Biss: DHS hiring as service providers languish

Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) today questioned why a state agency is expanding its payroll while failing to pay hundreds of struggling non-profit agencies that are contracted to provide important services on the state’s behalf.

Officials from the Illinois Department of Human Services revealed during an appropriations hearing that the agency hired about 800 new employees between July and December 2015.

Meanwhile, DHS has not been paying the agencies it contracted with throughout Illinois to provide vital human services for impoverished and underserved people on behalf of the state. That includes such services as substance abuse and mental health counseling, rape crisis centers, affordable housing assistance, programs for at-risk youth and more. Service providers in communities all over Illinois have closed their doors or cut back dramatically on programs, hours and employees to make ends meet while the state’s budget stalemate drags on and they go unpaid.

“The functions of the Department of Human Services are important, but they’re not more important than the functions of the non-profit agencies that were hired to provide services on behalf of the state,” Biss said. “Hundreds of agencies are providing services and are owed more than $160 million, but zero of them are being paid.”

In addition, human service providers in Biss’ district and statewide have indicated privately they feel bullied by the state into continuing to provide services, even as they struggle to pay their bills and keep their doors open, Biss said. They’ve been reluctant to complain to DHS officials, however, for fear of retribution, he added.

“While I understand that DHS officials want to prepare for possible retirements within the agency, expanding their payroll while local providers are left to struggle and go unpaid sends a terrible message about priorities,” Biss said.

Biss stingray measure signed into law

Police in Illinois will have better guidance about the use of cell site simulators — or stingrays — and the responsible collection of cell data because of legislation advanced by Senator Daniel Biss that was signed into law Friday.

The new law will regulate the police use of cell tower simulators for surveillance. These simulators, more commonly known as stingray devices, act as cell phone towers and trick phones in a particular area into thinking they are connecting to a phone tower operated by a service provider.

Police can use the fake tower to determine someone’s location, the serial numbers of phones in the area and more. In addition to collecting data on targeted individuals, police can collect data on dozens or hundreds of other innocent people in the process as well.

“I am pleased to see this measure become law in Illinois,” said Biss, an Evanston Democrat. “It is important that we take steps to enable police to effectively investigate and solve crimes using the latest technology, but it is equally important that we protect innocent people from unnecessary and unwarranted invasions of their privacy.”

Senate Bill 2343, sponsored by Biss, establishes the Citizen Privacy Protection Act to regulate the use of stingray devices by law enforcement so that they don’t become tools of mass surveillance.

Gov. Bruce Rauner signed the act into law on Friday. It becomes effective Jan. 1, 2017.

Key Senate panel approves Biss’ pension reform plan

SPRINGFIELD – State Senator Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) issued the following statement after the Senate Executive Committee recommended his comprehensive pension reform plan (Senate Bill 35) to the full chamber for a vote:

As our rising pension payments threaten education and the social safety net, we need a solution that stabilizes the state’s finances while guaranteeing retirement security for the people who teach our students and keep state government running. I think the plan I’ve proposed strikes this balance.

My aim is to end the long, bitter impasse over pension reform by combining the best of existing proposals, adding a few innovative features and guaranteeing the state will never again shirk its obligations. SB 35 is designed to protect people with smaller pensions and those closest to retirement while putting in place structural changes to stabilize the pension systems and restore them to fiscal health.

I’m looking forward to an energetic debate of the legislation’s merits, and I’m optimistic that a renewed sense of purpose will drive our deliberations now that we’ve begun grappling with the unforgiving numbers in this year’s budget.

Projected savings from SB 35:

  • Unfunded liability immediately reduced by 29 percent, from $95 billion to $67 billion
  • Total state pension contributions from 2013 through 2045 reduced by 41%, from $397 billion to $238 billion
  • Next year’s required state contribution reduced by 27 percent, from $6.7 billion to $4.9 billion (this year’s payment is $5.7 billion)

Click here for a summary of SB 35’s main features and an explanation of its projected effects on Illinois’ finances.

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