Senate Week in Review: April 21-25
Springfield, Ill. – State Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris) said lawmakers will return to Springfield April 29, entering a month-long stretch before a scheduled May 31 adjournment. However, over the two-week “break” from Springfield, members of the Senate budget committees have continued to meet—providing Democrat lawmakers with a forum to continue building their case for an extension of their 2011 “temporary” tax increase.
In other recent news, Illinois’ unemployment rate saw (minor) improvement, the state recently made public the rules and regulations for the state’s medical marijuana industry, and the Associated Press revealed the Quinn Administration had paid out $12 million in Medicaid benefits for deceased recipients.
Rezin to host district-wide Recycling Day with Ottawa Mayor Robert Eschbach
Sen. Rezin is sponsoring a Recycling Day on Saturday, May 3 from 9:00 a.m. to noon in Ottawa where residents will be able to bring unwanted items to recycle.
The event is co-sponsored with Ottawa Mayor Robert Eschbach and will be at the Woodward Memorial Parking Lot located at 300 Woodward Memorial Drive, Ottawa.
Most electronics may be recycled, including televisions, monitors, computers, VCRs, radios, tape players, fax machines and telephones. Automobile batteries can also be recycled. A partial list of items that cannot be accepted includes hazardous materials, paint, household batteries, liquid or chemical waste, fuel, oil, and any monitor or television with a cracked or broken screen. For a full list of acceptable and unacceptable items, please CLICK HERE.
Also participating in the event will be several charitable organizations accepting household and personal items for reuse. Illinois Valley PADS is seeking gently used household items, such as books, dishes, kitchen utensils, cookware and sheets and towels. They are also looking for cleaning supplies, toiletries, and food. Vintage Tech is accepting several different types of electronic and household items such as copiers, external drives, satellite dishes, bread makers, fryers, hair cutters, holiday lights and much more. The Ottawa Police Department will be collecting unwanted or left over prescription drugs.
Illinois’ unemployment falls to third-worst in nation; business leaders caution improvement is tenuous
The Bureau of Labor Statistics released its March 2014 unemployment figures recently, showing Illinois employment numbers have improved slightly. The state now has a minor edge over Rhode Island, which boasts the worst employment numbers, and Nevada, with the second worst.
At 8.4 percent, down from 8.7 in February, the state has seen some improvement. However, heading into the final weeks of the spring legislative session, that fragile progress may be in jeopardy as decisions are made in earnest on the state budget, taxes and economic policies that will have a significant impact on job creation in Illinois.
While House Speaker Michael Madigan recently said that there isn’t currently enough legislative support in the House for controversial proposals to extend the state’s income tax increase or raise the minimum wage, Democrats have continued to paint a dire picture of Illinois finances as a way to both justify and generate support for an extension of their 2011 income tax increase. Republicans have countered that there are still areas in the budget where reductions could be made, pointing out Democrats continue to simultaneously advocate for new and increased spending.
In fact, prominent business leaders recently sat down with the Chicago Sun-Times to discuss a number of the regulatory and tax proposals being floated in Springfield. Representatives from the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association (IMA), the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and the Illinois Retail Merchants Association (IRMA) all expressed concerns over the plethora of tax increases—ranging from making permanent the personal income tax increase, to higher taxes on soda and motor fuel—to regulatory measures that would increase red tape and place additional cost burdens on employers.
Mark Denzler, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for the IMA, told the Sun-Times that the “proposals could mean death by a thousand cuts,” which he points out is particularly worrisome as the state already has “one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.”
Audit reveals continued waste in Illinois Medicaid—$12M paid for deceased recipients
The Quinn Administration’s ongoing efforts to seemingly disassemble the 2012 bipartisan Medicaid reforms drew renewed attention when news outlets reported that a recent audit revealed that $12 million in taxpayer dollars were used for Medicaid services for nearly 3,000 deceased Illinoisans.
An internal state government memo obtained by the Associated Press reported an estimated $12 million in Medicaid overpayments have been made for services to approximately 2,900 people after the date of their deaths. The state auditor compared Medicaid clients enrolled in June 2013 to death records stretching back to 1970 in order to identify the overpayments.
While the Governor has assured taxpayers the state will get back every dollar that was improperly allocated, so far only around $7 million has been recovered.
In an effort to preserve Medicaid services for the state’s poor and medically needy, Senate Republicans spearheaded a bipartisan reform package in 2012 that included hiring an outside entity to verify Medicaid eligibility. This legislative measure was designed to identify and remove ineligible recipients from the Medicaid rolls to reduce overall costs and ensure the longevity of the program for Illinoisans who truly need medical assistance.
