Week in Review for 2/23/15 - 2/27/15

Budget work begins
General Assembly starts work on FY16 budget. The budget reform work necessary to finish up Fiscal Year 2015 and start FY16 remained on the table this week as Illinois House committees began to hold hearings on Illinois spending plans. The first hearings by the House appropriations committees began on Thursday, February 26.

In the first committee hearing, the new heads of three of the State’s biggest-spending agencies – the Department of Public Health (DPH), the Department of Human Services (DHS), and the Department of Healthcare and Family Services (DHFS) – introduced themselves to the House of Representatives. All three were appointed by Governor Bruce Rauner. Major work will be necessary to develop a spending program that does not flow money out faster than it comes in. DHFS, in particular, is a department of key interest to budget watchers. It handles the multi-billion-dollar Illinois Medicaid program. Controversial decisions and hard choices are expected to be made. Representative Patti Bellock has taken the lead in working pushing for Medicaid budget reforms. A DHFS overview of the implementation of the reforms so far enacted, and the current budget status of Medicaid, can be found here.

Further work remains to be done. With a shortfall estimated at $1.6 billion, many key spending areas in the FY15 budget are scheduled to run out of available funds prior to the end of the fiscal year on June 30, 2015. The FY16 budget is even further out of balance. The “structural deficit,” the statutory commitments made by past Illinois administrations is a focus of attention by both Governor Rauner and the General Assembly at this time.

Rauner appointment works to rehab DCFS
Rauner appointee wins worldwide attention. Widely-read newsweekly “The Economist” this week featured Illinois appointee George Sheldon. The former Florida child welfare agency head was picked by Governor Rauner to perform a massive cleanup of Illinois’ troubled, 2,000-employee Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). The London-based newsmagazine published a feature on Rauner and Sheldon on Monday, February 23.

Illinois’ child-advocacy and child-oversight services came under severe scrutiny late in the last Springfield administration after an investigation by the “Chicago Tribune” uncovered criminal activity in and around Illinois residential treatment centers for juveniles. The uncovered conduct included sexual assault and abuse. Illinois’ fifty-odd residential treatment centers for juveniles are charged with the task of being a “safe space” for challenged children and young people, including wards of the state and juveniles referred to residential care by a court. Problems abound, however. Runaway activity is reported to be common, and psychotropic drugs have been prescribed for 10.8% of the young Illinois residents.

Similar problems in Florida were alleviated by Sheldon’s leadership, from 2008 to 2011, at the Florida Department of Children and Families. Prior to entering public service, Sheldon was associate dean of the St. Thomas University School of Law, located in greater Miami.

School shootings – task force
First lady Diana Rauner is lead witness at inaugural meeting of legislative panel. A bipartisan committee created by the Illinois House has been asked to look into redoubling efforts by Illinois school districts to prevent school shootings and lethal violence in places of education. The Violence
Prevention Task Force met for the first time in Chicago on Monday, February 23. The lead witness at the inaugural hearing was Diana Rauner, president of the Chicago-based Ounce of Prevention Fund.

One key goal of the committee is to study the recommendations being put into practice in other states such as Connecticut. The eastern state was the site of the widely-covered Sandy Hook school shooting incident in December 2012. Connecticut reforms enacted after the massacre include increasing the security of school buildings, increasing the monitoring of entry and exit points into school buildings and school properties, and improving the speed and frequency of school evacuation drills.

A further Connecticut report calls for more intense psychological classification, monitoring, and treatment of persons who are judged to be at risk to become perpetrators of shooting incidents. The Connecticut Office of the Child Advocate report was published in November 2014. The Associated Press and its partner, the “Northwest Herald,” described the organizational meeting.

Drivers’ licenses – Real ID Act
Federal government pressures Illinois to issue civilian identification cards. The Department of Homeland Security, acting as implementer of the REAL ID Act of 2005, has directed all 50 states to push their adult residents toward universal possession of a standardized identification card. The “REAL ID Card” is expected to replace the familiar state drivers’ license cards possessed by millions of Americans and is expected to be significantly more secure than a driver’s license.

Persons will not be eligible to receive a REAL ID Card until they have presented several redundant, secure, and verifiable documents of their identity, including a birth certificate or other proof of lawful status within the United States. Unfortunately, the costs of implanting this program and the verification requirements are anticipated to be significant. The Secretary of State’s office believes that the compliance costs of verifying this documentation will be approximately $3.75 million per year.

Compliance with the REAL ID Act will come through several angles. Federal law points toward the implementation to be no later than December 31, 2014, at which point technically noncompliant state drivers’ licenses became ineligible for use as identification documents when seeking to proceed through an airport to a departure gate for travel. An extension has been granted by the Department for one year. Civilians, in states that have not complied with the REAL ID Act, will be required to present a U.S. federal passport from the U.S. Department of State, or other compliant documentation, for permission to board a flight. The process of applying for a passport is available here.

Following implementation of the REAL ID Act, most holders of Illinois drivers’ licenses will be required to surrender their licenses in order to be issued the new identification card. Language to bring Illinois into compliance with the REAL ID Act is included in SB 1600, a bill introduced on Friday, February 20 in the Illinois Senate. The bill can be found here.

