Senate Week in Review: July 16-20

Springfield, Ill – State Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris) and State Rep. Jason Barickman (R-Champaign) hosted a town hall meeting in Dwight on June 16 to discuss the continued impact of Governor Quinn’s call to close Dwight Correctional Center (DCC).

Both the Senator and Representative discussed the effects of the closure, how they plan to continue the fight to keep the facility open, and other alternatives to keep the prison operating and the workers in their jobs.

“This is an unfortunate situation all-around,” Sen. Rezin said.  “We can override the Governor’s budget vetoes, but we cannot force him to spend the money.  This seems to be just another budget game where we wastefully spend money instead of spending money on keeping facilities open.  Gov. Quinn needs to reexamine what kind of a huge impact this is going to have on the Dwight community.  We will continue to advocate for it to remain open until the last possible moment.”  

The town hall drew an estimated crowd of 200 people.  Rezin and Barickman were pleased with the turnout and the continued support for the community of Dwight and the over 350 employees of the prison.  Look for more information about the closures in the coming weeks.  

In other news, despite a $2.3 billion increase in Illinois’ base revenues, Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka reported little improvement in the state’s financial outlook in her recently issued final report for Fiscal Year (FY) 2012, according to Sen. Rezin.

According to Topinka, even with significant returns from the Democrat’s 2011 income tax increase and revenue growth spurred by improved consumer spending, the state still ended FY 2012 with between $7.5 and $8 billion in unpaid bills.
The Comptroller noted that most of the approximately $3.5 billion in outstanding liabilities constitute obligations to Medicaid providers and state employee health insurance costs. Additionally, the report notes the state has delayed issuance of corporate tax refunds, and owes more than $100 million in repayments to various funds previously tapped by the state to finance unrelated expenditures.
Though improved consumer spending brought some much-needed increases in FY 2012 base revenues, Topinka cautions Illinois still faces “serious fiscal challenges and payment delays” in Fiscal Year 2013. According to the report, despite revenue growth, and gains achieved from making the state’s pension payment and targeting over-spending, the severity of Illinois’ budget problems will translate into payment delays to the state’s providers continuing into FY 2013.
Also during the week, the Governor signed legislation (House Bill 5211/PA 97-0822) targeting “phone cramming,” a $2 billion-a-year scam that affects an estimated 15 to 20 million American households annually. Sen. Rezin explained that consumers are solicited for free trials, coupons or prizes, but never told they’re purchasing a service. The unauthorized charge later appears on their telephone bill, but often goes unnoticed by subscribers who do not look closely at the details of their phone bill. The new law prohibits third-party vendors from deceptively billing a consumer for these unwanted goods or services.
Several other measures signed into law on July 16 will provide increased assistance for crime victims and their families. House Bill 5187/PA 97-0815 requires law enforcement to provide crime victims with a written copy of their rights within 48 hours. Law enforcement officials must also explain to victims what assistance they are eligible to receive under the Crime Victims Compensation Act. These rights must also be posted outside Illinois criminal courtrooms.
Victim compensation is also addressed in SB 3693/PA 97-0817, which provides broader compensation to crime victims and their family members. The new law will offer spousal counseling services, add additional violent crimes to those for which a victim could receive restitution, and also establishes that payments for medical care and other expenses can be made to individuals who aren’t family members or who aren’t immediate family members.  
Senate Bill 3602/PA 97-0816 improves the way fines collected by the Violence Crime Victims Assistance Fund (VCVAF) are calculated, establishing a set amount for certain crimes, as opposed to using a formula. The law seeks to create uniformity with regard to criminal fines, fees and costs and ensure the VCVAF consistently receives contributions necessary to provide crime victims and their families with much-needed support.
Sen. Rezin was on hand June 20 for a grant check presentation from Exelon to the Utica Fire Protection District that aims to provide for a better means of communication between emergency agencies in the Starved Rock State Park area.  

