restricted items would have included alternative nicotine products and electronic cigarettes, or “e-cigarettes.”

The measure also eliminated the prohibition against minors possessing cigars, cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, or tobacco in any of its forms.

State Senator Dave Syverson (R-Rockford) opposed the legislation, noting that the measure as it was written would allow any minor, regardless of age, to be able to possess cigarettes and smoke in public without consequence.

There were no Republican cosponsors for the bill in the Senate, with most Republican Senate Caucus members agreeing that if you’re old enough to vote and enlist in the military, you can decide for yourself whether or not you’re old enough to purchase tobacco products.

Ag-assistance measure becomes law

A new law will ease weight-limit restrictions on state highways during harvest time, improving the competitive outlook for Illinois farmers and agricultural commodities haulers as a way to assist the state’s leading industry: agriculture.

In response to feedback from the agriculture and trucking communities, which voiced frustration about the restrictions placed on axle weights, House Bill 5749 allows haulers to seek and obtain annual permits from the Illinois Department of Transportation and local authorities to exceed gross axle and gross vehicle weight limits by no more than 10 percent.

Permits are to cost $500 with a total combined permit fee of no more than $1,000. State permit fees will go to the State Construction Account Fund.

Supporters say allowing for increased haul weights during harvest season benefits farmers by helping them to be more productive, and allows Illinois to be more competitive and consistent with other states that have higher weight limits on their roadways.

The new law will take effect July 1, 2019.

New law creates career-focused apprenticeship program

High school students will soon have another option to help prepare them for their future careers. Seeking to connect talented young people with good-paying jobs that don’t necessarily require a college degree, House Bill 5247 requires the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) to adopt rules that would allow students ages 16 and older to participate in industry-based occupational apprenticeship programs.

The standards of the programs will be reviewed and approved by the U.S. Department of Labor. The ISBE rules will allow students to waive certain non-academic graduation requirements that would otherwise stop them from being able to take part in the apprenticeship programs.

Similar bills sponsored and signed into law this year to increase opportunities for students include measures to combat the teacher shortage, and dual credit programs to help students save money and get a head-start on college.

New law protects property tax relief for disabled veterans

Veterans with disabilities will now have their Disabled Veterans’ Standard Homestead Exemption follow them to a new residence, even if they move during the middle of the year, now that Senate Bill 2306 has been signed into law.

Under the new law, the homestead exemption for veterans with disabilities will now be prorated if the veteran who qualifies for the exemption does not occupy the qualified residence as of January 1 of the taxable year.

Previously, if a disabled veteran receiving tax relief through the homestead exemption moved in the middle of the year, then he or she would have been responsible for paying the outstanding property taxes on their new residence until they reapplied for the exemption the next year.

The Disabled Veterans’ Standard Homestead Exemption provides a reduction in a property’s Equalized Assessed Value to a qualifying property owned by a veteran with a service-connected disability.

To apply for this exemption, veterans must contact or visit their local County Assessor’s Office.

First human West Nile Virus death in Illinois for 2018

The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) has confirmed the first human West Nile virus-related death in Illinois for 2018. A LaSalle County resident older than 65 who became ill during the first part of August and tested positive for West Nile virus has died.

“Although we’re moving toward the end of summer, West Nile virus remains a risk until the first hard frost,” said IDPH Director Shah. “It’s important for everyone to continue taking precautions like using insect repellent, wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants, and staying indoors between dusk and dawn.”

Last year, IDPH reported the first human West Nile virus death in Illinois on Sept. 29, 2017. During 2017, there were 90 human West Nile virus cases, including eight deaths. IDPH is currently reporting 22 human cases. West Nile virus positive results in humans, birds, mosquitoes, and/or horses have been reported in 58 counties this year.

West Nile virus is transmitted through the bite of a mosquito. Common symptoms include fever, nausea, headache and muscle aches. Symptoms may last from a few days to a few weeks.  However, four out of five people infected with West Nile virus will not show any symptoms. In rare cases, severe illness including meningitis or encephalitis, or even death, can occur. People older than 50 and individuals with compromised immune systems are at higher risk for severe illness.

Remember to take some simple precautions to reduce the number of mosquitoes around your home and protect yourself from being bitten. 

Minimize being outdoors when mosquitoes transmitting West Nile virus are most active, especially between dusk and dawn
When outdoors, wear shoes and socks, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt, and apply insect repellent that contains DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus or IR 3535, according to label instructions
Eliminate all sources of standing water where mosquitoes can breed, such as old tires, buckets and other receptacles, or refresh the water in bird baths, flowerpots and wading pools every couple days

State launches the Driving a Cleaner Illinois program

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) announced the launch of the “Driving a Cleaner Illinois” program this week, aimed at improving air quality in the state by primarily removing old diesel engines from service.

 This program makes way for cities, schools, transit agencies, and private businesses to submit project ideas to the IEPA detailing how they will replace the old engines with newer, more environmentally friendly options.

“Taking old diesel engines off our streets and out of our rail yards will lead to better air-quality for all of us,” said Gov. Rauner. “The projects that will be funded in this first round will provide benefits to the most sensitive populations, including school children and residents in areas that do not meet federal air quality standards.”

The “Driving a Cleaner Illinois” program is funded through a recent $108 million allocation to the state of Illinois from the Volkswagen (VW) Settlement.

IDOT reopening lanes where possible for Labor Day

The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) has announced the reopening of lanes where possible for the Labor Day holiday to minimize travel disruption. Non-emergency work will be suspended from 3 p.m. Aug. 31 through 12:01 a.m. Sept. 4, when construction will resume.

Pay close attention to signs and posted speed limits. Remember to buckle up, put your phone down, and drive sober.

Celebrate Labor Day, end of summer with a sober driver

As Illinoisans gear up for end-of-summer parties during the long Labor Day weekend, IDOT and the Illinois State Police (ISP) and local law enforcement agencies are stepping up enforcement efforts and reminding motorists to plan for a safe ride home.

From Aug. 20 through the early morning hours of Sept. 4, ISP and more than 150 local law enforcement agencies are increasing safety efforts with hundreds of additional patrols to arrest impaired drivers during the Labor Day “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign. Motorists are also reminded to “Click It or Ticket.”

This Labor Day weekend, help keep your celebration safe by remembering to:

Plan ahead. Designate a sober driver before going out and give that person your keys.
Call a taxi, use a ride-sharing service or mass transit, or call a sober friend or family member to get you home safely if you are impaired.
Promptly report impaired drivers you see on the roadways to law enforcement by pulling over and dialing 911.
Make sure everyone in your vehicle wears a seat belt. It is your best defense in a crash.

The “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” and “Click It or Ticket” programs are funded with federal highway safety dollars administered by IDOT.

Dave Syverson

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