Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Check on executive power

By Bethany Jaeger
On the same day Gov. Rod Blagojevich issued a massive executive order to combine more state agency functions, a Cook County judge ordered that Blagojevich’s administration has to stop expanding a state health program to middle-income adults. But that’s not going to stop Blagojevich from trying. In the meantime, residents who already started receiving state-sponsored health care under the governor’s expansions are left in limbo over whether they’ll continue to receive those benefits. We'll have more on the governor's move to consolidate state agency functions tomorrow. It’s a mess.

The governor’s office already issued a statement that said it would address the judge’s concern about his health care expansions and continue to expand the FamilyCare program to more families. (The administration also announced a statewide tour about health care, seen here.) Legislators, in the meantime, continue to say they support health care but oppose the way the governor goes about expanding it without a way to pay for it.

Tuesday’s court order is only one of two lawsuits involving the governor’s authority to expand health care through executive power rather than through the legislative process. The governor also sued Secretary of State Jesse White for not publishing rules to implement the expansions, preventing the administration from acting. White’s legal team has until May 2 to respond to the governor’s lawsuit.

On Tuesday, Cook County Judge James Epstein technically didn’t rule on whether the governor could expand health care programs without legislative approval. On one hand, he decided that the administration was within its rights to extend an existing program for breast and cervical cancer screenings to women age 65 and older. He said the legislature approved $6 million for the program without imposing limits, allowing the department to expand the benefits as long as it was within that $6 million appropriation.

On the other hand, Epstein denied the governor’s ability to expand FamilyCare, which would offer state-sponsored health insurance to 147,000 adults from middle-income families for about $43 million in the first year. Because the FamilyCare program would offer state and federal Medicaid benefits to adults making up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level, the program would have to abide by federal income limits and work requirements. This is technical, but the judge ruled that because the FamilyCare expansion as written doesn’t require the adults to be “employed or engaged in a job search,” the expansion fails to meet federal requirements and wouldn’t be reimbursed.

That means the administration is prohibited from expanding FamilyCare until a full trial decision or until the department changes or cancels the expansions. Epstein’s ruling also said that complaint filed by Richard Caro, a Riverside attorney, and by Republican businessman Ron Gidwitz and Greg Baise, president and chief executive officer of the Illinois Manufacturer’s Association, on behalf of the Illinois Coalition for Jobs, Growth, and Prosperity, likely would succeed in a full trial.

Caro, who maintains a Web site dedicated to the lawsuit, said in a phone conversation last week that he actually supports universal health care, but he objects to the governor’s use of executive power to spend state dollars without legislative approval. “I filed to stop an unconstitutional, illegal expenditure,” he said. “Once the legislature approves the expansions, all well and good. It’s for the executive to work out with the legislature in the normal democratic process how best to proceed.”

State Rep. Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat, is a member of the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules that repeatedly rejects the governor’s executive power in trying to expand health care. He’s also sponsoring legislation that would do the same thing the governor is trying to do through his administrative powers. It hasn’t gone anywhere, but Lang said lawmakers would be more likely to help him accomplish his health care goals if the governor would sit down and negotiate.

Rep. Brad Bursynzki, a Clare Republican and JCAR member, said to expect lawsuits filed by the adults who were promised health care benefits under the governor’s expansion. “I have to tell you, I had a smile on my face when I heard about the injunction this morning,” he said. “But having said that, I really feel very deeply for the people that were enrolled in this program who now are going to be — I don’t think they’re going to be held harmless.”

NOTE: A House committee is considering a proposal to establish a form of universal health care right now. The so-called Healthy Illinois plan has been dormant for two years, so watch for an update about why it’s being considered now. It’s expected to advance out of committee tonight. (Four Democrats already voted in support of the plan and walked out of committee.)

Immigration rights
By Patrick O’Brien
More than 100 new American citizens rallied at the Statehouse today to lobby lawmakers on behalf of legal and undocumented immigrants.

They included Korean, Polish, Mexican, African and Arab immigrants who recently became citizens through the state’s New Americans Initiative, a program designed to help immigrants navigate the citizenship process.

The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights sponsored the day, in part to voice opposition to a House proposal that directs the state to report undocumented immigrants convicted of crimes to the federal government for deportation.

The measure’s sponsor, Carol Stream Republican Rep. Harry Ramey, says it’s just a matter of making convicted criminals leave the country, not of targeting innocent immigrants. “We’re talking about the bad guys.”

Fred Tsao, the coalition’s policy director, says the state’s Department of Corrections opposes the bill and says it’s “an attempt to score political points on the backs of undocumented immigrants.”

The coalition also wants lawmakers to provide an additional $500,000 in funding for the state’s citizenship program to address the growing number of applicants in Illinois. Applications in Illinois have doubled during the national debate over immigration policy by some estimates.

The coalition also wants to push a proposal that would allow undocumented detainees to have greater access to clergy and other religious counsel while in jail. A House committee is scheduled to hear the plan tomorrow.

Yuridia Carbajal of Waukegan recently became a citizen after 12 years in the United States. She says the opposition to undocumented immigrants is driven by fear of their potential political power. “They want us to be afraid of them, but I think they’re afraid of us.”


Anonymous said...

This is an impressive event to show Springfield politicians just what they should be paying attention to: the growing and engaged sector of the Illinois electorate who are new Citizens. We should all be proud of this great democracy.

Anonymous said...

Another thing is that the Access to Religious Ministry Bill, HB 2747, affects more than just undocumented immigrants. Many of the detainees are asylum seekers and immigrants whose cases are under appeal � they are then put in these jails 350 miles away from their familes (in the case of Ulin), and are in an incredibly frightening position. There's no reason why clergy shouldn't be able to visit and provide them counsel during this time away from their families. This bill is attempt to ensure basic human rights under the growing prison-detention business in Illinois