The Spring legislative session ended last month with the passage of significant bills in the areas of healthcare, juvenile justice and the environment as well as a budget that continued to reflect difficult fiscal times with small reductions in programs, rather than the devastating cuts endured over the last few years. It was disappointing that a compromise agreement was not reached for pension and fiscal reforms, nor was marriage equality passed in the House. Following is a review of the session, more details on pensions, and a list of the bills I sponsored and passed.
Most legislators agree that the need to resolve the pension issue is critical to the fiscal well being of the state. My view is that the bill must minimally contain; 1) a legal requirement that the state makes its correct and full payment to the pension system each year (75% of our current crisis is due to lack of payment by the state); 2) that people closest to retirement are protected and their retirement age requirement is not changed and 3) that people with the lowest pensions are protected by annual cost of living adjustments that at least keep up with inflation. During the session, two very different bills were passed by each chamber based on varying views on the constitutionality of changes to the pension program. I supported both bills as they met my minimum criteria and addressed my concern that the impact of doing nothing will be devastating to the ability of the state to provide education and human services adequately to the people who need it most. Neither bill was passed by both chambers before we adjourned.
The special session of the General Assembly resulted in the formation of a Conference Committee comprised of 10 legislators who are now tasked with developing a compromise proposal that has significant savings and to do it as soon as possible. I think this is a positive step. As the retirement systems need time to analyze any new plan and establish the fiscal impact, I would expect the earliest we would see the results of the committee would be September 1.
This year we passed a state budget that maintains most services at current levels, fully funds next year's expenses and pays down $800 million in old bills. Out of a $35 billion budget, more than half is used to cover fixed costs such as pension payment, group health insurance, debt service, transfers out to local government and Medicaid.
I worked hard to ensure that prevention programs and services for the most vulnerable, such as homeless youth services and programs to provide in home assistance so the elderly and disabled can stay in their homes, rather than transition to nursing homes or state institutions, were funded. Education funds were restored and increased from last year's levels and the redeploy program received additional funds to expand programs which have successful results in decreasing recidivism, saving state resources and creating safer communities.
However, the budget still faces challenges. Across the board cuts of 1% affected many programs in human services and there was a 2.5% cut to administrative services. Illinois has the lowest number of state employees per capital in the country (55 per 10,000 residents compared to the national average of 76. This effects the ability to provide state services in a timely manner.
The Senate passed a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in Illinois on February 14, 2013. Many members of the House worked tirelessly, including myself, to solidify the necessary votes to pass the bill in the House. However, in the last few days it became apparent that the votes were not there. I will continue to fight for equality and civil rights for everyone under the law and was terribly disappointed it did not pass this session.
Two bills I sponsored are awaiting the Governor's signature. The Lake Michigan Wind Energy Act will keep us moving in the direction of developing clean renewable energy and the creation of a sustainable industry of jobs in manufacturing, construction, ongoing supply and maintenance. Legislation to facilitate composting on urban/suburban farms and community gardens encourages local sustainable agriculture.
The most controversial environmental issue addressed by the General Assembly this year was the Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Regulatory Act. Also known as "fracking", this method of retrieving oil and gas by forcing millions of gallons of fresh water combined with sand and toxic chemicals into the earth has been reported to precipitate earthquakes, pollute aquifers and destroy land. Unfortunately, the General Assembly passed legislation to establish regulations to allow fracking in Illinois. I voted against the bill. The bill was promoted as a jobs bill with strict regulations. I supported a moratorium bill that would have given us the opportunity to wait for the impending publication of a federal report on the impact of fracking but the votes were not there to pass it. As there were no regulations in place and DNR was required to grant permits to anyone who requested one, the environmental community came to the table to design a bill that would allow for legal action if pollution occurred. I believe we need to be focusing on the future by reducing our use of carbon fuels, incentivizing the growth of clean, renewable energy and preserving our limited fresh water.
