Springfield, Ill. - Republican leaders in the Senate and House this week called on their legislative counterparts to join them at a leaders’ meeting with Gov. Bruce Rauner to resume the dialogue on how to address the important issues facing Illinois. However, the General Assembly adjourned without a response from House Speaker Michael Madigan or Senate John President Cullerton.
In an effort to jumpstart the conversation, Senate GOP Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) and House GOP Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) introduced a measure April 7 to fund critical social services.
With only six weeks left in the scheduled legislative session, Senate Democrats advanced yet another proposal to change how schools are funded in Illinois. The bill was drafted without input from Republicans, including the Governor, and would funnel hundreds of millions of dollars in additional funds to Chicago Public Schools.
In other news, former Gov. Pat Quinn’s controversial Neighborhood Recovery Initiative (NRI) continues to make headlines. The Chicago Tribune reported this week that the mismanagement and questionable spending under NRI that occurred on Quinn’s watch was even more rampant that initially thought.
And a new statewide task force was created aimed at eliminating health care fraud, and a state agency wants pharmacists to know how they can take steps to dispense a lifesaving drug to those who overdose on morphine or heroin.
Republicans introduce legislation to fund critical social services
Providing Illinois social services with critical funding—and offering a way to pay for it—was part of a proposal introduced during the week by legislative Republican leaders. Leader Radogno and Leader Durkin appealed to Democrat legislative leaders to work with them in a bipartisan manner to end the budget impasse and do what is best for Illinois residents
As part of the Republican leaders’ legislation (Senate Bill 3418), approximately $1.3 billion would support:
- Seniors in the Community Care Program;
- Persons with mental health and developmental disabilities;
- Homeless youth, homeless vets and homeless-prevention programs, in general;
- Programs like Adult Redeploy that are critical to criminal justice reform efforts;
- Addiction treatment, sexual assault services and prevention; and
- The Special Olympics
Republican leaders said that comprehensive pension reform is one way to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in savings. Gov. Rauner has put forward a number of immediate changes to the pension systems that would generate hundreds of millions of dollars in savings for Fiscal Year 2017, changes that are not subject to court challenge and savings that can be banked immediately. These are items like dealing with salary spiking and capping pension subsidies for salaries over $180,000 – and stabilizing the actuarial projections.
In addition to these options, Republican leaders once again called on Senate President Cullerton to submit his pension reform plan. Republicans noted that the Cullerton’s proposal, combined with the immediate changes form the Governor’s budget, would generate enough revenue to fund the state’s social services, now and in the future.
Democrats offer CPS bailout in latest education funding reform
In what has been a “perennial occurrence,” as noted by reporter Dan Petrella of Lee Enterprises, State Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) unveiled another attempt to re-write the school aid formula on April 5. Republicans, however, say the measure is designed to bail out the already severely broken and fiscally mismanaged Chicago Public School (CPS) system.
While lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree Illinois must address the state’s school-aid formula, Manar’s proposal gives hundreds of millions of dollars more to bail out CPS’ fiscal challenges, without input from key stakeholders, including taxpayers, parents, teachers, administrators, communities, legislators, and scholars.
For a decade, Democrat majorities in the Senate and House authored budgets funding elementary and secondary education, resulting in cuts to schools across the state. In 2013, Illinois’ top Democrat, House Speaker Madigan proclaimed downstate and suburban schools were getting a “free lunch” and more state funding should be directed to CPS. This year, Democrat Senate President Cullerton has threatened to withhold all school funding until there’s a new formula.
In the meantime, Republicans are pushing to fully fund General State Aid for schools, something that hasn’t occurred in Illinois in the last seven years. This would ensure a base level of funding for every Illinois student and stop the funding cuts in the most disadvantaged school districts. Republicans say fully funding General State Aid for K-12 is the most effective way to help Illinois school districts until a new formula is crafted.
Once the state fully funds its schools, lawmakers could then take the steps necessary to rewrite the state’s education funding formula in a bipartisan fashion that incorporates input from the public and other interested parties.
