Citizens and advocacy groups from across the state crowded the Capitol during the week, voicing their support or opposition to hundreds of bills currently being considered by lawmakers.
Senators spent many hours debating and voting on legislation – such as measures to combat the opioid crisis and to provide a more affordable alternative to medicine for treating allergic reactions – as they work to meet an April 12 deadline for the third reading of Senate bills.
Also during the week, state officials and lawmakers urged motorists to pay more attention and be more careful while driving, as distracted-driving accidents resulted in the deaths of two Illinois State Police officers in just three days.
Hot button issues before the General Assembly
As lawmakers prepare to return to the Capitol next week, a number of controversial and critical issues are pending in the General Assembly.
One topic of much debate this General Assembly includes ongoing discussions regarding recreational marijuana. The Pritzker Administration has been a vocal proponent of legalizing cannabis for recreational use. However, there have been a number of concerns raised as to how the state would implement, distribute and regulate the legalization of recreational marijuana.
Also ongoing are discussions on how to address the backlog of deferred maintenance on our state’s roads and bridges. Though IDOT is able to invest over two billion annually into the road program, IDOT has stated there is a nearly $15 billion unmet need to perform maintenance on the state’s highways and streets. Among the questions that need to be answered are how new revenues might be raised and to ensure that any new revenues are distributed equitably and address needs across the entire state.
Meanwhile efforts to pass sports betting continue. However, concerns have been raised that discussion is focusing primarily on that topic while overlooking the need for a full gaming package and the revenue such legislation would generate for the state to address capital concerns. Senator Syverson, who has been an active lawmaker in the ongoing gaming discussions, is concerned that there would not be support for sports betting if it is not backed by a full gaming package.
Finally, no movement has taken place regarding the Fair Map initiative. In February of this year, Senator Syverson joined Senate Republicans to introduce Senate Joint Resolution-Constitutional Amendment 4 that would give voters the opportunity to amend the Constitution to create a new, non-partisan system for drawing legislative maps. Despite it having strong support among Illinois residents and the critical need to remove politics from the redistricting process, it appears as if Democratic leadership will not bring the measure for a vote this year.
Lawmakers are scheduled to return to the Capitol on April 9.
Syverson urges motorists to make roads safer
State Senator Syverson (R-Rockford) is asking the public to slow down and drive more carefully after two Illinois State Police officers were killed in recent distracted-driving accidents.
Trooper Gerald Ellis was on duty March 30 when he was killed in a head-on collision with a vehicle traveling the wrong way on Interstate 94. Two days earlier, on March 28, Trooper Brooke Jones-Story was struck and killed by a semitrailer during a roadside inspection of another truck, just west of Illinois Route 75.
Their deaths brought to three the number of troopers killed in 2019. On Jan. 12, Trooper Christopher Lambert was killed after being hit by a car on I-294 while at the scene of an accident.
Lawmakers from around the state are expressing concern about the number of troopers who have been hit by vehicles – 16 so far in 2019. In 2018, just eight troopers were hit; 12 were hit in 2017; and five in 2016.
Illinois Acting State Police Director Brendan Kelly and the Governor are urging motorists to obey Scott’s Law, which mandates that when approaching any police or other emergency vehicle stopped along the roadway, drivers must proceed with due caution, change lanes if possible, and reduce their speed.
State Police have also stepped up enforcement of Scott’s Law and are trying to raise awareness of the issue through social media.
Combatting opioid crisis
The Senate has taken another major step in combatting the opioid overdose epidemic by passing legislation sponsored by State Sen. John Curran (R-Downers Grove) to treat the deadly drug Fentanyl as seriously as heroin.
“Fentanyl has clearly become the number one threat in the ongoing opioid crisis,” said Curran. “This bill will help our justice system clamp down on the illegal Fentanyl trade and help law enforcement get the deadly drug off of our streets.”
Senate Bill 199 creates a Class 1 felony penalty structure for the possession of Fentanyl and Fentanyl analogs, targeted at illegal dealers and suppliers of the drug. The goal is to put Fentanyl offenses on the same level as heroin, and to help prosecute those who are engaged in the illegal manufacturing and trade of the deadly drug.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid originally developed as a painkiller. Experts say the drug is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. Fentanyl is now the drug most frequently involved in overdose deaths in the United States, according to a 2018 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Senate Bill 199 is currently awaiting action in the House after being passed by a unanimous vote in the Senate.
Health insurance companies would be required to offer generic alternatives for EpiPens under legislation sponsored by State Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris) that passed by a unanimous vote of the Senate on April 4.
EpiPen is the brand name of a device that delivers the drug epinephrine, which is a life-saving medication used when someone is experiencing a severe allergic reaction. Cost for this drug, which can be in the hundreds of dollars range, often place it out of reach to those who need it most.
Senate Bill 2047 would require health insurance companies to offer generic alternatives for insulin auto-injectors.
“These life-saving drugs can be extremely expensive for those who need them,” said Sen. Rezin. “Generic forms are often much more affordable. This legislation seeks to ensure patients are provided with all available options at a price within reason.”
Senate Bill 2047 now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Students Flock to Capitol for Illinois Electric and Telephone Cooperatives Youth Day
Hundreds of Illinois students visited the Capitol April 3 to view state government in action and talk with legislators about issues, as part of the Illinois Electric and Telephone Cooperatives Youth Day. The annual event in Springfield focuses on encouraging young people, who are tomorrow’s leaders, to take an interest in state government.
Healthcare Leaders Visit the Capitol for Quality Advocacy Showcase
Also on April 3, healthcare leaders from around the state presented information about their community programs as part of the Illinois Health and Hospital Association’s Quality Advocacy Showcase. The event gives local healthcare leaders the opportunity to talk with legislators about how hospitals are improving patient safety and enhancing quality care, while reducing healthcare costs.