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Observations and comments about state government by State Representative Robert W. Pritchard.
District Office 815-748-3494 or E-Mail to bob@pritchardstaterep.com

April 10, 2017

In This Issue:
Ø  State Employee Insurance Plan Could Change
Ø  Bills Pass Quickly Out of the House
Ø  Another Stop Gap Funding Measure Passes
Ø  Computer Science Promoted for Education
Ø  April Declared Seed Month
Ø  Gun Owners Rally in the Capitol
Ø Break Offers Time to Listen--Reflect

State Employee Insurance Plan Could Change
Proposed changes to the state employee health insurance package are almost certain to be delayed by two legal issues.  Normally information about the benefit package is distributed about this time of year, sign-up occurs in May and the program begins on June first.
What could delay implementation of the new plan are a court injunction preventing the Governor from implementing his final labor contract offer to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) union and a challenge to the contract award for administering the state’s medical benefit plan.  The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) heard details about the possible delay and the proposed plan at a hearing last week.
Central Management Services (CMS) Acting Director Mike Hoffman testified that if the court does not permit the Governor to implement his contract offer in the next few weeks, the current benefit plan will be extended.  A new plan will be implemented as soon as possible during the fiscal year. 
Cigna, who currently administers the benefit package, has challenged the awarding of the contract to Aetna for next year.  Cigna contends Aetna’s proposal does not meet the requirements set out in the request for proposal and has appealed the matter to the Executive Ethics Commission. 
The proposed state employee health and life insurance plan creates a multi-tiered system to reduce liabilities and increase overall revenue contributions from employees.  The Acting Director said the goal was to split the cost of the program so the state’s responsibility would be about 60 percent, similar to other states and private businesses.  However, the changes would not affect the Medicare advantage HMO plans currently utilized by retirees.
The current FY2017 insurance plan benefits would be the “platinum” plan under the new proposal and increase monthly plan premiums by 120 percent.  Three other options would reduce or have no premium but require higher deductibles and co-payments.  According to CMS, employees could keep their existing doctors and other providers.
CMS also testified that the lack of a budget appropriation for health insurance has prevented the state from paying claims and resulted in a backlog that now exceeds $4.2 billion.  Interest on the unpaid claims exceeds $493 million and could reach $1 billion in the next year.  This is money that should be used to pay claims.
With healthcare and drug costs continuing to grow at near double digit percent levels and considering the state’s fiscal crisis, Director Hoffman said the state must try to reduce benefit costs.

Bills Pass Quickly Out of the House
A large number of bills were debated last week in the House and most passed with bipartisan support.  Here is a sampling of bills now in the Senate.

HB732:  Amends the Illinois Roofing Industry Licensing Act and would require any business that wants to do their own repair or to replace a roof on their buildings using their own labor to first obtain a roofing license and know how to do the work safely.

HB2449:  Amends the Illinois Service Member Civil Relief Act and would allow service members ordered to relocate for at least 90 days to terminate or suspend certain contracts for service.  It also provides that the contracts could be reinstated if the service member is no longer on active military service.

HB706:  Amends the Safe Pharmaceutical Disposal Act to ensure that medical professionals can take possession and dispose dangerous medications following a death. 

HB524: Provides that pharmaceuticals disposed of under the Act may be destroyed in a drug destruction device.  This change allows law enforcement agencies to dispose of unwanted, unused, or expired pharmaceuticals instead of relying on the Federal Drug Enforcement Agency to do so.
Observations and comments about state government by State Representative Robert W. Pritchard.
District Office 815-748-3494 or E-Mail to bob@pritchardstaterep.com

April 3, 2017
In This Issue:
Ø  Crafting a Budget
Ø  Illinois Comeback Agenda Announced
Ø  Keys to Job Growth
Ø  Illinois Celebrates Agriculture Day
Ø  Recognizing Outstanding Educators
Ø  Legislation to Watch
Ø More Citizens Engaged in Policy Debate

