Biss05252016CHICAGO – Nearly 19,000 developmentally disabled Illinoisans and their families could face an uncertain future when the benchmarks of a 2011 court mandate requiring the state to offer services to them expires next year with no apparent plan in place for going forward.

The sunset of the Ligas consent decree’s outlined requirements on June 15, 2017, could cause additional chaos for the state’s network of human service providers, which already is reeling from the state budget stalemate. The decree requires the state to fund certain services, regardless of its ability to pay.

Families, providers and members of the Senate Human Services Committee hope to get some clarity about the matter during a hearing Monday in Chicago.

“I am troubled by the lack of transparency about how the state intends to continue offering services for developmentally disabled individuals. Their families are alarmed and frustrated, and I share their concerns,” said Senator Daniel Biss, an Evanston Democrat who is chairman of the Human Services Committee.

Illinois’ statewide needs-based PUNS database – Prioritization for Urgency of Need for Services – currently has 18,671 individuals awaiting services from the state. This includes adults with developmental disabilities, children with autism, and people with cerebral palsy and other diagnoses.

Families are worried that it will take even longer for their loved ones to receive the help they need.

In January, the state’s Ligas court monitor determined Illinois is out of compliance with the consent decree for reasons including how little it pays human service employees who work with developmentally disabled individuals. Starting wages can be as low as $9.25 per hour for these physically and emotionally demanding jobs.

Such low rates lead to job vacancies and uncertainty, which in turn causes providers to scale back the services they are willing to offer. The result is an even longer PUNS wait list.

“Direct Support Professionals are the single most critical component in the delivery of quality services. We have a DSP staffing crisis in Illinois that requires immediate attention,” said Kim Zoeller, president and CEO of the Ray Graham Association, which serves nearly 2,500 children and adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities in the DuPage County area.

“Until a deliberate effort is made to address the staffing crisis, people will continue to wait for critical services and more and more families will spiral into emergency situations.”

The Senate Human Services Committee on Monday will hear from the Ligas court monitor, service providers and families affected by the consent decree and the state’s continued shortcomings in meeting its obligations.

The hearing begins at 10 a.m. in Room C600 of the Bilandic Building in Chicago.


    What: Senate Human Services Committee hearing regarding expiration of benchmarks in the 2017 Ligas consent decree
    When: 10 a.m. Monday, Oct. 17, 2016
    Where: Bilandic Building, Room C600, 160 N. LaSalle St., Chicago
    Who: Scheduled to testify are Ronnie Cohen, the state’s Ligas court monitor; Barry Taylor, vice president of the civil rights team at Equip for Equality; Scott Mendel, legal representation for intervenors and Misericordia; Mike Baker, parent and state advocacy chair of Autism Speaks; Kim Zoeller, president and CEO of the Ray Graham Association; Mark McHugh, president and CEO of Envision Unlimited; and Christine Rivera, a direct support worker.
Category: News

BissAprilThe state of Illinois will continue its mean-spirited and counterproductive practice of suing prison inmates and parolees to recoup the cost of their incarceration because the governor vetoed a measure that would have put a stop to the practice across the board.

The legislation, sponsored by Senator Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) and Representative Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago), was sparked by a Chicago Tribune investigation that exposed the legal but morally questionable practice that often targets current and former inmates who come into small inheritances or court settlements stemming from their arrest and incarceration.

“Enabling the state of Illinois to use the courts to pursue inmates and parolees for the cost of their incarceration is an example of wasteful, illogical government,” Biss said.

“Gov. Rauner claims that he wants to do away with governmental programs that fail to produce a return on investment for taxpayers. These lawsuits are Exhibit A. It costs far more to pursue these lawsuits than the state recoups from them.”

Senate Bill 2465 would have prohibited the Illinois Department of Corrections from suing current and former inmates to recoup the cost of their incarceration. Illinois has had a law allowing the state to sue inmates since 1982, but it rarely was used until recently. Victims always have been able to pursue civil action against wealthy perpetrators of crime against them, and it remains illegal to profit from the commission of a crime.

“This reprehensible practice is an example of crony capitalism run amok. Wexford Health, a private company, is profiting from the administration of a program that hampers the state’s ability to pursue its stated goals of rehabilitation and integration,” Cassidy said. “It is shocking that Gov. Rauner is unwilling to put a stop to this.”

The state has recovered about a half-million dollars in the past six years, and most of that was from just two inmates.

Illinois has discretion in determining which inmates and parolees to sue. Most are poor and had received modest inheritances or civil settlements involving private matters.

Given this discretion, and because SB2645 will not become law, Biss and Cassidy urged the Illinois Department of Corrections and Attorney General Lisa Madigan to take matters into their own hands.

“Because Gov. Rauner is unwilling to sign legislation banning the ineffective and immoral practice of suing to recover costs of incarceration, we are calling upon you to make this step unilaterally,” Biss and Cassidy said. “In the name of advancing our shared goals of fully reintegrating ex-offenders into society, please stop bringing these lawsuits.”

Category: News

Senator Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) said Friday that he will continue to champion efforts to expand access to voting in Illinois, despite the governor’s veto of bipartisan legislation that would have made Illinois the fifth state to enact automatic voter registration.

“I am troubled that Gov. Rauner chose to veto a measure that had bipartisan support in both houses of the legislature because of its promise for streamlining government, cutting costs for taxpayers and modernizing one aspect of the voting process,” Biss said.

“At a time when things are so polarized in Illinois government, it’s important that lawmakers and the governor find issues we can agree on and act on them. If we can’t agree on this – the importance of eliminating barriers to voting and saving taxpayers a little money in the process – then I worry that there are very few things we’ll ever agree on.”

Biss was a sponsor of Senate Bill 250, which would have initiated an opt-out voter registration system instead of Illinois’ current opt-in system. Under the proposal, eligible voters would have been automatically registered to vote when they visited the Illinois secretary of state and other similar state agencies for services.

The system would have curbed redundant paperwork, streamlined a government function, helped the state to clean up its voter rolls and saved money for taxpayers.

The measure garnered bipartisan support in both houses of the legislature this spring. The Senate voted 42-16 for the legislation, and the House voted 86-30 for it.

Four states, including California, Oregon, West Virginia and Vermont, implemented automatic voter registration systems and have realized significant savings for local and state governments.

Category: News

BissMayMedical patients – and women in particular – in Illinois will be better informed about their medical care because of legislation sponsored by Senator Daniel Biss that was signed into law Friday.

Senate Bill 1564 is an update to Illinois’ Health Care Right of Conscience law, which allows medical providers to refuse certain medical treatments based on religious objections.

Illinois’ law had been among the broadest in the nation and failed to adequately protect patients’ rights to information about their medical condition and treatment options.

“This measure enables Illinois to restore some balance to the patient-doctor relationship in Illinois. Providers have been able to withhold vital information from patients that could mean the difference between life and death, all because of personal objections,” Biss said.

“Indeed, medical providers should and do have the right to refuse to offer certain treatments that are inconsistent with their faith. But we have a moral obligation to ensure patients are protected and have rights as well. They are entitled to information about their health and about the treatment options available to them so that they make informed decisions and access the services they need.”

Senate Bill 1564 was sponsored by Representative Robyn Gabel (D-Evanston) in the Illinois House.

Category: News

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