SPRINGFIELD, IL – Facing an April 24 deadline to move legislation through the full Senate, hundreds of bills were debated and passed on the Senate floor this week.
In response to a suspension of grants for state programs that serve Illinois’ most vulnerable populations, the Senate approved an amendment this week that gives Gov. Bruce Rauner authority to transfer $26 million from special funds to restore funding for public health and social service programs affected by the cuts.
Senate Republicans pushed several important measures this week that address everything from reforming Illinois’ grant process to officially recognizing sweet corn as the Illinois state vegetable.
Also, in recognition of Child Abuse Prevention Month, Senate Republicans are raising awareness about the 30-year high in reports of child abuse and neglect in Illinois by sharing their awareness video in their communities and on social media—calling Illinoisans to take action.
Senate Authorizes Governor to Restore $26 million to Social Service Programs
On April 22, the Senate passed an amendment to Senate Bill 274 that authorizes Gov. Rauner to transfer $26 million from special state funds to restore grant funding for public health and social service programs.
Grants that pay for programs such as funerals and burials of public-assistance recipients, smoking cessation, teen programs, autism and HIV and AIDS programs were suspended in early April. Providers strenuously opposed the cuts, which they said would have a devastating impact on their ability to provide important services. In response, Senate lawmakers agreed to give Gov. Rauner the authority to restore these funds.
As amended, Senate Bill 274 gives Gov. Rauner emergency budget-making powers to transfer up to $26 million from 105 specified special funds, with the exclusion of the Road Fund, Motor Fuel Tax Fund, and State Construction Account Fund.
While Senate Republicans agree that fixing Illinois’ budget woes will require making difficult, undesirable decisions, they also stress the importance of properly funding programs that provide vital resources for children’s health, addiction prevention and treatment and autism programs. Senate Republicans emphasized that moving forward, lawmakers must push for balanced, common-sense budgets that emphasize planning for the future, and avoid the type of short-term thinking that leads to crisis-budgeting, which places important social service programs at risk.
“This was another tough step toward righting our financial ship due to the unbalanced budget rammed through last year,” said Senator Barickman. “These types of moves demonstrate how important it is that we pass a balanced budget for the next fiscal year, so we don’t continue this pattern of emergency fixes.”
Senate Bill 274 passed the Senate 57-1-0 and awaits further consideration in the House.
NRI Scandal – Never Again
After multiple criminal investigations and a several month-long audit review of former Governor Quinn’s controversial Neighborhood Recovery Initiative (NRI), Senator Barickman has introduced legislation to prevent future NRI-like disasters.
“Former Governor Quinn’s wasteful, ineffective Neighborhood Recovery Initiative spent tens of millions of dollars on programs that failed to reduce crime in Chicago. Further, the timing of the program and the grants left many to question whether it was simply a political slush fund for Quinn’s reelection campaign,” said Sen. Barickman. “Through careful work with my colleagues on the Legislative Audit Commission, and thanks to the recommendations of Illinois Auditor General Bill Holland and his expert staff, we’ve developed simple but effective solutions to stop this abuse from happening again and to protect the integrity of the many qualified not-for-profits that exist in Illinois.”
Amendment 1 to Senate Bill 1058 is aimed at fixing many of the most controversial aspects of the NRI program.
“Our proposal would limit the ability of constitutional officers to hand out goodies right before an election,” said Senator Barickman.
The timing of the NRI launch, just before the 2010 gubernatorial election, led many to question if the $50+ million program was simply created to drum up votes. Senator Barickman’s legislation prohibits constitutional officers and legislators from publicly promoting new programs and grants awarded by a State agency in the two months leading up to an election.
“We are also closing the loophole that former Governor Quinn used to abuse and bypass the budgeting process and dump $50 plus million dollars into NRI,” said Senator Barickman.
The measure also rewrites sections of the Illinois Finance Act to eliminate the accounting maneuver which allowed the Illinois Violence Prevention Authority (IVPA) to get around fiscal year limitations. In addition, the legislation creates significant updates the Grant Accountability and Transparency Act (GATA).
After releasing a scathing audit of the NRI program in February of 2014, Illinois Auditor General Bill Holland publicly criticized the IVPA’s use of fund transfers to bypass legislative oversight. Holland’s audit also pointed out that Chicago Aldermen were allowed to influence the decision on who received grants and how they were distributed, that the process lacked proper oversight, and that several recipients weren’t compliant with reporting requirements. Multiple media reports also showed that some grant recipients owed the state hundreds of thousands of dollars from previous programs, yet were still able to receive NRI funding.
Senator Barickman worked with current Governor Bruce Rauner’s Office of Management and Budget (GOMB) to include an update to GATA as part of his legislation. The updates include:
-Require documentation of award decisions, including evaluation and scoring of applicants, to determine how recipients were selected.
-A determination of non-compliance could stop payment to awardee at the discretion of the agency. Additionally, if any grantee is non-compliant, all new grants to them stop until they come into compliance.
-All annual fiscal reports and vouchers requesting payment must be certified, which would aid prosecution of fraudulent or improper grantees.
-Any monies spent before a grant agreement is executed would require an expenditure report. The over-seeing agency would be required to review the report and only reimburse reasonable and allowable expenditures.
-Travel costs charged to grants must follow state travel regulations, including caps established by the Governor’s Travel Control Board.