However, since signing the bill into law the Quinn Administration has been backpedaling on these reforms. In late 2013, the administration secretly negotiated a plan with AFSCME that would eventually halt the state’s redetermination efforts using an outside vendor.
Quinn’s reversal of these reforms has slowed scrubbing of the Medicaid rolls, allowing for more fraudulent claims and errors to be made due to lax state government oversight. Senate Republicans noted that under Maximus, the third party vendor charged with reviewing Medicaid enrollees’ status, the state had removed nearly 40 percent of the first 315,728 cases reviewed by both Maximus and state employees.
Revised Rules for Medical Marijuana Filed
On April 18, state agencies involved in the implementation of Illinois’ new medical cannabis law formally filed revised medical cannabis pilot program administrative rules with the state. Rules from the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, Department of Agriculture, Department of Public Health, and Department of Revenue incorporated suggestions and comments received from the public.
Perhaps the most notable change in the latest proposed rules was the removal of a rule that prohibited legal gun owners from using medical cannabis. Previous drafts specified that gun owners would be in violation of state and federal law if they were approved for a medical marijuana card, but failed to give up their firearms. The rule would also have affected caregivers who applied for medical marijuana cards.
Following a public outcry over patient fees, medical cannabis patients were granted a respite in the revised rules. Previous fees had been set at $150 a year for the medical marijuana card; however, the fee has been reduced to $100 a year. Veterans and those on Social Security disability income would pay a lower fee of $50, instead of the previously suggested $75.
Sellers and growers however weren’t given any such break, prompting some medical marijuana advocates to say that the state-mandated financial obligations contained in the revised preliminary rules are discouraging and prohibitive. Experienced horticulturists say the startup costs will prevent experts with the working knowledge of how to grow herbal and medicinal plants from cultivating medical cannabis.
Sellers will be required to pay a $5,000 nonrefundable application fee, a $30,000 registration fee, must have $400,000 in liquid assets and must able to obtain a $50,000 bond.
Those wishing to cultivate medical cannabis face even steeper setup fees. Their nonrefundable application fee comes in at $25,000. They must also pay for a $200,000 permit, have $500,000 in liquid assets (previously $250,000) and must be able to secure a $2 million surety bond.
State regulators contend that fees ensure that those who want to run cultivation centers and dispensaries have sufficient funds to operate, especially early on when significant investments will be needed before they begin to see a return on their investment. In total, 60 dispensaries will be allowed to open, including 13 in Chicago. Rules allow for 21 cultivation centers, one in each State Police district.
The revised rules were filed on April 18 marking the start of the 45-day “First Notice” public comment period on the rules, which will be followed by the “Second Notice” period when the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules will consider adoption of the Rules.
While Illinois’ law legalizing medical cannabis took effect earlier this year, the need for further public hearings and the resulting revisions to the law mean that medical cannabis likely won’t become available to patients until 2015. More information on the proposed rules can be found at Illinois’ Medical Cannabis Pilot Program website.
Transportation update for the 38th District
Sen. Rezin said each year, legislators are provided with an update of planned infrastructure improvements proposed by the Illinois Department of Transportation for highway, rail and bridge projects. The latest report concentrates on projects within the 2015-2019 fiscal years, but some also extend into 2020.
Sen. Rezin said the costs of these projects are approximate and any project scheduled past fiscal year 2015 can change from one year to the next, due to appropriations and delays.
The following are a few of the highlights from the reports. The entire transportation program may be viewed on the Illinois Department of Transportation’s website.
- An interchange reconstruction will take place at Illinois Route 129 on I-55 at a cost of $46,000,000.
- Engineering for congestion mitigation will take place on I-55 from Illinois Route 129 to Lorenzo Road for 2.45 miles at a cost of $28,750,000.
- Congestion mitigation, which will involve bridge replacement, will take place on I-80 eastbound and westbound from Ridge Road to US Route 30 for a cost of $31,750,000 and $32,630,000, respectively.
- Resurfacing, patching, bridge joint and deck repairs will be the focus of a project on I-80 extending 1.3 miles east of the Bureau County line to 0.5 miles west of Illinois Route 178, for a cost of $11,800,000.
- In all, from fiscal years 2015-2020, there are 81 proposed projects for the 38th District roadways covering 108.76 miles for a total cost of $509,765,000.
The railway projects for the 38th District include passenger rail development projects that have already begun.
- Passenger rail development for the Chicago-Quad Cities-Iowa City corridor will continue through fiscal year 2017. That project began in 2010. The total cost is $255,000,000. This project runs through a portion of LaSalle, Bureau and Kendall Counties.
- Will, Grundy and Livingston Counties will all have a piece of the high speed rail project that extends from Chicago to St. Louis. That project also began in 2010 and is scheduled to be completed in 2018 for a total cost of $1,756,300,000.