Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Illinois will lose a congressional seat

By Jamey Dunn

Illinois will lose one U.S. House seat in the upcoming remap of legislative districts, but at one expert believes it won’t have much effect on the process legislators use to draw the map.

Nationwide, 12 congressional seats will shift, according to census figures released today. Most of the states losing seats are in the Midwest and Northeast, with the exception of Louisiana. Those gaining representation are in the southern and western parts of the country.

Illinois lost one seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in the 2000 remap,and two seats after both the 1990 and 1980 population counts. Since 1970, when Illinois’ seat count held steady, the state has gone from 24 to 18 seats.

With 12, 830,632 residents, Illinois showed a 3.3 percent population growth since 2000 — when the population was 12, 419, 293. That has slowed from an 8.6 percent growth between 1990 and 2000. The state remains the fifth largest state in the nation. Congressional districts in Illinois will average 714,688 residents.

John Jackson, a visiting professor with the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University, said Illinois’ flagging economy likely played a large role in its slowed growth. “I’m sure that our loss of jobs and our loss of people go hand and hand. … We need to turn around the economy in Illinois. I don’t sneeze off the fact that we have some variables that we need to change.”

Jackson said some of the reform issues legislators plan to take up in early January, such as changes to the state’s Medicaid and workers’ compensation systems, might improve the state’s economy. He warned, however, that Illinois must not engage in a “race to the bottom” when it comes to protecting and caring for its citizens.

Jackson said the picture painted by the business sector of people fleeing Illinois en masse for the more business-friendly climates of neighboring states might be overblown. Iowa and Missouri each lost one congressional seat, and Indiana’s count was static. “[These states are] not the Garden of Eden, perhaps,” he said.

This is the first year since the current redistricting process was put into place under the 1970 Constitution that one party will hold both chambers of the General Assembly and the governor’s office while a new map is being drawn. But Jackson, who worked on proposed reforms to Illinois’ redistricting process for the public policy institute, doesn’t think it will change the process by which the congressional districts are divided. State legislators and the governor could draw the congressional map, but they traditionally leave it to the congressional delegation to sort out among themselves. While Illinois’ delegation will soon be majority Republican, and state government is in Democratic hands, Jackson doesn’t expect that tradition to change.

He believes Republicans will agree to sacrifice the seat of one of the new members elected in the November general election keep their map out state legislators’ hands.

“I think this one will be an easier one than some of those in the past because you have four brand-new freshmen, and they are all Republican. … I am not sure that the Republicans will fight real hard for any of those four.”

He thinks current delegation members’ opinions of the freshmen will play a much larger role in deciding who “gets voted off the island” than shifts in population. “It will be the guy they like the least.”

Jackson points to the last time Illinois lost a seat, when there was “a bipartisan agreement to throw [former Democratic U.S. Rep.] David Phelps overboard.” He was drawn into the same district as Republican and fellow incumbent Rep. John Shimkus.

Jackson said Democrats on the state level will likely be much more concerned with their own battles to protect their districts, with “self-interest being the number-one factor.”

The U.S. Census Bureau will begin releasing the data needed for redistricting, which drills down numbers to a block-by-block level, in February.

For interactive charts, data, video guide to the congressional reapportionment process and more, visit the U.S. Census Bureau's website.

Ryan to remain behind bars

By Jamey Dunn

Former Gov. George Ryan lost his most recent bid for freedom despite pleas on his behalf from public figures and his ill wife.

Ryan’s case for throwing out some of his corruption convictions was based on a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that narrowed a category of fraud that requires public officials to provide "honest services" to the public and business executives to do the same for their shareholders.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling was made on the case of Enron Chief Executive Officer Jeff Skilling.

U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer said that the Skilling ruling was based on a claim that the law was vague. However, she wrote in her ruling that Ryan knew his actions were illegal:

Ryan’s current challenge does not rest on vagueness grounds, and the court believes that, in the language of Skilling, Ryan clearly understood “what conduct was prohibited” and could not have been surprised that he was subject to prosecution. Ryan’s efforts to conceal his conduct from public scrutiny themselves demonstrate he knew it was improper. Indeed, long before George Ryan and his associates wrote this chapter in Illinois’s distressing history of public corruption, one of Ryan’s predecessors as Governor, Otto Kerner, was prosecuted under this same theory by an earlier United States Attorney.

According to Pallmeyer's ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling limited prosecutions under the honest services law to “bribery and kickback schemes — the very theory of prosecution under which Ryan was convicted.”

Ryan’s lawyers also argued that instructions given to the jurors in his case violated the new interpretation of the law. Pallmeyer agreed on two of the directions but found the instructions to be “harmless.”

Ryan’s lawyers say the former governor’s wife, Lura Lynn Ryan, who has been diagnosed with cancer, may only have three to six months to live. Pallmeyer’s ruling alluded to calls from Lura Lynn and public figures, such as the Rev. Jesse Jackson, to allow Ryan to come home to his family:

This court takes no pleasure in depriving any defendant of his or her liberty. The court has had the painful duty to take such action in circumstances more compelling than these — where a young defendant with little education or resources is the sole support of small children, or is the only caregiver for a disabled relative, for example. Any sensitive judge realizes that a lengthy prison term effectively robs the convicted person of what we all value most: months and years with loved ones, some of whom will no longer be there when the sentence has been served. Mr. Ryan, like other convicted persons, undoubtedly wishes it were otherwise. His conduct has exacted a stiff penalty not only for himself but also for his family.

Ryan is serving a 6 1/2-year sentence in a federal prison at Terre Haute, Ind., where he has been since November 2007. His lawyers plan to appeal Pallmeyer's ruling.

Finalists chosen for carbon storage site

By Jamey Dunn

Four Illinois counties are finalists to house a carbon storage facility as part of the revamped FutureGen “clean coal” project.

The original FutureGen project called for building coal-burning power plant in Coles County that would pump most of the carbon it created underground for storage. However, the project stalled and costs grew. The U.S. Department of Energy announced a new plan in August to retrofit an existing shuttered Ameren plant in Meredosia with carbon-capture technology. The carbon would be pumped through an underground pipeline to a storage facility at another location. Mattoon bowed out as a potential storage area shortly after “FutureGen 2.0” was announced.

The FutureGen Alliance, a group of investors backing the project, announced in November six areas for that could potentially host a storage site. The list has been narrowed down to four finalists — Douglas, Christian, Fayette and Morgan counties. The city of Quincy and Pike County were eliminated from the running.

