Observations and comments about state government by State Representative Robert W. Pritchard.
October 16, 2017
In This Issue:
- Veto Session to Debate Bills
- Providing Mental Health Counseling in Education
- Superintendents Discuss School Funding/Accountability Laws
- Residents See Benefits from Smart Grid Law
- Local Park Districts Receive Recognition
Veto Session To Debate Bills
While the legislature’s fall session that begins October 24 is intended to consider bills “vetoed” by the Governor, it usually considers other legislation as well. As of this writing, the Speaker has not indicated what bills will be considered but there are a few pieces of legislation vetoed by the Governor that are sure to come before the body.
HB3649 is the Debt Transparency Act, an initiative of the State Comptroller Susana Mendoza. This bill requires state agencies to submit a financial report of outstanding bills to the comptroller’s office every month and detail which of those bills are subject to late payment interest fees. While this bill initially passed in the House with 70 votes, Governor Rauner vetoed the measure and called it an unnecessary oversight.
HB302 calls for life insurance companies to search electronic records for any unpaid death benefits dating back to the year 2000. This bill, sponsored by State Treasurer Michael Frerichs, is meant to encourage life insurance companies to be more aggressive in searching for beneficiaries following the death of policy holders. Frerichs’ office discovered more than $550 million in unclaimed death benefits between 2011 and 2015. The Governor issued a partial veto of this bill, which prevents the Treasurer from bringing in auditors to check insurance company records.
This year the Attorney General sponsored an initiative to help address the growing crisis with defaults on college student loans. SB1351 would require loan companies to tell borrowers about all of their repayment options.
The Equal Pay Act, HB2462, prohibits employers from asking job applicants for their prior wage information. It prevents a person’s future employer from basing salaries off wages at previous jobs. The Governor vetoed the bill because the bill includes compensatory damages, special damages of up to $10,000, and attorney fees. He urged the legislature to pass a bill modeled after Massachusetts’ “best-in-the-country” law.
HB2778 allows Fire Protection Districts to annex property that is not currently assigned fire and EMS service. The district must notify the property owner, hold a hearing and vote to annex the property. This bill would end some properties getting free service at the expense of other taxpayers.
HB732 allows owners of business and commercial buildings to continue using employees to perform reroofing and repairs but they must use a licensed contractor to perform dangerous techniques like torching. The occupants of these buildings and neighboring buildings are put in unique danger when a fire originates on a roof. Fires can spread quickly on a roof and neither smoke alarms nor sprinkler systems will quickly detect a roof fire.
Finally, a bill is expected to be introduced to “clean up” errors in the school funding bill SB1947. The changes being drafted will allow the counting of prekindergarten students who are required to receive English language services and continue the current accounting method for determining the value of property in certain (PTELL) tax limited districts.
Providing Mental Health Counseling in Education
The DeKalb County Mental Health Board celebrated its 50th anniversary last week by noting the growth in mental health treatment yet recognizing that the sigma of mental illness still exists. Executive Director Deanna Cada told an audience that mental illness is similar to physical illness and friends need to help the patient get treatment.
This message paralleled the testimony at a joint House Committee held on October 2 to discuss expanding mental health services in education. Those testifying said communities with the highest levels of need for mental health counseling often have the least amount of resources.
School counselors and organizations providing mental health services for youth reported that there is a significant and unmet need for mental health services in schools. Children are experiencing violence on the streets and in their homes, physical abuse, parents with drug addiction, and social media bulling. These students can’t focus on learning when there are mental and emotional issues.
Children’s Home + Aid, an organization that provides community-based, behavioral health services to students in Rockford and the Chicago area, said research shows one in every ten students in Illinois suffers from mental illness severe enough to cause impairment. Only about 20 percent of these students receive treatment.
The organization has found that putting mental health professionals inside schools provides easier access to mental health treatment, and shows a greater success rate in treatment. Providing such services before, after, or during school hours also helps lessen the burden on parents who may not otherwise be able to get the child to the necessary appointments for treatment.
The new school funding formula will provide more mental health resources for schools over time. In the meantime, school boards and staff must recognize the needs of their students.
I invited State Superintendent Tony Smith to DeKalb recently to give local school administrators and board members a change to ask questions and gain insight into the benefits and requirements they will see from two new education laws. The State Board of Education (ISBE) is developing rules about implementing these laws and input now as the rules are developed is most beneficial.
Smith said ISBE plans to implement the two laws together and try to simplify school district reporting. Districts will be given additional resources over time and expected to use the funding on best practices to improve student learning. Gaps in learning among minority, low income and English Language Learners must be addressed and closed. Spending and outcomes must be reported by building and district levels.
The State Superintendent said ISBE has set the following goals for every school district: 90 percent of students in 3rd grade reading at grade level, 90 percent of 5th graders doing math at grade level, 90 percent of 9th graders on track to graduate, and 90 percent of high school graduates ready for college or getting a job. While students at a few Illinois schools are already at these levels, only about 30 to 40 percent of local students are at these reading and math levels.
It’s been five years since the legislature passed the Smart Grid Law with the goals of modernizing the electric delivery system, reducing outages and duration of outages, and giving customers ways to stabilize costs. I got to see the fruit of that law last week as ComEd installed my smart meter and shared its results since 2012.
So far, ComEd has installed more than 3.6 million smart meters throughout northern Illinois and is finally installing them in DeKalb, Western Kane and Boone Counties. The smart meter technology involves a digital electric meter that uses two-way radio communications to collect usage information from consumers and notify ComEd when there is a service outage. Customers are able to track their electric usage by time of day and modify their usage to when hourly electricity prices are lower.
The technology also provides smart switches to re-route electricity when there is a downed or broken transmission wire. As a result, ComEd has avoided 7.6 million customer interruptions since 2012. The program also provides inspection and replacement of utility poles, and replacement of underground cables. As a result, electric outages have been reduced by 44 percent and the duration of electric outages has been reduced by 48 percent.
Customers can also set up apps on their phones to receive messages when their power is interrupted, view electric prices so they can manage when they use electricity and easily access their electric bills.
ComEd will be sending area residents more information through the mail about smart meters and the installation process. In the meantime, if you would like more information, visit ComEd’s website at www.ComEd.com/smartmeter.
Local Park Districts Receive Recognition
The DeKalb Park District and Campton Township Open Space received grants from ComEd at a special ceremony last week. They were among 25 recipients in the Green Region program that received funds for habitat restoration and trail signage. ComEd sponsored the program in conjunction with Openlands to fulfill its values for environmental stewardship.
DeKalb Park District was also one of 25 recipients who received a ComEd grant in the Powering Safe Communities program held in conjunction with the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus. They will use funds to buy flotation devices and a new public address system at their pool.
Bob with DeKalb Park District Executive Director Amy Doll, Mayor Jerry Smith, and Park President Phil Young
Have a great week and call my District Office to share your opinions or if I can be of assistance.