Senate Week in Review: July 30 – August 3

Springfield, Ill. – This week Gov. Pat Quinn scheduled a special legislative session, calling lawmakers back to Springfield Aug. 17 to act on reforms to Illinois’ state employee retirement systems, said State Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris).

In other news, the Governor acted on a number of bills, amendatorily vetoing formerly non-controversial legislation that now bans semi-automatic weapons, but approving another measure to strengthen workers’ rights to privacy.

Mark your calendars for August 18 and plan to attend Sen. Rezin’s Children’s Health and Safety Fair in Peru.  The event will be held at Parkside School from 9:00 a.m. until noon.  The admission is free and those in attendance will receive refreshments and drawings for giveaways.  The first 50 kids will receive a free t-shirt.  

Participants in the fair include the Illinois State Police, Girl Scouts of Central Illinois, LaSalle County Health Department, University of Illinois Extension, Sylvan Learning Center, Offices of the Illinois Comptroller, Treasurer, and Attorney General, several area healthcare providers, and other child safety and service agencies.  New this year to the Touch A Truck exhibit outside of the school is a medical helicopter from Life Flight.  The Touch A Truck exhibit also includes a daycare bus, a humvee squad car, a tractor, a combine, an ambulance and more.  The fair will have interactive components including nutrition, fingerprinting, backpack safety, tutoring, and more.  

For more information, please call Sen. Rezin’s office at 815-220-8720 or visit her website at www.senatorrezin.com.  

Though Quinn is calling lawmakers back to pass pension reforms to reduce the $83 billion in liabilities associated with the state retirement systems, it’s uncertain what the outcome of the special session will be. The Governor didn’t outline what reforms he’d like lawmakers to consider, although Quinn has indicated in the past that he isn’t supportive of “partial” pension reform.

However, the pension reform measure passed by Senate lawmakers (House Bill 1447) during the spring session would impact only state employees and state lawmakers. The House of Representatives didn’t act on that measure before the General Assembly adjourned for the summer, but if the House was to consider the bill, the likelihood of it passing is slim.

The State Constitution requires a three-fifths majority to pass any bill with an immediate effective date that is considered after the May 31 regular session deadline. Because House Bill 1447 has an immediate effective date, if House lawmakers were to act on the measure it would require 71 votes—instead of the regular 60—to pass. Because of the contentious nature of the bill, finding those additional votes is thought to be difficult, if not impossible.

Additionally, Quinn continues to push an immediate cost-shift proposal that would likely result in higher local property taxes for downstate and suburban homeowners. It would require local school districts and universities to pick up the costs of their instructors’ retirement plans. Republicans have opposed the proposal, pointing out that transferring Illinois’ pension obligations to the school districts will not save costs or reform the system, but simply shift costs from income taxes to property taxes.

Also during the week, gun owners are up in arms in response to Quinn’s dramatic changes to a previously non-controversial bill intended to help Illinois businesses compete with out-of-state retailers and assist law-abiding gun owners. With the Governor’s changes, the bill would instead ban some semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.

In its original form, Senate Bill 681 would have allowed FOID card holders to mail-order ammunition purchases from in-state licensed firearm retailers and have the ammunition shipped to their homes. Ammunition purchases from out-of-state dealers are already allowed under the law.

Many lawmakers have spoken out against the Governor’s move, saying his actions could doom a business-friendly bill and noting the provisions of the ban are too broad. The ban would apply to a variety of firearms commonly used for hunting.

Though the Governor’s amendatory veto of the legislation had drawn criticism from some, another bill signed into law during the week received kudos from many employees across the state. On Aug. 1, Illinois became the second state to pass a law prohibiting employers from requesting or requiring workers to hand over their personal social networking account information.

Quinn signed House Bill 3782 at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, approving legislation that prevents employers from requesting social account information, including passwords, in order to screen potential job candidates or reprimand current employees based on information from their social media accounts.

The new law does not impact an employer’s ability to monitor use of social media during office hours, or when using company resources. As a result, employers will be able to control and enforce the company’s Internet policies, protecting the company from potential litigation sparked by an employee’s unauthorized actions or statements.

Quinn was not the only one dealing with some heat this week—Illinois continues to face one of the worst droughts seen in recent years. In fact, 2012 is Illinois’ sixth-driest year on record.