“This next step in the site selection process keeps FutureGen 2.0 on track,” U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin said in a written statement. “While the geology was not ideal in the communities that received disappointing news today, the four communities that remain in competition will now have the opportunity to strengthen their proposals. Hosting FutureGen 2.0 in Illinois will create thousands of good-paying jobs and put our state on the forefront of clean coal research and technology.”

The FutureGen Alliance plans to choose a location for carbon storage in early 2011.

Friday, December 17, 2010

This week's CapitolView

Mike Lawrence, Statehouse columnist; Bob Gough, quincynews.org and Ray Long, Chicago Tribune, join moderator Jamey Dunn from Illinois Issues magazine to discuss education reform and more on this week's CapitolView. A production of WSEC-TV/PBS Springfield.

House considers limits on teacher strikes

By Jamey Dunn

Some education reformers want to make it more difficult for Illinois public school teachers to go on strike.

A House Education Reform Committee took testimony in Aurora today on a proposed new process for teacher contract negotiations.

According to Jessica Handy, policy director for Stand for Children Illinois — a national organization that is spearheading the current reform push in Illinois — if unions and administration could not reach an agreement through mediation, a fact finding panel would be chosen. Labor and management would each appoint one member and then would have to agree on a third person, who must have arbitration experience. Both sides would present their cases at hearings, and the panel would make recommendations for contract terms.

If either side did not agree to the terms, the panel's’proposal would be released to the public. Unions and management would then have 10 days to make final offers on disputed issues. If an agreement could not be reached, the local school board could adopt the final offers or the panel’s proposals on disputed issues with a two-thirds majority. Only if the board did not choose a solution to each disputed issue would teachers then have the option to strike.

Union officials said the system would in essence ban the right for their members to strike. They added that school systems would have no incentive to bargain with teachers because school boards would like sign off on management proposals at the end of the process. “Collective bargaining under the proposal would effectively be eliminated,” said Dan Montgomery president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers.

He said teachers have no desire to strike without first exhausting all other possible avenues for compromise, and typically, districts and unions negotiate for months before ultimately agreeing on a contract. “This is not a willy-nilly thing. A strike doesn’t happen overnight.”

Montgomery said reforms put in place in the 1980s have worked to reduce strikes.
He said that last year, there were two strikes in Illinois, which lasted a combined total of five days. That compares with an average of about 24 strikes a year in the nine years before reforms were passed.

However, the issue is not just the number of strikes but the power of a strike as a bargaining chip. “We’re not just talking about the number of strikes, we are talking about the potential of a strike and the power of that potential,” said Rep. Roger Eddy, a Republican who also is a school superintendent in Hutsonville .

Those in favor of changing the process say unions’ use of the threat of strikes has stood in the way of education reforms that would benefit students. They claim the number of strikes has gone down more in part to districts caving to unions’ demands after facing the threat of a strike. “[A strike] becomes an ultimate trump card [in negotiations] and stifles efforts to implement reforms,” Handy said.

Eden Martin, president of the Commercial Club of Chicago said the proposed changes would give teachers “less muscle in collective bargaining.” But he said unions currently hold the upper hand. “There is a balance in the process today … the balance is shifted way against management because of this threat to strike and the consequences of it. … What we’re suggesting is, you shift the balance in the other direction.”

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Seniority could mean less for teachers

By Jamey Dunn

Legislators are considering reforms of Illinois’ public schools that would change practices for granting teachers tenure, as well as firings and layoff decisions.

Reform advocates say teachers' performance on the job should play a larger role than seniority in determining the trajectories of their careers.

As part of Illinois’ failed bid for Race to The Top, a competitive federal education grant program, the General Assembly passed a law that requires school districts to revamp the evaluations they use to assess teachers’ work. Under the new law, student performance will play a large role in the way educators are rated.

The committee is scheduled to meet again tomorrow morning.

Some legislators and reform groups want to see the results of those evaluations become the primary factor in administrative decisions.

Robin Steans, executive director of education reform group Advance Illinois and sister of Chicago Democratic Sen. Heather Steans, said teachers should be granted tenure after four years of positive evaluations, instead of just four years on the job. “Tenure should be earned and retained by virtue of effective performance,” Steans told the House Education Reform committee at a hearing in Aurora.

She said this method would give new teachers more time to improve and principals more time to consider a teacher before having to decide whether to let them go or make the commitment of granting tenure.

Steans said Illinois should streamline its process for terminating teachers to allow schools to more easily fire those who are not meeting expectations. “The reality is, teachers are very rarely dismissed for ineffective performance.”

She adds that performance should be considered when schools have to make layoffs, as well. “When there are tough decisions to make around lay offs, decisions ought to be driven by what’s good for the kids in that building. From that point of view, performance has to be a factor. It doesn’t mean seniority shouldn’t matter, but let’s make sure the teachers who remain in the classroom have proven themselves effective.”

Rep. Roger Eddy, a Hutsonville Republican and co-chair of the House committee, said legislators should be careful to consider possible unintended consequences of the reform. He said schools might target more senior teachers for firings and layoffs, because they have higher salaries and cost districts.

Steans said that seniority would still be a consideration, but performance would come first.

According to a draft version of legislation, which includes some of the provisions under debate, obtained by Illinois Statehouse News any changes would supercede teacher contracts agreed to in the collective bargaining process.

Union officials say they and teachers are being cut out of the conversation. While the focus of their testimony was not direct opposition to the proposed reforms, they did call on legislators to slow down and work with educators, whom the changes would affect.

“Give the people who will have to implement these reforms time to figure them out. Not months. Not years. But not days either. That’s not right. But it does make everyone watching this today wonder what the motivation is--real change that improves education for kids, or something else,” said Audry Soglin, executive director of the Illinois Education Association.

Soglin pointed to the reform package passed in conjunction with Race to the Top as the result of a deliberative process that brought in stakeholders on all sides of the issues. “We have a track record of working productively together, management, union, advocacy groups, reformers.”

She added, “This is not an attempt to drag out a process to obstruct change. … We did it last year. We did it quickly; we did it collaboratively, and we produced something that we should be proud of.”

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Workers' Comp reform "swimming in data"

By Jamey Dunn

Proponents of workers' compensation changes say Illinois’ system is unnecessarily complicated, and the math for medical fees just doesn’t add up. Meanwhile, representatives of the medical community say Illinois is moving too quickly on the issue.

