Legislative Update: September 7, 2016

Hays Named “Friend of Agriculture”
It was such an honor recently to receive the Illinois Farm Bureau “Friend of Agriculture” award. Agriculture is by far our State's #1 industry and Champaign and Vermilion Counties are home to some of the best producers and most fertile soil on planet earth. Efforts that support agriculture are very important to me and as a legislator I am committed to helping those in the agriculture industry with their goal of improving food production practices and ensuring a plentiful and safe food supply.

Hays Meets with DACC Current and Past President
On August 29 it was a pleasure to meet with new Danville Area Community College President Dr. Stephen Nacco and retiring DACC President Dr. Alice Jacobs. We discussed the importance of adequate state funding for our community colleges and other state-funded institutions of higher learning and how I could advocate on their behalf in Springfield. In this picture, I’m shown with Dr. Jacobs, DACC Board Chair Dave Harby and Dr. Nacco as they graciously present me a framed copy of the wonderful news story when I was named the "DACC Distinguished Alumni". It is a distinction that I will always cherish.

Hays Signs On as Chief Co-Sponsor for New Attempt at Legislative Fair Maps
When Illinois’ highest court voted 4-3 against a citizen-led effort to put a Fair Maps proposal on the November ballot, people all over the state were upset because they felt citizen voices were being silenced. While there will not be a Fair Maps referendum question on this year’s November ballot, this week I signed on as a leading sponsor of a new initiative that takes into consideration the comments of the Supreme Court Ruling and seeks to change the map-drawing process in a way that is fair to citizens and respectful of Constitutional mandates. If successful, HJRCA 60 could end partisan control of the map process once and for all.

HJRCA 60, filed Tuesday by Republican State Representative Mike Fortner (R-West Chicago), would grant the citizens of Illinois significant input into legislative mapmaking. Whereas today the majority party draws maps that protect their incumbents and their majority status, this new amendment would allow citizens to draw boundaries based on a list of Constitutional requirements. Through HJRCA 60, a non-partisan commission would provide tools and information to citizens to ensure maps align with mandates set forth in the Constitution. Once citizens have created draft maps, the commission would rank those maps according to a defined scoring rubric. After the maps have been scored, the top three maps would be brought to the House and Senate, where lawmakers would vote up or down on the proposals with hopes of reaching agreement on one map. Lawmakers would not be able to amend any of the maps. If no consensus is reached on a map, the Secretary of State would certify the map that had the highest rubric score.

If approved and implemented, the new map process would take effect with the redistricting effort of 2021 for legislative elections in 2022. I look forward to working with Representative Fortner on this important initiative.

Governor Nears Completion of 2016 Bill Signings
The General Assembly passed 443 bills in the first half of calendar year 2016, and more than 90% of these bills have now been signed into law. Of the forty bills vetoed by Governor Bruce Rauner, 30 are total vetoes and ten are amendatory vetoes. The Constitution of Illinois gives the General Assembly one shot at accepting the Governor’s amendatory vetoes or overriding his amendatory and/or total vetoes. Acceptance of an amendatory veto requires a simple majority in both houses, while overriding a Governor’s veto requires a three-fifths majority in both houses. Actions on vetoes are a traditional focus of the General Assembly’s fall veto session. The veto session will be held on the third and fifth weeks of November. 

New Laws Expand Hunting and Fishing Opportunities in Illinois
Included in the list of bills signed into law this year are four initiatives that expand hunting and fishing opportunities for Illinoisans. On “Conservation Day” at the Illinois State Fair this year, Governor Bruce Rauner signed into law the following bills:
  • Senate Bill 2410 expands the youth license program to include trapping. People younger than 18 may apply for a license, and must be accompanied by an adult age 21 or older who also has a valid state trapping license.
  • House Bill 5788 adds catfish to the list of fish that can be taken by bow fishing, or the use of specialized archery equipment to shoot them.
  • House Bill 4604 allows for permits to take bobwhite quail, chukars and gray partridge on public hunting grounds.
  • Senate Bill 3003 allows the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) to offer free landowner hunting permits for deer and turkey as long as the landowner has at least 40 acres. The bill also combines the application for deer and turkey into one, and requires the IDNR to hold a youth turkey season for two consecutive weekends instead of the current one weekend.
IDNR Director Wayne Rosenthal said in a statement that the new laws will “help our conservation efforts and will allow a new generation to develop a love for the great outdoors here in Illinois.”