One feature of the bill, which gives the Secretary and his personnel additional time to perfect their compliance with all of the features of the federal mandate, postpones the date of the hard mandate on the Office of the Secretary of State to actually issue the new cards until July 1, 2016.

The Office may have the cards ready before that date, but SB 1600 will not require them to do so. This raises the possibility that there may be a period of time in early 2016, possibly several months in length, when the REAL ID Card law may be in full sway nationwide and Illinois will not yet be quite ready to issue the required new cards.

Caterpillar – Peoria HQ
Peoria continues to respond to news of new headquarters building. The facility, announced on Friday, February 20, will enable the global machinery manufacturer to consolidate 3,200 employees who currently work in supervisory and executive positions throughout the Peoria area. WEEK/Channel 19 describes the hopes of Caterpillar’s management.

Caterpillar told supporters this week that they plan to implement the construction of their new global headquarters in a manner that will minimize disruption of operations. The new building complex, which will be clad in glass and Caterpillar yellow, will be constructed and operations transferred over what is preliminarily expected to be an eight-year period.

Supporters of the construction project were making plans this week for the development of a downtown neighborhood to surround the headquarters. Amenities in the vicinity include historic buildings, the Illinois River, riverfront green space, and a museum/planetarium complex. Plans are moving forward for the expansion of a network of bike trails to connect downtown Peoria with a variety of city neighborhoods.

Desert Storm – recognition 
Newly-elected Representative Peter Breen moves resolution honoring veterans for service. The resolution, HR 75, recognizes and shows support for the future National Desert Storm War Memorial in Washington. It designates February 28, 2015 as Operation Desert Storm/Desert Shield Day in Illinois.

Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm was the 1990-91 war that reestablished control over Kuwait from Saddam Hussain’s Iraq, which had conquered the oil-rich Persian Gulf state. The U.S. armed forces led an international coalition of tactical air, armor, naval, and Special Forces in a flanking movement around the Iraqi army to force it to retreat and regain control of Kuwait. The National Desert Storm War Memorial is expected to create a permanent installation of honor to remember the sacrifices made by the personnel stationed in the war zone.

Disabilities – ABLE Act
New bill could help parents, relatives of young people with disabilities. A new federal law, the ABLE Act, allows those close to young people with disabilities the right to deposit tax-deferred income in a savings account earmarked for the beneficiary’s future care, treatment, and life enjoyment. ABLE Act accounts are relatively similar to college savings accounts: an adult who sets up the account is encouraged to deposit money for a young person’s future use. One of the incentives for adults to contribute to the account is the tax deferral granted to persons who meet the standing required to be shown by persons who set up these accounts with the help of their financial advisors. The National Down Syndrome Society worked with other advocates to move this measure through Congress.

The federal ABLE Act, passed in December 2014, encourages the 50 states to “opt into” the law. The federal act and its tax savings are not enjoyed in a state until that state has enacted corresponding opt-in legislation. Here in Illinois, an opt-in bill – HB 3117 was filed on Wednesday, February 25 by Representative Bob Pritchard. Pritchard represents much of DeKalb County and a surrounding region of north-central Illinois.

Historic sites
23 Illinois sites added to National Register of Historic Sites. Located throughout Illinois, the National Register sites are recognized as part of the historic fabric of their communities. The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency (IAPA) released the news on Monday, February 23. New sites added to the national registry include the brick-built railroad depot from which Abraham Lincoln waved good-bye as his train left Springfield, Illinois for Washington, D.C. in February 1861.

In a change of emphasis, the National Register has begun listing historic downtown community centers, including central-city blocks that are currently redeveloping themselves or hope to redevelop. Two Illinois downtowns, in East St. Louis and Elgin, are included in the 2015 listing. Elgin’s Downtown Historic District is acclaimed as showing off a transition in Illinois retail activity, from shop-front buildings built in the 1800s to department stores in the 1900s. The Associated Press and its partner, the “St. Louis Post-Dispatch,” describe 16 of the newly-listed sites.

Horse racing – advance deposit wagering (ADW)
House committee advances ADW bill. HB 335 would make permanent the right of Illinois horseplayers with an established account affiliation with a racetrack or horse gaming firm to place wagers from home. “Advance deposit wagering” is the legal name of the system used by these bettors and bet windows. ADW accountholders can, in some parts of Illinois or with some types of satellite video subscription, watch live horse racing by cable TV, satellite, or streaming video after making bets by telephone or Internet connection on the races to be run. Under current law, ADW operates legally in Illinois as a pilot program while its operations are studied by the General Assembly and by regulators. The legal authorization to place and take ADW bets is scheduled to expire, or “sunset,” on February 1, 2017.

The new technology is strongly supported by many (but not all) facets of the horse racing industry. It makes it possible for bettors to maintain their support of live horse racing without having to physically visit a racetrack or off-track betting parlor. HB 335, if it is passed into law, will make the right to place ADW bets permanent in Illinois. The House Executive Committee vote on Thursday, February 26 to advance HB 335 was 7-3-1, moving this measure to the Illinois House floor for further discussion and debate.

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