Monday, May 27, 2013

Legislative roundup

By Meredith Colias 

As the legislature faces votes on pension, guns and gaming, lawmakers are also taking up other bills that affect human services, health care and public assistance for low-income Illinoisans.

Lowering the compulsory school age
Illinois could be on the road to starting children in school earlier. Hoping to cut down on truancy issues, especially in Chicago, the House passed Senate Bill 1307, which would require children turning 6 during the school year to attend from the beginning of the academic year. The bill passed on a 64 to 52 vote. Its Senate sponsor, Chicago Democrat Sen. Kimberly Lightford, said lowering the school age would help districts to enforce truancy rules for children under 7 who enroll,but may not attend school on a regular basis.

Since the House pushed the effective time frame back a year to the 2014-2015 school year, the bill now goes to the Senate for a vote on the change. The bill itself was not without controversy. There are concerns that the state should not be superseding the judgment of parents to decide when a child is ready to start school. New Lenox Republican Rep. Renee Kosel argued it is estimated a majority of children in the state already attend school well before the age when the state requires it. “We are passing legislation that we can already do,” she said. Opponents are also concerned about the cost to the state. It is not known how many children are not attending school until age 7, the current starting age. It is not estimated to be a large number. Illinois should not be paying for a “state-funding babysitting service,” Willow Hill Republican Rep. David Reis said.

Early childhood advocates argue that requiring children to attend school at earlier ages is beneficial to them for their academic and social development, especially for low-income children who can begin school with vocabulary and other academic deficits.

Affordable care act marketplace 
Illinois has signed onto “Obamacare,” and in the final days of the legislative session, lawmakers are looking to authorize the creation of an online marketplace for residents who do not have health care through an employer to purchase insurance individually.

House Bill 3227 to create the state’s insurance exchange passed the Senate this week. Its sponsor, Peoria Democrat Rep. David Koehler, described the legislation as a suitable compromise because insurance companies would still be allowed to set prices as long as the plans they submit meet state and federal guidelines. The exchange will be a state and federal partnership. Under Koehler’s bill, Illinois would take over control of the marketplace in 2015. The bill’s fate in the House is unknown. Koehler said he expects to negotiate on the smaller details of the bill but says the main portions of the legislation should remain intact. Enrollment in the exchange is expected to begin for states on Oct. 1, and coverage is set to begin on Jan. 1, 2014.

Clearing criminal records
Some non-violent offenders would be given the chance at a fresh start by petitioning a court to seal their criminal records. Prostitution convictions, possession of marijuana and other controlled substances and retail theft convictions that date back at least four years without a subsequent conviction would be eligible to be sealed under House Bill 3061 introduced by Chicago Democrat Rep. LaShawn Ford. People asking to wipe drug-related offenses off their record would have to pass a drug test within 30 days before their request is granted. Children prosecuted as adults would also be eligible to apply. The Senate passed the bill on a 42 to 13 vote. The bill now goes to the governor. The thought is that sealing criminal records to potential employers would give them a better chance getting a job long after their conviction, but opponents say employers should have the right to know of their criminal record.

TANF assets 
For low-income families seeking welfare assistance, their car, savings and other possessions would soon not count toward their application under a new bill now heading toward the governor. Currently, families applying for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, or TANF, have to prove they have less than $3,000 in assets. The Chicago-based Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law argues that the requirement is outdated, since welfare recipients now have to work at least 30 hours per week. The group argues that limiting their possessions keeps them living in poverty. House Bill 2262 passed the Senate on a 32 to 21 vote and now heads to the governor.

Adult protective services

To prevent abuse of older adults and those with disabilities, House Bill 948 would set up specific procedures for the state to use when investigating alleged incidents of neglect. An investigation by the Belleville News-Democrat found that more than 50 developmentally disabled adults died while being cared for at home since 2003. The paper found that the Department of Human Services had failed to follow up on allegations that some of these people were victims of abuse.

For the full story, read “Hidden Horror Stories,” by George Pawlaczyk and Beth Hunsdorfer in the October 2012 edition of Illinois Issues. The House will have to approve changes made by the Senate before it can go to the governor. The bill would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2014.

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