Week in Review for 10/14/13 through 10/18/13

House Republican Leader-Elect Jim Durkin
Jim Durkin welcomes new members, prepares for first session as House Republican Leader.  Durkin, who was unanimously elected to lead the 47-member Illinois House Republican Caucus, is working in preparation for the October-November convening of the Illinois General Assembly in 2013 “veto session.”   The veto session, which is scheduled to convene on Tuesday, October 22, will deal with bills passed in the spring session and then vetoed by the Governor.

Leader-elect Durkin has named a new leadership team of Deputy and Assistant caucus leaders, and named new spokespersons and members to several key committees of the Illinois House.   Committee changes are required not only in conjunction with the new leadership team, but to share a working role with the two newest members of our Caucus.  Rep. John Anthony (R-Morris) has joined the House Republicans from a district poised for sharp population and economic growth, centering on Grundy County southwest of Chicago.  Rep. Brian Stewart’s (R-Freeport) district, in northwest Illinois, includes picturesque Galena.

Veto Session
General Assembly gets ready for fall “veto session.”  As well as dealing with vetoes, the General Assembly may also grapple with urgent issues of public policy.  Persons interested in the ongoing questions of pension and Medicaid funding will be closely observing the fall 2013 veto session, which is scheduled to continue through November 7.   Medicaid funding is an especially contentious issue due to the Quinn administration’s delays in implementing key segments of the cost-cutting side of the State’s Medicaid budget for fiscal year 2014.  By contrast, the Quinn Administration announced this week that it has enrolled 100,000 people into Medicaid under the umbrella of the federal Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”).

Questions associated with these and other issues will be discussed and debated on the House floor and in meetings of selected House and Senate committees.  Illinois residents interested in following these issues can check on them frequently through the updates posted on The Caucus Blog, the official blog of the Illinois House Republican Caucus.

Affordable Care Act
Obamacare leads to additional 100,000 Illinoisans on State’s Medicaid rolls.  One of the key goals of the federal Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”) was to persuade the 50 states to expand their Medicaid programs to provide health care to millions of Americans not covered by private health insurance.  The U.S. Supreme Court has found that states have complete freedom to obey or not comply with this section of ACA; Illinois has passed a statute to do so.  On Tuesday, October 15, the Quinn administration announced that more than 100,000 Cook County residents have signed up for almost-free medical care under Medicaid/ACA.

This preliminary total is not expected to be final.  Rep. Patricia Bellock (R-Hinsdale), the House Republican spokesperson on Medicaid issues, projects that between 350,000 and 700,000 additional Medicaid patients will be added to the rolls statewide.  Under the terms of the ACA, not all of these new patient care costs will be borne by the federal government; some of the new patient costs will be borne by Illinois taxpayers.  The Medicaid program is a $12 billion per year burden on Illinois’ hard-pressed balance sheet, and has contributed to twelve separate downgrades in the State’s credit rating in recent years.

Boards and Commissions
Rep. John Anthony files bill to eliminate full-time salaries for part-time work done by members of State boards and commissions.  Appointment by the Governor to numerous oversight, advisory, and adjudication boards of the State has long been a valuable perk given to well-connected political insiders.  In many cases, these appointments must be confirmed by the state Senate, which gives members of the General Assembly’s majority party a chance to “advise” the Governor on which insiders to name to the well-compensated positions.

In his first bill as lead sponsor (HB 3697), Rep. Anthony has asked the General Assembly to eliminate these costly expenses for all salaries paid to future appointees to these boards.  The salaries cannot, by law, be taken away from current board members and advocates, but no new salaries will be paid to new appointees.

Concealed Carry
Another step towards concealed carry as Illinois State Police approves ‘no gun’ sticker for use on private property only.   The decal design, released on Friday, October 11, can be used by owners of public-access private properties, such as shops and retail establishments that seek to exercise their ‘opt-out’ rights under the new concealed carry law.  The law, which is scheduled to be fully implemented starting in January 2014, will allow trained private citizens to apply for and receive a license to carry a concealable firearm in a public space.  A “public space” includes spaces such as a sidewalk, or space in a moving motor vehicle on a public street or highway.  However, the exercise of this right on many public-access private properties that open out from public spaces is subject to the decision of the owner.  This could include walk-in spaces such as shops, and drive-in spaces such as car washes.

An owner of most public-access private properties will only be able to exercise this right by posting the approved decal sign.  If the sign is not posted at the door or entrance, the presumption will be that the “right to carry” extends to the public-access portion of the private property.  Nothing in this law gives private citizens the right to carry a concealable firearm in a bar or tavern that specializes in pouring and serving alcoholic drinks; these establishments continue to be excluded from concealed carry under current State law.  For more information on the new concealed carry law, please visit http://www.isp.state.il.us/firearms/ccw/.