LIHEAP to Accept Applications for Low Income Energy Assistance Program
The state’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) began accepting applications for winter heating assistance for seniors and people with disabilities on September 1. LIHEAP and the Percentage of Income Payment Plan (PIPP) program are funded as part of the stopgap funding plan signed into law by Governor Rauner. LIHEAP is a state and federally funded energy assistance program for low-income families, in which heating bill payments are made on behalf of households. Applications are processed through a network of 35 local administering agencies around the state. These agencies will accept applications on a first-come, first-served basis. Residents must bring all required documentation when applying for assistance, including:
  • Proof of gross income from all household members for the 30-day income period beginning with the date of the application.
  • A copy of their current heat and electric bills issued within the last 30 days (if they pay for their energy directly). 
  • A copy of their rental agreement (if they are renting) showing that utilities are included, the monthly rental amount and landlord contact information. 
  • Proof of Social Security numbers for all household members. 
  • Proof that their household received Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF); Aid to the Aged, Blind, or Disabled (AABD); or other benefits, such as Medical Eligibility or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), if receiving assistance from the Illinois Department of Human Services. 
A single-person household can qualify with a monthly income of up to $1,485; a two-person household up to $2,003; a family of three can earn up to $2,520; and a family of four can earn up to $3,038. For a complete listing of LIHEAP’s local administering agencies and additional information about the program, go to www.liheapIllinois.com, or call the energy assistance toll-free hotline at (877) 411-WARM.

Motorists Urged to be Aware of Sharp Penalties for Passing a Stopped School Bus
With the start of the new school year, school buses are once again a familiar sight in morning and afternoon hours. Significant penalties exist in law for the act of passing a stopped school bus with flashing lights and extended stop-sign arm. Traffic must remain stopped until the lights have stopped flashing and the stop-sign arm withdrawn. In addition to fines imposed by the local court, the Secretary of State is instructed by law to suspend, for three months, the driving privileges of a licensed driver who violates this law. A Secretary of State hearing officer may, but is not required to, grant restricted-driving privileges to a driver whose license is under suspension for this offense. These penalties apply to traffic going in both directions on any road narrower than four lanes. On a four-lane road with at least two lanes of traffic moving in the opposite direction to the bus, only motorists going with the bus are required to stop. 

New Concussion Guidelines Affect Coaches and Players in Contact Sports
High School football season is well underway across Illinois, and this year new concussion guidelines, adopted by the Illinois High School Association (IHSA), are in place to help reduce the frequency of concussions in contact sports. One key feature of the new guidelines is a requirement that student-athletes be tested and monitored during contact-sports activities. The oversight activities are meant to diagnose concussion events as fast as possible.

The guidelines also require that, once a student-athlete is found to have sustained a concussion or suspected concussion, they must undergo further monitoring and testing prior to being asked to resume their studies or authorized to return to a playing field. Once diagnosed, they will not be able to play again until a doctor has granted explicit permission for them to do so. The new concussion guidelines will be enforced, in each school, by the concussion oversight teams that each Illinois school that plays sports is now required to have. The guidelines followed passage of the Youth Sports Concussion Safety Act, a 2015 law that asked the IHSA, licensed Illinois athletic trainers, and other professionals and educators to come together to develop a new program for reduction of sports concussions starting in the 2016-17 school year.

Twelve Human Service Agencies Discussing Medicaid Revamp
One of the causes of Illinois’ budget crisis is the compounding cost of the State’s Medicaid program. Medicaid, the family of programs that provides reimbursements for medical treatments provided to many persons with challenged personal or income standing, spends billions of dollars every year. It is an “entitlement” program, which means that the General Assembly cannot easily enact legislation to cut the cost of the program. Most of its beneficiaries have a right, under federal law, to many of the services that the Illinois Medicaid program provides to them.

Some of the costs of Illinois Medicaid are covered by the federal government. One of the features identified by the Rauner administration are growing gaps between what Illinois could apply for in Medicaid aid and the reimbursements in fact received by the State. Next week, the Rauner administration will hold hearings in Springfield and Chicago on an interdepartmental proposal to close some of these gaps. Advocates believe that adoption of the Rauner plan could create standing for Illinois to apply for $2.7 billion in additional federal Medicaid funds over a five-year period. Features of the proposal include improved housing services for persons whose health concerns are deemed to put them at risk for becoming homeless and pre-release services for prisoners.