Belleville News-Democrat - June 8, 2017 | original article

By Casey Bischel

Like many states, Illinois passed legislation trying to control the opioid and heroin epidemic.

The Heroin Crisis Act, which took effect Sept. 9, 2015, included a series of changes to the Illinois Prescription Monitoring Program, a statewide database maintained by the Illinois Department of Human Services.

The PMP records prescriptions for opioids and other potentially addictive drugs when they are filled at pharmacies. Through the program, medical providers can see what their patients are taking and help catch people seeking fraudulent prescriptions, a practice known as “doctor-shopping.”...

...In 2017, State Sen. Melinda Bush, D-Grayslake, sponsored legislation that would make PMP checks mandatory for prescribers or people they designate to.

“It’s indefensible and reprehensible (not to check),” Bush said on the Senate floor before her bill passed without a single “no” vote.

The bill then sailed through the House Human Services Committee unanimously, but it was held for an amendment by state Rep. Michael Zalewski, D-Riverside, after the ISMS voiced concerns. Zalewski said he asked the organization twice before the legislative deadline for the amendment it wanted to submit, but ISMS didn’t send it.

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Category: In The News

1015a005Daily Herald - June 7, 2017 | original article

By Jake Griffin

One result of the Illinois legislature's repeated failure to pass a budget is a big backlog of unpaid bills to companies and nonprofits that do business with the state or have contracts to care for the sick and needy.

In the suburbs, that adds up to $2.2 billion owed to more than 5,100 health care providers, local government agencies, small businesses and other state vendors.

That's according to the most recent figures released by Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza's office late last week that showed amounts owed to vendors in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake and McHenry counties from the state's general fund.

The amount is roughly 15 percent of the $14.7 billion the state owes all vendors. Chicago-based vendors are owed close to $5.6 billion, according to the comptroller's figures.

"It makes it tough, which shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone," said Mark Stutrud, CEO of Lutheran Social Services of Illinois, based in Des Plaines.

Lutheran Social Services shuttered several social service programs during the state budget crisis that began three years ago. At one point, Stutrud said, the charity was owed millions from the state, but that amount has shrunk in recent months. Lutheran Social Services is now owed close to $1 million, according to the comptroller's figures. Stutrud said that's mainly for providing mental health care.

"It's disgraceful, the whole situation," said Arlington Heights Republican state Rep. David Harris. "It significantly hurts these vendors and forces them in essence to be Illinois' banker by providing the dollars we use to run our state in any number of different ways. It's an embarrassment."

The state last passed a full-year budget in 2014.

The comptroller's data was for bills submitted up to June 2, but it didn't detail how long some of the bills had gone unpaid.

However, officials in Mendoza's office said bills from some suburban school districts go back to at least the start of the 2016-17 school year. Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 is owed nearly $4.8 million -- mainly for special education reimbursements -- and has been seeking payment since September 2016.

School districts "are in a quandary" about how to budget for the coming school year, District 211 Superintendent Dan Cates said. "Schools need to brace for another year of uncertainty."

Health insurance management firms like Oak Brook-based Molina Healthcare and Westmont-based Illinicare, both health providers for Medicaid recipients, are owed the most in the suburbs, together accounting for more than $1 billion.

School districts have hefty bills as well. Elgin Area School District U-46 and Bloom Township High School District 206 in Chicago Heights are owed a combined $41 million.

Some vendors were owed just pennies. Paddock Publications, the parent company of the Daily Herald, is owed $321.13, according to the comptroller's report.

To compound the state's financial woes, state law requires interest payments on most past due bills after 60 days.

"Currently, we owe something like $700 million to $800 million in interest alone," said Democratic state Rep. Marty Moylan of Des Plaines. Democrats blame Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner for insisting on pro-business changes before agreeing to a budget, while the GOP blames Democratic leaders who control the legislature.

Some lawmakers are worried vendors will stop doing business with the state.

"Who are you getting to do the work that's willing to wait months, if ever, to get paid?" said Grayslake Democratic state Sen. Melinda Bush. "We've got to pass a budget to be sure we're getting the best workers."

Category: In The News

Illinois House chamberLake County News-Sun - June 1, 2017 | original article

By Jim Newton

Lake County legislators on both sides of the aisle are expressing anger, frustration and — in some cases — a shared sense of disappointment in top leadership of both parties as the state's dire budget woes continue.

After the state legislature's spring session closed Wednesday without the passage of a budget, further prolonging a situation dating back two years, both Republican and Democratic senators and state representatives bemoaned another lost opportunity.

"The Senate passed a balanced budget and passed it to the (Illinois) House. Now the speaker and the governor need to put down their swords," State Sen. Melinda Bush, D-Grayslake, said Thursday of Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Bush, who called the amount of time Illinois has gone without a budget "unprecedented" in the modern era, lauded a bipartisan committee of legislators that has been working for months to reach compromises on issues of contention and soften party lines. But she added that both Rauner and Madigan continue to effectively steer votes along party lines.

The Senate's passage of the budget, without one supporting Republican vote, leaves the matter in the hands of the House, but Madigan's decision not to call a vote by the end of May means the legislature will now need a three-fifths super-majority to approve budget items.

Bush said that will make the task even more difficult, and the projected income-tax increase that will be needed to address the state's current $14.4 billion debt will only get higher with each year that a budget is not passed.

She added that the budget proposal passed by the Senate, which included many of the conditions Rauner has said he wants, would result in an income-tax increase of about 4.9 percent, and that "if it goes on for another year, we're going to need a 6 percent increase."

The state legislature is expected to reconvene before the end of June. The state's fiscal year ends June 30.
Summer rerun: Session ends with Democrats, Rauner failing to cut budget deal

"We're not giving up. We're still here for a month, and we have a group of bipartisan legislators still trying (to reach compromise)," Bush said.

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Category: In The News

Illinois State CapitolThe State Journal-Register - May 30, 2017 | original article

By Doug Finke

Illinois senators Tuesday approved bills that impose a two-year property tax freeze for school districts and local governments outside of Chicago.

The legislation – Senate Bill 482 and Senate Bill 484 – now go to the House.

Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office, which has sought a four-year property tax freeze, labeled the bills “phony.”

Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said the legislation fulfills Rauner’s desire to have a property tax freeze as a condition of the General Assembly raising taxes to balance the budget.

“This is a full property tax freeze,” Cullerton said. “The question is the length. My philosophy is two years is a really good start, and if it is so popular, we can come back and do it again.”

That wasn’t good enough for Senate Republicans, most of whom voted against the bills.

“We have the highest property taxes in the entire country,” said Sen. Karen McConnaughay, R-St. Charles. “It’s one of the driving reasons why people leave the state of Illinois. If we are going to pass a massive income tax (hike), don’t we think the very least we can do for the people of Illinois is to give them more relief than what is being presented?”

“If we pretend to care about our constituents, we need to do more than a two-year freeze,” said Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet.

Sen. Melinda Bush, D-Grayslake, said Republicans were unwilling to buck Rauner in the name of compromise.

“The Senate Democrats have stood up and done the right thing,” Bush said. “If we really want to change the trajectory, you’ve got to get the cojones over there to stand up to Gov. Rauner. It’s time to do the right thing. Stop the damn politics.”

In the end, though, only three Republicans voted for the two bills – Sam McCann of Plainview, Sue Rezin of Morris and Kyle McCarter of Lebanon. Nine other Republicans voted “present” on both bills.

Read more...

Category: In The News

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