Week in Review for 2/9/15 - 2/13/15

Criminal law – Rauner task force
Goal of reducing State budget growth while maintaining security for Illinois residents and families.  One of the underlying causes of Illinois’ mushrooming budget is the cost of guarding tens of thousands of Illinois’ criminals, including many nonviolent criminals, in State prisons, county jails, and county detention centers.  State prisons alone are holding inmates at 150 percent of design capacity.  The Illinois Department of Corrections budget is $1.3 billion/year paid by taxpayers, with additional hundreds of millions spent by county sheriffs to maintain jails for low-level felons and misdemeanants.

On Wednesday, Governor Rauner unveiled a commission to look at sentencing policies in Illinois. The task force will have the full participation of Illinois’ law enforcement community, which is interested in studying the Code of Corrections to see how to lower the number of inmates while ensuring the safety to the public.  The new Task Force has been asked to report its findings to the Governor and General Assembly by December 31, 2015.      

Local government – consolidation
Lieutenant Governor Sanguinetti to lead consolidation, unfunded mandates commission.  With the goal of reducing property taxes paid by Illinois property owners and homeowners, Gov. Rauner on Friday asked Lieutenant Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti to head a new task force that will look at opportunities for savings from the consolidation of taxing bodies.

Illinois currently has 6,963 units of local government.  It is #1 in this metric; none of the other 50 states top 6,000.  Bodies with the power to extend property taxes include school and community college districts, of which Illinois has 905 (#3 nationwide); 1,431 township governments (#3 nationwide), 3,227 special district governments, such as drainage districts and mosquito abatement districts (#1 nationwide), and 1,298 municipal governments (#1 nationwide).

Sanguinetti’s task force will look into both unfunded mandates and the possible existence of redundant units of local government.  The members will conduct a comprehensive review of State laws that impose burdens on local schools and governments, and their taxpayers.  They are asked to report their findings to the Governor and the General Assembly no later than December 31, 2015.    

Budget – Medicaid – Bellock 
In move led by Representative Patti Bellock, Illinois is moving more than 2 million Medicaid recipients to managed care.  Managed health care is a way of life for millions of working Illinois residents and their families who are covered through the private sector.  Up until now, however, the more than 3.1 million Illinoisans who are enrolled in the State’s Medicaid system have used a more costly traditional fee-for-service model.

In Medicaid-reform moves pushed by Assistant Republican Leader Patti Bellock starting in 2011, as many Medicaid recipients as legally possible are now being transitioned to the more cost effective managed care program.  More than two-thirds of the affected patients, 2.2 million, are within or will soon be within this new system.  The move, supported by Governor Rauner, is being implemented by the Department of Healthcare and Family Services.

Budget experts believe that managed care may well reduce future medical expenses borne by the State.  Managed care can be used to give physicians and other caregivers an incentive to reduce future health complications.  The “Chicago Tribune” describes the move.  

Children – DCFS
Governor Rauner appoints new head for troubled State agency.  The Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) is the Illinois bureau in charge of providing services for challenged Illinois children and juveniles. Children under the Department’s jurisdiction include children undergoing adoption proceedings, children in foster care, and wards of the court.  A large subset of the children under DCFS’s jurisdiction are living in residential facilities designed for juveniles who need care and counseling.

Starting in December 2014, the “Chicago Tribune” and other news organizations have uncovered extensive stories of disorder and alleged criminal acts in and associated with these facilities, including sexual assaults.  New leadership may be a part of the answer for this troubled agency.  On Friday, February 13, Governor Rauner asked George Sheldon, the former secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families, to lead Illinois’ DCFS.

Praising the appointment, the “Miami Herald” calls Sheldon “Mr. Fix-It.”  The Florida department has multimillion-dollar responsibilities comparable to DCFS, and Sheldon’s appointment will enable a leader with specific experience in this class of challenges to start working on solving the tangle of crises affecting this key agency.    