Gary Gbur and Ed Rogers, Fire Chief and Assistant Chief of the Utica Fire Protection District respectively, said that the Utica Fire District faces unique challenges when it comes to agency communication in the event of an emergency at Starved Rock State Park.  

“Locally we at the Utica Fire District face the unique challenges presented by Starved Rock State Park,” Chief Gbur said. “The Fire District has one radio type, the park staff has another, on a different frequency, and conservation police operate on an entirely different radio band. We are often forced to rely on cellular phones in an attempt to coordinate our respective responses. Because of the terrain features of Starved Rock, cellular communications are at best limited and if one is in a canyon area, it is simply not available.”

Assistant Chief Rogers said that the grant from Exelon will allow the Fire District to purchase handheld radios that are fully compatible with the Department of Natural Resources Conservation Police, Illinois State Police, and multiple state and local response agencies without having to use a combination of frequencies, land lines or cell phones.

“This radio type works anywhere and isn’t negatively affected by terrain, other radio channels or outside interference, thereby enhancing personnel’s response and better protecting the safety of our responders and the general public as a whole,” he said.

Sen. Rezin met with the Utica Fire Protection District where they discussed their needs given their unique situation with emergency situations at Starved Rock State Park.  Sen. Rezin then spoke with the Exelon Foundation about their safety grant program and encouraged the Utica Fire Protection District to apply for the grant.  

“I’m extremely pleased that the Utica Fire Protection District will be able to purchase equipment needed to provide a more effective response should an emergency,” Sen. Rezin said.  “They will be able to better communicate with other agencies and the equipment will provide a greater assurance to visitors of the park as well.”

The grant was awarded for $3000, and it will help the Utica Fire Protection District inch closer to their $8000 goal to purchase all the equipment that they need.  

Other bills signed into law during the week include:
Bulk Electricity Buying (SB 3170/PA 97-0823): Allows townships to be included in the list of customers eligible to buy electricity in bulk in the Ameren and ComEd territories, similar to the bulk electricity buying option already available to cities and villages.
Business Tax Break (HB 4314/PA 97-0818): Gives a Chicago-area steel company an additional year to certify the relocation of its plant in order to qualify for local and state utility tax breaks.
Diabetes Awareness (HB 5003/PA 97-0819): Establishes November 14 of each year as Diabetes Awareness Day.
HFS Efficiency Bill (SB 2574/PA 97-0820): Promotes efficiencies within the medical assistance programs by cutting costs, streamlining healthcare payment processes, and eliminating duplicative services.

ISP Projects Fund (SB 3621/PA 97-0826): Changes the name of the Illinois State Police Projects Trust Fund to the Illinois State Police Federal Projects Fund. Makes technical changes within the statute to clearly state that this Fund is designated for federal funds.

Medical District Commission (SB 3514/PA 97-0825): Makes changes to the Illinois Medical District Commission, including classifying the District as a unit of local government that is no longer subject to the state personnel or procurement code. Outlines other Commission responsibilities and permits the Commission to make certain financial and bonding decisions. Establishes that when legal actions are taken against the Commission, the judgments cannot attach to any of the Commission’s property.
Net Metering (SB 3811/PA 97-0824): Follows up a 2011 “smart metering” law to make changes concerning devices used to measure the flow of electricity; the methods for measuring and charging or crediting the net electricity supplied; and the rates charged to net metering customers. Net metering is when customers use wind turbines or solar panels to provide their own power and are credited by the utility for the power.
Public Utility Account Holds (HB 5025/PA 97-0821):  Requires a public utility to notify credit agencies and release an account hold on a customer’s account within five business days after the customer has made a payment in full.
Search Committee Financing (HB 5914/PA 97-0814):  Prohibits the use of state funds or tuition revenue to finance a hiring search committee, except for hiring the university president, or in cases where the university president and board of trustees demonstrate a need for specialized guidance.

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