Senator Barickman’s Week in Review: February 23 – 27, 2015

Springfield, Ill – A Senate Republican lawmaker is calling on the Attorney General and the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) Chairman to weigh-in on serious allegations that Illinois’ largest energy utility company, Commonwealth Edison (ComEd), has improperly used ratepayer funds.

In legislative action, the Senate will reconvene March 3. Committees will begin meeting in earnest to act on legislation that has been introduced by Senate lawmakers during the first few months of the 99th General Assembly.

Senate Republicans have introduced a number of measures, including legislation targeting Medicaid fraud, workers’ compensation reform, school safety and the “Common Core” assessment test.

Attorney General, ICC called on to investigate ComEd allegations

Serious allegations that ComEd may have improperly used ratepayer funds prompted State Sen. Dan Duffy (R-Lake Barrington) to call on Attorney General Lisa Madigan and ICC Chairman Brien Sheahan to take immediate action to protect ComEd ratepayers.

A Feb. 21st Chicago Tribune article reported ComEd, which delivers power to 70 percent of the state’s population, allegedly used ratepayer funds to make charitable contributions that some say appear to also further the utility’s political agenda. While ComEd admits that it has made charitable contributions to about 600 community organizations ranging from the Chicago Urban League to the United Way, it does not disclose this information in their customers’ monthly bills.

Though the law specifically prevents utilities from charging ratepayers for “promotional, political, institutional or goodwill advertising,” some say ComEd’s failure to disclose these donations gives the appearance the company may be purposely hiding them from their customers. The report noted that the charitable funding dollars have been indirectly funneled to powerful political organizations and lawmakers voting on policies that impact ComEd’s bottom line.

In his requests to the Attorney General and ICC, Sen. Duffy asked that “at a minimum, ComEd should be required to disclose these contributions to ratepayers.…At best, ComEd shareholders, not ratepayers, should bear the burden of funding these contributions.”

Legislation would create School Safety Task Force

Making schools safer for Illinois children is the intent of legislation to establish an Illinois School Security and Standards Task Force.

Senate Bill 1340 creates the School Security and Standards Task Force to study the current security conditions, make recommendations and draft minimum standards for schools to provide a safer learning environment for students. The Task Force is to submit its report to the General Assembly and the Governor.

The Task Force brings together individuals who have knowledge, experience, and expertise in the security field, or who have worked within school systems. Appointed members would include parents, law enforcement officials, firefighters, security professionals, teachers and school administrators.

Workers’ compensation reform legislation makes Illinois more competitive

Seeking to help Illinois attract investment, create jobs, and end fraud and abuse, legislation has been filed that would add “primary causation” to Illinois’ workers’ compensation law.

Senate Bill 846 would require an employer’s workers’ compensation insurance to pay a claim only if the employee’s injury was caused primarily by a workplace accident. Under current law, any connection to a workplace accident, regardless of how remote, obliges the workers’ compensation policy to cover 100% of the costs associated with the injury.

Employers have complained that Illinois’ law is a significant financial burden, which makes the state a less desirable place to do business. It is estimated adding “primary causation” to Illinois’ workers’ compensation law would save employers $1 billion per year in reduced insurance premiums.

Causation proponents point to Indiana and Missouri, where premiums are less than half of what employers pay in Illinois. Twenty-nine states have a more stringent causation standard than Illinois.

Medicaid legislation seeks greater accountability—and taxpayer savings

Responding to new reports that Illinois paid millions for medical services for persons already recorded as dead, legislation has been introduced intending to weed out Medicaid waste, fraud, and abuse; make the system work for the people who truly need the benefits; and save Illinois tax dollars.

Senate Bill 815 states that the Department of Healthcare and Family Services (DHFS) must contract with a third-party vendor to examine Illinois’ Medicaid rolls. That vendor would make sure Medicaid recipients on the list are eligible to receive benefits. This process would include income verification and determining whether the person is alive.

The Illinois Auditor General reported in early February that DHFS paid $3.7 million for medical services to about 1,100 people who were already recorded as dead. Though the state says almost 100 percent of the payments will be recovered, Medicaid reform proponents point to the multi-million dollar snafu as reason for more concentrated redetermination efforts. Similarly, the AP reported in early 2014 that a state audit found an estimated $12 million had been paid for medical services for deceased people.

In 2013, a state-hired private contractor, Maximus, identified more than 220,000 people it said should be dropped from the Medicaid rolls. Illinois then removed more than 114,000 from the system. But, before Maximus could finish combing through the millions of more names in the system, the Quinn Administration stripped the company of its ability to make case review recommendations.

Review of ‘Common Core’

As educators across Illinois prepare to begin administering the federal “Common Core” assessment tests, a Senate Resolution encourages the State Board of Education to opt out of the Common Core State Standards until a thorough review of associated costs can be conducted. Senate Resolution 89 also advances the creation of a state plan identifying how to provide the funding necessary for school districts to comply with the controversial new Common Core standards.

The Common Core State Standards will make dramatic changes in the educational standards for Illinois students. Many school districts have expressed concerns relating to the costs associated with administering the online-standards testing, which require specific infrastructure and technological upgrades, as well as the cost of the new textbooks needed to teach the Common Core curriculum.

Although 45 states opted into the Common Core State Standards Initiative in 2010, since that time three states have opted out of Common Core, while dozens more are considering legislation that would repeal their involvement. Additionally, seven Governors have opted to use their executive authority to alter, reduce or delay use of Common Core in their state.

Senate Resolution 89 would put the brakes on implementation of the Common Core standards until a more in-depth review can be completed.

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