Drivers’ licenses – federal mandates
Department of Homeland Security says Illinois drivers’ licenses not sufficiently secure.  The federal security agency, whose personnel scrutinize American fliers when they board aircraft, has told the office of the Illinois Secretary of State that the familiar Illinois drivers’ license will not provide enough data for their personnel to allow passengers to pass through airport security.  Starting January 1, 2016, persons boarding aircraft will be required to present a passport or some equivalent form of approved documentation, such as military ID, in order to be allowed to proceed to a boarding area.  Read more.

The federal DHS says that the drivers’ licenses of 22 states have achieved compliance with the standards set in the Real ID Act, enacted by Congress in 2005.  A key mandate of the Real ID Act is that citizens seeking documentation considered secure under the Act must present a birth certificate or equivalent proof of citizenship in order to obtain the document.  The Illinois Secretary of State’s Driver Services Department does not require presentation of a birth certificate to apply for a drivers’ license, nor does it have a system in place to verify this document if an applicant presents it.  The office estimates that compliance with the Real ID Act, as currently enforced by the federal security police, would cost $100 million to $150 million in one-time costs to be borne by Illinois drivers or taxpayers.

Seven states, not including Illinois, have explicitly refused to comply with the REAL ID Act.  Twenty-one other states, including Illinois, have asked for and been granted a compliance extension that will expire on December 31, 2015.  It is possible that this issue may be taken up by Congress this year in response to concerns raised by these twenty-eight states.    

Federal passports, issued by the federal Department of State, will continue to be approved documentation for boarding flights originating in or landing in the U.S.  It often takes several months to get a passport.  Persons interested in applying for a first-time passport can start the process at this State Department website.

Measles – day care
Chicago-area measles count notches 8 cases, including 7 at daycare center. Public health officials do not know how the daycare infants caught the virus; a search is on for the person or persons who infected five infants.  The count of 8 measles cases was released on Monday, February 9.  The extremely contagious virus broke out last week at a day care center located in Chicago’s northwest suburbs.  While most Illinois adults are protected from catching measles by the vaccines they have received in the past, the infant patients were all under 12 months of age or were not old enough to get a doctor’s approval for these shots.  KinderCare, operator of the Palatine daycare center identified as the location of the Illinois infant outbreak, has told employees at its 1,900 day care centers nationwide that they must get vaccinated for measles as a condition of being allowed to continue to work in infant rooms. Read more.

A major outbreak of measles has broken loose in the United States this winter.  The outbreak has been partly traced to contacts made between a patient and other visitors to Disneyland in southern California.  At least 121 infections have been counted, spread across 17 states.  ABC News/Channel 7 covers the outbreak

State workers – executive order 
Governor finds State employee paycheck deduction unconstitutional. Under the law up until this week, State employees who do not want to join a labor union have been required to have monies deducted from their paychecks anyway in each pay period.  The monies so deducted are pad over to the union.  Called a “fair share” deduction, the subtraction is described as providing recompense to the union for providing representation to the non-member State worker.  On Monday, February 9, Gov. Rauner issued Executive Order 1513.  The new order, if it clears legal challenges, could authorize State workers to ask that these deductions be cancelled.  Current employee logs show that approximately 6,500 State workers are in “fair share” status – they are not members of the unions that have organized their workplaces, but are subject to mandatory paycheck deductions under the practice in place prior to EO 1513.

Rauner’s finding follows recent federal Supreme Court case law.  In a decision involving a family provider of home health care, the nation’s highest court found in the decision “Harris v. Quinn” that a major union (SEIU) had no right to force the family provider to pay dues-like fair share payments to the union for services not chosen by the person paying the dues.  Executive Order 1513 seeks to apply this principle across the State’s workforce.  “These forced union dues are a critical cog,” asserted the Governor, “in the corrupt bargain that is crushing taxpayers.”  Read more.

Nothing in the executive order prevents state employees who value their union membership from continuing to belong to the union as dues-paying members.  The order is expected to be challenged in the General Assembly, challenged by litigation, or fought through both pathways. Implementation of the order has been stayed pending resolution of the issue.      

Week in Review
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