Barb Malloy, consultant and former workers’ compensation administrator for the city of Chicago, said that medical fees employers pay for injured worker’s treatment in Illinois outpace what the state and federal government pay under medical programs for the low-income and elderly residents. Malloy said a standard visit to a doctor costs $24.25 under Medicaid, $42.99 under Medicare and $77.81 under workers’ compensation requirements in Illinois.

She told the House Workers’ Compensation Reform committee that. unlike the Federal Medicare program, the workers’ compensation system does not determine costs based on how complicated a procedure is, such as a surgery taking more time and effort from health care professionals than a check up.

Mark Deaton, general counsel for the Illinois Hospital Association, said that as some of the largest employers in the state, hospitals are sensitive to costs of workers’ compensation. However, he warned that budget cuts and substantial federal health care reforms make it a dangerous time to do any major tweaking to Illinois’ health care sector.

“First do no harm. I would like all of us to bear that maxim in mind as we discuss this issue because the potential for harm is extremely high here — harm to injured workers, harm to employers, harm to the economy of the state, harm to our healthcare system. … Right now in the state of Illinois there are a lot of hands and a lot of fingers jostling that house of cards that we call health care,” he said at the hearing held at Illinois State University in Normal.

Deaton called for legislators to slow down and return to the so-called agreed bills process that has been used to make changes to workers’ compensation in the past. Under this method, stakeholders hammer out negotiated legislation that all parties approve. However, this method usually prevents any sweeping changes. “Please do not rush to a solution. … It’s abundantly clear that this is an incredibly complex, multifaceted issue with many moving parts. The last time we had a major reform … it took about two years to work it out. And today’s landscape is even more precarious.”

He added: “There is no public policy reason whatsoever that we have to solve this problem between now and the middle of January, [the deadline for the Senate and House committees to make reconditions about workers' comp, as well as the end of the lame-duck session.] The system is not on the verge of collapse. … I don’t believe that a single business in the state of Illinois is going to relocate if there are not changes made to workers’ comp in January, especially if there is the prospect of meaningful reform on the horizon.”

However, Rep. Jim Sacia, a Pecatonica Republican, said he was alarmed by Deaton’s statement about the urgency of the situation. Sacia said there is at least one business in his district that is considering moving out of Illinois,  largely in part because of workers’ compensation costs.

Eugene Munin, budget director for the city of Chicago, said the city has seen workers’ compensation costs rise while the number of city employees decreased. Munin said the city has eliminated around 6,000 positions in the last 10 years because of budget cuts. He said the city had 2,000 workers’ compensation claims in 2005 and had 1,350 in 2009. But workers’ compensation cost Chicago $61 million in 2009 versus $38 million in 2005.

“Our costs have increased … even while the number of employees the number of claims have gone down dramatically,” he said.

Deaton said the issue of workers’ compensation is “swimming in data that is often contradictory." That is why he thinks experts should be given the chance to work out a compromise. “There are a lot of very very smart people on both sides of this issue.”

He said legislators should remember that being injured at work can be traumatic, and access to quality health care is important to get workers back on their feet. “Somebody who is injured [at the workplace] in Illinois and needs medical attention has one thing going for them. They have access to some of the finest doctors and hospitals that this country has to offer.”

Tom Mercier, president of Bloomington Offset Process, Inc. and a board member of the Illinois Manufacturers Association, said employers want to make things right for their workers who are injured on the job. He takes issue with employers having to pay the full cost of treatment for conditions, which may be caused or contributed to by outside activities.

“If someone is hurt on the job. we look at it as our responsibility to get that person … fixed. …Our questions come about when there isn’t a definitive reason for why that person needs a double hernia operation. Was it because something that happened at work or was it something that happened on the weekend because he is part of a band? Is it something in which someone needs an operation … that is a bindery-hand-work person but at nights and on the weekends she’s a seamstress? It is those things that make our job difficult,” he said.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Springfield mayor found dead in his home

UPDATE Wednesday, December 15, 2010: After conducting an autopsy Wednesday, the Sangamon County Corner's Office confirmed that Springfield Mayor Tim Davlin died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest.

Springfield Mayor Tim Davlin died today from a reportedly self-inflicted gunshot wound. However, police have not publicly confirmed the cause of his death.

Police received a 911 call from Davlin’s home shortly before 9 a.m. this morning. According to Springfield Police Chief Rob Williams, Davlin was “unresponsive” when police arrived and did not respond to resuscitation attempts. He failed to show up this morning at a court-ordered appearance regarding a relative's estate for which he was executor. An autopsy is scheduled for tomorrow.

“Because of the unique nature—Mr. Davlin being my boss—we then called for an assist from an outside agency, and we have now turned over the entire investigation to the Illinois State Police,” Williams said at a Springfield news conference.

Davlin had been mayor of Springfield since April 2003. He announced in November that he did not intend to run for a third term in March. The Springfield State-Journal Register reported in October the IRS placed a lien on his home over nearly $90,000 the agency says Davlin owed in unpaid taxes.

“Today’s news of the death of Mayor Tim Davlin is truly a tragedy. Tim was a great public servant who loved Springfield and its people. The city of Springfield is a better place because of his leadership. As Mayor, Tim led the community through some of its most difficult times and worked hard to revitalize the city. He was not only a champion for Springfield, but also for the entire state, and he will be greatly missed by all who knew him. My thoughts and prayers are with the Davlin family during this most difficult time,” Gov. Pat Quinn said in a written statement.

From the City Of Springfield’s Davlin memorial page:

Mayor Davlin will probably best be remembered by one of his most successful programs, Springfield Green, a city wide environmental improvement program which not only promotes planting trees, flowers and greenery, but also stimulates cleanliness through an Adopt-a-Street program.

Alderman Frank Kunz, who is mayor pro tem, has taken over Davlin’s duties.

Hamos to legislators: Back me up on Medicaid reform

By Jamey Dunn
If legislators want Medicaid reform, they are going to have to fight for it, says Julie Hamos, director of Illinois' Department of Healthcare and Family Services.

Hamos targeted a number of areas for potential savings during a Senate committee today, but she said she needs backing and, sometimes even pressure, from the General Assembly to spur negations with providers.

“It’s times like this, when we really have a budget crisis, that we should pushing the envelope and trying to see what we can really achieve in all of the budget items,” she said at the Chicago hearing.