Every segment of the state has been impacted by the dry, hot conditions (http://www2.illinois.gov/gov/drought/Pages/Areas.aspx). Fortunately, state assistance is available for farmers through agriculture loans including the Agri-Debt Restructuring Guarantee Program, Working Capital Guarantee Program, Agricultural Participation Loan Program, and Rural Development Loan Program.

Visit the Drought Response Task Force website to learn more and view applications for each program.  (http://www2.illinois.gov/gov/drought/Pages/Assistance.aspx) Federal loan programs have also been made available through the USDA. (http://www2.illinois.gov/gov/drought/Pages/Agriculture.aspx)

Additional legislation signed into law this week:

Ag Fees (SB 3292/PA 97-888): Establishes that all fees collected by the Dept. of Ag at an animal disease laboratory must be deposited into the Illinois Dept. of Ag Laboratory Services Revolving Fund. Currently, some related fees are deposited in GRF while others are siphoned into the Lab Services Fund; this bill eliminates that split.

Ag Research Funding (HB 4447/PA 97-879): Appropriates funds among public and private universities for food and agriculture research. The amounts will be determined by the Illinois Council on Food and Agricultural Research Board of Directors.

Child Support Payments (SB 2824/PA 97-884): Brings state law into compliance with federal laws on child support distribution by prohibiting the Comptroller from deducting payments to the child Support Enforcement Trust Fund.

Corporate Officer Indemnification (SB 1127/PA 97-881):  States that the decision to indemnify a present or former director, officer, employee or corporate agent can only be made by a committee of directors who are not parties to the action, suit or proceeding. If all directors are parties to the action, then an independent legal counsel will determine whether to indemnify.

DCFS Hiring (SB 3517/PA 97-874): States that no person can be hired by the Department of Children and Family Services, receive a license, or be employed in a child care facility if they have committed certain financial or fraud crimes. Allows for exceptions when considering factors such as age at which the offense was committed, circumstances of the offense, time since conviction, duties of the job, the applicant’s employment and character references, academic transcripts and good conduct.

Dental Assistant Supervision (SB 2941/PA 97-886):  Limits the number of dental assistants a dentist may supervise during certain procedures.  

Disabilities (HB 3915/PA 97-877): Changes the term “handicap” to “disability” in state statutes.

Divorce Law (HB 3960/PA 97-878): Advances technical fixes of current divorce law. Provides that in determining “net income” the total of all income from all sources is reduced by the total income premiums for court-ordered life insurance to reasonably secure payment of support for non-minor children. Removes the deduction for life insurance premiums to support Section 513 payments, terms agreed to by the parties, or payment of maintenance (through existing or new life insurance).  

Elder Abuse Records (HB 5266): Expands the list of persons and agencies who have access to all records that have been generated as the result of a report of elder abuse, neglect, financial exploitation or self-neglect investigations. Entities affected include law enforcement agencies, fire department agencies or fire protection districts. This is an effort to inform local first responder agencies of elderly people who are at possible risk and therefore increase oversight and protections for these individuals.

Elder Abuse Reporting (HB 3986): Allows the Department of Aging to receive reports of abuse through the Internet.

Elder Abuse Response (HB 5098): Amends the Illinois Police Training Act to require that the curriculum for probationary police officers include a course in the recognition of elder abuse and neglect and crimes against the elderly.
 
Elderly Exploitation (HB 5653): Seeks to make it easier to prosecute cases involving financial exploitation of an elderly person or a person with a disability. Allows prosecutors to freeze assets of the defendant for purposes of restitution for the victim. Adds criminal intimidation to the definition of intimidation. Includes a paid or unpaid caregiver for an elderly person or person with a disability to the definition of a person who stands in a position of trust and confidence.

Financial Reports on the Web (SB 3508/PA 890): Requires the Comptroller to post on the Internet all financial reports that are required to be submitted by governmental units, including counties and municipalities.

First-Time Offenders (SB 3423/PA 97-889): Allows a first-time offender charged with or convicted of possession of less than 15 grams of methamphetamine to receive treatment in a drug abuse program, rather than a prison term.

Healthcare Records (SB 3171): Provides that the $20 handling charge for obtaining health care facility records can not be collected from a patient or from a deceased patient’s personal representative. Provides that a deceased person’s healthcare records must (instead of may) be released upon the written request of the executor or administrator of the deceased person’s estate, the deceased person’s agent under a power of attorney for healthcare, or a relative of the deceased person with a specified relationship, who is to be considered to be a personal representative of the deceased patient. Adds to a health care facility records release form a certification from the relative that the relative is acting as a personal representative pursuant to these provisions. This law will bring state law into compliance with federal law with regard to the release a deceased individual’s health care records.