Crafting a Budget
Budgeting in its simplest definition prioritizes how to spend available revenue.  In the absence of any real activity by the legislature to craft a state budget, it’s interesting to read the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) three-year budget forecast released recently.  COGFA is required by law to release budgets for the next three years using the best projections and noting opportunities and threats to those projections.  You can find the report (Here).
Since the state has not had a budget in two years, COGFA had to use a type of forensic accounting on past general revenue and expenditure funds to produce the estimates.  The Commission based general fund revenue at $30.2 billion in FY2017 and only expects it to grow to $32.7 billion by FY2020 based on minimal growth to the economy and employment. 
Balancing those revenue projections, COGFA pegged FY2017 spending at $39 billion based on the Governor’s five-year budget forecast.  The overspending of available revenue can be seen in the growth of unpaid bills—currently at $12 billion-- interest charged to those unpaid bills of $397 million, and bills from providers that are being held by agencies since they don’t have spending authority. 
COGFA then laid out six spending scenarios for the next three years that range from a 14 percent reduction—in order to essentially eliminate the unpaid bills-- to a 5.1 percent annual growth in spending that has been typical over the past 20 years. 
The Commission’s scenarios point to the obvious conclusion that paying our backlog of bills and crafting a balanced budget requires more revenue.  According to COGFA, the legislature could choose to expand the number of sales taxes; increase tax rates; make policy reforms that would stimulate economic growth in years to come; or a combination of these choices. 
Based on the last two years’ experience and current budget negotiations, it would appear the legislature is headed toward making none of these choices.  It now looks to me that the only way the legislature will pass a balanced budget for FY2018 is if there is a significant shut-down of government and massive citizen uprising—or divine intervention.

Illinois Comeback Agenda Announced
House and Senate Democrats held a press conference last week to layout their plans to move the state forward and counter the Governor’s reform agenda.  Their initiative includes five components: the budget, limiting the influence of money in politics, job creation, education and improving community health and safety. 
A main priority of the plan focuses on amending the state constitution to allow a graduated income tax.  The legislature must approve the amendment by a three-fifths vote--which requires bipartisan support--and then submit it to voters perhaps by the November 2018 election.
Other portions of the Democratic agenda call for limiting large campaign contributions, removing politics from drawing legislative boundaries, and curbing tax breaks for corporations that move jobs out-of-state.  Also in the plan is raising the minimum wage, reversing cuts to child care programs, protecting children brought into this country from deportation regardless of immigration status, and ending the requirement of cash bond that can keep low-income people in custody awaiting court action.
As the Governor has found over the past two years, it’s difficult to negotiate and compromise if the other side doesn’t engage.  I view the Comeback Agenda as a step toward negotiations to fix the fiscal crisis ruining our state and so many of our institutions and organizations.

Keys to Job Growth
The Illinois Manufacturers' Association commented on employment data last week showing that Illinois has only created a net 100 jobs since September 2000.  This equates to an average of just six new jobs per year in Illinois over the last 17 years.  
In contrast, our neighboring states have added an average of 115,250 jobs since 2000.  Missouri led the way with 134,400 new jobs followed by Wisconsin with116,300, Indiana with 110,600 and Iowa with 99,700.
The U.S. Department of Labor reported in February that Illinois had finally surpassed the number of total non-farm jobs held in 2000.  While this total jobs number may be seen as a bright spot, the state's population grew by more than 400,000 residents during that same time period and manufacturers shed 309,000 jobs.
The manufacturing group reiterated its key tenets for moving Illinois forward and regaining economic competitiveness with the rest of the country.  They call on policymakers to create fiscal stability, reform pensions, strengthen the education and workforce system, enact economic development reforms, and rewrite the tax code that reduces the high cost of property taxes.  


Observations and comments about state government by State Representative Robert W. Pritchard.
District Office 815-748-3494 or E-Mail to bob@pritchardstaterep.com

March 27, 2017
In This Issue:
Ø  Great News for NIU
Ø  Bills Proceed Through House Committees
Ø  New State Cybersecurity Strategy Announced
Ø  Youth Council Presses Officials
Ø New Identification Cards Available for Those with Disabilities
Ø  Local Firefighters Visit the Capitol
Ø  Pension Reform Proposal Filed

Great News for NIU

Recruitment of students to attend Northern Illinois University (NIU) got a big push with the recent rankings of an independent online publication.  College Choice--that seeks to help students select the right college—named NIU third best among public universities and ninth best among all colleges and universities in Illinois.
The publication was impressed that NIU offers the opportunities of a large university while providing the personalized experience of a small college.  NIU offers 57 undergraduate majors and 73 minors with several recognized nationally for their quality and instruction.  However, NIU students can work one-on-one with faculty on research from year one, find hands-on learning opportunities in hundreds of classes and have opportunities for work internships.
College Choice also pointed to the First- and Second-Year Experience programs that help pave the way to success for new students.  NIU students also can participate in more than 200 clubs and organizations, study abroad and make the world a better place through volunteerism locally, nationally and globally.  
That quality and diversity, according to the publication, translates into an excellent return on investment.  NIU alumni can be found in high-level posts all over the country working in major accounting firms, as judges and medical professionals, as executives in a wide range of industries and even the Illinois General Assembly.  Go Huskies!

