Observations and comments about state government by State Representative Robert W. Pritchard.
May 29, 2012
In this Issue
· Remember to Thank Those Who Serve
· Expedited Licensure for Military Families
· Gaming Expansion Approve
· House Reduces Medicaid Spending
· Tax Issues Combined
· Authority to Remove Inoperable Vehicles
· Agendas for Meetings Clarified
Remember to Thank Those Who Serve
I hope you enjoyed the Memorial Day weekend and found time to attend one of the many services honoring those who gave their lives for our freedoms. The concept of risking one’s life for democracy began early in our nation’s history. Patrick Henry, spoke to the Virginia Legislature leading up to the Revolutionary War with the question “Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?”
Abe Lincoln at the dedication of the Gettysburg Cemetery clearly focused attention on our responsibilities to defend freedom: “It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.”
The Legislature took time last week to honor the 21 Illinois soldiers who gave their lives in defense of freedom in the past year. Their pictures along with all the soldiers who have died in the line of duty in modern times are on display in the Capitol. Let us not forget them. Let us carry on the fight to root out bullying and oppression. It is our responsibilities for living in a free society.
Shown below is the tribute in our State Capitol to all the Illinois soldiers who have died in the line of protecting our freedoms. This past week we honored 21 soldiers who gave the full measure of devotion to their state and nation in the past year.
Expedited Licensure for Military Families
Under current Illinois law, many professional occupations require a state license to practice. Obtaining licensure can often be a lengthy process, which creates a unique problem for our military service members and their spouses who frequently relocate around the country.
To address this issue, I co-sponsored SB 275 this year to expedite temporary occupational or professional licensure to a service member and their spouse when they move into our state. My intent was to ease the financial and psychological stress of military service, help them become re-employed and practice their professions.
The bill, which was supported by the U.S. Department of Defense, now heads to the Governor’s desk.
Gaming Expansion Approved
Among the major pieces of legislation passed by the House last week was an expansion of gambling that would put a casino in Rockford, Chicago and three other cities, add gaming positions at the current 10 riverboats and allow slot machines at horse racetracks. This follows authorization for video poker and gambling over the internet.
SB 1849 now moves to the Senate which has passed similar legislation before. Proponents of the legislation see the expansion as a way of raising money for the state—including some $1.2 billion in up-front fees and annual tax revenue of $300 million to $1 billion. They also believe the expansion will infuse new life into the state’s struggling horseracing industry, create jobs and breathe life into economically stagnant towns.
As we used to say on the farm, the horse is out of the barn when it comes to legalized gambling in our state. Many people want the excitement of gambling but I continue to ask “at what cost?” For the state to earn millions of dollars, individuals must lose billions of dollars. Gambling is income redistribution at its finest and I don’t think it creates sustainable economic vitality for communities or our state.
House Reduces Medicaid Spending
To balance the state budget this year, legislators need to stop the annual growth in some of the key programs that drive expenses. The House took historic steps toward that goal last week with the passage of Medicaid program changes and efforts to reduce abuse and fraud.
The reforms cut nearly $1.6 billion from our $11 billion Medicaid program; the deepest cuts in the country, except for those made recently in New York.
SB 2840 focuses first on eliminating waste and fraud by ensuring those receiving benefits are truly eligible. In total, 300,000 individuals are expected to be “scrubbed off” Illinois’ Medicaid rolls because they do not meet income eligibility guidelines, are not Illinois residents, have died, or have aged-out of the All Kids program. This eligibility verification alone will save taxpayers $350 million.
The legislation limits or eliminates health care coverage not required by the federal government, increases patient cost sharing, and controls utilization of services. The bill reduces provider rates for care and expands managed care to improve the health of patients and reduce hospitalizations. SB 2840 also provides oversight and assistance from an independent contractor to make sure the agency is making the needed reductions and reforms.
The ideas contained in this bill are not new. Legislators have unsuccessfully introduced numerous pieces of legislation over the years to control costs and reduce abuse. The fiscal crisis of the state leaves the legislature with few options and gives the motivation for change.
The reforms and increased revenue for the Medicaid program are contained in six pieces of legislation most of which passed last week. Besides SB2840 are HB5007, SB 1355, SB2194, SB3261 and SB3397
Tax Issues Combined
Among the difficult votes for legislators last week was SB 3261. The bill included a tax increase on cigarettes while clarifying a property tax decrease for hospitals. With passage of the revenue bill, further cuts to the reimbursements for services of doctors and hospitals were avoided.
The Illinois House voted to raise the Illinois cigarette tax by $1 per pack ($1.98 total) and increase taxes on other tobacco products. This is a very regressive tax but was a major component to the Medicaid package.
Taxes on other tobacco products, like cigars and pipe tobacco, are increased under the bill. People who use commercial machines to roll their own cigarettes will no longer escape the tax on cigarettes and will pay the $1.98 a pack.
It is anticipated that the tobacco taxes will collect $350 million per year. Paired with federal matching funds, the plan would produce $700 million to help pay for Medicaid programs.
Of equal significance, the bill also defined “charity care” for non-profit hospitals and their affiliates which is necessary to continue their property tax exemption. The courts and Department of Revenue have been using various measures for the amount of charity care necessary to qualify for property tax exemption.
The bill clearly spells out that charity care must equal or exceed the property tax that would have been due for the hospital to be exempt from the tax. In calculating charity care, the hospital can include unreimbursed costs, free and discounted services, in-kind subsidies to units of government and other activities that relieve the burden of government.
Authority to Remove Inoperable Vehicles
HB 4145, which passed both Houses last week, takes aim at addressing the growing problem of inoperable, hazardous vehicles on vacant private property. As passed, local law enforcement agencies will be given jurisdiction over vehicle removal.
The bill further exempts the property of vehicle sellers, wrecking companies, and junkyards and vehicles that are historical or kept indoors. The legislation does not apply to vehicles that are temporarily incapable of being driven.
Agendas for Meetings Clarified
Those units of local government who have been using shell or very vague agendas in their meeting notices will have to change their practices. Under HB 4687, which passed both Houses, a loophole in the Public Meetings Act is closed. Topics to be addressed at the meeting must be detailed and the agenda must be available for the public to view for the full duration of the statutory notice period.
Lack of guidance on what must be contained in an agenda has led to the practice of using “shell agendas”. As a result of this practice, problems have arisen, such as a municipality using a shell agenda to address a “potential annexation.” The topic had not been publicly disclosed beforehand and yet the body took final action on the annexation.
HB 4687 requires the public body conducting a public meeting to ensure that at least one copy of any requested notice and agenda for the meeting is continuously available for public review during the entire 48-hour period preceding the meeting.
This week should finish action on the budget and partial pension reform as the General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn May 31. Budget bills are being passed by appropriation committees and a pension bill is expected by the time you read this newsletter. The pension system must be modified but any changes will have to be fair, constitutional and solve our funding problems to receive my vote.
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