Health Care Sex Offense (SB 3137/PA 97-873): Makes technical changes to a law passed in 2011 targeting healthcare workers who continued to practice medicine even after a sex crime conviction, noting that IDFPR must be notified by the “prosecuting attorney” (instead of “State’s Attorney”) when a licensed health care worker “has been charged with” (instead of “committed”) certain sex crimes as outlined in the 2011 law.

Landfill Owner (SB 2947/PA 97-887): Clarifies that liability for waste operations extend to landfill owners, who must also post a security bond (insurance for reclamation). This bill is in response to a court case relating to who is responsible for insurance on a landfill, and places liability on owners and operators of waste operations to make state law consistent with federal law.

Long-Term Care Initiative (SB 3690): Requires that when pursuing the state’s Medicaid initiative to transition long-term care from traditional institutionalized settings into community-based settings, the state must take into consideration the costs associated with medically compromised, frail older adults who need institutional care, as well as the costs associated with providing support services for higher functioning, less medically compromised older adults who are able to live independently in the community. This includes adoption of new definitions of certain populations that need varying levels of assistance and care.

Nursing Facility Fines (SB 3499): Allows nursing home facilities to pay to the Dept. of Public Health 65 percent of a violation fine, instead of requesting a hearing.  This will reduce litigation costs for IDPH and the facilities.

Nursing Home Dispute (HB 5134): Makes changes to formalize the currently informal dispute process that takes place between the Dept. of Public Health and nursing care facilities with regard to licensure and review.

Nursing Home Patients (HB 5009): States that when identification bracelets are required for nursing home patients, they must identify the nursing home’s telephone number. That way in the event a nursing home patient is found outside the residence, this information will assist in their safe return to the facility.

Nursing Home Representatives (SB 3420): Allows owners of nursing homes to serve as a patient’s representative if they are related to the patient.

Powers of Attorney (SB 3204/PA 97-0868):  Seeks to eliminate problems that often confront financial institutions, trust officers and legal representatives who are working with multiple powers of attorney. The bill was drafted in a way to address concerns that the change may harm the elderly, by specifying that certain financial agreements and contracts do not have an impact on a person’s primary power of attorney.

Prepaid Tuition Program (HB 3923/PA 97-876): Requires that meetings to consider the investments of assets or income of funds deposited into the Illinois Prepaid Tuition Trust Fund will be subject to the Open Meetings Act.

Public Administrator Records (SB 2536/PA 97-882): Designates that in Cook County, the public administrator will retain records in accordance with the Local Records Act, instead of turning them over to the Circuit Court Clerk, who is no longer accepting them. This gives the Cook County public administrator a way to archive or dispose of the records.

Public Benefit Corporations (SB 2897/PA 97-885): Allows companies to form as “benefit corporations,” which are something of a hybrid between non-profits and corporations. Benefit corporations attempt to balance a responsibility to earn profits on behalf of shareholders with a responsibility to further a general or specific public benefit.

Safe Lifting (SB 680/PA 97-0866):  Seeks to buoy safety considerations with regard to lifting and moving seniors and other potentially fragile residents in nursing homes and healthcare facilities.  The bill also requires health care facilities to train nurses and resident care providers on safe lifting policies and the proper techniques for operating lifting equipment, which is critical to protecting residents who are less resilient and may be easily injured.       
 
School Construction Priority (SB 639/PA 97-880): Expands the School Construction Program by adding rehabilitation to the “Priority List” categories, specifically with regards to Category 2 (replacing aging building or those with a shortage of classroom space) and Category 4 (replacement or reconstruction of facilities with severe health/life safety hazards).

Synthetic Drugs (HB 5233/PA 97-872): Seeks to ban and criminalize the sale of synthetic drugs. This is an effort to go after drugs that are being sold over-the-counter including, in some cases, drugs that are sold packaged as “bath salts” or other non-food or drug substances.

Trucking (SB 2579/PA 97-883): Provides that the kingpin to rear axle length restriction on Illinois highways does not apply to trailers or semi-trailers used for the transport of livestock.

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