Hamos hopes to save the state money on prescriptions. “We do believe that we should be making some adjustments in the pharmacy rates. It’s a very big part of our Medicaid budget and a place that we need to go to when we are talking about the kind of pressures we have right now to make budget reductions.”

Hamos said the state is paying too much for dispensing fees. Illinois pays $4.60 per Medicaid prescription for generic drugs and $3.40 for brand-name drugs. That compares to $1.36 for generics and $1.28 for brand-name drugs under the state’s employee health care plan.

However, David Vite, president of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association (IRMA), said there is little room to cut back on Medicaid prescription costs. “Pharmacy in the Medicaid program is about as low as it can go. We are in the mainstream of all 50 states in all Medicaid programs, and Medicaid pays less than the average prescription price.”

He said that Medicaid patients do not pay the co-payment on nearly half of the prescriptions that pharmacies fill. Hamos said she wants pharmacies to work harder to recoup those co-payments, but she conceded that she was not sure what steps they should take to collect the cash. “We have very small co-pays, but the co-pays we have are there for a purpose. I think that collecting them is a part of getting people to be more invested in their health care.”

She added that her agency is negotiating with IRMA and the Illinois Pharmacy Association, and she hopes to reach a deal by early January.

John Stephen—a partner with the Boston-based consulting firm The Lucas Group, who served on Gov. Pat Quinn’s taxpayer action board—said Illinois needs to be bold and take a long view on Medicaid changes, or legislators will “back every year looking at the same things.”

Stephen, who served as New Hampshire's Commissioner of Health and Human Services and testified on Medicaid reform in front of the Illinois Senate Deficit Reduction Committee last year, said: “I feel like I’m saying the same things I said to that committee.”

He said Illinois should target two areas—moving clients our of institutional settings when possible and utilizing more managed care programs.

“[In New Hampshire] we’ve saved all kinds of money with home- and community-based services. And we’ve done it the right way. But it takes a lot of effort.”

Illinois is building a managed care pilot program to treat elderly and disabled patients in some Chicago suburban counties.

However, Hamos voiced frustration over resistance to the program from legislators, stakeholders and even medical providers. “The same hospitals that we are investing in and putting a lot of Medicaid dollars into are not signing up to be part of our network. That’s a problem. So we are seeing push back as we develop managed care in Illinois. And we want you to recognize as you want us probably to expand that—something that we’re definitely interested in doing…the provider community, the stakeholders and the policymakers all need to be on our team as we move forward.”

Hamos said she also hopes to change the ways in which providers are paid, such as compensating based on results and trying to get the state better rates by bundling services. She also called for backing from the legislature on this issue.

“This whole question of payment reform is very much a theme of national health care. And we would like to really be very creative about how we roll that out. Again the providers are not necessarily going to like that. We want you to back us up in doing that. It’s going to be a challenge. Change is hard.”

Monday, December 13, 2010

Quinn names Jack Lavin chief of staff

Gov. Pat Quinn named Jack Lavin his new chief of staff today.

“Jack Lavin has helped my administration accomplish many of our top priorities, and I have full confidence that he has the vision and ability to lead my office into a successful new term and will tackle the many serious issues facing our state,” Quinn said in a written statement.

Lavin has been Quinn's chief operating officer since February 2009, and was deputy treasurer under Quinn when he was treasurer. Before becoming a part of Quinn's administration, he was also appointed as director of the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Quinn's previous chief of staff, Jerry Stermer, resigned after some minor ethics violations during Quinn's campaign for governor. Stermer has since returned to the adminstration as a senior adviser.

Illinois may crack down on Medicaid eligiblity

By Jamey Dunn

In its ongoing quest to find savings in the state’s Medicaid system, a House committee today took up the issue of making sure those who receive benefits are eligible for them.

Legislators in both houses are looking for ways to trim the Medicaid budget and make the system more efficient. However, today’s hearing did not produce many options. The one change most agreed with was working to make records electronic and shareable between state agencies.

John Bouman, president of the Sargent Shriver National Center on Policy Law, said the state should take advantage of federal funding associated with the health care reform law. “For example, if we are going to save $200 million in managed care ideas, save $190 million, take $10 million and turn that it into $100 million pot for information technology upgrades, which adds that much money to the state budget to do tasks we should be doing anyhow.”

Legislators on the committee painted a grim picture of the administrative oversight and technological systems Medicaid operates under.

“Everything is still in paper files. Computer systems crash. The whole office is shut down. Nothing works and it’s not only undignified for recipients of our human …services but also ridiculous when it comes to being able to efficiently manage this,” said Rep. Sarah Feigenholtz, a Chicago Democrat.

“In my local office … each one of the case management people have 2,500 cases. ... This is what one of them told us: They’re just told not to answer the phone because they can’t handle it,” said Rep. Patricia Bellock, a Hinsdale Republican.

Bouman said if legislators want to crack down on verifying whether patients are eligible for Medicaid assistance, new technology is needed. He said a “staff-heavy, paper-heavy” verification system is slow, costly and has more potential for mistakes.

However, Bouman cautioned against kicking people off of Medicaid coverage — even if their eligibility lapses — if the committee’s overall goal is to provide preventative health care rather than expensive treatment for chronic medical problems. “This is not traditional cash welfare assistance where we have a stern gatekeeping function. This is health policy. And we have to pay attention to connection to care, and not interrupting care and getting the cheap sensible prevention going on and continuing.”

Members of Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration were not receptive to the idea of knocking such people out of the program as undocumented children and people whose coverage is paid for solely by the state.

“We see the issue of serving undocumented children as a policy issue, one that we’re proud of and this governor supports. So we are not proposing changes in reducing eligibility for undocumented children,” said Julie Hamos, director of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services.

Hamos said the pool of single adults that Illinois covers with no help from the feds costs the state around $16.9 million. “This is a relatively small amount of money, relatively, but it’s still money … If we don’t provide for some kind of payment for these very low-income people either they’re going to get very sick and end up in emergency rooms, and then the hospitals will be eating the cost one way or another, or they won’t even get primary health care, and they’ll by default get sicker.”

Hamos said her agency would present plans for new technology and information sharing to the General Assembly in the spring. She also said she would support stricter enforcement of eligibility standards; however, the federal government may not allow such changes. To receive federal matching dollars, Illinois cannot change the standards used to determine who is eligible for Medicaid assistance. “We will try to make the best case for why verification is different than [changes in] eligibility. …But we don’t know how [the federal government] will react.”

