Human Services appropriation bill signed into law.  HB 213, which had been approved by the Illinois House by a vote of 69-47-0, became law on Friday, June 21 as P.A. 98-27.  The measure contained numerous line items for State health and human services programs, especially in the fields of medical assistance, senior living and care, veterans’ living and care, and the care of persons with mental health and developmental challenges.  The $9 billion budget was criticized by many budget experts for avoiding the hard choices that Gov. Quinn and the General Assembly majority party had earlier said they were prepared to make.  Unexpected one-time income tax receipts enjoyed by the State in April 2013 allowed the State’s “budgeteers” to allocate nearly full funding to a wide variety of social need programs.  HB 213 was one of six State budget bills that are required to be signed prior to the start of FY14 business on July 1, 2013.  Other bills, which awaited action included appropriations measures for public safety and the general operations of the State.
Arbitrator's ruling threatens a big savings program
Chicago Tribune Editorial for June 28, 2013 

Illinois has removed from its Medicaid rolls this year more than 60,000 people who didn't qualify for the government benefit. That's an astonishing number, and it appears there are still many people getting benefits who don't qualify.

A contractor hired by the state is churning through hundreds of thousands of questionable Medicaid accounts, part of a state effort to save the enormously expensive health care program for low-income people.

We've strongly backed this effort, which had bipartisan support in the Illinois legislature. Every dollar spent on people who are ineligible for benefits — some of them don't even live in Illinois — is a dollar not available for essential state services.

Now this vital scrub of Medicaid is in jeopardy, thanks to a grievance filed by AFSCME, the state employees union. An arbitrator recently ruled that the state couldn't hire the contractor, Virginia-based Maximus Health Services Inc., to do the job.

The work should be done by the state's union workforce, ruled the arbitrator, Edwin Benn.

Read the entire Chicago Tribune Editorial...

Amid the glitz and celebration of America’s centennial year, November 7, 1876, was truly a date for the history books. That day saw a razor-thin Presidential election that was not resolved until the following March, it saw a ham-handed attempt to steal the body of Abraham Lincoln from his Springfield tomb, and it was the day that voters in the 2nd District elected Rep. John W.E. Thomas (R-Chicago) as Illinois’ first African-American state legislator.

Thomas’ path to the General Assembly began eleven years earlier when Governor Richard Oglesby signed legislation repealing Illinois’ discriminatory “Black Laws,” a series of statutes which prevented African-Americans from voting, serving on juries or entering into contracts.  In the years after the Civil War, barriers to African-American participation in Illinois politics fell like dominoes: repeal of the Black Laws in 1865, full suffrage for African-American males in 1870, defeat of proposed restrictions on voting rights for African-Americans at the 1870 Constitutional convention. The post-war march of civil rights then led directly to a seat in the state House with John W. E. Thomas’ election in 1876.
There was standing room only as Illinois’ pension conference committee met for the first time Thursday in Chicago. The bipartisan 10-member committee comprised of State Senators and State Representatives has been tasked with producing a compromised bill that enacts meaningful reform to the worst funded pension system in the nation. The committee heard testimony from state agencies, the business community, advocacy groups and unions who pleaded their cases and offered their positions and priorities to be read into the record.

Illinois House Republican Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego) tapped state Rep. Darlene Senger (R-Naperville) and state Rep. Jil Tracy (R-Quincy) to serve on the pension conference committee to represent the Illinois House Republicans because of their expertise on this pressing issue. On the pension reform discussion table are topics that need to be considered that will have an impact to our state’s finances, the economy, taxes, spending and the budget. State Rep. Senger cited a
Standing room only for Day 1of
Pension Reform Conference
Committee Meeting 
representative’s remark from the Fitch credit rating agency, that Illinois currently has what is equivalent to a junk bond rating for a corporation because we have failed to enact meaningful pension reform.

Despite recent reports that the conference committee would clear the slate of previous pension proposals, most of the testimony offered yesterday was geared around components of Senate Bill 1 and the union-backed Senate Bill 2404. Senate Bill 1 has passed the House and Senate Bill 2404 has passed the Senate, but neither bill has advanced in the other chamber. It was established yesterday that Senate Bill 1 goes further in savings than Senate Bill 2404.