Medical Marijuana
Department of Agriculture is preparing new rules on so-called “medical marijuana” in Illinois.  Under a new state law, enacted in May 2013, a limited number of growers and dispensaries will be allowed to harvest and sell small quantities of the otherwise-illegal drug to patients suffering from approximately 20 separate defined medical diagnoses.  The law is supposed to help persons with specific incurable or treatment-resistant conditions such as HIV infection or multiple sclerosis; persons with unclear pain conditions are not authorized to obtain the identification card that will qualify them to purchase the drug.  Administrative rules will cover the process to be used to grant permission to the growers and dispensaries that will be authorized to handle the drug.  They will be allowed to pay salaries and earn profits.

Illinois has followed 19 other states that have authorized some form of marijuana sales.  Many law enforcement professionals have expressed continued concern that the new Illinois law and rules may “send the wrong signal” and increase the total supply of illegal drugs on Illinois streets.  Cannabis/marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

Retiree Health Care
Key General Assembly committee to hold hearing on changes in healthcare for public-sector retirees.  These retirees and their dependents are being informed that they must switch to a “Medicare Advantage” health care plan, a cost-controlled plan that operates under standards oriented towards health plans operated by the nation’s largest insurers.  Aetna, Humana, and United Healthcare have been approved by the State as providers of healthcare insurance to enrollees in Medicare Advantage plans offered to public-sector retirees under the State’s umbrella.

The new plans will require participants to verify the eligibility of their dependents, a process that will in many cases include an IRS tax transcript and other information that individuals have traditionally been able to keep private.  In addition, many Illinois public-sector retirees and their dependents may have to change health insurers and care providers.  Health Alliance and its owner-affiliate Carle Foundation have not been approved by the State for inclusion in the Medicare Advantage program.  This has created concerns for the estimated 6,000 retirees, many living in and around the East Central Illinois area, who currently get their medical care from one or more Carle doctors to help them with their chronic and multiple health care needs.  The hearing by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (CGFA) on Medicare Advantage issues will take place in Springfield on Wednesday, October 23.

Revenue – Taxes & Fees
New ATV sticker fee to be imposed by State.  The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has finalized new rules to impose a $15 sticker requirement upon people who own and operate all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) in public places in Illinois.  These stickers, which may be sold at ATV dealerships, will become effective on April 1, 2014, and will be valid through March 31, 2015.  They will be decals like the stickers already purchased by owners of pleasure boats.  It is anticipated that when these stickers expire, ATV owners and users will be instructed to purchase another decal and make another tax payment.

The new tax stamp, to be attached to all-terrain vehicles used for pleasure on Illinois public parks and highways, is expected to raise $800,000 per year.  The tax will weigh heaviest upon Downstate residents, where ATVs are most likely to be used and enjoyed.   DNR has said they will use the funds brought in by this tax to repair and maintain the trails used by ATV drivers in State parks and recreation areas.

Illinois Environmental Protection Association (IEPA) considering a supplemental tax on cans of carpenters’ paint.  The fee, which is being supported by an industry trade group, would help cover the cost of gathering in and recycling unused paint.  A similar fee is already paid by Illinois motorists who purchase motor vehicle tires; the tire tax helps cover the supplemental cost of keeping the rubber goods out of landfills and back yards.  Environmentalists believe that carpenters’ paint cans, like tires, do not belong in landfills.  HB 2274 would authorize the IEPA to set a paint fee by rule; the paint fee would be paid on top of sales taxes already charged by law.  Similar fees approved in California and Oregon charge 75 cents per gallon.  The paint fee bill could be released from the House Rules Committee and considered by the General Assembly during the upcoming veto session.

Illiana Corridor approved by key panel.  The proposed 47-mile-long, limited-access highway has long been in the planning stages as an economic development keystone in southern Will County and connector between Illinois’ Interstate 55 and Indiana’s Interstate 65.   By majority vote, the Metropolitan Planning Organization Policy Committee, a Chicago-area panel representing the transportation interests of local governments and the private sector, approved the project on Thursday, October 17.  The project, a longtime goal of Gov. Quinn, had run into skepticism from opponents, who are concerned that the current proposal could force the Illinois Department of Transportation into signing a contract that would commit the State and its taxpayers to ‘holding harmless’ any private capital invested in the proposed highway.

If future traffic on the proposed toll road were to fall short of projections, the State’s hard-pressed road funds could be committed to making “top-up” payments to the Illiana’s lessor to supplement inadequate revenues at the toll booth.  The payments would cover the cost of the project plus interest.  Construction of the Illiana Corridor is expected to cost at least $1.3 billion, and the Policy Committee’s vote is expected to be a key green light to spur final planning and commencement of the project.

5.2 million people boarded or disembarked from Amtrak trains in Illinois in federal FY 2013.  The Prairie State’s numbers contributed to a record-setting national Amtrak ridership of 31.6 million riders.  More than half of Illinois’ boardings and unboardings came at Chicago’s Union Station (3.5 million).  Bloomington-Normal and Springfield, the state capital, came in 2nd and 3rd.  Ongoing work by the Illinois Department of Transportation and the Union Pacific Railroad will increase the speeds and reduce the running times of passenger service between Chicago and St. Louis.