Veto Session Update
A few weeks ago in November, I was back in Springfield for a short, one week, veto session. Two issues that I seemed to get the most letters and calls from constituents about were the Governor’s Emergency Budget Act and Senate Bill 934, which contained an amendment for autism insurance reform.
The Emergency Budget Act did not even make it to a vote on the house floor. We began a debate about it and the Governor’s office pulled it fairly quickly. The overall consensus was that we did not want to give the Governor authority to require contingency reserves of 8% of funds from the General Revenue Fund for his use.
Senate Bill 934, however, passed both houses and I was happy to support it. Families with an autistic child are very often put under both emotional and financial strain. Senate Bill 934 will require insurance companies to cover up to $36,000 of services for children with autism. In many, if not most, cases, this will not come close to covering the cost of necessary therapies. But it is certainly a step in the right direction.
In addition to these bills, just as the veto session concluded, we learned that the Governor had approved much needed supplemental appropriations the General Assembly had approved back in September for mental health, substance abuse programs, and for those with developmental disabilities. However, the appropriations to other state agencies (Attorney General, Comptroller, etc) were denied.
My Involvement in the Legislative Task Force on Employment of Persons with Past Criminal Convictions
In September of this year, I was appointed to be part of a legislative task force, specifically the Subcommittee on Post-Discharge Community Support Systems, which looked to make recommendations to eliminate hurdles to employment for those released from prison, with the specific goal of reducing recidivism. I think this issue an important one in the Illinois because, statistics show, if those who get out prison have no way to rehab back into the community, they are most likely going to end up back in prison.
My subcommittee held two roundtable discussions with experts in the field and came up with a report that will be combined with the other subcommittee’s reports and presented to the General Assembly.
At the top of our recommendations was the overarching issue that Illinois does not have reliable, readily accessible information on the services currently being provided to this population, particularly the 60+ agencies with state contracts. Absent is concrete information on numbers served, numbers wait-listed, services provided, and use of evidence-based practices, etc. With such information, gaps in services, such as substance abuse treatment programs, could be identified and cost-benefit analyses could be performed showing where to most effectively invest public and private safety dollars, and measure a “successful” re-entry to the community. I hope this issue can be addressed by the General Assembly in the upcoming session.
The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is available for those with low incomes who need help paying for winter energy services. LIHEAP is funded by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and the State of Illinois. Energy assistance is provided by local community action agencies or not-for-profit agencies throughout the state. You may contact the agency provider in your area to apply for assistance. LIHEAP will provide a one-time benefit to eligible households to be used for energy bills. The amount of the benefit is determined by income, household size, fuel type and geographic location. An overdue bill or cut-off notice is not required. You do not have to own your home or pay energy bills directly to be eligible for assistance. Your source of fuel does not have to be natural gas or electricity in order to receive assistance. Emergency assistance may be available if your household is disconnected from an energy source needed for heating and/or a delivered-fuel supplier has refused to deliver, and the tank contains 10% or less.
In this area, LIHEAP is provided through CEDA, the Community and Economic Development Association of Cook County. For more information please contact them at 1-800-571-2332. You can apply for LIHEAP at various local organizations including Maine Township, North Shore Senior Center, and CEDA Northwest in Mt. Prospect
Change is in the Air
The November election brought about numerous changes in the Illinois House. Democrats now occupy 70 of 118 seats – one shy of a super majority that is necessary to override a gubernatorial veto or increase the state’s borrowing authority. In addition, several more senior members on both sides of the aisle retired but their party retained the seat.
Overall, there will be 12 new House members. So I was thrilled to be invited to speak to the new members at their orientation session the week before Thanksgiving. I was part of a panel addressing Environment and Energy issues. The discussion focused on climate change, clean air and water as well as invasive species and a myriad of other issues.
It was great to meet the new members, hear their questions and try to give them some tips on maneuvering through the Illinois House. It made me realize how much I have learned in my six years in the General Assembly – and how important it is for new members to have mentors. I look forward to continuing to work with these newly minted legislators!