Governor Quinn has tasked the pension conference committee to produce a compromised piece of pension reform legislation by July 9 when session reconvenes. It remains unclear if that will happen.

The pension conference committee will reconvene in Chicago on July 3rd at 9am.

In June of this year, for the first time since December 2005, the Illinois General Assembly appointed a conference committee. The subject for this one is SB1: Pension reform legislation. That committee will meet in Chicago at 11 AM on Thursday, June 27 in room C600 of the Bilandic Building to start the steps necessary to reach consensus on pension reform. Additional meetings will likely be necessary. If agreement can be found, the conference committee will report its recommendations to the General Assembly, perhaps as early as July 8. The final step will be a vote by the entire legislative body.

The General Assembly has long been able under House and Senate Rules to appoint conference committees to resolve differences between versions of specific legislation that had passed out of the respective chambers.
While most new laws are enacted at the beginning of the new year (January 1), some take effect at other times of the year. This year there are five new laws effective as of July 1, 2013, they include:

1.  “Julie’s Law” prohibiting court supervision from being granted to people caught driving more than 31 miles per hour above the posted speed limit.

2. Creation of the Sex Offender Evaluation and Treatment Disciplinary Board established under  SB 3638 to assist the Department of Professional Regulation in the licensing of sex offender evaluators and treatment providers.

3. SB 3764 providing greater guidance as to the name of a debtor to be provided on financing statements.

4. Banning zinc air button batteries from being sold in Illinois under the state’s Mercury-added Product Prohibition Act.

5. Continued funding of the Illinois Community Care Program for seniors as part of House Bill 206 which grants a $142 million supplemental appropriation to the program, as well as additional funds for group health insurance and old bills at the Department of Alcohol and Substance Abuse and Developmental Disability Community Services.

General Assembly holds special session on pension issues; appoints conference committee.  The rarely-used conference committee section of House and Senate rules enables both chambers, in the event of an otherwise insoluble impasse, to appoint ten members (six members of the majority party and four members of the minority party) to discuss how to break the deadlock.  SB 1 (Cullerton/Madigan) has been approved by both houses of the General Assembly with different answers to the State’s pension crisis.  The Senate has repeatedly turned down the House’s language, and the Senate language is characterized by many parties as not adequate to solve the crisis and has not been called in the House for a vote.  
The SB 1 Conference Committee will attempt to resolve the issue in a way that will allow the Governor to call the General Assembly back into special session with language in front of them that can gain the approval of both chambers.  The Governor has asked for new language to be prepared no later than July 9.

Each day, hundreds of legislators, staff and visitors pass through the Illinois State Capitol building at 2nd and Monroe in Springfield. As they admire the architectural style and the rich history on display, they might want to take a moment to thank State Representative Shelby Moore Cullom (R-Springfield).

A newly-retired Congressman, Cullom came home to Springfield in 1871 amidst raging debate over the location of the “new” Capitol. The state had outgrown the building at 6th and Adams in Springfield and had begun preliminary work on a new building at 2nd and Monroe. But by 1871, a committee from Peoria had made such a strident case for moving the capitol to that city that work had stopped on the new statehouse. Concerned by the thought of losing the seat of state government, as Vandalia had a generation earlier, Springfield city leaders pleaded with Cullom to re-enter the world of politics and stand as a Republican candidate for the state House.

Rep. Davidsmeyer represents the 100th District which includes
Calhoun, Greene, Jersey, Macoupin, Madison, Morgan, Pike,
Scott & Sangamon counties.

Six months ago, I had the great honor of taking the oath of office as the new State Representative for the 100th district. In that time, I have visited many of the communities of the district, witnessed record flooding, and I have learned a lot about how Springfield works (and sometimes doesn’t work).

When the 98th General Assembly began, we were facing a serious crisis in pension funding, a court order to enact a concealed carry law, massive debt and unpaid bills, and dozens of other issues which the people were looking to Springfield to act upon. We have acted on some of these, and to my great frustration, failed to act on some others. Read more....

The pension reform impasse brought on by Democrat leaders in Springfield is costing Illinois taxpayers $17 million for each and every day a solution is not found. It is threatening the financial future of the state including the ability to provide resources to the elderly, veterans, children and our most vulnerable populations. What’s more, without reform there will not be funds available to ensure the state’s current and future retirees will have a pension at all.

