Legislative Update from Senator Craig Wilcox

Senators Return to Home Districts Before Final 7 Weeks of Spring Session
The Senate was in session Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday last week, and legislators are now back in their home districts until Tuesday, April 13. I will spend this time tending to local constituent issues and attending virtual committee hearings. When we return to Springfield in mid-April, we will be in session nearly every day over the final seven weeks of the 2021 spring session.

Hundreds of bills moved through the Senate committee process last week, and while we took votes on a few bills on the Senate floor on Thursday, most bills that advanced out of substantive committees won’t be taken up until we return to Springfield in April. Up to this point the majority of our time has been spent in committees. When we return in April that will shift, and the bulk of our time will be spent on the Senate floor. April 23 marks the deadline for floor action on Senate Bills. After that point the Senate will review House Bills that received successful floor votes in the House.

Wilcox legislation removing pension penalties for teachers in the National Guard advances
Legislation I sponsored this year that would prevent teachers serving in the National Guard from losing pension credit when involuntary deployments take them out of the classroom cleared the Senate Pensions Committee unanimously on Wednesday.

Under current law, when a member of the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) who simultaneously serves in the National Guard is involuntarily activated for duty, they face a five-year credit cap on service-related activity. Senate Bill 2149 seeks to eliminate the credit time limit for this classification of state employees.

The issue was brought to my attention by a constituent who has been in the National Guard for almost two decades. This individual was deployed in 2018, 2019 and 2020, and while he has not personally hit the five-year cap yet, he said the possibility exists that future involuntary deployments could cause the cap to be exceeded. Our members of the National Guard provide valued service in Illinois, and whether they are being deployed to participate in mandatory training, assist in emergencies, or to help with administering COVID-19 vaccinations, they should not be penalized for their decision to serve in the military. SB 2149 will now be forwarded to the full Senate for discussion and final action.

 

Interagency report finds Illinois veterans’ homes lack proper infection control policies
As a U.S. Airforce Veteran and the Minority Spokesperson for the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, the recent COVID-19 outbreak at the LaSalle Veterans’ Home which tragically led to the death of 36 residents weighs heavy on me. Those deaths were preventable, and a recent report outlines how recommended policies were not implemented or followed.

The Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs (IDVA), the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) and the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs (USDVA) have released a joint report that finds Illinois’ four state-run veterans’ homes lack standardized infection prevention policies even though previous audits recommended their implementation.

The report is a result of the Interagency Infection Prevention Project (IIPP), which was created after the deadly COVID-19 outbreak at the LaSalle Veterans’ Home, which claimed the lives of 36 residents. The IIPP was created with the purpose to “support an integrated and comprehensive response to COVID-19” at the state’s veterans’ homes. Members of the IIPP team consisted of an infection control manager from the USDVA, two infection prevention consultants from IDPH, and a medical consultant from IDPH.

In the report, the IIPP found that IDVA and IDPH still hadn’t implemented uniform policies across its facilities despite the fact that the Illinois Auditor General recommended it in their May 2019 audit of the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak at the Quincy Veterans’ Home. 

The IIPP report makes six broad recommendations for improving the response to COVID-19 and other potential viral outbreaks at the four veterans’ homes. Those recommendations are:

  • Develop and implement system-wide policies, procedures, and practices for infection prevention;
  • Expand system capacity for infection prevention;
  • Broaden and deepen the perspective of the infection preventionists, positioning them to be conveners, coordinators, and communicators for Interdisciplinary Team efforts;
  • Strengthen staff-wide training;
  • Monitor adherence to policy and procedure to identify and correct gaps in a timely manner. Active, shared staff participation extends the reach of the infection prevention program and fosters staff ownership of key infection prevention processes; and
  • Engage top management directly with front-line staff through Interdisciplinary Team rounds for infection prevention.

You can read the full report here.

Senate forges ahead on redistricting despite census data not being available
Despite growing concerns about the public’s limited ability to provide input and the use of outdated and inaccurate census data, last week the Senate Redistricting Committee and sub-committees continued with rushed efforts to finish the redistricting process.

Majority party Democrats are claiming that citizens can submit their own legislative map proposals using a tool and portal that is provided by the Legislature, but neither the tool nor portal has been available for the public to use because of the redistricting process’ fast-pace and delays with the new census data. In fact, the General Assembly will not have up-to-date census data until September. 

Rather than delaying the redistricting process until the census data is released, Democrats continue to hold hearings as they attempt to finish before June 30. June 30 is a significant date, because if the legislative map is not finished by then, the Illinois Constitution automatically shifts the redistricting process to a bipartisan commission. Instead of relinquishing control of the map-making process, members of the Democrat majority have decided it is in their best interest to use faulty data and limited public engagement to create the new map.

In their rush to get a map approved, a public meeting in this area for map input has been scheduled for:

Wednesday, April 7
3:00 PM
College of Lake County, Building A
Auditorium A011
19351 W. Washington Street
Grayslake, IL

I plan to be in attendance and welcome anyone with opinions on legislative maps to also attend. I feel strongly that we should not rush the redistricting process. Throughout Illinois, there is overwhelming support for redistricting reform and the creation of an independent redistricting commission.

Click here to watch a short video about the importance of redistricting.

High Price Tag Health Care Reform Bill Passes
A massive and costly plan to overhaul health care in Illinois is heading to Governor Pritzker for final action. House Bill 158, which is the final pillar of the Legislative Black Caucus’ agenda, passed out of the Illinois Senate on March 25 with a 41-16 vote. I voted against this bill. 

The IL Department of Healthcare & Family Services estimates the cost to implement the provisions of HB 158 to be as high as $12 billion. The proposal makes several changes, including giving the Health Facilities and Services Review Board the power to grant two-month extensions on moratoriums before hospitals in underserved communities are closed, creates a Health and Human Services Task Force and Anti-Racism Commission to recommend solutions to racial inequities in health care, and requires health care workers to complete an hour of implicit bias training per renewal period for licenses or registration. Additionally, House Bill 158 adds new Medicaid liabilities for the state by adding the coverage of doula and home-visit services for the prenatal, pregnancy and 12-month postnatal periods, as well as creating a new class of health care workers to provide community outreach, support and advocacy.

During his budget address last month, Governor JB Pritzker proposed a Fiscal Year 2022 budget that spends $41.6 billion. His spending proposal exceeds estimated revenue by $1.7 billion.  Despite this budget reality, HB 158 would grow the total spending side of next year’s budget by 25% or more.

Many of the initiatives included in this massive bill are good ideas, and if broken down into several different bills I believe some would have received broad bipartisan support. Unfortunately, as has been the case with several other issue areas recently, rather than seeing a package of individual bills that could stand on their own merits, we were forced to consider one mammoth bill featuring several different initiatives and an unsustainable price tag. Governor Pritzker has suggested he will sign the bill.

Prejudgment interest bill passes General Assembly
On Thursday, the Senate passed Senate Bill 72, which increases liabilities and payouts for all personal injury lawsuits. Under this legislation, a prejudgment interest rate of 6 percent is added to judgments awarded by the courts for personal injury or wrongful death cases. Previously, prejudgment interest was only applied to damages in specific cases that did not include personal injury or wrongful death, and was awarded at a 5 percent interest rate.

Without question, people who have been harmed by negligence or wrongdoing deserve to be compensated; however, I believe this legislation unfairly punishes any party, including small business owners and health care workers, who choose to dispute claims brought against them. SB 72 now heads to the Governor, who is expected to

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