Week in Review for 7/28/14 - 8/1/14

IL workers’ comp rates to fall in 2015. Workers’ compensation insurance rates – a key item for many Illinois employers, particularly manufacturers – will drop 5.5 percent next year.

Governor Quinn announced Wednesday the cut in rates is being recommended by the National Council on Compensation Insurance, which annually reviews payments and fees and proposes new premium figures.

Illinois Department of Insurance officials are estimating the latest proposed reduction in workers’ compensation advisory and loss cost rates could result in overall reduction of premiums of up to $143 million in 2015, with savings totaling $450 million since reforms were enacted in 2011.

Illinois Manufacturers’ Association President Greg Baise applauded the news, but said the rates must drop more to increase the state’s competitiveness. Illinois now has the fourth-highest workers’ comp rates of the 50 states, down from third-highest in 2011, according to the Manufacturers’ Association.

Crain’s Chicago Business has more on this story.

Elections – Ballot Initiatives
Non-binding referendum on income surtax added to fall ballot. With the signing of House Bill 3816 (P.A. 98-794) earlier this week, a total of five ballot initiatives have been placed onto the 2014 general election ballot. These initiatives include the following:

Voters’ Rights: This initiative would prevent people from being denied the right to register to vote or cast a ballot based on race, color, ethnicity, status as a minority, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation or income. (HJRCA 52)

Crime Victims’ Rights: This proposed amendment would provide for more enforceable victim rights in trials and court proceedings. (HJRCA 1)

Income Surtax: A non-binding measure, this question asks voters if Illinoisans who earn more than $1 million per year should have an additional 3% tax on their incomes. (HB 3816)

Minimum Wage: Another non-binding question, this initiative will ask voters if the minimum wage for those over the age of 18 should be increased to $10 per hour. (HB 3814/P.A. 98-657)

Birth Control: This non-binding question will ask voters if insurance plans in Illinois should be mandated to cover birth control. (HB 5755/P.A. 98-696)

A citizen-initiated Constitutional amendment to impose term limits on General Assembly members is currently being litigated in proceedings before the Illinois Supreme Court.

State EPA will block PCBs from Clinton Landfill. Toxic PCBs will not be stored in a central Illinois landfill sitting atop an aquifer that provides water to 750,000 people, Gov. Pat Quinn's office announced Monday.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency agreed to bar PCBs from being dumped in the Clinton Landfill near Clinton after learning that local approval of the landfill in 2002 didn't include PCBs. The agency initially signed off on a plan by landfill-owner Area Disposal in Peoria and a subsidiary to store the chemical.

PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are chemical compounds once used in industrial and commercial products such as oil-based paints and fluorescent light ballasts. They were outlawed in the United States in 1979, because they cause cancer and can damage human and animal immune, reproductive and nervous systems. But the chemicals remain in the environment at many industrial sites.

According to state officials, the Mahomet Aquifer, which includes river basins and surface waters, supplies water to portions of more than a dozen counties: Cass, Champaign, DeWitt, Ford, Iroquois, Logan, Macon, Mason, McLean, Menard, Peoria, Piatt, Tazewell, Vermilion and Woodford.

Flashback: Protecting the Mahomet Aquifer. East-central Illinois lawmakers have heard from many constituents on the issue of potential chemical waste dumping at the Clinton Landfill. Concerned citizens understand the devastating effect any leakage of PCBs into the Mahomet Aquifer would have on the region’s water supply.

To protect this vital source of drinking water, State Reps. Bill Mitchell, Adam Brown and Chad Hays introduced House Resolution 1110, which urges the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to classify the Mahomet Aquifer as a Sole Source Aquifer in order to protect the residents of east-central Illinois and ensure they have clean drinking water for future generations.

Health Care – Medicaid
Illinois’ Medicaid program restricts use of costly hepatitis drug. Facing ballooning costs for a $1,000 pill to treat Hepatitis C, Illinois’ Medicaid program is putting tight restrictions in place, including requiring patients to meet 25 criteria and get prior approval before the government program will pay for the new drug.

After spending an estimated $16 million this fiscal year on Sovaldi, which holds promise for a cure to the liver-damaging disease, the Department of Healthcare and Family Services approved the restrictions earlier this month. Sovaldi’s cost – a 12-week course of treatment is $84,000 – led to the restrictions.

The rules limit the drug to sicker patients and bar it for anyone with a history of drug or alcohol abuse within the past year. Hepatitis C spreads today mostly among intravenous drug users sharing needles, although some people became infected before widespread screening of the blood supply through blood transfusions and transplants. A “once in a lifetime” rule will give Medicaid patients only one chance at the treatment.

Flashback: Taxpayers can’t afford $1,000 per pill hepatitis C treatment for prisoners. Stressing that Illinois taxpayers can’t afford to foot the bill for a new $1,000 per pill Hepatitis C treatment for prison inmates, State Reps. C.D. Davidsmeyer and Bill Mitchell have filed legislation directing the Department of Corrections to instead continue to use other proven treatments already available.

“We all know that Illinois is broke, but by some media reports administering this new drug to prisoners could cost $61 million, compared to $8 million to treat them with the medications already in use – and that’s if only one third of the estimated prisoners with Hepatitis C are given the new drug. Today, we’re saying that we need to use common sense and keep in place the proven, cost effective treatments already available,” Rep. Davidsmeyer said.

The new Hepatitis C drug, Sofosbuvir (brand name Sovaldi) comes with a price tag of approximately $1,000 per pill. The Representatives stress that the $1,000 per day, per inmate cost will quickly add up to tens of millions of dollars. House Bill 6226 would prohibit the Illinois Department of Corrections from prescribing the new drug.

