Pritchard's Perspective for April 10th

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

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.

HB3142:  Provides that a public college or university may not inquire about or consider an applicant's criminal history before admitting the person.  Once a person is admitted, the institution may request criminal history and use it to provide for the safety of other students.  This bill was created to help remove barriers to higher education for former criminals and to qualify for better paying jobs. 

HB388: Provides that a person is not prohibited from photographing his or her own ballot at any time during the voting process or from viewing a photograph of a completed or partially completed ballot.  Current law states that any person who knowingly observes another’s ballot shall be guilty of a Class 4 felony.
HB2427:  Allows any township by ordinance, to provide for the collection, transport, disposal, and recycling of brush, wood chips, and leaves within the unincorporated areas of the township without referendum approval.  Current law does not account for the recycling of such materials, or the free delivery of woodchips, or other yard wastes, by townships to local citizens.
HB496:  Allows voters by referendum to dissolve a township that is coterminous with a municipality.  Township trustees or 10 percent of registered voters in the township must initiate the referendum.
HB3063:  Provides for the Department of Public Health to work with the Farmers' Market Task Force to address farmers' market vendor complaints regarding the reasonableness of local health departments' fees and sanitation provisions.  The bill seeks to implement safe, fair, and consistent regulations for farmer’s markets throughout the state.
HB2404:  Seeks to reduce college costs, lessen the time for certificate and degree completion, and facilitate the transition to postsecondary education for non-traditional students.  It also would offer opportunities for improving degree attainment for underserved, non-traditional student populations.

HB156: Increases the property tax exemption for persons receiving federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, senior citizens and veterans with disabilities.  Of course, other property taxpayers will be charged more to make up for the lost revenue.
HB394: Allows the Secretary of State to solicit and accept sponsorships for publications printed and distributed by the office.  The revenue would allow the Secretary of State to reinstate mailing vehicle registration renewal reminders that had been stopped for lack of a state budget.   
HB2721: Requires any group or individual accident or health insurance policy issued after the law takes effect to provide coverage for treatment of PANDAS/PANS (pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders associated with streptococcal infections and pediatric acute-onset neuropsychiatric syndrome).  Such treatment includes use of intravenous immunoglobulin therapy which is less costly than other types of treatment.
HB3658: Raises the value of inventory tracked items from $500 to $1,000 before state agencies are required to make reports.  The higher minimum value will reduce administrative costs while still providing adequate property controls.

Another Stop Gap Funding Measure Passes
The leadership of the House appears determined to pass only small partial funding for selected service providers that continue budget uncertainty and stress for everyone.  HB109 was passed on a partisan role call last week that at best throws an $818.5 million life preserver to some parts of higher education and social service providers through the end of May.  
In a Higher Education Committee hearing last week, university presidents said the money was critical to their daily operations through May but said it does little to help them attract students for the fall, assure faculty and staff that they will have jobs or plan for their institution’s future operations. 
One university finance person teared up in committee relating the stress and undervalued opinions felt by university employees.  I have heard from Northern Illinois University staff and a single parent of a small child about the fear they feel over downsizing and potential loss of their jobs.  Having lived through a similar situation in a private corporation downsizing, I feel their fear and pain.
That is why I spoke up on the House floor during debate to say “no more partial budgets”; it’s time to talk revenue and a full-year balanced budget.  We passed a partial budget last year with bipartisan support in hopes it would lead to a full budget.  That action only prolonged the agony for service providers which is why my side of the aisle says no more partial budgets.  I said it’s time for members to bring forth a compromise.
The Senate is still debating a compromise package of bills and one Senator has introduced a full budget proposal with spending implementation and additional revenue.  Legislators need to hear from their constituents that a full-- not partial—budget is needed now!

Computer Science Promoted for Education
A technology and computer science briefing was given last week in Springfield on the importance of including computer science programs in elementary and secondary school curriculums.  One computer company demonstrated application software that helps teachers with lessons and students with learning computer coding.
Computer science is largely driving job growth throughout the country, and data shows that 71 percent of Science Engineering and Math (STEM) jobs involve computing.  With such a large range of employment involving computer science and technology, adding these topics to the education curriculum only gives students a better advantage for future success. 
The briefing and information called for educators to expand computer science offerings at every grade level in schools.  Only 123 high schools in Illinois offer a Computer Science advanced placement (AP) course, which represents 17 percent of all schools offering AP courses.
As a member of the Illinois Technology and Innovation Caucus, I found this briefing to be extremely revealing on the fast pace of change in computer technology and how it has changed the way students learn today.  Computers will allow teachers to tailor a lesson plan to the special needs of each individual in their class.  The Caucus continually advocates for ways to increase innovation through technology in the state, and for ways to encourage computer science and technology use in the classroom and as a part of the curricula.

April Declared Seed Month
Governor Rauner has proclaimed April as Seed Month in recognition of the seed industry’s contributions to supplying food and fiber to the world through Illinois crop production.  The Governor acknowledged that agriculture and the seed industry contribute significantly to the state’s economy.
The success of crop farming relies on fertile soil, high-quality seed and its genetics, timely rain, favorable temperatures, and skilled stewards of the land.  An abundant crop starts with seed that contains the desired genetics improved through years of research, then carefully multiplied and packaged using the latest seed production techniques.  Conscientious inspectors, skilled technicians, and service minded dealers assure farmers that the seed product delivered to them meets the standards printed on the seed bag. 
The Illinois Seed Trade Association brings together all of these interests to educate and promote best practices.  In this month of planting, let us all salute the seed industry and remember the old biblical saying that as you sew (seed), so shall you harvest. 

Richard Denhart, Illinois Seed Trade Association, with the Proclamation

Gun Owners Rally in the Capitol
Thousands participated in a rally in Springfield last week during the 10th Annual Illinois Gun Owners Lobby Day (IGOLD).  The participants gathered at Prairie Capitol Convention Center in Springfield and marched to the Capitol building, where they met with lawmakers and lobbied for improvements to Illinois’ concealed carry law. 
When Illinois passed the concealed carry law nearly three years ago, it was the last state to do so.  This lobby and rally day allows advocates to keep working to further promote and protect their second amendment rights.  Data has shown there has been an increased number of FOID (identification) card applications; Illinois State Police recorded 17,795 applications in March.  This has been a large increase in applications from last year.

Spring Break Allows Time to Listen--Reflect
For the next two weeks the General Assembly is on recess.  This spring break allows lawmakers to return to their districts to meet with constituents and think about the importance of a full-year budget.  During this time I will be traveling throughout the district.  If you would like to visit, please contact my district office.
I will also be attending an event at the Sugar Grove Library on April 20th to view the film “Constitution Alive.”  The 6 p.m. viewing is especially ideal for students preparing for their constitution exam in school and for scouts looking to earn a citizenship badge.  I will pass out copies of the U.S. and Illinois Constitutions and there will be popcorn and soft drinks.

Have a great week and call my District Office to share your opinions or if I can be of assistance.

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