The committee is scheduled to meet again tomorrow. A Senate committee is also taking up the issue of Medicaid reform.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Commission wants to cut poverty by 2015

By Jamey Dunn

Illinois can help to raise some of its most vulnerable residents out of crushing poverty by 2015, according to a new plan released today.

The Illinois Commission on the Elimination of Poverty released recommendations for the state to cut the number of those living in extreme poverty — those earning up to half or the federal poverty level — in half by 2015.

According to the group's report, about 1.6 million Illinoisans live below the poverty line, which is an income of $22,050 or less for a family of four, and almost 760,000 fit the category of extreme poverty, an income of $11,025 or less for a family of four. About half of those living in extreme poverty belong to groups that are unable to work, such as children, the elderly and the disabled. The report says the number of impoverished Illinois residents has been slowly growing over the last decade:
Our support system is failing those who need it most, and as a result, the number of individuals and families living in poverty in Illinois continues to rise.

The commission operated under the principle that “the absence of human rights is the cause of poverty.”

The commission was charged with finding ways to help people in need find affordable housing, health care and childcare. They also addressed accessibility to nutritious foods, reliable transportation and adequate education and training.

Here of some of several suggestions the group made in its report:

  • A statewide transitional jobs program that would help up to 40,000 people return to the workforce each year.
  • Eliminating categories of workers not covered by minimum wage — such as restaurant servers, who receive tips.
  • Educational programs to make sure those eligible for federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, commonly referred to as welfare, are receiving benefits. This group also recommends increased TANF benefits because it is possible to receive TANF funds and still be below the extreme poverty line.
  • Legislation to prohibit the state from asking job applicants about their criminal histories, as well as encouraging private employers to hire people with criminal backgrounds.
  • Increased scholarships to community colleges for low-income students.
  • Tripling the earned income tax credit, which is meant to reward employment and assist low-income families
  • Increased rental subsidies for individuals living in poverty.
  • Simplifying the application process for Medicaid and food stamps, allowing residents to sign up for all aid programs they are eligible for with one application.
The commission acknowledged that the state’s budget crisis will make some of the changes difficult:

With the state’s current fiscal situation, the commission recognizes that its recommendations need to be sensitive to the state’s current revenue constraints and spending obligations. Initial changes should not add to the state’s budget difficulties. As the commission advocates for the incremental adoption of its recommendations until 2015, it will make adjustments in the implementation of this plan that reflect the changes and opportunities that will be encountered during that time.

Maywood Democratic Rep. Karen Yarbrough, who sponsored the legislation that created the commission, said the state can no longer ignore its growing poverty numbers. “While there will be a cost to provide this help, the cost of doing nothing is so expensive that it could bankrupt society as we know it,” she said at a Chicago news conference.

Yarbrough said the report should be a starting point for action on the issue from the General Assembly. “This puts a real face on who we’re trying to help. But we must not lose sight of the fact that by helping them, we are helping everyone in Illinois. This plan is an important step toward addressing the needs of the most vulnerable in Illinois. Because it’s such a large step forward, no longer can we say that this issue must have more study. We’ve done the study.”

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

State will pay off FY2010 bills by end of December - updated

By Jamey Dunn
UPDATE: Gov Pat Quinn confirmed Thursday that the state will pay off its fiscal year 2010 bills by the end of the month, largely through the sale of bonds against the state's tobacco settlement money.

Quinn said the backlog for FY2010 is about $1.4 billion and that service providers and vendors should expect payments soon. “They’ll get their money by the end of this year. Probably in the next week or so," he told reporters in Chicago.

Quinn also emphasized the importance of working on budget solutions when the legislature returns in January. “We also have to pay [FY2011] and beyond — [FY2012], [FY2013] and you name it. So we have to have a plan in Illinois that gets us back on sure footing when it comes to our finances, and that’s what I’m working on now with legislators of both parties.”

Illinois will make the deadline for paying off its bills by the end of this month. A new survey indicates, however, that the slow payment schedule, coupled with budget cuts, has hurt social service providers.

According to Alan Henry, director of communications for Comptroller Dan Hynes, the state will pay off all of its overdue bills from fiscal year 2010 — which ended June 30 — by the end of this month. Legislators moved the cutoff date for payments from August 31 to December as part of the budget plan passed in May.

The state prioritized paying off last year’s bills before paying for costs incurred in FY 2011. Illinois also sold $1.5 billion in bonds against the state’s money from a court settlement with tobacco companies and brought in $546 million from the tax amnesty period. Hynes warned in his quarterly report released in October that the state would have to get at least $1.2 billion from the tobacco money and $200 million from deadbeat taxpayers to make the end-of-the-year deadline.

But the results of a survey from the Illinois Partners for Human Services, a lobbying coalition that represents social service providers throughout Illinois, show that the state’s financial crisis has already taken a toll.

The group surveyed more than 200 Illinois social service providers. More than 70 percent of respondents said their efforts were affected by the late payments, with more than half cutting hours of operation or levels of services. More than 40 percent saw increased waiting lists, and more than one quarter turned clients away and/or closed programs. More than a quarter saw no changes to their services.

More than half of the organizations upped their fundraising efforts. Nearly half sought credit, and nearly half cut staff.

The report describes the compounded problem of staff cuts and an increased need for remaining staff to try to find money where they can:

Sixty percent of responding organizations sought additional funding sources, often requiring program staff to refocus efforts away from service provision. Combined with the 49% that laid off employees, these organizations are severely hampered by both direct cuts and service reductions, as well as reallocating staff to non-service specific functions.

House considers Medicaid reforms

By Jamey Dunn

In a move that parallels the Senate’s reform efforts, a House committee heard testimony in Chicago today on possible changes to Illinois’ Medicaid system.

A special Senate committee held a hearing on Medicaid last week. Both that hearing and today’s House hearing focused on cutting costs while giving patients more comprehensive treatment.

Much of the conversation was about potential savings that could be found in managed care programs. The state has a voluntary managed care program and is working on a mandatory managed care pilot program in the Chicago suburbs, which would provide care to elderly and disabled patients.

“Our approach towards managed care is one of using it as a means to an end, and the end that we’re trying to achieve is higher health status, better health care outcomes and the use of integrated care delivery systems to get us there,” said Michael Gelder, a health care policy adviser to Gov. Pat Quinn.