Health Care – Schools
EpiPen law will allow school personnel to give injections. Under legislation signed by the Governor this week, trained school personnel will be able to administer injectable epinephrine to those having strong allergic reactions.

House Bill 5892 (P.A. 98-795) will allow trained school officials to administer EpiPens if a person is believed to be having an anaphylactic reaction. Previously, only school nurses could give the injections. Expanding the list of those who can administer EpiPens may speed up the response time to address any allergic reactions and potentially save lives.

Higher Education
Governor signs Higher Education Distance Learning Act. Sponsored in the House by Rep. Bob Pritchard, Senate Bill 3441 (P.A. 98-792) provides that the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) is authorized to participate in a state authorization reciprocity agreement on behalf of the State of Illinois. It further provides that IBHE shall be the lead agency in coordinating interstate reciprocity for distance learning for participating Illinois institutions.

In recent years, distance learning has been increasing and is being offered on an interstate basis. Students often participate in distance learning where the institution has no physical presence in Illinois. Regulation and availability have been hampered by multi-jurisdictional differences between states and uneven regulations among states for the same programs.

SB 3441 authorizes the Illinois Board of Higher Education to make agreements with other states to guarantee distance and online learning programs maintain common standards and that completed course work is recognized by institutions in each state. The agreements will also establish a mechanism for handling complaints and refunds across states and institutions.

Human Services – Murray Developmental Center
Fight will continue on behalf of Murray Center residents and families. State Rep. Charlie Meier has vowed to work with parents and legal counsel to continue to fight the planned closure of the Murray Developmental Center in Centralia. Meier said despite a recent court ruling that would permit the state to resume closure plans, there is still action that can be taken, and cause for residents’ families to be optimistic. Meier stressed that the federal lawsuit continues to move forward with only the temporary restraining order having been lifted.

“Parents, friends and supporters of Murray Center residents are now more organized and more determined than ever to continue the fight for their safety and quality of care. While the July Federal Court ruling was not what we had hoped for, it’s important to note that it upheld guardians’ right to choose what type of facility will provide their loved one the best care. The state cannot simply load them on busses and relocate them against their families’ will, as has been done at other locations. That in itself is a victory,” Meier said.

Meier said while the case continues in federal court, he is personally working on legislation to halt a multi-million dollar contract the Quinn administration has awarded to an out of state company to work on residents’ new placements.

Read more about the fight to keep the Murray Center open.

Uninsured Motorist Verification Advisory Committee Act signed into law. House Bill 5692 (P.A. 98-787) requires the Secretary of State’s office, working with the Department of Insurance and representatives of the insurance industry, to design an electronic motor vehicle liability insurance verification program, including methods of funding, implementing, and operating the program. The new program will replace the current random sampling liability insurance verification program and self-reporting of insurance information by vehicle owners.

HB 5692 was an initiative of the Secretary of State and is intended to provide for an improved method of verifying that drivers comply with mandatory automobile insurance requirements.

Property Taxes
Assessment freeze for improvements to vacant properties in blighted areas. Senate Bill 336 (P.A. 98-789) creates the Community Stabilization Assessment Freeze Pilot Program. In all counties, it creates a 15 year (2015-2029) program under which improvements to previously vacant properties in targeted areas are assessed at:
o 10% of their assessed value for 7 years after being placed into service;
o 35% of their assessed value in the 8th year;
o 65% of their assessed value for the 9th year; and
o 100% of their assessed value for the 10th year.
Under this pilot program, “targeted area” means a census tract with an unemployment rate 1.5 times higher than the national average and at least 30% of the residents have incomes below the poverty level. It also requires that an eligible home has been vacant for 6 months, provides that the freeze cannot be transferred upon sale of the property, and provides that all homes receiving the benefit must pass inspection.

SB 336 was an initiative of the Illinois Housing Development Authority and was supported by the Illinois Association of Realtors and the Cook County Assessor’s Office.

State Government – Employee Back Wages
State employees to be repaid part of back wages owed. Illinois owes $112 million in back wages to state employees for work that was completed years ago. An arbitrator and a judge have confirmed that these wages must be paid, but Governor Quinn refused to pay them, stating that no money had been appropriated.

House Bill 3793 (P.A. 98-675) provides $50 million of the $112 million in back wages due to impacted agency employees (DNR, DJJ, Corrections, DPH and DHS) for back FY12/FY13 wages. Comptroller Topinka’s office confirmed they have processed back wage payrolls for DHS, Corrections, DNR and DJJ this week. Back wage payrolls for DPH will be processed shortly.

House Republicans opposed HB 3793 due to pork-barrel spending loaded throughout the bill, including the funneling of $50 million into the troubled Chicago Teachers Pension Fund, $35 million in taxpayer dollars to construct a brand new school in Chicago, $10 million for the shuttered Uptown Theatre in Chicago, and $13 million for unidentifiable water projects. HB 3793, along with a series of unbalanced budget bills, offered no fiscal restraint, spending $1.2 billion over anticipated revenue. Chicago politicians had the resources to fully pay the $112 million in back wages but chose not to.

Downstate Republicans, led by Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer, sponsored HB 5451 to fully fund back wages and honor our commitment to state workers. Unfortunately, Chicago Democrats have played political games since February with the bill and denied it a committee vote. Following passage of HB 3793, Rep. Mike Unes filed HB 6280 to fund the remaining $62 million in back wages owed.

State Government – Historic Sites
State could cut hours at Illinois historic sites. Budget cuts will force the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency to consider cutting hours at some state historic sites after Labor Day.

Illinois Historic Preservation Agency Director Amy Martin said Wednesday that the agency is working on specifics and will attempt to maintain hours as much as possible at the most popular sites, including Abraham Lincoln sites. More than 1.3 million people visited eight state historic sites in Springfield and Petersburg in 2013, according to agency figures.

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