Tentative agreement on school funding; another Bennett bill becomes law

Tentative agreement reached on school funding, but details still being worked out
The four legislative leaders in the House and Senate met Thursday to continue the negotiations on school funding reform legislation. After the meeting both sides said that they had reached a tentative agreement but still had a few details to work out. Leaders will meet again over the weekend to finalize these remaining issues. I am cautiously optimistic that this news means we might finally have gotten this matter resolved.

Illinois’ school funding formula has been in need of reform for a very long time. Last year, Governor Rauner appointed a school funding task force to look at ways to develop a system that would be fair and equitable to every school district in the state. That commission delivered its report to the General Assembly early this year and since then we have been working on legislation based on those recommendations.

As with any major piece of legislation, there were a number of sticking points. Legislation was passed on a party-line vote back in May, but some sections of it were removed by Governor Rauner’s amendatory veto. Because the legislature did not agree to the Governor’s changes, they could not become law. It remains possible either to override the Governor’s veto and enact the bill as it was passed in May, or to enact legislation based on the compromise that appears to have been reached this week. Throughout August, leaders in both houses have been meeting to try to come to an agreement that can pass both houses and be signed into law.

More details of the legislation will be emerging in the coming days. The House will be back in session Monday.

Bennett-sponsored emergency managers’ legislation signed into law
Last Friday Governor Rauner signed House Bill 3469, a bill I sponsored to allow emergency managers and fire chiefs to equip their vehicles with sirens. The legislation was suggested to me by Kent McCanless, the emergency management director in Woodford County. In many areas like ours, some emergency managers and other first responders use their personal vehicles to reach the scene of an emergency. This change would allow them to equip those vehicles with warning sirens so that other drivers will know an emergency response is underway – thus making our roads safer in an emergency.

I want to thank Kent for bringing this matter to my attention and for his help in crafting this legislation. The bill was supported by members of the fire services from around the state and it passed both Houses unanimously.

Administration seeking to get Medicaid costs under control
Through the federal Obamacare program, Medicaid covers the health care expenses of a growing number of Illinois residents. According to one estimate, Illinois may have as many as 4.5 million Medicaid patients by 2019. Swelling patient numbers are one reason why the program’s annual costs have reached multi-billion dollar sums.

Using the administrative rule process, Governor Rauner and his administration have been taking steps to try and reduce the expanding costs of Medicaid while still protecting the most vulnerable. The administration’s primary objective is to complete the transition of many Medicaid patients from a fee-for-service model to the managed-care model already used by most private-sector insurance programs. The administration has already named six managed-care organizations as finalists for the future process of administering Medicaid benefits to recipients. Their goal is to reduce the amount of money spent by Illinois on Medicaid administrative costs and burdens not directly related to patient care.

Democrats in the General Assembly are trying to block this managed-care reorganization. They have sent legislation to the Governor; which he is expected to veto; that would repeal his ability to use streamlined means to move Medicaid care to a managed-care model. It would threaten the process of trying to bring this $13.5 billion-a-year budget item under taxpayer-friendly control.

Gov. Rauner signs series of agriculture bills
Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a series of agriculture bills last week, including House Bill 470, which designates corn as the official state grain of Illinois and is supported by the Illinois Farm Bureau. The bill was inspired by the students in the agriculture development class at Pittsfield High School in western Illinois, who did extensive research on the impact corn has on the state.

Gov. Rauner also signed several other bills that were initiatives of the Department of Agriculture. These bills, many of which seek to cut red tape, will reduce regulations and agency costs within the department.

One of the bills is specifically designed to advance agriculture in Illinois. Senate Bill 1991, which passed unanimously out of the General Assembly, creates an Agriculture Education Shortage Task Force to examine the status of agriculture education in the state. The task force also will make recommendations for how to expand recruitment and retention of agriculture educators. The task force will disband once the final report is completed.

Unemployment rate increases slightly, Illinois continues to underperform neighboring states
The Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) has released jobless numbers for July. The new numbers include a slight increase in the state’s unemployment rate, from 4.7% in June to 4.8% in July. The roll of seasonally adjusted nonfarm Illinois jobs increased only slightly in July, from 6,046,900 positions in June to 6,049,000 jobs in July, an increase of 0.03%.

Once again in July the Illinois private sector generated almost no net new jobs. July job growth in the sectors of professional services, business services, leisure, and hospitality were cancelled out by net job losses in trade, transportation, utility services, educational services, and health care services.  The nation as a whole continued to post significantly better unemployment numbers than Illinois in July (4.3% nationally as opposed to 4.8% in Illinois). The currently posted unemployment rate is even lower in many states that border Illinois. For example, Wisconsin currently enjoys near-full employment with a jobless number of 3.1%.

Did You Know?
Beginning in 1935, Illinois had no set speed limit on rural public highways. State law only required that vehicle speeds be “reasonable and proper having regard to the traffic and the use of the way.” The limitless speed remained in place until 1957, when the rural speed limit was set at 65 miles per hour. In 1974, a federal 55 mph speed limit was imposed, but the 65 mph limit was reinstated to interstates in 1987. Congress repealed the federal speed limit in 1995, leaving the matter up to the states. Illinois set in its current interstate speed limit of 70 mph in 2013.

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