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 30, 2018
In This Issue:

·     Bond Sales Fund Capital Projects
·     Rush to Pass Legislation before Deadline
·     Use ComEd’s Energy Efficiency Program
·     Work Moves Slows Toward a Budget
·     Extending Property Tax Exemptions
·     Progressive Income Tax Proposed
·     Federal Grant to Help Fight Opioid Abuse
·     Increasing Support for Apprenticeship Opportunities

Bond Sales Fund Capital Projects
Last week the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget announced the sale of $500 million of General Obligation Bonds to fund some much needed projects.  The sale “rolled over” existing commitments to maintain capital infrastructure and conduct other essential long-term elements. 

The first $450 million will finance capital projects including roads, mass transit and deferred maintenance within state agencies.  The final $50 million will be used to finance information technology programs.

While Illinois’ debt is given a relatively low rating by international credit-measurement agencies, the obligations continue to be ranked as investment-grade securities.  For example, leading bond analytical firm Moody’s Investors Services ranks Illinois general obligation debt at Baa3 with a negative outlook. 

The bonds in Wednesday’s sale will mature over a variety of years.  The longest maturing bonds will expire in 2043 at an interest rate of 4.88 percent.  Interest rates on the bond package as a whole averaged 4.55 percent.

Rush to Pass Legislation before Deadline
Last week was the official deadline for passing legislation out of each chamber.  On Friday alone, the House acted on over 60 bills in 6 hours.  Here are some of the bills passed in the House.

HB4594:  Reforms the criminal court fee system comply with Supreme Court orders.  Further, it makes all fees consolidated to unified schedules and it allows for waivers for low income individuals who are unable to pay such fines.

HB4781: Ensures each university is making their best effort to hire a veteran as the Coordinator of Veterans and Military Personnel Student Services on each campus in Illinois.

HB5632:  Directs that an ambulance or rescue vehicle shall operate a siren and lamps only when it is reasonably necessary to warn pedestrians and other drivers of the approach.

HB5749:  IDOT and local authorities may issue special permits for trucks to carry heavier loads of agricultural commodities and limits the total fees for those permits to no more than $1,000.

HB4513: Requires that on public construction projects, to the extent practicable, at least 10 percent of the man-hours performing construction services be performed by individuals who reside in areas of poverty.

HB5309: Forbids state agencies from paying a bonus to their employees using tax revenue.

HB3479: Requires managed care community networks that contract with the Department of Healthcare and Family Services to establish, maintain, and provide a fair and reasonable reimbursement rate to pharmacy providers for pharmaceutical services and related products.

HB4858: Allows local school districts and community colleges to apply for and receive grants for purchases of land, construction of facilities, and equipment in order to improve teaching for jobs related to manufacturing. 

HB4799: Provides that, in every public school for grades K-8th, there shall be instruction, study, and discussion of safe bicycling and walking practices prevention traffic injuries.

HB4643:  Allows Physical Therapists to diagnose and treat patients for a limited time without the patient first receiving a "documented current and relevant diagnosis" from a physician, dentist, advanced practice registered nurse, physician assistant, or podiatric physician.

HB5551: Reinstates in law that the Office of the State Fire Marshall shall inspect Community-Integrated Living Arrangements (CILAs) so they may comply with licensing requirements.

HB4208: Establishes the Safe Schools and Healthy Learning Environments Program to offer additional ways to deal with student discipline beside school resource officers and making student arrests.

HB5136: Clarifies that meetings of school management and unions to discuss teacher evaluation plans and student growth are not covered under the Open Meetings Act.

HB4369: Directs the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) to develop an online handbook to provide guidance on dyslexia and its challenges in an educational setting.

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 23, 2018

In This Issue:
·     Legislative Initiatives to Combat Teacher Shortage
·     Independent Redistricting Reform
·     Bills Pass the House Last Week
·     Improving School Safety
·     Unemployment at Lowest Rate in More Than 10 Years
·     Youth Council Visits the Capitol

Legislative Initiatives to Combat Teacher Shortage
Our children’s education remains a top priority, which is why the growing teacher shortage in Illinois has been especially troubling.  To combat the shortage, several pieces of legislation have been filed by lawmakers and the topic continues to be debated in Springfield. 

