Update on school safety; Medicaid match moves closer

School safety and gun legislation likely to be high on the agenda in Springfield
I recently attended a ceremony at Dwight High School in remembrance of the 17 students who were killed in the terrible shooting in Parkland, Florida. It was a very somber event for students, faculty and staff as they paid respect to the victims and their families. I appreciated the opportunity to attend this event and to hear what the students had to say about how we can keep our schools safe.

When we return to Springfield, acting to keep our schools and other public places safe will be a major item on the agenda. This is a complex problem that defies any easy solution. Earlier this year some gun control bills passed the House. I voted against these bills, some of which were poorly drafted in haste, and another which added another layer of bureaucracy onto Illinois businesses already regulated by the federal government. That bill was eventually vetoed by Governor Rauner.

No one-dimensional answer is going to solve this problem. Our goal should be coming up with a solution that can become law and that has a realistic chance of solving the problem of gun violence. To do so, we need to work together on a bipartisan basis to draft legislation that keeps guns out of the wrong hands, respects the rights of law-abiding citizens, and enhances the safety of public spaces.

Several ideas have already been proposed. Some involve finding more effective ways to enforce the laws already on the books. One idea is a partnership between law enforcement from Illinois and neighboring states that would make us better able to stop the illegal trafficking of guns across state lines, as well as tackling the problems of straw purchasers and information sharing between agencies. Another practice that is being closely re-examined is the process by which repeat gun offenders have been able to be released instead of incarcerated.

The Illinois Terrorism Task Force and the newly-created Legislative Public Safety Group are now working with schools and first responders to find ways to enhance the physical safety of school buildings. Those groups are also working to put together recommendations on the issues of mental health and gun violence so that teachers, parents and mental health professionals can better detect and address threats before tragedy strikes.

These kinds of sensible, good-faith conversations are the way to put together a plan to address this complex problem, and to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill, while making our schools safer and respecting the rights of the law-abiding. I am eager to play a part in these discussions and to see an effective, bipartisan set of solutions presented this spring.

Illinois moves closer to obtaining billions in Medicaid matching funds
Governor Rauner has signed SB 1773, moving Illinois closer to renewing its claim on $3.5 billion in health care aid payments from the federal government. Medicaid matching grants are paid out by Washington to individual states on a contingency basis. In order to be paid, each state must fulfill the terms of several federal mandates. SB 1773 was a bipartisan bill which was negotiated with hospitals and health-care providers from throughout the state who are on the front lines of providing care to patients.

Amidst warnings that the current Medicaid funding stream was set to expire at the end of June, bipartisan negotiations began in earnest and an agreement was reached.  The legislation will move forward the process to keep funding Illinois’ safety-net hospitals, including those that provide services in rural areas. A number of Illinois hospitals hailed passage and enactment of the legislation. Hospitals will be strongly encouraged to offer more urgent care and outpatient care to their patient populations.

How much do we owe? 
As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $7,941,010,258 in unpaid bills to state vendors. This figure represents the amount of bills submitted to the office of the Comptroller and still awaiting payment. It does not include debts that can only be estimated, such as our unfunded pension liability which is estimated to be more than $100 billion.

Bicentennial celebration now up on video
The “BORN, BUILT & GROWN” multimedia campaign is set to celebrate pride in Illinois with a focus on the state’s bicentennial birthday in December. The new multimedia effort is a private-sector-funded, crowd-supported operation which discusses Illinois’ modern-day experiences and looks back at the major achievements and shared memories from the past. In addition to video streaming, each of the spots is being packaged for sponsorship on television by local advertisers as opportunities to build community goodwill.

These BORN, BUILT & GROWN ads will be renewed until the conclusion of the Bicentennial year on December 3. The video segments will concentrate on a multitude of topics from Illinois’ first 200 years of statehood, including agriculture, music, literature, sports, commerce, art and architecture, history, technology and transportation. For more information on the ongoing bicentennial celebration, visit www.illinois200.com.

Visiting Woodland Schools
Thank you to Superintendent Ryan McGuckin for the invitation to visit both junior high and high school students at the Woodland School district in Streator. We had a wide-ranging discussion concerning budgets, making bills, past presidents and state government. Thank you to some very outstanding students for the engaging conversations. We cannot thank our area’s administrators, faculty and staff enough for all that they do working with our students to help them grow and achieve.

Did You Know?
According to the most recent figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, the ten most populous cities in Illinois are Chicago (2,695,598), Aurora (197,899), Rockford (152,871), Joliet (147,433), Naperville (141,853), Springfield (116,250), Peoria (115,007), Elgin (108,188), Waukegan (89,078) and Champaign (81,055).