However, James Parker, deputy administrator of medical programs for the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, said the voluntary program is not producing big savings for the state. “Somebody enrolling in that program saves the state nothing. It actually costs us money.”

Chicago Democratic Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie suggested that requiring Medicaid patients to enroll in managed care might bring down costs. “If the provider doesn’t know what numbers that company is going to deal with, its very hard for them to figure what’s a rate that makes sense for them. … It maybe that you get a better rate bid from a provider if there is some mandatory enrollment because they have a better sense as to what the population is.”

Parker agreed. “We need a rate cut for that program to make sense. But if we did a mandatory program … and gave them enough [patients], it would make up for the rate cut that would be needed to save money.”

Parker added that because there are not many cases of people receiving unnecessary care, the best way to save money on Medicaid would be to try to keep patients healthier in general so they do not require as much treatment.

“Our rates don’t entice specialists to see our patients unless they really need to be seen. … We don’t have an overuse of expensive specialists, mainly because there’s no such thing as an expensive specialist in our Medicaid program because we don’t pay that much. … The only way to really get the costs down is to reduce the need for care.”

Parker said the state could also save by pushing for a reduction in the dispensing fees pharmacies charge for filling Medicaid prescriptions. Illinois currently pays $3.40 for each brand name prescription and $4.60 for each generic, in an attempt to encourage pharmacies to use generic drugs for Medicaid. That is compared with a $1.50 fee for any prescription for state employees.

He cautioned, that savings would not come in the form of cuts to a budget line. They are instead expressed in terms of savings compared with the estimates of what the state would spend in the future if no action were taken. “When anybody is talking about saving from any of these managed care programs, any one of them … whenever they talk about savings, they are never, never talking about spending less money this year than we spent last year or less money next year than we’re spending this year. It is all based on slowing the growth.”

The House committee is scheduled to meet again on December 13 and 14. Rep. Chapin Rose, a Mahomet Republican, said the committee would likely consider legislation on December 14. The Senate Medicaid Reform Committee is scheduled to make final recommendations to the full Senate on January 3.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

This week's CapitolView

From civil unions to gambling to pensions, a wrap up of the week in Illinois government. Panelists Mike Lawrence, former director of Paul Simon Public Policy Institute; Charlie Wheeler, director of the Public Affairs Reporting Program at UIS, and Scott Reeder, statehouse bureau chief for Illinois Statehouse News. Guest moderator, Amanda Vinicky from WUIS-FM/NPR in Springfield. A production of WSEC-TV/PBS Springfield.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Finer points

By Jamey Dunn

There was a flurry of legislative action this week as the General Assembly considered civil unions, medical marijuana, gaming expansion and more. With so much happening in just four days, some details of the legislation tend to fall through the cracks:

Civil unions
If Gov. Pat Quinn makes good on his pledge to sign, Senate Bill 1716, which he says he will do in the new year, same-sex, as well as heterosexual couples, would have the option for civil unions.
Rights such as hospital visitation, medical and end-of-life decisions were often bandied about during the debate. While those are important protections, the bill provides for many more rights, as well.

“Every state entitlement or right that comes with marriage will now apply to civil unions,” said Jason Pierceson, a legal studies professor at the University of Illinois Springfield and author of Same-Sex Marriage in the Americas: Policy Innovation for Same-Sex Relationships.

The legislation would apply to family law issues, such as court intervention in divorce proceedings and child custody cases and protection under domestic violence laws.

However, Pierceson pointed out that there are more than 1,000 federal benefits and protections that the state legislature cannot grant couples, no matter what legislation it passes. For example, a couple in a civil union could file a joint state income tax return but not a joint federal return.

He said he does not anticipate that a large number of lawsuits would be needed to enforce the new law. While some may deny rights intentionally as a political stand, Pierceson said most officials and private institutions would just need a “transition period” to adapt. He added that other states have provided examples for how to implement such laws.

For instance, businesses may have to rethink family benefits they offer, such as a gym membership or a family cell phone plan, because the options would now be available to same-sex couples and their children. “There are so many small things that married couples take for granted,” Pierceson said.

There is also a possibility that some religious groups that oppose recognizing same sex couples may stop administering certain social services, such as adoption and foster care. Catholic Charities has stopped administering foster care in some places that recognize same-sex couples, such as Washington, D.C., to avoid having to place children with gay or lesbian couples.

If Quinn signs the bill, county clerks would issue licenses for civil unions, and in most counties, the fee would be about $30. The license would have to be certified by a judge or other eligible public official. No religious ceremony is required. And no church that is opposed to civil unions would be required to hold ceremonies to recognize them.

Illinois will also recognize out-of-state civil unions, same-sex marriages and domestic partnerships as civil unions in this state. Like marriages, civil unions must be dissolved by a court.

Medical marijuana
A measure to allow residents with “chronic” or “debilitating” diseases access to medical marijuana failed to gain the votes needed to pass on Tuesday. However, the sponsor, Skokie Democratic Rep. Lou Lang, said he plans to make a push to pass SB 1381 in January, before a new legislative session begins

The bill lists the conditions that could potentially be treated with medical cannabis: cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, nail patella, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, wasting syndrome. It could also be used to treat severe pain or nausea that is persistent and has not responded to other treatments, and to counteract the side effects of some treatments, such as chemotherapy. The Department of Public Health could add to the list.

The aspect of the plan that has been somewhat confusing is how a seriously ill person would be able to tend to the six marijuana plants the bill would allow patients to own.

This week, Lang spelled out the options. The first would be to designate another person as a primary caregiver. This individual could grow and keep marijuana for a sick person who was using it for treatment. However, whatever they may have between the two of them could not exceed the limit of two ounces of dried cannabis and six plants — only three of them mature.

The other option would be dispensaries, though Lang says the limits would be much tighter than the ones imposed California. That state has legal medical marijuana, and the perception that it also has a pot store that may or may not check prescriptions on every corner has made dispensaries infamous in recent years.

“A dispensary is a place where you can go buy three plants, or six plants — three of which can be mature. But if you’re too sick to deal with it yourself, and you don’t have a caregiver to name — perhaps you’re 90 years old, and all of your friends and all of your family are no longer with you, unfortunately — the dispensary would be allowed to be your caregiver,” Lang said.

So a business could take care of the plants for patients and then give them the dried marijuana produced from them. Dispensaries could take on multiple clients as long as they don't exceed the limits set for each patient.