Bills Proceed Through House Committees
With 58 committees created for the 100th General Assembly, more bills than usual are moving through the legislative process to be considered, debated, and voted on in the House.  By opening the gate wider for more of the over 4,000 bills to be considered; legislators, organizations and citizens are finding it hard to review the bills in a timely manner. 
The deadline for bills to pass out of committee by this Friday has added pressure to move legislation to the House floor.  Many pieces of legislation heard in committee this past week need further work in hopes of removing opposition.  Sponsors were frequently heard saying they would hold their bills on second reading while they amend them in hopes of removing opposition and garnering more support before a vote is taken on the House Floor.

New State Cybersecurity Strategy Announced
Governor Rauner and the Department of Innovation and Technology (DoIT) announced a new effort to upgrade the state’s technology systems in order to make Illinois more cyber-secure.  With state agencies performing services and handling information from thousands of businesses and millions of Illinois residents on their servers, it is necessary to ensure that this sensitive information is protected in the best way possible.    
Potential cyber-attacks have become a top issue not only for Illinois, but also for states across the country.  The current systems in place can no longer adequately support the sensitive information held, and new systems are necessary to provide added security and prevent any harm.
The new broad based cybersecurity plan outlines five strategic goals to protect state information systems.   These goals include:  protecting the state of Illinois information and systems, reducing cyber-risk, providing best-in-class cybersecurity capabilities, an enterprise approach to cybersecurity and creating a cyber secure Illinois.
It is believed that this plan will save taxpayers millions of dollars in the long-run, as it will make state agencies more efficient through a streamlined process—while better equipping agencies to protect information against any outside threats.

Youth Council Presses State Officials
Unlike typical student groups that visit the state Capitol, my Youth Advisory Council came to Springfield last week loaded with questions and pressing their ideas.  Among their visits were the Governor, Comptroller, legislative leaders from both parties, a lobbyist and state staff. 
Perhaps it was their high school courses, my briefings or the over-view given by State Journal Register political columnist Bernie Schoenburg, but the students were ready with questions about state operations, high cost of a college education, failure to pay state bills, and what officials were doing to improve the future of Illinois.

Governor Rauner responds to questions from DeKalb’s Michael Mitchell and others

Time after time the student’s questions had to be cut short to get to the next appointment.  The officials told me later how impressed they were with the questions, engagement of the students and their knowledge.
It was interesting after visits with legislative leaders and the Governor to hear the new Comptroller say her job should not have to decide which important state service or program are funded and which must wait to be paid.  The former state legislator said it’s the job of the legislature to pass a budget.
The youth also were able to tour the state capitol building, visit the Lincoln Presidential Museum and view a legislative session

The Youth Council pictured with House Republican Leader Jim Durkin on the House Floor.
In an effort to make state government and the legislative process more accessible to Illinois residents regardless of their national origin or spoken language, below are the links to translate the Illinois General Assembly website, www.ilga.gov, into any one of dozens of different languages.

The Illinois General Assembly website contains legislator profiles, full text of all legislation introduced in the House of Representatives and State Senate, live audio and video feeds of legislative session and committee hearings; and a wide variety of other legislative information and support services.

Please click any of the links below to translate the Illinois General Assembly website into your preferred language:

Spanish Español

Arabic عربي

Hindi हिन्दी

Chinese (Simplified) 中文简体

Chinese (Traditional) 中文繁體

Japanese 日本語

Korean 한국어

Russian Русский

French Français

German Deutsch

Italian Italiano

Polish Polski

Greek Ελληνικά

You can translate the Illinois General Assembly website into as many as 57 different languages using any of the above links.