Rep. Tom Demmer

Concealed carry has been a debate in Illinois for years. Lawmakers now just want Governor Pat Quinn to pull the trigger.

Many in the general assembly view Madigan's latest extension request as a delay tactic.

"We had broad bipartisan support for this bill. It sailed out of the house. It sailed out of the senate. This is one of those rare opportunities that we should take advantage of bipartisanship and sign a good bill," explained Illinois State Representative Tom Demmer.

More from Sabrina Santucci on MyStateline.com
Governor Pat Quinn has signed a bill which will allow Hyrdraulic Fracturing, or 'fracking,' in Illinois. Fracking is the process by which natural gas is extracted through the fracturing of shale rock. The process is controversial, with opponents saying it pollutes groundwater, while proponents say the process is safe.

It's also very profitable. In a news release, the Governor said, " The new law enacts the nation's strongest environmental protections for hydraulic fracturing and has the potential to create thousands of jobs in Southern Illinois," where large amounts of natural gas reserves can be accessed through fracking.  It also holds the potential to add millions of dollars in tax revenue.

Scott Picken at MyStateline.com has the rest of the story.
General Assembly prepares for special session.  The meetup, called by Governor Pat Quinn on Thursday, June 6, and scheduled for Wednesday, June 19, is being urged to deal with outstanding Illinois State budget and pension issues.  Illinois continues to labor under the burden of unpaid bills currently totaling $5.8 billion, although this is significantly lower than the $8.5 billion of past-due bills in State files in April.  Actions by House Republicans, when the FY13 budget was passed in spring 2012, were influential in ensuring that almost one-third of this past-due bill load would be paid down before the end of the fiscal year.

With the unfunded liabilities of the State’s managed systems continuing to grow at an estimated rate of $17 million/day, pension issues will be at the center of the special session; but the House and Senate are not constitutionally bound to any single subject and could deal with other questions as well.  In particular, if Gov. Pat Quinn issues any vetoes prior to the special session, the General Assembly could take action to override these vetoes in one or both houses.  Either or both chambers could also discuss and debate various issues, such as gaming expansion, that were not resolved when they adjourned in May.

Tap Dance to Block Pension Reform

Colleges and universities
House Republican college affordability plan released; would provide additional middle-class tax credits and deductions to students’ families.   HB 3640 (Cross) and HB 3641 (Brown) were introduced on Wednesday, June 12.  The Cross measure, lead-sponsored by House Republican leader Tom Cross (R-Kendall Co.) creates a new income tax credit of up to $1,000 per year for most families, if the family is the principal means of support for a full-time or part-time student in an accredited Illinois institution of post-secondary education (i.e. a college or a university).  A middle-class tax credit, this benefit would only be available for households declaring adjusted gross income of less than $150,000 per year.

This week, caucus members joined House Republican Leader Tom Cross in unveiling a legislative package designed to make college more affordable for Illinois families.
FEMA today approved another 15 Illinois counties for federal Public Assistance (PA) disaster aid to reimburse local governments in those counties for expenses incurred from the spring flooding.

The newly-declared counties are Calhoun, Carroll, Cass, Greene, Hancock, Lawrence, McDonough, Monroe, Morgan, Peoria, Schuyler, Scott, Shelby, Tazewell and Will.

Local governments and certain private non-profits in those counties may now apply to FEMA for reimbursement of up to 75% of their costs related to this spring's flooding. Persons affected by the flooding who live in declared counties may apply by visiting www.disasterassistance.gov, by calling 1-800-621-FEMA or by visiting a FEMA Disaster Recovery Center.

FEMA reports that so far it has disbursed more than $70 million in aid to local governments in the 24 counties already included in the disaster area. More than $92 million in federal assistance has been approved for 34,800 individuals and households which suffered damage from the flood.
Illinois House Republican Leader Tom Cross said Wednesday that he believes there’s an ulterior motive behind the ongoing pension reform standoff between House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton.

Lawmakers adjourned their spring session at the end of May without approving a plan for comprehensive reform of the state’s public employee pension systems. A plan backed by Madigan was soundly defeated in the Illinois Senate, while a plan backed by Cullerton never got a vote in the Illinois House.

WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports Cross was brief and direct Wednesday when a reporter asked him if he believes Madigan and Cullerton have been working together to keep pension reform from happening.

