- Published: Friday, June 03, 2016 03:15 PM
As you likely know by now, the spring legislative session in Springfield ended on more of a whimper than a bang just before midnight Tuesday.
The House and Senate failed to agree on a spending plan to send to the governor. The Senate passed an education-only bill, and the House passed a more comprehensive plan.
Both were seriously flawed: the Senate's because it only would fund elementary and secondary education – notwithstanding the decimation that higher education and human services have undergone after we enacted only a K-12 budget last year – and the House's because it was dramatically out of balance.
I voted against the Senate plan because I am strongly opposed to repeating the harmful mistakes of last year, and I voted for the House plan in spite of its significant shortcomings because I thought it better to put something on the governor's desk than simply to go back to square one.
In any case, both failed and square one is where we are.
The inability of Gov. Bruce Rauner and the General Assembly to reach a budget agreement by the May 31 deadline is a shameful and embarrassing outcome to an already harmful situation. Real damage is being done, and real people are being harmed by the intransigence. Recent news has made clear that this is having significant economic impact: Illinois now has the highest unemployment rate in the country.
I have an op-ed in the Springfield State Journal-Register this week that addresses this problem and suggests ways in which I think Democrats could act to move us past the impasse. I certainly remain committed to doing everything I can to move us toward a sustainable budget that is honest and fair – and to doing it without harming the most vulnerable or the middle class.
As unacceptable as the situation is, I remain hopeful that there are constructive paths out of it. I will be working hard to move us down those paths, and I expect we'll be in Springfield regularly until we achieve a better outcome. I'll keep you posted throughout.
In the meantime, we were able to make some progress on legislative items, and I am pleased to share some positive news with you below.
As always, please feel free to stay in touch by emailing me or calling my office at 847-568-1250.
Prioritizing health care transparency
Legislation I sponsored that will help to ensure patients receive information about their options when health care providers decline to treat them on religious grounds will go to Gov. Rauner for his signature.
The legislation is an update to Illinois’ Health Care Right of Conscience law, which allows doctors, nurses, hospitals and others to refuse to offer certain types of health care, such as abortion or contraception, if the treatment violates their religious beliefs.
Unfortunately, the law goes way too far and allows health care providers to withhold medical information from patients.
This year, I was able to pass Senate Bill 1564, which grants patients the right to complete accurate medical information. It also requires providers to establish written protocols for how to offer information about available treatment options and how to access them, and, crucially, to take into consideration whether or not a delay in care would impair a patient's health.
I want to thank Rep. Robyn Gabel, the House sponsor, who worked tirelessly for more than a year to find the needed votes in the House. Now that this bill is on the way Gov. Rauner's desk, I certainly hope he does the right thing and signs it into law.
Protecting people from high-tech surveillance
Police in Illinois would have better guidance about the use of cell site simulators – or stingrays – and the responsible collection of cell data under legislation that I advanced to the governor this spring.
The measure would 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.
As advances in technology enable police to more efficiently investigate and solve crimes, it’s important that we help them to know they are following state law and the parameters of the Constitution. And we must adopt measures that help to ensure privacy for citizens who have done nothing wrong but may find that data from their cell phones was collected and stored by law enforcement for no legitimate legal reason.
Helping ex-offenders get a fresh start
A measure I sponsored that would bar state government from suing inmates and parolees for the cost of their prison room and board is also awaiting the governor’s signature.
Under the legislation, Illinois would be prohibited from suing current and former inmates to recoup the cost of their incarceration. Illinois has had a law allowing the practice since 1982, but it was rarely used until recently. A Chicago Tribune investigation raised questions about the practice.
Gov. Rauner has the opportunity to put an end to a practice that is unfair, overly punitive and fails the cost-benefit test. The state collects far less from these lawsuits than it costs to pursue them.
Most importantly, most inmates have very modest resources, and if we truly believe in rehabilitation and re-entry, then those limited dollars have to be put to use to pay for housing, the cost of living and maybe education. Taking that away simply makes it much more likely that the only option available to the individual whose debt to society is now paid would be to return to criminal activity.
Streamlining Illinois’ voter rolls
I was pleased to champion and support a measure to bring automatic voter registration to Illinois in an effort to modernize the process and improve the accuracy of the state’s voter rolls.
I believe that we improve a democracy every time we make the electoral system better. And we do that by increasing access to voting and improving the accuracy and the precision of the voter rolls.
Automatic voter registration would enable eligible Illinois residents to automatically sign up to vote when they apply for, update or renew a driver’s license or state ID. Under current state law, residents who wish to register to vote while they renew their licenses at the DMV must fill out separate, duplicative paperwork.
The legislation awaits the governor’s signature.
Seeking disclosure of public pension fees
I am continuing to push legislation that would enable Illinois taxpayers and the boards of public pension funds to know more about investment fees charged to those funds, which currently are kept secret.
These fees charged by private equity firms and hedge fund managers are not subject to disclosure under the state’s public records laws, even though taxpayers are on the hook for them. Even more startlingly, the pension funds themselves are not aware of all the fees they're paying.
The result is a system in which the people of Illinois are in the dark about the kinds of significant financial liabilities they’re being exposed to. While I passed a solid bill on this subject out of the Senate, the House has yet to take action. I intend to continue pursuing a resolution to this problem.