Observations and comments about state government by State Representative Robert W. Pritchard.
District Office 815-748-3494 or E-Mail to bob@pritchardstaterep.com

March 20, 2017

In This Issue:
Ø  New Statewide Education Plan Moves Forward
Ø  Unprecendented Effort to Seek Univeresity Funding, Keep Students
Ø  Legislative Action Last Week
Ø  Impacts of Raising Minimum Wage 
Ø Cancer Researchers Seek Survey Participants
Ø  Students See Contrasts in School Equity 

New Statewide Education Plan Moves Forward
Last Wednesday the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) approved a new statewide education accountability plan as part of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) approved in 2015.  Advocates believe the plan will better tell parents and communities how well their schools are meeting the educational needs of all their students.
The final version of the plan was developed after much time was spent determining the needs of the state’s education system and students.  This included many different phases including about 100 listening tours around the state, stakeholder meetings, and review by the Governor. 
The new accountability plan emphasizes student growth, but also includes such things as student proficiency in math and English, graduation rates, English language proficiency, attendance, and closing the gap in proficiency for subgroups.  Overall, the new accountability plan takes into account the whole child, and considers the types of programming necessary in education to best support the strengths and needs of each child.  
Schools that struggle to measure up under the new plan will be given extra support from approved vendors and other school districts.  The goal, as the name implies, is to help every child succeed.
The state plan will be submitted to the federal Department of Education for approval by April 3rd and could be implemented starting this fall.

Unprecedented Effort to Seek University Funding, Keep Students
At a press conference in Springfield last week, University of Illinois President Tim Killeen offered $850 million in scholarships and financial aid for students if the state would appropriate a stable level of university funding for five years.  The offer was made as part of legislation to entice action by the General Assembly to adequately fund higher education and slow the out-migration of high school graduates.
Killeen said the defunding of higher education since 2000, but especially in the last two years, has contributed to nearly half of high school graduates leaving Illinois to attend schools elsewhere.  Research shows that a majority of college students will stay in the state where they receive their degree.
As state support for public universities dropped, their tuitions rose and Illinois universities soon became more expensive than schools in neighboring states.  Add to the higher cost are students’ concerns that premier faculty will take jobs elsewhere and the student’s chosen program or classes will be cut.  You see why students are going out of state.
The “Invest in Illinois” program or “Triple I” for short, is part of HB2996 which calls for obligations from the state and U of I system.  It is unique and a possible model that could help Northern Illinois University and all our public institutions. 
In this season of March madness basketball, I hope this long shot goes in, and creates legislative discussion, and action toward a balanced budget.

Legislative Action Last Week
The flurry of bills that have been coming out of committee hearings are being debated on the House floor.  Here are a few bills that passed the full House and will be sent to the Senate.
HB2447 is one of my bills aimed at encouraging individuals to not drive if they aren’t controlling a medical condition that could cause the loss of consciousness or ability to safely operate a vehicle.  The bill provides that a person commits reckless driving when he or she is involved in an accident and the proximate cause was failure to control such a diagnosed condition.
HB2550 amends the Illinois Vehicle Code and provides that in addition to other purposes, moneys in the Illinois Fire Fighters' Memorial Fund shall be used to provide scholarships for graduate study, undergraduate study, or any other post-secondary education approved by the Illinois Firefighter Memorial Foundation to children and spouses of fire fighters killed in the line of duty.
HB3110 requires that state agencies provide written notice to authorized social services providers 30 days prior to any contract termination, suspension or reduction.  Past agency actions were made without prior notice or time for agencies to adjust to contract changes.
HB 3014 is an initiative of the Illinois Environmental Council to educate the public about harmful materials to avoid putting in a recycling container.  This bill makes it unlawful to recycle the following items:  landscape waste, food scraps, household sharps, plastic sheets, Styrofoam, and motor oil or other hazardous waste containers.  There is no penalty for violating the law.
HB3169 is a reflection of Governor Rauner’s Executive Order 16-10 which directs the Department of Children and Family Services to show respect for the youth under their supervision by referring to them as “youth in care” rather than “wards of the state.”   
HB3874 also amends the Illinois Vehicle Code.  It prohibits a person from operating, registering, or maintaining registration of a motor vehicle in Illinois unless the motor vehicle is covered by a liability insurance policy. This applies to both highway and non-highway driving.
HB3910 amends the Illinois Controlled Substances Act and provides that emergency medical services personnel may administer Schedule II, III, IV, or V controlled substances without a prescription.  This change from current law will allow use of emergency medicine to help save lives.
 