“You might see storefronts, but not the same way you would see them in California. The California law was so loose, storefronts sprung up like Starbucks. … In this case there would be far less of them. … There will be industries created. There will be dispensaries, but they’re not going to be huge lucrative businesses,” Lang said.

Any patient or caregiver who sells or gives cannabis to someone not licensed to use it would be subject to criminal charges. The measure allows for up to two years in prison or a $2,000 fine to be tacked onto their sentence.

With little debate on the Senate floor, lawmakers also passed a large gaming expansion Wednesday. It would allow for five new casinos, slots at horse racing tracks and more gaming positions at existing casinos. Some Republicans said they were supporting the bill to move it along in the process because they expected the House to make changes and send it back for another Senate vote. However, the bill’s sponsor, Waukegan Democratic Sen. Terry Link, said Wednesday night, after his chamber approved the measure, that he had already talked with Lang, the House sponsor, and he expects the Senate’s version of the bill to pass in the House.

But they may have had a communication breakdown. “I congratulate the Illinois Senate on its successful effort to push the bill through the chamber, but I intend to thoroughly review their plan, and I expect to be making some changes,” Lang said in a written statement. Trying to appease all interested parties on a touchy subject such as gambling is usually what sinks a massive bill like SB 737.

Amendatory veto
The legislature failed to take up Quinn’s amendatory veto to House Bill 4842, which would have created an open primary election system. Quinn’s changes would have allowed voters to participate in primaries without having to publicly declare a party affiliation. Since lawmakers did not act on the veto during veto session, the governor’s changes die along with the bill.

The original measure would have required the State Board of Elections to post profiles of candidates before the primary election. Since lieutenant governor and governor candidates now must run as a team in the primary, it stands to reason that lieutenant governor candidates would get more attention, so such voter guidance would be less necessary. Both HB 4842 and the new law, which joins the governor and lieutenant governor candidates in the primary, were reactions to former lieutenant governor candidate Scott Lee Cohen’s surprise win — and subsequent later fall from grace — in this year's Democratic primary. Lawmakers likely were happy to let the bill slide rather than take up the sticky issue of Illinois’ primary system.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Police and fire pension reforms head to the governor

By Jamey Dunn

Police officers and firefighters hired after January 1 may get fewer benefits when they retire.

The Senate passed a bill today that would lower benefits for new hires and require local governments to consistently fund the pension system.

Retirees would have to spend 30 years on the job and work to age 55, instead of the current 50, to earn full benefits. They could receive partial benefits at age 50 if they have worked for 10 years. Pension benefits would be based on a retiree’s salary from the last eight years of service. Currently it is based on the final year, so a large raise near the end of a career can have a substantial impact on benefits. The top salary that benefits could be based on would be $106,800. Employee contribution levels would not increase.

Senate Bill 3538 also requires a ramped up schedule starting in 2015 that would make municipalities fund pensions at 90 percent by the end of their 2040 fiscal year.

The reforms come in the wake of changes to pensions for state employees, which passed on one day in the spring legislative session.

“Everybody hollers at the state and say[s] we haven’t been paying our pension funds, and we haven’t. We were violators for a lot of years. And we took that task on in the spring, and we altered our pension system,” Waukegan Sen. Terry Link, a sponsor of the police and firefighter pension bill.

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley has warned that the mandated pension payments would cost the city, which is facing its own budget crisis, $550 million a year after 2015.

Both Link and Senate President John Cullerton have vowed to make changes to address the city’s concerns with another bill they say will come up for a vote in January. But for some lawmakers, such assurances where not enough.

“I know we need this bill for reform…[but] as of right now, if we pass this bill and the governor signs it, the city of Chicago homeowners and businessmen are on the hook for over $500 million,” said Sen. Antonio Munoz, a Chicago Democrat.

Labor representatives for police officers and firefighters support the payment requirements. “We were very pleased with the contribution enforcement that was placed in the bill. … With the facts of pension underfunding, the need for pension reform is very clear,” said Pat Devaney, president of the Associated Firefighters of Illinois — which opposes the measure overall.

Devaney said the pensions are underfunded primarily because of the economic downturn and local governments failing to hold up their obligations. However, he said labor groups realized that cuts to benefits would be part of the equation. “That was our goal, to shore up this system and to make sure that these plans would remain solvent. … We understood that even though they weren’t warranted, that benefit reductions were going to take place.”

However, he said the reductions in the bill went too far, and the legislation was unclear in some areas.

There was confusion over whether overtime pay would be included when pensions were being calculated, Link said it was his intention that it would be.

Devaney said he hopes local governments use some of the savings from the cuts to equip police and fire departments with more resources to hire more first responders when the new benefits system would go into effect in January.

However, Joe McCoy, a lobbyist for the Illinois Municipal League, fears the changes could do just the opposite.

“The [Illinois Municipal League] is concerned that the compliance language will inadvertently result in service cuts, personnel reductions and fewer first responders in our communities. … The lack of local support for increased taxes, as well as the existence of tax caps and other revenue limitations in many communities, will place tremendous strains on local budgets in future years,” McCoy said in a written statement.

Veto Override
The Senate overrode Gov. Pat Quinn’s amendatory veto to House Bill 5206, which would have created a citizen’s initiative process to allow Illinoisans to bring ethics reform legislation before the General Assembly.

The original version of the bill, which allows county clerks to electronically clear dead voters from their rolls, becomes law.

Executive Appointees

State government appointees whose terms have expired may soon be tossed out of their positions.

The Senate approved HB5057, which would remove any holdover appointees 30 days after becoming law. Quinn would have the opportunity to reappoint whomever he chooses, but they his appointees would have to go through the Senate confirmation process. According the Senate President John Cullerton, the sponsor of the bill, the measure would apply to almost 700 positions at this time.

“We want to have these people who are in the governor’s cabinet, who we haven’t seen in four or five years, have them come back and have us consider their qualifications,” Cullerton said.

According to a written statement from Quinn’s office, he is reviewing the bill. “The governor will work with the Senate to build upon his efforts to increase transparency in the appointment process.”

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Civil unions bill heads to the governor

By Jamey Dunn

Same-sex couples are a mere pen stroke away from having the option for civil unions in Illinois.

The Illinois Senate passed Senate Bill 1716 today,after a long debate about family, religion, insurance and pension benefits.

Sen. David Koehler, a Peoria Democrat, said he wanted to sponsor the bill because his lesbian daughter does not have the same rights in Illinois as his other two daughters. “I see this issue now through the eyes of a father who has a gay child.”