Legislation involving smoking age, criminal history of college applicants advance at Statehouse
With an April 8 deadline to advance non-budgetary legislation out of committee for consideration by the Senate, it was a busy week at the Statehouse.
Several notable pieces of legislation were advanced by Senate/House committees, including:
- Increasing the age to purchase tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, from 18 to 21.
- Prohibiting colleges from asking prospective students if they have been convicted of a crime.
- Requiring drivers to slow down when passing a disabled vehicle on the side of the road.
- Creating a private foundation to help raise money to make repairs to the State Fairgrounds in Springfield and DuQuoin.
- Requiring teaching institutes to include instruction on the federal Americans with Disabilities Act at least once every two years.
Senate and House lawmakers return to Springfield April 12.
Gov. Quinn’s controversial grant program back in the news—reinforces need for reform
A confidential draft of a new audit obtained by the Chicago Tribune sheds more light on mismanagement of the controversial Neighborhood Recovery Initiative (NRI), launched in 2010 by former Gov. Quinn. While Senate Republicans await the final audit from the state Auditor General, they note that Chicago Tribune’s reportunderscores the dire need for reforms throughout state government to address these types of systemic abuses.
The Chicago Tribune reinforced claims that Quinn’s grant program lacked serious oversight and necessary supporting documentation, while spending taxpayer dollars in a highly questionable fashion much longer than originally thought.
For example, the audit showed one private agency received more than $580,000 in state money from NRI yet four months later, filed for bankruptcy. In addition, the report notes a Quinn aide directed taxpayer money to specific organizations, instead of putting the money available up for bid, which is the normal course of action. This, despite Quinn saying reforms were made to the program.
A 2014 audit, which covered the first two years of NRI, showed the more than $50 million program lacked proper bookkeeping and was severely financially mismanaged. The draft audit covers years three and four of NRI and found things did not improve within the program, even after alarms were sounded.
In what was originally touted by the Quinn Administration as a way to curb violence in the Chicago and the suburbs through mentoring and jobs, NRI turned into a highly questionable use and abuse of taxpayer dollars. Many also questioned Quinn’s political motives with the NRI launch, as it occurred right before the 2010 gubernatorial election.
In response, Senator Barickman, Republican Co-chair of the Legislative Audit Commission, introduced legislation this session, Senate Bill 2764, which would enhance the state’s grant-making process by preventing elected officials from abusing their power when awarding grants.
Task force aims to eliminate health care fraud
Gov. Rauner signed an Executive Order April 5 creating the Health Care Fraud Elimination Task Force to eliminate fraud, waste, and abuse in taxpayer-funded health care programs. The Task Force will examine the best practices of agency fraud units being utilized right now in the public and private sector to help save Illinois taxpayer dollars in health care.
“Reducing fraud and waste is critical in state government to ensure we are delivering the best value to consumers and taxpayers,” Gov. Rauner said. “For the first time, we are bringing program-specific and agency efforts together to collaborate and take a multi-pronged approach to preventing and eliminating fraud, waste, and abuse.”
Illinois spends $19 billion annually on Medicaid programs and the State Employees Group Insurance Program.
Training for pharmacists allows dispensing of heroin overdose antidote
In an effort to save lives when responding to a narcotics overdose emergency, including morphine and heroin, Illinois pharmacists can now complete a web-based training course that will allow them to dispense Naloxone, a drug that can help counter the effects of an overdose.
If a certified pharmacist completes the Illinois State Opioid Antagonist Training Program, he or she could – without prescription – dispense Naloxone to first responders, school nurses, or other people in danger of a risk of an overdose. Naloxone can be given by injection or as a nasal spray.
The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation reports the rate of overdose deaths involving opioids, including prescription pain relievers and heroin, is up four times since 1999. In 2014, Illinois had more than 1,700 opioid overdose deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Pharmacists can register for the Illinois State Opioid Antagonist Training Program by visiting: www.ipha.org/isoatp-registration.
Senator Barickman meets with French students who were touring the Capitol as part of an exchange trip to Bloomington and Springfield.