Tim Lehan, DeKalb, brought UIC pharmacy students from Rockford to discuss legislation

Observations and comments about state government by State Representative Robert W. Pritchard.
District Office 815-748-3494 or E-Mail to bob@pritchardstaterep.com

March 13, 2017
In This Issue:
Ø  Go Cubs Go!
Ø  Bills Proceed Through Committees
Ø  Revenue Projections Offer Mixed Outlook
Ø  Legislators Warned about Cost of Healthcare Changes
Ø  NIU Testifies about Budget Impact
Ø  Highest Consumer Complaints Involve Debt and Theft
Ø  Speaker Creates Another Education Funding Task Force

Go Cubs Go!
The Chicago Cubs’ Championship World Series trophy was welcomed to the General Assembly last Wednesday.  During a special joint session of the House and Senate, the trophy sat in the front of the House Chamber, while state lawmakers gave speeches honoring the Chicago Cubs’ historic World Series title claimed last November.  A special House Resolution was read congratulating the team, followed by a special address by Chairman and Owner of the Chicago Cubs, Tom Ricketts.
The thought ran through my mind that if the Cubs can win the World Series after 108 years, perhaps this is the year Illinois will get a budget.  I know this is a long-shot but our state can’t “wait until next year.”
The Chamber was adorned with the classic blue “W” flags, and the team’s signature song, “Go Cubs Go” was played.  While the current Cubs team is at Spring Training, Chicago Cub and Hall-of-Famer, Ryne Sandberg was in attendance.
After leaving the Capitol building, the World Series Trophy traveled to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum where roughly 1,000 people were able to get their photographs taken with it, while Ricketts and Sandberg were also on hand for photos and autographs.
 
Chicago Cubs Chairman and Owner Tom Ricketts with Speaker Mike Madigan and the World Series Championship Trophy

Bills Proceed Through Committees
Committees continue to meet in Springfield to review legislation and determine which bills will move forward for debate and votes in the House.  This week the bills passing out of committee included HB3490 which amends the Nursing Education Scholarship Law.  This law allows Northern Illinois University to be added to the list of approved institutions for potential scholarship help for nursing graduate students.
An initiative to remove an obsolete fee paid by grocery, retail and restaurant food handlers (HB3684) passed out of the House Consumer Protection Committee.  Since food handlers must have a federal certificate there is no need for Illinois to have a duplicate test or fee. 
Legislation that would require Illinois' employers to pay overtime to any employee making less than $47,476 passed the House Economic Opportunity Committee.  HB2749 is identical to regulations written by the Obama administration but not implemented due to a federal court nationwide injunction.  The committee also passed HB2462 to prohibit businesses from requesting applicants to provide previous salary and benefits compensation.  This bill is intended to address concern that gender discrimination is perpetuated by businesses based on salary history.
Another bill that moved forward was one of my initiatives, HB2447, that responds to a situation where two young people were killed in Sycamore.  The bill provides that a person commits reckless driving if they are involved in an accident and the proximate cause was failing to control a medical condition likely to cause loss of consciousness or control of the vehicle.  This bill unanimously passed out of the Transportation Vehicles and Safety Committee in the House, and is currently in its third reading.  You can follow the status of the bill here.

Revenue Projections Offer Mixed Outlook
The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) presented estimates last week that FY2017 state revenue would drop $674 million below earlier estimates but then increase $938 million in FY2018.  The projections were based upon the weakest economic recovery in over 60 years, job growth that has not recovered to 2000 levels, lost population and fewer exports due to the strong U.S. dollar.
Without legislative changes to encourage job growth, state revenue increases, or consumer activity; the report predicts that Illinois’ largest revenue sources will experience only modest growth in the upcoming year.  Without a balanced budget or relief from court orders requiring spending above revenue levels, the list of unpaid bills will continue to grow in FY2018.
Lawmakers typically use the expected revenue forecast from COGFA as a starting point for crafting a state budget.  However, since spending has not been lowered to current revenue levels nor has legislation passed for increasing revenue in FY2018, the budgeting process will be difficult to initiate.  View the full report from COGFA here.