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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

May 22, 2017
In This Issue:
Ø  School Funding Reform Proceeds
Ø  Senate Passes Grand Bargain Bills
Ø  Homeschooling on the Rise in Illinois
Ø  Red Mass Ceremony Reaffirms Commitment
Ø  Looking Ahead to Memorial Day

School Funding Reform Proceeds
The House version of a new school funding plan passed out of committee last week while the Senate version passed that chamber and came over to the House.  HB2808 and SB1 are very similar bills seeking to replace the current school funding formula with funding “best-practices” based on the students’ needs in each school.
As I have discussed before, there are four major components to each bill.  First, the Evidence-Based Model (EBM) looks at the social and educational needs of each student and determines the cost which is called an adequacy target for the school.  Next it calculates what each district is able to fund toward the adequacy target based on its property wealth and tax rate. 
Third, EBM calculates how much the state is currently contributing to the district, adds in the local contribution and determines the district’s percent of adequacy.  Finally, the model’s distribution method allocates new state funding to those districts that are least well-funded.
Any time there is discussion about a new school funding formula there has to be a hold harmless provision so no district receives less than they are currently receiving.  Both bills provide such “base funding.”  Next, the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) want the state to pick-up its pension costs just like the state does for every other school district. 
However, CPS does not want to lose its block grants that were established in 1995 because they receive about $252 million more in state aid than they should receive based upon student numbers. 
You begin to see why some legislators feel the new model favors Chicago over treating every child in the state alike.  Neither of the bills offers needed relief from unfunded state mandates and high property taxes.  As a co-sponsor of the bills, I am still working on amendments to address these issues and to keep the focus on funding the best practices so every child improves each year.
In the preliminary computer runs of the EBM that determine the current percentage of adequate funding for my legislative district, the DeKalb and Genoa-Kingston districts are in Tier 1--the districts farthest from their adequacy target.  The other five districts are in Tier 2, which are between 60 and 90 percent of their adequacy targets.  Tiers 3 and 4 schools are currently funding more than their adequacy targets.
You can follow along with the status of these bills as they proceed through the House legislative process here.

Senate Passes Grand Bargain Bills
After months of debate and urging by House members, the Senate last week finally passed 7 bills in their “Grand Bargain” to solve the state budget crisis.  They also removed the “all or nothing” requirement that all the bills in the package had to pass before any of them could become law.
We have already discussed SB1 so here are brief comments about bills in the package that passed the Senate.  SB3 contains consolidation provisions affecting townships, road districts, drainage districts and county board authority to dissolve units that they appoint.
SB4 authorizes the sale of $7 billion in bonds to pay down the estimated $14 billion of unpaid bills.  The bonds would be paid back in 7 years at a cost of about $1.4 billion per year.
SB 6 appropriates a total of $11.5 billion to the State Board of Education for FY18 and additional FY17 spending.  Funding would cover the base funding level and add $288 million for the least equitably funded school districts.  Programs outside of the new funding model would receive nearly $733 million.
SB7 adds 6 casinos including one for Chicago, slots at race tracks, and changes to betting limits and rules.
SB8 provides reforms to streamline the state’s buying procedures and provide cost savings while still maintaining oversight and transparency.
SB16 provides comprehensive pension reform that requires Tier 1 employees to choose between two benefit plans, creates a new Tier 3 plan, makes funding changes, and offers a pension buyout option.  This bill is identical to HB4027 and HB4045 which are on third reading in the House.    
Bills dealing with revenue, worker compensation reform and property tax freeze have yet to pass the Senate.

State Representative Bob Pritchard’s summer reading program has begun! The Representative invites students in K-5th grades to participate and read at least 8 books during the summer months. Those who participate are invited to a free ice cream party in August.

This is a program the Representative has offered every ear because “Encouraging reading is a foundation to learning” said Pritchard. He believes that reading over the summer helps students retain what they have learned in school and prepares them for more growth when they return to school.

You can find a copy of the summer reading brochure here, which includes the rules and instructions. If you have questions, contact Rep. Pritchard’s District Office at (815) 748-3494.
In This Issue:
Ø  Bipartisan Group of House Lawmakers Urges Senate Action
Ø  Thank You Teachers
Ø  Local Firefighters Awarded State's Highest Honor
Ø  Local Students' Art Exhibited in the Capitol 
Ø  We Should Not Abandon Affordable Higher Education