The Illinois State Board of Education said the 2017-18 school year began with about 2,000 unfilled teaching positions across the state.  In addition, Regional Offices of Education report increasingly difficulty finding substitute teachers.  The teacher shortage is much more pronounced in rural districts while substitute teacher shortage concerns were most evident in the southern part of the state.  The most difficult positions to fill include bilingual, Spanish, special education as well as nurses and school psychologists.

The shortage can be tied to a combination of factors including: educators retiring, leaving Illinois, or the profession; compensation and benefits; the challenges of teaching today’s students; fewer students interested in teaching or able to pass the qualifying tests; and hurdles for out-of-state educators to be licensed in Illinois.

Legislative measures have been filed to address some of these challenges.  HB4167: Establishes a short-term substitute teaching license.  Applicants must hold an associate’s degree or have completed at least 60 credit hours from an accredited university.  Current law requires a bachelor’s degree for all substitute teachers.

HB4280 and SB2844: Establishes the growing future language-educator program.  It would allow high schools to hire high school graduates who are proficient in a language other than English and are pursuing an educator license, to mentor and teach English language learners.

HB4409: Addresses the shortage of school psychologists by removing the requirements that those who already hold a valid Nationally Certified School Psychologist credential must also take state-mandated tests.

HB4956: Requires every Illinois public university with an educator preparation program to offer a three-year degree completion program.  The sponsor seeks to reduce the cost of education and time learning material outside of the area of specialty.

HB5153: Streamlines the hiring process for educators at the Illinois School for the Deaf and Illinois School for the Visually Impaired.

HB5005: Assures salaries of teachers employed by the Department of Juvenile Justice are comparable with teachers in area school districts.  It also recognizes state teaching licenses without further testing. 

HB5627: Recognizes and removes hurdles for out-of-state licensed educators to teach in Illinois.

Independent Redistricting Reform
A House Resolution was filed last week calling for independent redistricting reform.  Legislative maps are redrawn every ten years following the U.S. census so that lawmaker’s districts will contain an equal number of constituents.  Drawing a fair map is important to help protect voter rights and create a more representative government.  The current process of redistricting has been skewed by partisan politics that only creates more polarization.

House Resolution 995 would produce a fair map.  It calls for maps to be drawn without regard to incumbency and partisanship, and allows voters the opportunity to choose a candidate based on the issues and policies most important to them. 

According to a poll from the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, 72 percent of Illinois residents, including a majority of both Republicans and Democrats, support the creation of an independent commission to draw legislative district maps.  I have also placed a poll on my Facebook page to measure opinions regarding independent redistricting.

Bills Pass the House last Week
The House deadline for passing bills out of the chamber has been set for this Friday.  Consequently there was a flurry of legislative activity last week.  Here is a sampling of some of the bills that passed the House.

HB4104: An initiative of the Illinois Municipal League to overturn a ruling from the Comptroller that all municipal audits had to be made using the accrual method of accounting.  The bill will continue the practice of allowing both a cash and modified accrual basis of accounting.

HB4637: Provides a referendum process for voters to dissolve townships in McHenry County through petition or resolution of a township board.  The bill also requires townships in Lake and McHenry to dissolve any township road districts that maintain less than 15 miles of road.

HB5771:  Requires schools to document and report students with chronic absenteeism.  Some schools make little effort to see that students attend school.  Absenteeism has been correlated with dropping out of school.

HB4081: Provides a penalty of up to $10,000 for any call center business that leaves the state without providing at least a 120 day notice to the State Treasurer.  Many legislators have concerns that the language of the bill would include most businesses and points out the unfriendly business climate in Illinois.

HB4413:  Requires that any pension board meeting subject to the Open Meetings Act must be broadcast to the public in real-time over the internet. 

HB4846:  Seeks to improve public safety by imposing a fine for texting and using a hand-held cell phone while driving.   Violation of this offense will result in a fine of $75 for a first offense, $100 for a second offense, $125 for a third offense, and $150 for a fourth or subsequent offense.

HB4645:  Extends the repeal of the Health Facilities Planning Act and Certificate of Need program until 2029.  The act was intended to avoid duplication of healthcare services and ensure public accountability surrounding health care facility operations.

HB5513:  Requires the Department of the Lottery to offer a special instant scratch-off game to benefit State police memorials.