“Yes,” Cross said.

Seriously? Craig Dellimore has the story on CBS Chicago.
As the cost of college tuition continues to rise at Illinois state universities, college students are being lured to out-of-state schools with lower tuition rates.

Illinois' state universities feel the need to increase their tuition and fees to supplement the loss of revenue caused by past state budget cuts that started with the Blagojevich administration. The result has been a drop in student enrollment at 8 of Illinois 12 public universities. The brain drain is real and will only get worse if we don't act now to help Illinois students and their families with the cost of quality education, right here in Illinois.

The House Republicans have a solution. This week, several members joined House Republican Leader Tom Cross in unveiling a legislative package designed to make college more affordable for Illinois families.

The College Affordability plan provides for a tax credit and a tax deduction that together will result in real savings for Illinois families and at the same time keep the best and the brightest right here in Illinois. 

Illinois' growing number of farmers markets are the favorite shopping option for families looking for locally grown produce and products like honey, soap, wine, flowers, spices, eggs, cheeses, preserves and more.

Not only will you find the freshest and tastiest seasonal fruits and vegetables at farmers markets, you'll be supporting Illinois farmers, artisans and small business owners. You'll also be doing your part to protect our environment. On average, food travels 1,500 miles to get to your plate. This transportation uses natural resources like fossil fuels, contributes to pollution, and creates excess trash with extra packaging need for transporting.

Add shopping at farmers markets to your summer activities. Here are links to resources to help you find a market near you:

Illinois Department of Agriculture searchable list of farmers markets.
Illinois Tourism list of farmers markets
Local Beet Chicago Edition
Over the weekend, 24 Illinois counties were approved for federal Public Assistance (PA), or reimbusements to local governments for costs relating to the spring flooding which struck throughout the state. A total of 33 counties have now been approved for Individual Assistance (IA), or aid to residents who had suffered losses from the flooding.
Fitch, Moody’s cut State’s bond rating again; reduction is described as response to General Assembly’s May 2013 inaction on pension reform.  The Fitch reduction, announced on Monday, June 3, was from “A” to “A-”, and the Moody’s reduction, announced on Thursday, June 6, was from “A2” to “A3.”  Although these letter grades do not look to outsiders like bad letters, bankers and other professionals treat these letters as bad signs when they are displayed by a public-sector entity.

The Fitch and Moody’s ratings reductions further intensified the reputation of Illinois as the state with the lowest credit rating in the nation.  States traditionally pay among the lowest interest rates when choosing to borrow money, because they (unlike private borrowers) enjoy an unlimited right to replenish their coffers by raising taxes.

Rep. Mike Bost

On Wednesday Illinois State Representative Mike Bost sent a letter to Governor Quinn requesting him to sign legislation to enact concealed carry in Illinois.  If signed by the Governor, Illinois would become the 50th state in the nation to place some form of concealed carry law on the books.

In December 2012, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reaffirmed the Second Amendment by throwing out the State of Illinois’ concealed carry ban.  As requested by the Court of Appeals, the Illinois General Assembly approved bi-partisan legislation outlined in HB 183 to allow law-abiding citizens the right to conceal and carry a firearm. Read the rest of the story.
House Republican Leader Tom Cross
"Our pension crisis is so severe that Illinois’ credit rating has been downgraded twice in one week. Inaction is costing Illinois taxpayers $17 million a day. The sooner the Illinois General Assembly returns to Springfield to get the job done on pension reform the better."
Federal officials could end up overseeing the new Illinois health insurance marketplace for years to come after lawmakers in Springfield balked again at a full embrace of President Barack Obama's health care law.

The Legislature adjourned Friday without sending Gov. Pat Quinn's a bill on a state-run marketplace — a consumer-friendly online shopping site for insurance. Quinn has pushed such a plan for three years without success.

Although the state will partner with Washington the first year, the Democratic governor had hoped Illinois could take the reins in 2014 for coverage starting in 2015. That timetable now seems highly unlikely unless lawmakers pass legislation when they convene for the abbreviated veto session this fall.

More of this AP story can be read in the Daily Herald.
(AP) — The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday gave Illinois an extra 30 days to lift its ban on concealed weapons.

