Pritchard's Perspective for December 14th

Observations and comments about state government by State Representative Robert W. Pritchard.
District Office 815-748-3494 or E-Mail to bob@pritchardstaterep.com 
December 14th, 2015
In This Issue:
  Ø  AT&T Helps Fairdale
  Ø  Session Action
  Ø  Youth Council Offers Advice
  Ø  School Test Results Call for Discussion
  Ø  Efforts to Control State Healthcare Costs
  Ø  Be Prepared for Winter
  Ø  ComEd Microgrid Pilot Program Comes to Rockford
  Ø  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

AT&T Helps Fairdale
The DeKalb County Community Foundation received a large check recently from AT&T for its work in rebuilding Fairdale.  AT&T, through its “Investing in Illinois Award,” provides resources and recognition to organizations and programs that improve lives across the state.  
Jaci Kator of AT&T, Bob, Dan Templin—DeKalb County Community Foundation Executive Director, and Bill Nicklas—President of the DeKalb County Long Term Recovery Corporation 
I suggested the Foundation and specifically its fund to assist Fairdale residents for the $5,000 award last spring.  The Foundation helped create the DeKalb County Long Term Recovery Corporation to supervise the contributions and volunteers for rebuilding Fairdale after the April tornado.  While the events in Fairdale have faded from our newspaper headlines, help and volunteers are still needed.  

The Recovery Corporation has distributed donations to families, brought natural gas to the community, repaved streets, constructed a community septic field and much more.  The recovery is made possible through donations from individuals and companies like AT&T.
Contact my office if you know of an organization that might be a candidate for the AT&T award next year.  The company is certainly investing in Illinois.

Session Action
By now you have probably heard about two big breakthroughs in the Springfield gridlock—funding for many essential services and unemployment insurance reforms.  However, when the House met in early December it also took action on a number of other pieces of legislation.
HB500, as passed the House, continues the regulation and licensing of dentistry.  Laws governing the various professions are passed with sunset dates so the legislature must review the regulations and make any necessary changes.  The Dentistry Act was set to expire on December 31 and leave the profession unregulated and unlicensed. 
The renewal of the Dental Practice Act until 2026 also provides greater access to dental care for underserved Medicaid eligible populations in Illinois.  The bill provides that dental assistants with the proper training may perform cleaning, application of fluoride and use of sealants with the direct supervision of a dentist.  The bill also allows dental hygienists to provide certain dental services to uninsured and low income patients without a dentist’s supervision.  These expanded roles for assistants and hygienists expire in 2021. 
HB1260 will include health insurance information, medical information and biometric data in the Personal Information Protection Act.  The changes were recommended by the Governor when he vetoed SB1833.  Data collectors are not required to notify the Attorney General with notice of a data breach.

Youth Council Offers Advice
 
There are a lot of amazing youth today who study current events and have some unique solutions and creative ideas.  Each year I tap into this resource for advice on legislation and issues facing our state.  I invite junior and senior representatives from each high school in the district to meet during the winter months and then spend two days in Springfield visiting with state leaders and observing the legislative process.
My 2016 Youth Council convened for the first time last week and heard one of my first youth council members discuss the value of the council for her and her career track.  Jeannine Larson-Holcomb, DeKalb, is applying her business and finance training for a local unit of government.  During Council meetings we talk about various careers in state and local government. 
The high school students also learn about ways to influence public policy and legislation.  A few years ago a youth questioned why a citizen who turns 18 before the general election can’t vote in the primary election that year.  The idea was introduced into legislation and is now the law. 
With all the negative news about Illinois these days, I gave the youth a homework assignment to list 7 positive things about Illinois.  Why don’t you reply to this e-mail and give me your list of positives that might encourage someone to move to our state.

School Test Results Call for Discussion
If you looked at the latest education standardized test scores released last Friday, you were probably as surprised as I was.  We have many very bright and competent students in our public schools so how could on average only a little over one-third of students in grades 3 through 8 be proficient in English language arts and a little over one-quarter be proficient in mathematics? 
The question deserves discussion, not to point fingers at the school or its teachers, but to make certain that students are learning to their capabilities.  Granted, the test (the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers or PARCC) was completely new and required thinking and writing, not just selecting from multiple choice answers.  For most students the test was also administered using a computer, something that they may not be used to or have regular access to in school—certainly without the proficiency to take a 10-hour test over several days.  
There may be many reasons for the low test scores and in the days ahead I hope we can sort out if our students are learning what they will need to know and do in life.  We need to focus on the schools where students did much better than the state average and perhaps replicate those models.  After all, that’s a big reason for having standardized tests.  You can see the test results by school here

Efforts to Control State Healthcare Costs
Healthcare insurance costs and deductibles are rising dramatically for most Americans including state employees and retirees.  The Department of Central Management Services (CMS), which manages employee benefits, recently sent a letter to employees and retirees explaining efforts to contain costs and continue current plans if they choose.
CMS said it was implementing several cost-saving measures, including identifying and removing those individuals who are defrauding the system, that will allow the agency to contain costs going forward.  The agency is also shifting towards a “consumer-focused” model and away from a “one-size-fits-all” approach. 
As a result, CMS believes it can cap insurance premium increases to no more than 10 percent per year through 2019.  It admits that the state insurance plans—termed luxury plans by the federal government—can not continue.  During negotiations with employee unions, CMS said the state is seeking to offer employees insurance options that are still high quality and affordable with the state still paying a majority of employee health insurance costs.

Be Prepared for Winter
The Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) has posted their annual guide for Christmas, holidays, and winter safety.  IEMA is especially conscious of the need for citizens to be prepared for possible ice storms and related power outages.  The Holiday Safety Tips list includes having a flashlight handy with fresh batteries, stocking food and warm clothing in the car in case you are stranded and fire prevention around the Christmas tree.  You can read the full guide here.

ComEd Microgrid Pilot Program Comes to Rockford
Last week ComEd showcased plans to build six pilot microgrids around critical infrastructure in Northern Illinois—including the Rockford Airport.  Microgrids are small areas that are connected to the main power grid, but can produce their own power and operate independently.  By operating separately, they can help secure power to critical facilities in the case of extreme weather or catastrophic events.
Microgrids strengthen the reliability and resiliency of our electricity supply and are part of proposed legislation known as ComEd’s Future Energy Plan.  ComEd President Anne Pramaggiore was in Rockford to introduce the Microgrid concept and explain how it can also help “green the grid” by incorporating critical learnings regarding clean energy generation such as solar power and battery storage.  They are also an essential part of the foundation for creating “communities of the future” where the smart grid is fully leveraged to connect residents to each other, reduce power usage and deliver a cleaner energy future.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
With all the news about violence and concerns about personal safety, hunger and reduction in public services today, you may be having difficulty getting into the mood of this holiday season.  Perhaps because times like these are not unique in history, we need to hear about “peace on Earth; good will to (others).”  
While down in Springfield earlier this month, I snapped this photo of the Christmas tree and nativity scene in the State Capitol.  It certainly reminded me that even in what seems like hopeless situations in our state there is a heavenly power who shows love, calls us to care for those less fortunate, and gives us the wisdom and strength to continue forward.  
I hope you will be able to gather with friends and family in the days ahead and share all the blessings for which you are thankful.  It is more satisfying to give than to receive. 

This will be my final Perspective for the year.  I wish you and your family a wonderful holiday season and a happy New Year.  Thank you for the opportunity to share views on public policies.