Week in Review for June 24, 2013

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.

Pension negotiations begin in Chicago.   The ten members of the conference committee that will discuss the State’s current pension crisis have all been appointed.  The two House Republican members of the committee are Representative Darlene Senger (R-DuPage Co.) and Rep. Jil Tracy (R-Adams Co.).   Both members are longtime spokespersons for the Caucus on pension issues, and are briefed on the actuarial realities facing the State and its taxpayers.  The committee met in Chicago on Thursday, June 27, and began to discuss the current texts of SB 1.  This major pension reform bill has been approved in different versions in the state House and Senate, and the conference committee has been asked to generate a single bill that will get the approval of both houses and the signature of the Governor.

Nothing in State law or rules limits the scope of the Conference Committee from discussing other possible solutions to the pension crisis beyond the language currently included in SB 1.  The committee could discuss major changes to the formulas to be used in determining automatic changes to future pension payments made to Tier 1 beneficiaries.   Other possible changes include a 2014 effective date and modifications intended to buttress the measure’s compliance with the state Constitution.    

Illinois congressmen from both parties respond to presidential remarks signaling hostility to coal.  In remarks delivered at Washington, D.C.’s Georgetown University on Tuesday, June 25, President Barack Obama signaled that he would soon ask the federal Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) to promulgate new administrative rules that could sharply reduce, or even phase out and eliminate, the burning of coal to generate heat and electricity.   Environmental advocates assert that burning coal increases the total quantity of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere.   Representatives Rodney Davis (R-Christian Co.), Bill Enyart (D-St. Clair Co.), and John Shimkus (R-Madison Co.) issued a joint statement promising to oppose this rulemaking, which would – in the eyes of these Congressmen – stretch existing federal laws far beyond the intent of Congress, which enacted them.  The USEPA rule, if it is issued, will derive its legal standing from its status as an enforcement action of the federal Clean Air Act.  Approximately 4,000 Illinois miners dug 47.2 million tons of coal in calendar year 2012.

33 flood-affected counties targeted for $100 million in federal grants.  With preliminary adjustment appraisals in hand, officials say more than 38,000 Illinois residents suffered losses to their homes or personal property in the April-June flood season.  More than $100 million in federal grants, and $16.6 million in low-interest loans, have been set aside for this purpose.  Residents of 33 federally-designated counties are eligible to apply for federal aid, which can include grants to help repair recognized categories of damage to housing and property.    Counties in northeastern Illinois and located along the swollen Illinois River are numbered among the flood-affected counties.  The website of disaster manager Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA), www.iema.illinois.gov, contains further information on Illinoisans’ standing to apply for disaster relief, and information on how to pursue the process.

General Assembly
General Assembly members to take 12 unpaid furlough days in FY14.  Under legislation passed in May during the 2013 spring session, and signed into law on Saturday, June 22, the members of the Illinois House and the Illinois Senate will be asked to take one unpaid furlough day in each calendar month of fiscal year 2014, starting July 1.  This will require a total of 12 furlough days to be taken during this period.  HB 1441, which became law as P.A. 98-30, froze General Assembly base pay and waived the cost-of-living pay hikes that legislators would have received for FY14.  The bill also froze lodging, meal, and mileage reimbursements.  The 2013 law was a continuation of austerity moves that have been taken every year by the General Assembly since the start of the national economic downturn in 2008-09. The House vote to approve HB 1441 was 108-1-0.

Health care
Some relief offered to medical care providers.  Illinois medical care providers believe that the State provides inadequate reimbursement to many of them for treating Medicaid-eligible patients, and payments are often delayed due to the overall budget situation.  Efforts are being made in the last quarter of fiscal year 2013 (April, May, and June 2013) to alleviate these problems.  Major State income tax payments made in April 2013 have led to significant inroads being made in the backlog of unpaid bills to medical care providers, including physicians and their clinics, and a major increase in Medicaid reimbursements for primary-care physicians is being implemented.  The increase, announced on Friday, June 21, is expected to increase reimbursements for this class of care by an average of 93 percent.  The announcement was made by the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services.  

Traffic safety
Illinois road safety takes a step forward on Monday, July 1.  On Monday, law enforcement and the judiciary will start applying “Julie’s Law.”  This is the new law, sponsored by an Illinois House Republican member, which forbids the courts from granting court supervision to persons guilty of certain serious moving violations.  Serious moving violations that disqualify a motorist from court supervision, under Julie’s Law, include driving more than 31 miles an hour faster than the posted speed limit, or diving more than 25 miles an hour faster than the posted speed limit in an urban district.  The new law, P.A. 97-831, was sponsored in the House by former Representative Sidney Mathias (R-Cook Co.).  Although the bill was passed into law in 2012, as is traditional with laws that make instructions to the courts it was given a delayed effective date so that circuit and associate judges will be familiar with the new law when it becomes effective.    The informal name “Julie’s Law” was granted to this new law in memory of Julie Gorczynski, a 17-year-old Lincoln-Way North graduate from Frankfort, Ill., who was killed by a speeding driver on June 10, 2011.