The court acted on Attorney General Lisa Madigan's request to allow Gov. Pat Quinn more time to review legislation passed last week. However, on issuing its ruling, the court said it would not issue another extension of its mandate past the new deadline of July 9.

Madigan said the Sunday deadline would have shortened the time set in the state constitution to allow Quinn to review legislation. The constitution says after the Legislature sends the governor a bill, the governor gets 60 days to decide whether he'll sign it.

"I'm reviewing that," Quinn said yesterday of the gun bill. He said he agreed with Madigan filing the petition.

Read more of the story from Crain's Chicago Business

More on Concealed Carry in Illinois here:
Illinois' Concealed Carry Proposal
Video from the House Floor
Fitch Ratings said Monday it would drop the Illinois rating
from “A” to “A-” based on lawmakers’ failure to enact a
solution to the state’s public-employee pension crisis
If the words budget, credit rating, bonds, debt, pensions and Medicaid reform cause your eyes to glaze over, you are not alone. That is precisely the reason the Democrat-controlled legislature was able to leave Springfield last week without reforming major budget pressures like pensions and Medicaid. It is also why they were able to ignore $7.5 billion in unpaid bills and even increase the state's debt causing our credit rating to plummet. They know its a difficult subject to understand for Illinoisans, who have their own financial troubles.

That move by the Democrat leadership will cost you plenty. It means a temporary tax increase will likely become permanent so that more of your hard earned money will go to the State of Illinois. It also means fewer Illinois jobs and at the same time less resources to help the unemployed. It will mean fewer improvements to the state's infrastructure like roads and bridges as well as less funding for your children's education, for your aging parents when they need it most and for veterans who bravely served this country.

You'll be paying more, getting less and enabling those who did this to the state to continue their irresponsible leadership. Their lack of action on these important issues will cost you plenty. While it may be too late to change the outcome for this year (unless the Governor calls a special session), it is not too late to make sure it doesn't happen again.

Pension and medicaid reform impact real people and they are not issues to be tackled lightly. But, they must be tackled because there will be real negative consequences for all Illinoisans if they are not. Below are links to a few articles that explain these budget issues. After reading them, share them with your friends, family and social networks. Contact your legislators and ask them about budget issues.

Let's start a conversation about good financial stewardship and perhaps next year we'll have a different outcome.

State credit downgraded; pension mess cited
Fitch downgrades Illinois after lawmakers fail to pass pension reform
Fitch Downgrades Illinois, Drowing in Pensions
Fitch Downgrades Illinois' GO Rating to 'A-'; Outlook Negative
General Assembly enacts $35,446,000,000 State budget. The spending plan for fiscal year 2014, which will begin on July 1, 2013, increases the drain of the State’s checkbook by more than $360 million above levels anticipated at the beginning of the 2013 spring session.

Swelling expenditures for medical care, including medical care for Medicaid public aid recipients and State employees/retirees, are pointed to as the reason for the out-of-control expenditure level. While the General Assembly took legal steps in spring 2012 to reduce future Medicaid expenditures, the Governor’s administration did not fully implement these steps in practice over the following 12 months that made up FY13. Meanwhile new, unanticipated caregiving expenses, reflecting more expensive diagnostic practices and the addition of newly invented and approved pharmaceuticals and medical treatments, continue to be presented by patients and their caregivers to the Medicaid system and the State.

The budget, which was contained in a package of seven bills numbered HB 206, HB 208, HB 213, HB 214, HB 215, SB 2555, and SB 2556, plus the budget implementation bill SB 1329, was approved by votes of the majority party in the House and Senate in the week ended Friday, May 31. Republicans were not able to support these budget bills. The bills were sent to the Governor for his approval.

Concealed Carry 
General Assembly, in final day of 2013 session, enacts concealed-carry bill. The concealed-carry language was approved by both houses as HB 183 on Friday, May 31. The House vote was 89-28-0. 

HB 183 will make Illinois a “shall issue” state, with a legal presumption in favor of granting a $150, five-year license to carry a concealed firearm to every valid applicant who requests one. The gun-control ordinances of the city of Chicago and other gun control home rule units are partly overridden by this measure. However, this bill, if signed into law, will allow these municipalities to continue to try to ban so-called “assault weapons.”

House Republican Leader Tom Cross' Adjournment Statement on the last day of Regular Session.