Bipartisan Group of House Lawmakers Urges Senate Action
The Senate has been debating a series of bills dealing with the budget for months and a group of House lawmakers say it’s time to vote and forward the bills to their chamber.  In an open letter to the Senate last Monday, some 30 bipartisan Representatives joined me in urging action and committing to a resolution of the state’s financial crisis now.
The number of members from both parties may have been motivation for Speaker Madigan to appoint 4 top members in his party on Tuesday to negotiate with the Governor over non-budget items.  Republican Leader Durkin did the same thing later in the week.  While yet another working group sounds like a stalling action by the Speaker, members seem ready for action.
House members recognized that the Senate’s budget plan does not have to be perfect, but a starting point at which the House can expand upon in order to produce a solution that will pass both chambers and ultimately be signed by the Governor.  A balanced compromise would include a package of bills that cut spending, raise revenue and make reforms that will grow the economy longer term.  
The legislators’ action clearly shows the frustration of taxpayers and voters.  But more people need to join in creating pressure.  I’ve told a number of school superintendents to turn up the volume in their “Pass Illinois Budget” campaign.  Let parents know schools won’t open this fall without a full state budget; indeed many can’t.  Let’s break the political fight and stop the slide to the fiscal abyss.  
Bipartisan House members ready to debate Senate budget bills 
Thank You Teachers
As we near the end of another school year, the nation paused this past week to thank our teachers.  I hope you stopped to think about a teacher in your life who made a difference; gave confidence, inspired, lite a spark in you or challenged you to do better.  Then let them know.
There are few careers more important to our nation than education yet too often criticized and ignored.  Thomas Jefferson wrote: “I think by far the most important bill in our whole code is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people.  No other sure foundation can be devised for the preservation of freedom and happiness.” 
We trust these teachers, staff and administrators with our most precious possessions (children) and miraculously they grow into responsible adults who too soon graduate from high school and college.  I had the opportunity to visit with some of these miracle workers last week—early childhood educators in Springfield and special needs educators in Garden Prairie.  Thank you all for the work you do for our community and country.  
Early childhood education advocates from DeKalb and Sycamore at the capitol
Illinois firefighters were honored in Springfield this week, and special awards were given to a few extraordinary firefighters, including one from the area.

Jared Thorp is a firefighter and paramedic with the DeKalb Fire Department, and was designated the Medal of Honor Award Recipient. This is the highest award given by the State of Illinois to a firefighter for an act of outstanding bravery or heroism, selflessness, and personal courage above and beyond the call of duty, under adverse conditions, with the possibility of extreme personal risk.

The award was presented to Jared by the Firefighting Medal of Honor Committee and the Office of the State Fire Marshall at the Tuesday ceremony in Springfield. Congratulations to Jared on this outstanding achievement!

Two other groups of DeKalb firefighters were designated Excellence Award Recipients. This award is given to acknowledge an act of service in the line of duty, demonstrating excellence and professionalism in service to the citizens of the State of Illinois.  This award is given with Unit Citations, as it is designated to groups of firefighters. 

Excellence Award Recipients -
DeKalb Engine Company #2 [Unit Citation]
·         Firefighter/Paramedic Todd Adamson
·         Lieutenant/Paramedic Brett Gautcher
·         Firefighter/Paramedic Tim Stiker
·         Firefighter/Paramedic Chris Krupa
DeKalb Aerial Ladder Truck Company #1 [Unit Citation]
·         Firefighter/Paramedic Matt Holuj
·         Firefighter/Paramedic Jon Ritter
·         Captain Mike Thomas
·         Firefighter/Paramedic Andrew Romano

All the firefighters and their families were welcomed to Springfield for the special ceremony.  A memorial was also held to honor all the fallen firefighters in Illinois.  Today, we not only recognized those hardworking firefighters we have here in Illinois, but remembered those we lost. 

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

Happy May Day—A Spring Holiday

In This Issue:
Ø  Marathon Week for Passing House Bills
Ø  Budget Talks Regain Momentum
Ø  Action Taken to Restart Prison Nurses Talks
Ø  Festivals Fuel the State’s Economy
Ø  Visitors in the Capitol