Koehler’s daughter, Maggie, watched from the gallery with her partner, Brennan Kramer. The couple are engaged and plan to hold a ceremony next September.

“I am one of the proudest children in Illinois today,” Maggie Koehler said after the vote.

Sen. Koehler said couples who enter into civil unions would get all the “legal obligations, responsibilities, protections and benefits as afforded or recognized by the law of Illinois that relates to spouses.”

The measure is intended to give same-sex and heterosexual couples who opt for civil unions rights such as the ability to be involved in their partners’ health and end-of-life decisions, as well as hospital visitation and shared property rights.

Some opponents argued that the legislation was same-sex marriage by another name. Sen. John Sullivan, a Democrat from Rushville, said he voted against the bill because many of his constituents do not support it, and he couldn’t determine a difference between the civil unions described in the measure and marriage.

Others said it was morally wrong and would damage marriage as an institution between a man and a woman for the purpose of creating a stable environment for children.

“The reason marriage exists is that sexual intercourse between men and women … produces children. If intercourse did not actually produce vulnerable children who add to the population of a country, neither society nor the government would have much reason, let alone a valid reason, to regulate people’s emotional unions,” said Sen. Chris Lauzen, and Aurora Republican.

He added: “What the institution and policy of marriage aims to regulate is the sex, not love and commitment. Marriage exists to solve the major challenge that arises from sexual intercourse between men and women but not from sex between partners of the same gender — what to do about its potential generation of vulnerable children. ”

Sen. Dan Rutherford from Chenoa was the only Republican to cross the aisle and support the bill. “The people of Illinois, they don’t want discrimination. There’s going to be a bunch said about this legislation, I understand that. But one thing that I do know, it’s the right thing to do,” said Rutherford, who is leaving the Senate to take office as state treasurer in January.

Some Republicans said they support the concept but could not back the bill because it would require the state to give same-sex couples pension benefits and may require insurance companies to offer spousal coverage to gay and lesbian couples. “Our cup of debt is full, and we cannot take one more drop of financial strain,” said Sen. Dan Duffy, a Lake Barrington Republican.

However, Koehler said Illinois already offers health care benefits to domestic partners. He also said people pay a small amount into the pension system to potentially cover a spouse, and if they are not married when they retire, they get the money back. “In a sense, everybody has been paying into that all along.”

“The fiscal impact … I don’t see it,” said Kathryn Eisenhart, a professor of legal studies at the University of Illinois Springfield and a member of the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Committee for the Illinois State Bar Association. “The state budget is a horrible mess. It was a horrible mess before this got passed. It will remain a horrible mess after this got passed.”

Eisenhart said that from a legal point of view, the bill would likely not result in drastic changes for same-sex couples. She said she would advise all couples to take some of the steps that same-sex couples have — in lieu of being granted explicit recognition — to access legal protection, such as getting power of attorney or a living will, to protect themselves in emergency situations.

She added that same-sex couples may still find themselves in the situation of having to “show their papers” to visit their partners in the hospital or make medical decisions — a situation that was used as an example of unfair treatment during the debate in the House.

“If you [are part of a heterosexual couple] and show up and say, "I am Mrs. so-and-so," they aren’t going to ask you for a marriage license,” she said. “If you are of the same sex, they can still say, ‘Where’s your papers?’ … It’s much more likely to happen.”

Eisenhart characterized the bill as a first-step toward equality for same-sex couples. “It’s a beginning. … [Some advocates are] pretty excited about the fact that we have a governor who will sign it and a Senate who is pretty strongly willing to support it.”

She added, “The fight starts again on Monday, and the reality is that this is just a beginning.”

Gov. Pat Quinn has pledged to sign the bill. If he does, it would go into effect June 1.

Public Employee Evaluations

The Senate overrode Quinn’s veto on House Bill 5154, which would seal public employee evaluations. Quinn changed the bill so only evaluations for law enforcement personnel would be sealed, citing safety and security reasons.

Maywood Democrat Kimberly Lightford, the sponsor of the bill, said she supports making employment information such as salaries available to the public. But she thinks open evaluations go too far.

Proponents of the original legislation have said that opening the evaluations will make managers hesitant to be honest in evaluations, for fear of negative comments making it into the public sphere. Opponents say they legislature is already chipping away at newly enacted transparency laws.

The House already overrode the measure, so the original version of the bill, which exempts public employee evaluations from the Freedom of Information Act, becomes law.

Gaming Expansion
With virtually no floor debate, the Senate passed a large gaming expansion package before it adjourned this evening.

If it becomes law, the measure would allow for new casinos in Chicago, Rockford, Danville, Park City and a yet-to-be-named location in the suburbs south of Chicago. Operating casinos would be able to increase the number of gaming positions to 1,600 each and 2,000 each in 2013. Horse racing tracks would also be allowed to have slot machines.

Sen. President John Cullerton said SB 737 would bring in $424 million immediately and higher levels of gaming revenue in the future.

The money would go to pay down the state’s backlog of overdue bills and capital projects. The legalization of video poker throughout the state, which was one of the major funding mechanisms of the capital bill, has stalled in getting off the ground and may not bring the revenues that were originally projected.

Sen. Kirk Dillard, a Republican from Hinsdale, said he supported the bill because putting slots in at race tracks would help the agricultural sector — specifically horse breeding and training. “When these jobs are lost, they are next to impossible to replace in rural Illinois.”

Dillard added that he thinks the bill is still being negotiated and will not pass in the House without some changes. “This is not the final product. This thing is going to be back.”

Waukegan Democratic Sen. Terry Link, the sponsor of the bill, characterized it as a “huge” expansion but said something needs to be done to address the state’s “huge deficit.”

Gov. Pat Quinn said at a news conference earlier in the day that he did not support “top-heavy” gaming expansion. He said he has yet read the bill but that is strikes him as “top heavy.”

The Senate also passed SB 3976, which would change the redistricting process used to reconfigure legislative and congressional boundaries after each census.

The measure, which passed with bipartisan support, would add protection for minority populations and require public hearings on the process throughout the state. These provisions were included in the Democrats' redistricting bill, which failed to pass in April. The lack of those provisions is also the reason Democrats cited for voting down the “Fair Map” amendment, which was backed by Republicans and the League of Women Voters.

On Thursday, the Senate plans to take up a measure to reform police and firefighter pensions. The House in not scheduled to return until January.