HB4870:  This bill requires every school to allow a parent or guardian to administer medical cannabis infused products to their student on school premises, unless it would cause a disruption to the learning environment.  Current state law prohibits the use of medical cannabis on school grounds even when the student has a prescription for the medication. 

HB5109: Creates a forgivable loan to students studying Community Behavioral Health Care when they practice in underserved areas following graduation.  The sponsor believes this will help address the need for mental health and substance abuse professionals.

HB4745:  Allows the Department of Public Health to avoid procurement delays in purchasing the equipment and technology necessary for Newborn Metabolic Screening.

HB5021:  Provides the Board of Higher Education with authority to confiscate student records from an institution that proposes to discontinue operations.  Such records are the only proof of classes taken, grades and other information about the student’s educational experience.

HB5267:  Requires law enforcement to provide a full report of the investigation of the crime to the Attorney General’s Office within 15 days of a request for the report. The following information can be redacted from reports: names of confidential sources and informants, locations from which law enforcement conduct surveillance, and information related to issues of national security the law enforcement agency provided to or received from the United States or other federal law enforcement agencies.

HB4944:  Reduces in half the number of safety tests needed each year for vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds to 26,000 pounds (flatbed trucks and step-vans).  The owner will save time and money.

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 9, 2018

In This Issue:
·     Legislature Returns to Work
·     Evidence Based School Funding Released
·      FY2019 Budgeting Process Has Begun
·      IDOT Releases Funds for Local Roads
·      STEM Program Launched
·     Agriculture Photos Sought

Legislature Returns to Work
After a four week break for the primary election, the Legislature returns to Springfield this week to consider hundreds of bills.  The Speaker scheduled only 16 session days in the first 3 months of this year and 33 days in the next two months.

For a bill to continue in the process toward passage into law, it must be voted out of committee by Friday.  That means debate will be limited on each bill and committees will be pressured to pass along some bills that should be held for further amendments and input from groups affected by the legislation.

This schedule is one of the reasons that bad legislation is often passed into law and people may be surprised by the unintended consequences of a new law.  Nevertheless, the process does help prevent some ill-conceived bills from being passed. 

I will comment on many of the bills as they move through the process in the next few weeks.  Of course, always feel welcome to share your views on legislation with me by contacting Jesse in my district office or Shelly in Springfield.

New School Funding Released
The long awaited extra funding for education will start flowing to school districts on Tuesday.  The Comptroller said the $395 million will be divided among six payments and distributed by July.  Schools in my legislative district will receive nearly $8.6 million in additional funding.  The amount each district will receive depends upon the needs of their students and their currently available resources.  The complete calculations for the funding formula by school district can be found on ISBE’s website here.  

According to the formula, schools in my legislative district are short about $59 million of what they need to provide an adequate education while all districts across the state are short about $7.2 billion.  The Indian Creek School district has over 100 percent of its adequacy target while most local districts are 57 to 73 percent funded.

The formula identifies the different types of staffing recommended for the needs of the students in the school, salaries for different types of staff and then adjusts the figures based on the regional cost of living.  Districts are still free to determine staff hiring, salaries and other services but they are encouraged to look at the 27 practices in the formula for producing the best student outcomes.

FY2019 Budgeting Process Has Begun
The five House appropriation committees have been holding hearings on various expenditures in the state budget for several weeks.  When I first joined the legislature more than a dozen years ago, the budgeting process always began by determining available revenue and using that as a spending target.   

The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) still starts from the revenue side in developing its three-year budget forecast for the legislature.  Their report which was released in recent weeks takes into account the State’s economic opportunities, expenditures, threats to anticipated revenues, and concludes with potential three year budget scenarios.  The full report can be found here.

The legislative agency estimates that revenue will drop slightly from FY2018 and then grow by 2 to 3 percent in the next two years.  Part of that revenue growth is dependent upon convincing companies to invest in Illinois, expanding the sales tax to more items, and legalizing and taxing recreational cannabis.

On the spending side, COGFA said that reducing the interest rate paid on unpaid bills and paying bills in full were major opportunities for balancing the budget.  The agency noted that continuing to limit spending to the rate of income growth was key to eliminating unpaid bills.  They said the state in recent years is headed in that direction.