Health insurance open enrollment; local state’s attorney testifies in committee

Get Covered Illinois health insurance open enrollment now underway

The open enrollment period for the Get Covered Illinois health insurance marketplace is underway from now until December 15. The marketplace is the official exchange where Illinoisans can go to purchase coverage or to apply for federal subsidies to lower costs. After the December 15 deadline, potential customers will not be able to make purchases through the exchange unless they have had a “qualifying life event” such as having a child or losing their existing health care coverage.

There are over 140 health insurance plans available on the exchange. Automatic re-enrollment in the same plan or a similar plan from the same insurer will be available for anyone who previously enrolled in a plan through the marketplace. More information is available at https://getcovered.illinois.gov.

Vermilion County State’s Attorney testifies in committee

On Wednesday I was proud to be joined by Vermilion County State’s Attorney Jacqueline Lacy in the House Judiciary-Criminal Committee. She came to Springfield to testify in support of House Bill 914, legislation which would extend the statute of limitations for perjury from three years out to seven years.

A witness in a murder case in Vermilion County admitted to having committed perjury, but because the admission came more than three years later, authorities were unable to prosecute the crime. While a three-year statute of limitations is common throughout Illinois law, there are numerous crimes which have longer periods of time to prosecute. I believe the events in Vermilion County, which State’s Attorney Lacy made clear to the committee, illustrate the case for passing this legislation and extending the statute of limitations.

Visiting Pontiac Township High School with Rep. Will Davis

I was glad to join with Rep. Will Davis of Chicago in visiting Mr. Faber’s ag classes at Pontiac Township High School recently. Rep. Davis is one of the leaders in the House on the issues of education and school funding reform, and I have had many opportunities to work with him on improving education in Illinois. It was nice to see some of the exciting things that our teachers and students here in the 106th district are doing in the classroom. We had a good discussion with the students about Springfield and state government, as well as what they have been learning in class this fall. It was time very well spent!

Pension consolidation passed, small step on ethics reform

The House was in session for three days this week, the final scheduled session days of 2019. We saw action on pension consolidation, but legislators left town with little action on ethics reform.

Legislation to consolidate hundreds of police and fire pension funds passed the House on Wednesday. The legislation passed the House 96-14 after negotiations with municipal governments and the police and firefighter associations produced an agreement. These funds are currently underfunded by $11 billion. The bill will consolidate more than 600 municipal police and fire pension funds – each with their own board and investment managers—into just two funds, a move which supporters expect will generate as much as $2.5 billion in investment returns as well as reducing administrative costs. This has the potential to save local taxpayers millions of dollars.

We also passed legislation to help those with diabetes obtain life-saving insulin. Too many of us have heard stories of friends and neighbors struggling to pay for the insulin which they depend on. The legislation we passed this week will help get those costs under control.

To correct an error in a bill which was signed into law over the summer, Senate Bill 10 reinstated a provision in state law which allowed paraprofessional educators to take a basic skills, or competency, test as a part of their effort to obtain a paraprofessional educator license. This was a mistake which threatened to cause serious problems in many of our local schools, and I am glad we were able to correct the law to prevent this from happening.

Unfortunately, the House took only a small step on ethics reform. Despite the recent arrest of a legislator on bribery charges, the House passed only one ethics bill: one which was introduced in the middle of the night and voted on the next day. It falls far short of the kind of reform we need. I reluctantly voted for it, but only because it was the only ethics bill allowed to see the light of day. The House also passed a resolution creating a task force to study more possible reforms. Time will tell if this move produces some good results, or if it is just a way of sidelining the issue.

House Republicans pushed a package of ethics reform bills in this session. Our bills included restrictions on lobbying activity by legislators and a bill I sponsored to prohibit legislators from becoming lobbyists until they have been out of office for at least two years. None of our proposals received a hearing or a vote. So we will try again in the spring. State government needs ethics reform. This issue is not going away.

State’s revenue numbers are reasonably healthy

The latest monthly report from the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability shows Illinois’ state revenues to be rather strong this month helped along by some non-tax sources of funds. State revenue in October increased $180 million compared to one year ago. A big part of the October revenue came from a $247 million payment from some big pharmaceutical companies as part of a multi-state settlement dealing with alleged Medicaid drug price-fixing. The state also saw an increase in Medicaid and other reimbursements from Uncle Sam, which were up by $162 million over last year. 

Tax revenue was basically flat, both from income and sales taxes. This creates some anxiety about our ability to keep up with the budget that was enacted last spring, and could be a trouble sign for next year’s budget. It is especially troubling because the requirements of funding our pension system keep taking a larger share of the state resources available for important priorities. Overall, however, the strong national economy has been keeping Illinois’ revenue numbers in relatively good shape for the time being.

How much do we owe?

As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $5,798,450,170 in unpaid bills to state vendors. One year ago, the backlog stood at $7.0 billion. 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 subject to a wide range of factors and has been estimated to be approximately $133 billion.

Did You Know?

On November 20, 1817, Daniel Pope Cook published an editorial in the Western Intelligencer which called for statehood for the Illinois territory. He appealed to territorial legislators to take up legislation calling on Congress to grant statehood to Illinois. The legislature agreed, and a year later, Cook’s uncle, Nathaniel Pope, then serving as Illinois Territory’s delegate to Congress, helped push through the legislation making Illinois the 21st state.