Senator Barickman’s legislation also asks GOMB to study and suggest additional legislation modeled after the federal Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Improvement Act of 2012. The report would be due by January 1st, 2016.
“We are all concerned about violence throughout our state, but the failed NRI program only served to create public distrust of other, well-intentioned programs and state government as a whole,” said Senator Barickman. “I hope this legislation will preserve the integrity of state grant recipients who are making a difference in their community and begin to restore taxpayer’s trust in the spending decisions made by their government.”
IDOC Chief Stresses Reform to Reduce High Costs in State Prison System
Illinois has one of the most expensive state prison systems in the country, spending an estimated $38,268 per inmate per year. For years, Senate Republicans have sought reforms intended to reduce costs, improve safety and increase efficiency within the state’s correctional system—efforts the state’s new head of corrections says he intends to pursue.
In a memo to Gov. Rauner, Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC) Acting Director Donald Stolworthy identified several cost contributors that he says must be addressed to improve efficiency and accountability within the $1 billion-plus agency. In response, Stolworthy indicated he plans to outline a long term “action plan” to influence positive change within the system.
Though security staffing levels are down in Illinois prisons—many say dangerously so—the Director indicated high personnel and overtime costs contribute significantly to DOC costs. Additionally, he said DOC is hurt by its failure to embrace time- and money-saving technologies. Stolworthy noted the Department is reliant on an outdated and inefficient system to track employee time and inventory, which he said “wastes staff hours and generates accountability issues.” He also pointed out unreasonable numbers of DOC personnel are required to simply open and close gates at some of the older facilities.
The Rauner Administration continues to stress the importance of long-term reforms in state government. The Governor’s budget proposal sought an additional $65 million in Fiscal Year 2016 funding to hire more prison guards in order to increase safety and reduce costly overtime expenses. This will be just one aspect of the final budget plan lawmakers will be negotiating in the coming weeks.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month
“If you see something, say something” is the message of a video that Senate Republicans are sharing this month in their communities and on social media to raise awareness about Illinois’ 30-year spike in reports of child abuse and neglect in Illinois.
Every child matters. Senate Republicans say all Illinoisans can help raise awareness about how to help a child who may be in danger. Those who suspect a child has been harmed or is at risk of abuse or neglect should call the state’s 24-hour Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-25-ABUSE.
More than 100,000 cases of child abuse and neglect are reported each year in Illinois. Research shows that one in 10 children will be sexually abused by the age of 18, and that only 10% of that abuse is perpetrated by a stranger.
With reports of abuse at an all-time high, Senate Republicans unanimously supported legislation (SB 3217) last year, charging the Illinois Children’s Justice Task Force with the “exploration, research, and development of recommendations on a multidisciplinary team approach to child abuse or neglect investigations.” Recently, the Senate passed Senate Bill 721—requiring the Task Force to submit their recommendations to the General Assembly by January 2016.
IDOT Announces Listening Tour to Discuss Capital Projects
The Illinois Department of Transportation announced that it will be joining the Illinois Capital Development Board to host a series of listening sessions across the state in the coming weeks to discuss Illinois’ infrastructure needs as a way to help prioritize future capital projects.
The goal of the listening tour is to create a comprehensive package of capital project recommendations for the Rauner Administration to consider this spring. Meetings will be open to the public to engage residents, businesses and local leaders on identifying key infrastructure priorities in each community and region.
Gov. Rauner has called for a capital infrastructure program to finance improvements to the state’s transportation infrastructure system. Past capital programs have financed maintenance and upgrades of roads, bridges and transit systems, and direct funding to improvements to state facilities, like schools and state parks.
Future dates and locations will be updated regularly at www.idot.illinois.gov.
Senate Approves Sweet Corn as Illinois’ Official State Vegetable
Legislation proposed by local students and sponsored by two Senate Republicans to make sweet corn the official state vegetable of Illinois passed the Senate on April 23.
Senate Bill 800 was initially proposed by Jodi Acree’s 4th-grade class at Chatham Elementary School. Acree and the other Chatham 4th-grade teachers brought five classes of students to the Capitol to witness the bill’s unanimous passage.
“This is an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It’s not that often that you get to help make a law with your students,” said Acree. “This is real-life learning. No text book can teach what these kids are learning today.”
Senate Passes Barickman Sponsored Legislation to Help Drug-Dog Training
Senator Barickman has passed legislation that aims to help in the training process of narcotics-sniffing dogs.
“These dogs are a major part of law enforcement operations, and play an important role in keeping our citizens safe from dangerous drug traffickers,” said Sen. Barickman. “This will make it easier for trainers to obtain the materials they need to hone the amazing skills of these canine officers.”
SB1062 amends the Controlled Substance Act (CSA) to allow trainers and handlers to obtain a license to possess controlled substances for training purposes. The legislation was requested by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation because CSA did not contain clear authority for the department to offer the licenses.
The measure also cleans up CSA language regarding an exemption to licensure requirements for medical residents who hold a temporary license under the Medical Practice Act of 1987.
The legislation passed the Senate unanimously, and now heads to the Illinois House for approval in that chamber.
Senator Barickman introduces his NRI-fix legislation at a press conference with former U.S. Prosecutor and current Senator Darin LaHood (R-Dunlap).
Senator Barickman and Representative Tom Bennett welcome members of the Pontiac Area Chamber of Commerce to the Capitol.