Most notably, the General Assembly passed a key provision of the Affordable Care Act that provides Medicaid coverage for adults between the ages of 18-64 who have incomes of less than 135% of the federal poverty level. As a co-sponsor of this bill, I am proud that over 300,000 individuals will have access to health coverage starting on January 1, 2014 who previously relied on charity care for serious illness or did not receive medical care at all.
A number of other health related bills that I co-sponsored passed both houses and are awaiting the Governor's approval. They include the Comprehensive Sexual Health Education Bill that creates a standard for existing sexual health education courses in grades 6 through 12 and provides medically accurate and age-appropriate information. Also on the Governor's desk is the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act that will allow patients to have an alternative option for pain relief where other medications have failed. Another bill I sponsored, the Tanning Facility Bill, that protects the health of young people passed both houses and is on the Governor's desk.
We passed several bills that protect youth and promote rehabilitation. We increased the age as to who is considered an adult from 17 to 18 years old and increased funds for the redeploy program that is an alternative to prison time for non violent offenders. The Redeploy program has a high rate of success in deterring recidivism and increases responsible citizenship.
Under a June 9th deadline from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, the legislature passed the Firearm Concealed Carry Act. The bill restricts concealed carry in 20 public locations and 16 hours of training would be required before a conceal carry license would be permitted. I did not support the bill because I believe it should have included more protections and limits on who could acquire a license as well as given local governments more control over regulation. At this time, it appears that the Governor will veto the Firearm Concealed Carry Act and the General Assembly will be called back for a special session to address the override in July.
To help ensure dangerous individuals aren't able to buy weapons, I supported and the General Assembly passed gun control legislation requiring anyone who sells guns in a private sale to confirm with the Illinois State Police that the buyer's FOID card is still valid. Thousands of Firearm Owner's Identification (FOID) cards have been revoked for various reasons, including felony convictions and serious mental illness. To help keep dangerous weapons off our streets, the bill also requires gun owners to report lost or stolen weapons within 72 hours of discovering the loss.
As the lead sponsor, I successfully passed the following bills on healthcare, good government and the environment. They are awaiting the Governor's signature.
Ban on Tanning Bed Use for Children (HB 188) - Children under the age of 18 are prohibited from using the tanning beds in tanning salons. The World Health Organization classified the UV rays from tanning beds as a class 1 carcinogen and it is particularly dangerous for young people. A bill signing event is being planned for July 17 if you are interested in attending, contact our office.
Newborn Congenital Heart Defect Test (HB 2661) - A new test to identify newborns with a congenital heart defect will be part of the newborn screening tests that are performed in hospitals before the baby and parents go home. Medical interventions can then be done immediately and save babies' lives.
Lake Michigan Wind Energy Act (HB 2753) - This bill is a step forward for renewal energy as it implements findings from last year's report from the Lake Michigan Offshore Wind Energy Council. The IL Dept. of Natural Resources will prepare a site matrix, identifying and analyzing areas of Lake Michigan that may and may not be suitable for offshore wind development. It also establishes a task force to propose an appropriate Illinois mechanism for purchasing and selling power from offshore wine energy projects. Please contact our office if you are interested in attending the bill signing event later in the summer.
Urban/ Suburban Composting (HB 2335) - This law will facilitate urban or suburban farms or community gardens' ability to accept off site compost materials without requiring an arduous permit process.
Children with Special Needs (HB 1288) - This bill allows parents of children with special needs to ask for a mediation process instead of filing for a due process hearing while having the child stay in their current program. This will cost the parents and the school much less than a due process hearing and ensure a smoother transition for students.
Removal of TANF Asset Test (HB 2262) - The law will now be consistent among all social programs and will allow low income families to participate in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families work program and be able to save funds for emergencies and other needs.
Township Dissolution (SB 1585 Biss-Gabel) - Illinois is one of the states with the most governmental bodies in the country. This bill allows Evanston City Council to initiate a referendum to abolish the Township of Evanston which is coterminous with the boundaries of the city of Evanston. The City of Evanston would perform the duties of the township.