Springfield, Ill. – With less than two weeks left before the scheduled 2012 spring session, State Sen. Ron Sandack (R-Downers Grove) said lawmakers have been busy approving legislation to be sent to Gov. Pat Quinn for consideration, while behind the scenes negotiations continue on the state’s most pressing issues: the budget, Medicaid and state pension reform.
Also during the week, Sen. Sandack taped his fourth episode of “Capitol Agenda,” with State Rep. Mike Zalewski (D-Summit) as his guest. As Sen. Sandack’s first Democrat guest, they spoke about some differences between his caucus and the others as well as what Rep. Zalewski thought would be accomplished in the last two weeks of session. Look for more information to come on the air date for that episode. Episode three with guest State Rep. Michael Connelly (R-Lisle) is currently airing on Elmhurst Regional Public Access Channel 19 on Sunday nights at 8:00 p.m.
On the critical issue of Medicaid reform, at week's end it appeared significant progress was being made toward closing a $2.7 billion gap in the program. Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno said a key objective of Senate Republicans is to enact reforms that will force the state to "cut up its Medicaid credit card" by reforming the controversial "Section 25" provisions in state law. Reforming this provision is critical to assuring that savings approved by the legislature actually materialize, by limiting the administration's ability to push off costs.
Under "Section 25" the state digs itself into a deep budget hole each year by buying more Medicaid services than it can pay for and then pushing the bills off into the next year. The Civic Federation earlier this year estimated that Illinois' Medicaid debt would consume most of its budget within five years if the state does not get Medicaid spending under control and end the practice of buying services in one year and then charging the costs off onto future years. Massive deficits like those projected by the Civic Federation, and even the Governor's own social service agency, could jeopardize the healthcare safety net for those who truly need it.
On May 18, the Illinois Senate approved the first piece of the state’s Medicaid reform puzzle, advancing to the Governor Senate Bill 770 to address the problem of "presumptive eligibility." Under presumptive eligibility, applicants for aid in Illinois are automatically assumed to be eligible and able to receive assistance before the state has determined whether or not they truly are eligible. In response, Senate Bill 770 establishes that applicants cannot be reimbursed for the first 30 days of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) application process; the bill gives the state 45 days to process a TANF application.
While others continue to push a tax hike as part of the Medicaid solution, Senate Republicans remain skeptical. After last year's $7 billion tax hike failed to bring the state's budget into balance, they question how another $300 million in cigarette taxes would solve the state's problems. Also of concern is the fact that tobacco taxes are already a declining source of revenues, while Medicaid costs continue to skyrocket. Using shrinking revenues to fund growing expenses, they fear, would only be a stopgap solution that pushes the problems off once again, instead of dealing with the real issue of reducing spending.
The Senate also addressed concerns surrounding the funding of the state’s Child Care Assistance Program with the approval of Senate Bill 2450. The legislation allocates general revenue funds to finance the Child Care Assistance Program, from which the Governor had diverted money to pay TANF obligations. Child care providers and the approximately 85,000 parents who rely on the child-care program rallied for the program to be restored; the measure was unanimously approved by the Senate, and there is every expectation the bill will be signed by the Governor to ensure low-income parents will still have access to subsidized child care.
However, lawmakers in the Executive Committee weren’t in agreement on May 16, when Democrat lawmakers pushed through a measure that would raise the state’s minimum wage to the highest in the nation. Senate Bill 1565 would phase in the increase to the current minimum wage of $8.25, increasing by 50 cents annually until reaching $10.55 in 2015. At that point, the minimum wage would increase each year with the cost of inflation.
Republican Committee members voted against the measure, with one GOP Senator noting the timing for such an increase is “terrible.” Many Illinois' employers are already struggling and business owners say a minimum wage hike will force them to lay off workers and increase prices. Senate Republicans pointed out that a minimum wage increase won’t help the state’s business climate, which is already negatively impacted by Illinois’ high income taxes and workers’ compensation rates, as well as the state’s fiscal uncertainty and overly burdensome regulatory and legal system.
However, Senate Republicans joined the rest of their Senate colleagues this week to overwhelmingly approve a new law inspired by horrific allegations against a former Penn State football coach. House Bill 3887 was introduced in reaction to allegations an assistant Penn State football coach was accused of sexually abusing minors on the university campus. University employees were said to have witnessed the abuse but did not report the actions of the coach to outside authorities.
Having been approved by the Illinois House and Senate, House Bill 3887 is now on its way to the Governor’s desk, and if approved would add college and university staffs, including the athletic staff and early intervention providers, to the list of individuals who are required to report allegations of child abuse. The new law provides for jail time if witnesses fail to report or engage in a cover-up of the abuse. A mandated reporter who fails to make a report of the alleged abuse could face a Class A misdemeanor for a first violation and a Class 4 felony for a second violation. A mandated reporter who takes part in any cover-up faces a charge for a Class 4 felony and a Class 3 felony for a second offense.
A list of all the week’s Senate Committee and Floor Action, as well as a comprehensive list detailing all bills to have been approved by the General Assembly, can be found at the Senate Republican Web site’s (www.senategop.state.il.us) “Senate Action” page.