Observations and comments about state government by State Representative Robert W. Pritchard.
May 28, 2013
· Honor America’s Heroes
· Concealed Carry Passes Due to Popular Demand
· Electric Smart Grid Back on Track
· College Tuition Waiver Used to Entice Longer Military Service
· Bill to Increase Speed Limit Awaits Governor’s Signature
· House Passes Medicaid Expansion
· New Health Insurance Options for State Retirees Coming
· Re-awakening the American Dream
Honor America’s Heroes
Last Wednesday members of the House honored eight Illinoisans who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country in the past year. Among those remembered were Army Specialist Samuel Watts, Wheaton; Army Sergeant Michael Ristau, Rockford; and Navy Petty Officer John Larimer, Crystal Lake.
Let us take more than one day to salute these and all the “heroes” who have served our country and made our democracy possible.
Concealed Carry Passes Due to Popular Demand
Speaker Madigan summarized the movement for concealed carry legislation last week by saying it was democracy in action. The will of the people was heard as SB2193 passed the House with a resounding 85-30 vote. The bill was the product of numerous compromises so that in the end, no one was thoroughly happy with it. The bill now heads to the Senate.
Earlier in the session many efforts to pass extremely limited conceal carry legislation failed just as did a bill with few controls. The legislature was driven by the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision that citizens have a constitutional right of concealed carry but that the legislature may put in place proper safeguards, training requirements and mental health protections.
SB2193 sets forth very specific gun-free zones and the strictest training requirements in the country. It also requires various professionals to report mental health concerns with individuals so they are not issued concealed carry permits. According to the provisions of the bill, the Illinois State Police would be able to issue concealed carry licenses to people who are at least 21 years old, have a valid FOID Card or have met the requirements for a FOID Card, complete 16 hours of training (including live firing exercises), pass a criminal background check, and pay a $150 license fee.
The six month application process allows time for a thorough background check and for local law enforcement personnel to object to the issuance of a permit to any individual they feel is a threat to themself or to others.
The main principals for which Second Amendment advocates have been promoting for years are all included in the version of the bill approved on Friday.
Electric Smart Grid Back on Track
The Energy Infrastructure Modernization Act of 2011 can now proceed at full speed despite concerns by the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) and Governor. Electric utility companies had slowed their modernization efforts when the ICC denied that they could recover certain costs from customers. When the General Assembly passed legislation clarifying expenses that could be recovered, the Governor vetoed the bill (SB9). Both the House and Senate have overridden the veto.
The modernization of the electric grid will greatly reduce the number and time of power outages, and provide energy customers with more choice and control over their energy use. While electric rates will go up, customers can reduce their electric bills by managing power usage.
College Tuition Waivers Used to Entice Longer Military Service
Illinoisans who serve in the National Guard are eligible to receive tuition waivers for up to four years at any state-supported University or College. SB2229, as passed both chambers last week, will add an additional two-year tuition waiver for those National Guard soldiers and airmen who serve honorably for more than 10 years.
The bill is intended to encourage longer tours of duty to take advantage of the training given to the military personnel. The state does not fund the tuition waivers so public colleges and universities must fund the cost from existing revenue sources.
Bill to Increase Speed Limit Awaits Governor’s Signature
Members of the Illinois House have sent Governor Quinn legislation that would raise the speed limit to 70 MPH on Illinois’ four-lane, divided highways outside of municipalities.
Illinois is currently one of 16 states that have a 65 MPH limit on divided highways, as compared to 34 states which currently have speed limits of 70 MPH or more. The increase would bring Illinois in line with neighboring states. The bill allows Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, Madison, St. Clair, McHenry, and Will Counties to opt out of the increase through action by their county boards.
House Passes Medicaid Expansion
Since Illinois has problems paying its Medicaid bills now, expanding eligibility would seem like a non-starter. Nevertheless SB26, that does just that, passed the House on Monday. The bill enrolls Illinois in the Medicaid expansion option of the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Advocates for the expansion point to full federal funding of the cost for three years and then 90 percent federal funding thereafter. It would provide reimbursements to hospitals and doctors for many of the uninsured patients they are treating now, provide insurance for people with incomes less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level, and provide healthcare coverage for many employees of small businesses who can’t afford coverage.
What makes some legislators afraid of the expansion are the number of people who might enroll and lack of confidence that the federal government will pay what it promises. Even if the state’s increased costs are only 10 percent of the expansion, its liability could be over $2 billion per year. If the federal government cuts back on payments to balance its budget, the state’s liability could grow significantly. That is a reason that former Chairman of the Federal Reserve Paul Volcker advises states not to expand their enrollments.
New Health Insurance Options Coming for State Retirees
A representative of Central Management Services (CMS) said last week that Medicare-eligible retired state workers will not have to move from Medicare to a Medicare Advantage health insurance plan as instructed earlier. Leaders from CMS testified before the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability that numerous proposals are being put together for the new retiree health insurance plan. Included in the options are a Medicare Advantage HMO and a PPO plan with a passive system which allows retirees to see any doctor who accepts Medicare.
Retirees had been told earlier that because of a new union negotiated contract, they would have to change their health plans. This uncertainty, along with the cost of healthcare and pension reform, has retirees very nervous. Details on the healthcare options will be available by fall.
Re-awakening the American Dream
A group of Latino students at Northern Illinois University visited the capitol last week to lobby for several pieces of legislation and for immigration reform. I always enjoy visiting with constituents to hear their views and personal stories. Among the group were a Marine and a recent graduate who already has a job in Aurora. While immigration reform must come from Washington, not Springfield, these students were looking for support.
Their visit reminded me of the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition, a new group dedicated to common-sense immigration reform as a means to rebuild the economy and provide the labor our state needs. The group which includes some of our biggest companies as well as small business owners, shares facts about immigrant entrepreneurs, the need for high-skilled and low-skilled workers, the contributions immigrants make to agriculture, manufacturing, and the service industry, as well as their role as consumers and taxpayers.
To quote from the coalition, “Immigration is certainly a hot button political topic. However, a growing economy, one that can compete with any nation, needs vibrancy and talent (willing to work hard and be creative) to meet the challenges of the upcoming decades. Immigrants have always been a key element of the American dream.”
This is the final week of the spring legislative session. Numerous bills with amendments will spring up and be called for a vote including a budget, Fracking, pension and healthcare. I value your views and information about legislation so feel welcome to call me in Springfield (217-782-0425).
District Office 815-748-3494 or E-Mail to firstname.lastname@example.org