Friday, May 07, 2010

Legislative wrapup

University borrowing
Under a bill passed today, universities would have the ability to borrow in anticipation of payments from the state. SB 642, would allow schools to borrow 75 percent of what they are owed. The money would have to be repaid within one year of the loan or 10 days after the state comes through with the payments.

The Senate on Wednesday unanimously approved changes to Illinois’ Telecommunications Act, the framework regulating providers of basic telephone service.

SB 107, if signed by the governor, would lighten regulations on those providers, which include AT&T, while ensuring that providers of newer technologies, such as cable telephone systems and broadband, that they would not be regulated by the state for at least the next three years. The measure would also require companies such as AT&T to offer price-fixed, basic telephone packages.

The measure is heralded as a “jobs bill” and a way to lure in more broadband investment. But consumer advocacy groups such as the Citizens Utility Board [CUB] say the bill might actually widen the digital divide between rural and urban Illinois.

The House on Wednesday approved the bill with unanimous support. Gov. Pat Quinn, an who helped create CUB and who as governor says jobs are a main priority, has not said whether he would sign the measure into law.

Illinois State Police funding
The Illinois State Police will likely avoid numerous layoffs and regional office closures now that both chambers of the General Assembly have approved a measure expected to provide $22 million.

SB 3695 would require county courts to assess additional fees of between $1 and $15 to go to the ISP Operations Assistance Fund. When those fees are placed on mail-in bonds, which by Supreme Court rule cannot exceed $75, the ISP fee would further diminish the amount now distributed to several local agencies.

Opponents say local governments can’t afford a shrinking piece of the pie. Those in favor of the measure say that without the additional funding, the ISP would have to cut about 460 officers and close five regional offices. With fewer police on the roads, counties and municipalities would see less money from ISP citations.

Nursing home reform
Potential nursing home patients would undergo enhanced screening and background checks before being admitted to a long-term care facility, under SB 326, which the General Assembly approved this week with near unanimous support.

Mentally ill patients would also only be admitted to nursing homes specially certified for handling such patients, who would be segregated from other patients, and nursing homes would be subject to tighter reporting and ethics regulations.

A working group of state agencies and other stakeholders would also be formed to study possible expansion and funding of residential and community-based care options.

Unfunded mandates
Schools would be allowed to ignore certain state mandates, under a measure now headed to the governor.

If HB 80 becomes law, schools could use a lower blend of biodiesel, raise driver’s education fees to $250 from $50 and reclassify students receiving only speech services so that they don’t require an individual education program, as other special education students do.

Lobbyist reform
If Gov. Pat Quinn signs SB 1526, lobbyists would again be required to pay an annual registration fee, but it would be less expensive than the one the legislature wrote into law last year.

A judge blocked the state from collecting the $1,000 fee approved last year after groups sued on the basis that such a high figure violated First Amendment rights. Following the ruling, the secretary of state stopped collecting fees altogether.

The new measure would lower the annual fee to $300.


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