Marathon Week for Passing House Bills
The House returned from a two-week recess last week to debate hundreds of bills before the deadline for consideration.  What follows are some of the more interesting pieces of legislation that passed out of the House and now go to the Senate for consideration.
HB40: Expands access to abortions for women on Medicaid.  Currently public funds cannot be used for this purpose.
HB223: Provides that identification bracelets may be used in nursing homes without a doctor’s order.  Further, nursing homes may require the use of bracelets for residents in Alzheimer’s units with the guardian’s approval.
HB261: Allows schools that are currently required to provide transportation for homeless students staying in out-of-district locations to instead provide rental or mortgage assistance for them to live within the district.  This would be an option for the district to save money. 
HB302: Requires life insurance companies to pay benefits or proceeds to the appropriate persons upon the death of the insured for policies in effect since 1996.  Currently companies are only required to make payment when requested by the beneficiaries.
HB313: Extends the Nurse Practice Act to 2028, expands permissible scope of practice and relieves some restrictions upon their practice.
HB531: Creates the offense of first responder endangerment when the manager of a commercial property knowingly creates a dangerous condition and intentionally conceals it which may cause the death or serious bodily injury to a first responder.
HB607: Allows the township board of trustees in any county with less than 3 million inhabitants to abolish its road district if approved by electors of that township at a general or consolidated election.
HB698: Creates a pilot project for prison inmates within three years of release to receive training in business skills, computer skills, budgeting, creating a business plan, public speaking, and realistic goal setting.  This five-year pilot is aimed at reducing prison recidivism.
HB768: Removes provisions allowing the State Charter School Commission to reverse a local school board's decision to deny, revoke, or not renew an application for a charter in its district.  Provides for the creation of a charter school under certain conditions.
HB2373: Makes it easier for courts to seal the records of individuals with a misdemeanor.  Such records often prevent an individual from finding work, schooling or housing.
HB2453: Provides for direct deposit of revenues from sales and use taxes into the Downstate Public Transportation Fund and thus eliminates current delays in making funds available.
HB2462:  Amends the Equal Pay Act to ensure that women and minorities are not paid less for doing the same work.  This would prevent employers from seeking an applicant’s wage and benefits history.
HB2525: Makes changes to the worker’s compensation law and provides for electronic billing but does not make changes to reduce the cost of insurance for employers.
HB2527: Allows for nonprofit organizations like Goodwill Industries of Northern Illinois to provide a program leading to a high school diploma instead of a GED for adult learners.  The proposal is modeled after a successful effort in Indiana
HB2580: Increases the weight limits for trucks transporting grain during the fall harvest season when the Governor declares an emergencies situation.
HB2624: Creates the independent Health Insurance Rate Review Board in an effort to hold down insurance rates for consumers by ensuring that rates are reasonable and justified.
HB2764: Seeks to support Illinois manufacturing by requiring that only materials manufactured in Illinois may be sold on the property of the Illinois State Museum, in gift shops or concession areas within state parks or parkways, and on the property of State Historic Sites, and State Memorials.
HB2771: Requires most employers to provide a minimum of five paid sick days per year to employees.  Provides an exemption for the construction industry, school districts, park districts, and certain City of Chicago sister agencies.
HB2774: Provides that an operator of a commercial website or online service that collects personally identifiable information about individual customers residing in Illinois shall notify them about their personal information sharing practices.
HB2820: Directs the Department of Public Health to make uniform rules and regulations for all Farmers Markets throughout the state.  This bill is in response to complaints that local health departments' fees and sanitation provisions are too variable and unreasonable for vendors.
HB2977: Amends the School Code to require every public elementary and high school to include cursive writing in its curriculum.
HB3163: Allows families to take a tax credit of up to $10,000 per year when they contribute to a 529-like ABLE care plan for a member with disabilities under the age of 26.  This is an expansion of the federal ABLE program approve in Illinois last year.
HB3215: Requires school districts to make feminine hygiene products available, at no cost to students, in the bathrooms of school buildings. 
HB3503: Provides that cable and video providers cannot charge rental fees to customers for more than the cost of the modem. 
HB3538: Provides that companies must repay all tax incentives they receive for creating jobs if they move any jobs out of the state or reduce their number of workers.  Further, these companies would be barred from any future economic incentives.
HB3691: Creates a college savings account for every child born in Illinois to encourage thoughts of higher education attainment.  Parents may add to the account.
HB3744: Requires public construction contracts to include that at least 10 percent of the man-hours performing construction services be performed by individuals who reside in areas of poverty.  The Central Management Services Agency will provide a list of areas of poverty.
HB3817: Requires that juvenile court records be sealed and never revealed to the public in order to make it easier for juveniles who have criminal records to become employed.

Budget Talks Regain Momentum
Last week Governor Rauner and Speaker Madigan met for the first time since December in a hopeful attempt to restart budget talks.  There was no statement after the meeting and other legislative leaders were not involved so the meeting at best could be described as preliminary. 
Speaker Madigan did not reach out to House Republican Leader Durkin in a quest to restart budget talks so it appears that members will have to start their own talks.  In fact, several groups of bipartisan legislators from both chambers are quietly talking about budget ingredients and fanning the embers of what is left of the Senate “Grand Bargain” for revenue, spending reductions and reforms.
I have noticed an increase in feedback and pressure on legislators from residents, providers, and educators to help stimulate action.  Last week many lawmakers received letters from local school superintendents and principals pleading for action toward a budget agreement.  On Thursday, students, educators, and higher education groups gathered in the Capitol to raise their voices for funding as well.
After two full years of partial funding and no serious efforts to craft a balanced budget, I have been suggesting to anyone who would listen that it’s time we engage parents of school-age children.  If there was a serious threat that schools would not open this fall, parents would be enraged and legislators would be forced to action.  After all, parents have been kept on the sidelines during the budget impasse since schools have been mostly funded.  It’s time to stir the parents and everyone call on legislators for a full budget, now.

Action Taken to Restart Prison Nurses Talks
Late last week the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) withdrew plans to fire 124 union nurses and replace them with private contractors.  The layoff was originally taken when contract negotiations with the Illinois Nursing Association (INA) broke down over efforts to cut $8 million from their budget line. 
From the INA standpoint, it is believed that if more nurses were hired to adequately staff state prisons, overall staffing costs could be reduced and would prevent privatization.
While there is undoubtedly tension between the two groups, the INA has returned to the negotiation table in good faith, and is working with the IDOC to find a better solution.  Perhaps this could be a solution for the contract impasse between the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the Governor.  The courts are blocking the Governor from imposing his last and final offer so let’s restart negotiations as the administration did with the nurses.


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.