Senate Week in Review: May 5-9

In the Senate this past week, a bipartisan auditing committee voted overwhelmingly to pursue subpoena power to investigate Gov. Pat Quinn’s troubled anti-violence initiative and Medicaid reform advocates rolled out a new initiative to push the state to achieve managed care targets designed to reduce costs and improve the quality of care, State Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris) said.

Also, a group of Senate and House lawmakers filed legislation to earmark unexpected revenue increases to pay down the state’s backlog of bills, including court-ordered back pay that represents the state’s oldest bill.

And, the state Board of Education released much-anticipated funding estimates for controversial legislation that would radically redistribute school aid dollars.

Senators spent much of the week working in committees, reviewing and modifying measures that originated in the House.

Bipartisan Move on Subpoena Powers

The bipartisan Legislative Audit Commission approved two motions May 6 to grant subpoena powers for the committee’s audit of Governor Pat Quinn’s failed Neighborhood Recovery Initiative (NRI).

The action is the latest development involving the controversial NRI program, which has already sparked a highly-critical state audit, at least two criminal investigations and an Anderson Cooper CNN investigation.

The commission voted 10-1 in favor of the motion, which would create a bipartisan subcommittee of the panel to approve subpoenas for this audit. This power will enable the commission to call witnesses and request documents and records with the force of law.

Moratorium on Medicaid Expansion

Frustrated with the failure of Governor Pat Quinn to implement the broad Medicaid reforms set forth in the 2011 law and the 2012 SMART Act—even as he advocates for an extension of the Democrats’ 67 percent tax increase – Medicaid reform advocates rolled out a new initiative. The plan would place a moratorium on all Medicaid expansions, including benefit increases, until a 2011 managed care requirement is achieved. 

Legislation is being filed that would expand and extend the current moratorium on Medicaid expansions to specifically include a moratorium on benefit increases until the Department of Healthcare and Family Services meets a 50% managed care mandate by the legally established Jan. 1, 2015, deadline. 

There is an added sense of urgency because of recent meetings in which majority Democrats in the Senate and House of Representatives have been pushing for further unraveling of the agreed-to reforms.

In 2011, only 7% of Medicaid enrollees were in a managed care program, leaving the majority of Medicaid enrollees without a medical “home,” with many relying on more costly emergency room care. 

In response, the 2011 Medicaid reforms mandated that within four years, managed care enrollment was statutorily required to reach 50%. Well over three years later, and quickly approaching the end-of-year deadline, the number in managed care stands at an abysmal 16%. 

The lawmakers stress this lagging enactment is indicative of the program’s overall implementation.  Many provisions in the SMART Act have been ignored and program expansions have continued.  Provisions limiting the number of prescriptions have not been enforced, and the third-party vendor hired to scrub the Medicaid rolls was relieved of its duties—despite saving the state more than $86 million after only reviewing 25% of total Medicaid cases.

Earmark New Dollars for Bill Backlog

Legislation was filed May 7 which would allow the comptroller to use unexpected revenue to reduce the state’s backlog of old bills, including $112 million in back wages that courts have said the state owes.  Sen. Rezin is a chief co-sponsor of the legislation. 

Sen. Rezin was prompted to sign on as a chief co-sponsor for Senate Bill 3657 due to the fact that state workers in the 38th Senate District are owed over $3.7 million. 

“People all over the state have suffered at the hands of the failed leadership over the last ten years,” Sen. Rezin said. “This is another example of the state’s broken promises.  So far, the state has been unable to keep its promises to taxpayers, but we now have a chance to do what we have said we were going to do – pay down the backlog of bills.  It is common sense, it is fair and it is the right thing to do.”

The most recent revenue forecasts from the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability show the state taking in $1.2 billion more than expected. Senate Bill 3657 would earmark the $1.2 billion to reduce the state’s bill backlog, including $112 million to pay the past due wages – which represent the oldest bills the state owes.

Supporters point out that the $1.2 billion represents one-time revenues that will not be available in future years. They say using the money to reduce the bill backlog would be more responsible than plugging the dollars into the state budget to pay for new programs or program expansions that cannot be sustained in future years.

School Funding Controversy

A controversial rewrite of the state’s system of funding schools advanced out of a Senate Committee to an uncertain future before the full Senate.

Passed by the Senate Executive Committee May 7, Senate Bill 16 would radically redistribute education dollars in the state, stripping many suburban school districts of 80% or more of their state funding.

Although the measure had its roots in a bipartisan effort to address inequities in the state’s school-aid formula, the legislation has morphed into a partisan plan that could exacerbate existing inequities in funding and force taxpayers statewide to subsidize pension payments for Chicago teachers.

The measure takes the state’s already complicated School Aid formula and makes it more complicated. Concerns have been raised that it exacerbates existing inequities in grants that are meant to offset the added costs of educating students in poverty.

It offers no relief from state imposed mandates that would give districts more flexibility to control costs and allocate available resources. It also fails to address problems in the state’s Property Tax Extension Limitation Law grant program.

Lawmakers did not receive district-by-district information on the impact of the plan until shortly before the measure was pushed through committee.

Most lawmakers are likely to want to review the numbers and consult with local school officials before proceeding, although some expressed concerns that an initial review seemed to indicate the proposal could politicize the school funding formula, pitting schools districts against one another and placing political expediency ahead of educational policy.

Rezin welcomes students from Marseilles on Tech Day 2014

Sen. Rezin welcomed students from Marseilles Elementary School to Springfield on May 8 for Tech Day 2014. 

Their presentation was “Celebrating Veteran’s Day 2013 – Our Movie.”  Marseilles Elementary School hosts a Veteran’s Day program every year where the teachers facilitate the students who are in charge of research, writing storyboards, filming, editing and presenting the final product at the school assembly.  In their project description, they note that the use of technology allows for engagement, collaboration, and application of real-life skills by enhancing speaking, writing, reading and language use. 

Tech Day is presented by Illinois Computing Educators and it aims to share with policymakers the most comprehensive and diverse demonstrations of classroom technology in Illinois by students and teachers and stress the importance of funding for school technology needs. 

Recycling Day in Ottawa a success

Sen. Rezin said her Recycling Day with Mayor Eschbach on May 3 in Ottawa was a huge success.  Over 1,000 cars stopped by to drop off their unwanted items to recycle.  Sen. Rezin said she appreciated the turnout and looks forward to holding another recycling event soon.

Bills Approved by the Senate

While most legislative action occurred in committees during the week, the Senate did approve a handful of measures, sending them to the House for further review. These included:

Jury/Court Interpreters (SB 977): Creates a two year pilot program in Cook, Lake, DuPage, Will and Kane counties to appoint a qualified interpreter to interpret or translate proceedings for a juror whose predominant language is not English. The Administrative Office of IL Courts is to evaluate the program to determine what languages are interpreted, and the extent to which interpreters are used in each county in which the pilot program operates.

Gaming Background Checks (SB 712): Gives the state Gaming Board greater discretion with video gaming licensee background checks and disclosures.

Poison Control (SB 2674): Changes the 911 fee formula (Wireless Service Emergency Fund) to allow the Illinois Poison Control Center into the formula. This is expected to generate roughly $2 million for the Illinois Poison Center.  However, it does not raise the fee, but simply reallocates a portion of the fee to the poison control center through a staggered implementation schedule. Opponents have raised concerns that this could divert funding from 911 services.

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