Legislative Update: April 27, 2016

Colleges and Universities Receive Emergency Funding through Bipartisan Stopgap Measure
A stopgap measure that allows Illinois’ universities and community colleges to remain open during the budget impasse was approved by the Illinois House Friday morning. The legislation also provides funding for one semester of Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants.

Through an amendment to SB 2059, $600 million in existing Educational Assistance Fund (EAF) money will be utilized to provide short-term funding for schools that face an uncertain future due to the General Assembly’s inability to pass a budget. The emergency funding measure will fund operations through the start of September, when next year’s tuition payments arrive. While the obvious best solution would be a balanced budget that included adequate funding for higher education, this amendment to SB 2059 will provide a critical lifeline to our community colleges and universities. It represents the kind of creative solutions that can be reached through bipartisanship while a full budget solution is reached.

While each public four-year institution will receive an allocation that will see them through the end of August, the Illinois Community College Board will receive a lump sum of $74,142,300 to disperse to struggling community colleges across the state. “I am pleased to see funding for community colleges included in this stopgap measure,” Hays said, “because these two-year colleges provide vital educational services to a great number of Illinois citizens.”

The Senate also approved the bill on Friday and it was signed into law Monday morning by the Governor. Meanwhile, Comptroller Leslie Munger issued a statement Friday afternoon, saying she will begin sending money to the community colleges and universities, and allocate money for MAP grants right away.

Bipartisan Bill Sets New Standard for Health Insurance Networks in Illinois
Few things are more sacred than the relationship between a physician and a patient, and having a dynamic in place where a physician’s network status can change without notice can have catastrophic financial and emotional consequences for patients. For that reason I was proud this week to serve as the Chief Co-Sponsor of new, bipartisan legislation that establishes new standards for adequacy, accessibility and transparency of all health insurance plans sold in the state. HB 6562 would require insurance companies to file specific information with the Illinois Department of Insurance before marketing any health plan, including details about the professionals and institutions covered by the plan, and a requirement that “in-network” physicians and hospitals be located a reasonable distance from insured people’s homes. Perhaps most important, this bill requires insurance companies to let insured people know in a timely manner when a physician or care facility is no longer in-network. Especially in rural areas where we already drive close to an hour to receive medical care, these new provisions add a much-needed new layer of consumer protection.

Local School Groups Visit Capitol
I always enjoy visiting with constituents when they come to Springfield, and last week several school groups from Vermilion County spent a day touring the State Capitol in Springfield. Shown in these photos are two groups of students from the First Baptist Christian School in Danville with School Director Stephanie 
Tidwell, and a group from the Danville Area Community College’s Adult Area Education Classes with their Director Laura Williams. If you have a school or other group that will be visiting Springfield, please let my Springfield office know so that we can schedule time for a visit. You may reach that office at (217) 782-4811.

Vehicle Emissions Test Notices Resume
Drivers of motor vehicles in several areas of Illinois are required by federal law to get their cars and trucks tested for compliance with emissions standards. The vehicle owner must present proof-of-testing as part of the documentation submitted at the time the motor vehicle’s sticker is scheduled to expire. The tests must be performed on a rolling schedule tied to the age of each vehicle, and there is an official list of test centers authorized to perform the emissions tests.

Until December 2015, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) routinely sent out friendly notices of vehicle emissions testing deadlines to motor vehicle owners. The notice cycle was suspended at that time due to the State’s budget crisis, leading to widespread protests. The IEPA has announced they have renegotiated the terms of their notice mailing process with their testing system private partner, and notices of duty-to-perform 0.5 million vehicle emissions tests are now in the process of being mailed out. The notices cover vehicles due for emissions tests during a three-month period starting on March 1, 2016 and ending on May 31, 2016. Mailings resumed on Wednesday, April 6.

A separate suspended mailing program by the Secretary of State’s office to vehicle owners to remind them to renew their vehicle license stickers and purchase new ones has not been resumed. Vehicle owners will continue to be responsible to renew their vehicle license stickers on their own and will pay penalties if they fail to do so. The Illinois House recently approved HB 4334, which would temporarily suspend the delinquent registration renewal fee when it is being charged and collected under these circumstances. That bill is now pending in the Senate.

Hays Community College Bill Clears House; Now Being Considered in the Senate
Common sense legislation that assists community colleges with data collection practices was sent to the Senate this week after passage in the House last week. HB 6009 provides relief to community colleges by reducing data redundancy and eliminating data collections that are not vital to the goals established by the Illinois Community Colleges Board (ICCB). It also removes sections of the Community College Act that are outdated, and clarifies the coordination of specific responsibilities between the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) and the Community College Board.

By cleaning up the laws, our community colleges can be more efficient. For example, in 2015 the ICCB approved 95 different locally-funded projects and leases, including a one dollar land purchase. These people don’t need to be spending their time micromanaging projects that are being funded locally.

“Visit Champaign County” Group Visits Springfield to Promote Tourism
It was my pleasure to visit with Jane DeLuce, President and CEO of Visit Champaign County and a group of leaders from that wonderful organization. This valuable organization was created in 1982 as the official tourism destination, marketing and management institution for Champaign County. They work hard to market Champaign County’s events and unique features to promote tourism and the positive impact it has on the local economy.