Legislative Update: February 4, 2015

House Starts Schedule of Spring 2015 Hearings
Under the Rules of the House of Representatives, all House Bills and most amendments are reviewed and debated by committees.  Members of the panels started to meet and hear testimony and remarks from advocates and witnesses last week.  House committees can approve, reject, or hold a bill for further debate.  Personally last week, I had two resolutions that received favorable votes in the Transportation: Regulation, Roads & Bridges Committee. The resolutions now move to the House floor for formal votes.

Potential committee actions are posted in the General Assembly Dashboard prior to each committee hearing and Illinois voters are welcome to follow issues they are interested in.  In some cases, voter-advocates may need to submit a position for or against a bill.  Persons interested in filing an online position on a posted bill should register on the ILGA Dashboard.  Consult the Dashboard FAQ for further guidance on the registration process.      

General Assembly Starts Work on FY16 Budget
The budget reform work necessary to finish up Fiscal Year 2015 and start FY16 remained on the table last week as Illinois House committees began to hold hearings on Illinois spending plans.  The first hearings by the House appropriations committees began on Thursday, February 26.  

In the first committee hearing, the new heads of three of the State’s biggest-spending agencies – the Department of Public Health (DPH), the Department of Human Services (DHS), and the Department of Healthcare and Family Services (DHFS) – introduced themselves to the House of Representatives.  All three were appointed by Governor Bruce Rauner.  Major work will be necessary to develop a spending program that does not flow money out faster than it comes in.  DHFS, in particular, is a department of key interest to budget watchers.  It handles the multi-billion-dollar Illinois Medicaid program.  Controversial decisions and hard choices are expected to be made.   Representative Patti Bellock has taken the lead in working pushing for Medicaid budget reforms.  A DHFS overview of the implementation of the reforms so far enacted, and the current budget status of Medicaid, can be found here.

Further work remains to be done.  With a shortfall estimated at $1.6 billion, many key spending areas in the FY15 budget are scheduled to run out of available funds prior to the end of the fiscal year on June 30, 2015.   The FY16 budget is even further out of balance.   The “structural deficit,” the statutory commitments made by past Illinois administrations is a focus of attention by both Governor Rauner and the General Assembly at this time. 

Local Groups Visit Springfield
One of the things I enjoy the most about my time in Springfield is when local citizens, business leaders and other organizations come to the Capitol to discuss their priorities and needs. Last week members of the “Champaign County First” organization visited Springfield to lobby for local infrastructure projects. We discussed grant opportunities in the Champaign County area and critical issues imperative for the growth of our entire region.I also had the pleasure last week of visiting with advocates on behalf of agriculture from the Champaign and Vermilion County Farm Bureaus. I sincerely appreciate the thoughtful insight and perspective of agriculture leaders from both counties that I have the privilege of representing.

New Bill could Help Parents, Relatives of Young People with Disabilities
A new federal law, the ABLE Act, allows those close to young people with disabilities the right to deposit tax-deferred income in a savings account earmarked for the beneficiary’s future care, treatment, and life enjoyment.  ABLE Act accounts are relatively similar to college savings accounts: an adult who sets up the account is encouraged to deposit money for a young person’s future use.  One of the incentives for adults to contribute to the account is the tax deferral granted to persons who meet the standing required to be shown by persons who set up these accounts with the help of their financial advisors.  The National Down Syndrome Society worked with other advocates to move this measure through Congress.

The federal ABLE Act, passed in December 2014, encourages the 50 states to “opt into” the law.  The federal act and its tax savings are not enjoyed in a state until that state has enacted corresponding opt-in legislation.  Here in Illinois, an opt-in bill – HB 3117 was filed on Wednesday, February 25 by Representative Bob Pritchard.  Pritchard represents much of DeKalb County and a surrounding region of north-central Illinois.   

Former State Rep. Bill Black Honored by IL General Assembly
On Tuesday the IL House of Representatives honored former State Representative William Black by naming the Stony Creek Bridge along Route 150 between Danville and Champaign after him. Naming the bridge after Representative Black was a fitting tribute to the man who was instrumental in ensuring the bridge was safe for travelers. For a very long time the bridge was dangerous and narrow, and since the bridge was also heavily traveled by school buses, students, faculty and parents driving to Oakwood High School, Black brought the area a much-needed improvement.

I succeeded Representative Black in the House upon his retirement in 2010 and it was a pleasure to sponsor the resolution that named the Stoney Creek Bridget after a man who I consider to be one of Springfield’s greatest former legislators. Representative Black served in the House of Representatives from 1986-2010, and led his caucus as Deputy Republican Leader.    

Hays Joins Kindergarteners in Paying Tribute to Dr. Seuss
It was an honor this week to join the students in Miss Witzel’s Kindergarten class at Southwest Elementary School in Tilton as they honored the great Dr. Seuss. I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with the children, and read “Horton Hears a Who,” which has always been a favorite one of my Dr. Seuss favorites. Dr. Seuss was born in 1904 in Springfield, Massachusetts and eventually wrote 44 children’s books that were translated into more than 15 different languages. More than 200 million copies of his books found their way onto bookshelves worldwide. He was the winner of two Academy Awards, two Emmy Awards, a Peabody Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Dr. Seuss died on September 24, 1991.

IL House Honors Fallen Hero Killed in the Line of Duty
In honor of his valiant service during which he made the ultimate sacrifice, the House of Representatives voted unanimously this week to designate the rest areas on Interstate 72 East and West at mile post 152 between Champaign and Decatur as “Sargent Myron G. Deckard Memorial Rest Areas.” Sarget Deckard was shot and killed in the line of duty in June of 2001 while transporting a prisoner along I-72 from Macon County to Vermilion County. He was a valued member of the Vermilion County Sheriff’s Department for 32 years, and by honoring his memory through naming these rest areas after him, his heroic efforts will endure forever.

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