The 4-3 decision, which fell along partisan lines, found that the Independent Maps amendment to govern the way Illinois draws its lines for General Assembly seats should not appear on the November 2016 ballot. The decision, which cannot be appealed to any higher panel, will make it impossible for Illinoisans to speak out on the process used to elect members of the Illinois General Assembly.
Three members of the Supreme Court, speaking out in dissent, strongly criticized the majority decision. Justice Robert Thomas labeled the decision a “nullification” of plain language of the Constitution allowing the voters the right to circulate petitions to amend that article of the State’s fundamental law that governs the organization and operation of the General Assembly. This limited initiative right was inserted in the Constitution of 1970 as a common-sense response to the likely conflicts of interest to be faced by future General Assemblies when looking at questions involving the Legislative Article of the Constitution.
The Supreme Court majority, led by Chief Justice Thomas Kilbride, said that Illinoisans can circulate a petition to change the way that Illinois legislative districts are mapped whenever they want to do so, but the Supreme Court will not advise them in advance of what the language on the petition should say if the amendment is to be drafted properly; and the Supreme Court reserves the right to throw out any language that it likes if it believes that the language has been drafted improperly. Persons who commented on the Supreme Court decision were left puzzled as to what kind of recourse is provided by current case law to voters who are not satisfied with the current system of drawing legislative maps in Illinois.
State Board of Education Listening Tour to Stop at Mundelein High School
The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) has scheduled a second series of listening tours to meet with members of Illinois communities to ask for input on the state’s draft plan for the Every Student Succeeds Act. Citizens can learn about the plan and provide their input at Mundelein High School, 1350 W. Hawley Street in Mundelein, on Thursday, September 15 from 4:30-6:30 PM. The draft plan will also be posted on line this week at isbe.net/essa. Citizens who cannot attend the hearing are welcome to provide comments by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
ACA Rates soar for Obamacare Customers in Illinois
The Illinois Department of Insurance announced this week that Illinois residents and households who buy individual health insurance on the Get Covered Illinois ACA insurance exchange will face major increases next year. Rates for a typical health insurance plan are set to increase by an average of 43%.
The rate increases follow a major shakeout in the Illinois ACA marketplace, with co-op Land of Lincoln Health liquidating its coverage rolls and for-profit giants Aetna and United Healthcare withdrawing from the market. Remaining participants in the Illinois ACA exchange face less competition and will be able to dictate more terms to potential patients and health care providers. Rate increases could be especially high in Downstate Illinois, where much of the effects of this shakeout are concentrated. For example, ACA customers in the Metro-East could see “silver-plan” increases as great as 70%. According to the Department of Insurance, patients in eight Illinois counties are going to find that only one insurance firm will be willing to sell ACA-compliant policies to them.
Governor Rauner signs Firearms Trafficking Bill to help Protect Communities from Gun Violence
Governor Bruce Rauner signed HB 6303 into law this week to strengthen laws against gun trafficking in Illinois. The bill enhances penalties for firearms trafficking and aims to reduce the growing gun violence epidemic. This will help keep our kids and communities safe by allowing our law enforcement agencies to take action on those who are trafficking guns. HB 6303 makes it a felony for a person who has not been issued a FOID card to bring firearms into the state with the intention of selling or delivering them. Furthermore, if the individual trafficking in gun sales has previously been convicted of an unlawful use or delivery of a firearm, gunrunning or firearm trafficking, they will face even stiffer penalties. It is important to note that this bill does not take guns out of the hands of anyone that safely and legally has or carries a firearm. It exempts FOID card holders specifically for that reason. The bill is designed to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and off our streets.
New Laws, Executive Order Helps 16,000 Kids
The laws and executive order are oriented towards 16,000 children under the legal care and supervision of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). It is the universal goal of youth authorities, when a child needs a guardian, to select an adult relative or friend from the child’s background, but this is not always possible. In some cases, a court assigns guardianship over a young person or pre-adult to the State of Illinois. Young people in this category were traditionally called “wards of the state,” and one of the effects of this policy change will be to request that people in this standing now be called “youth in care.” Gov. Rauner signed the executive order on Friday, August 19.
The Youth-in-Care executive order was signed in conjunction with the Governor’s signing of a package of bills dealing with adoption and child welfare issues. For example, HB 5665, sponsored by Rep. Christine Winger, was signed as part of this package. Aimed at normalizing the lives of young people in foster-care settings, HB 5665 gives caregivers the right to grant or not grant permission to a child to participate in extracurricular, enrichment, cultural, and social activities. Examples of group activities for which parental or quasi-parental permission is necessary include sleepovers, church camps, and scouting camps. Prior to the passage of HB 5665, the caregivers had to get a signoff from DCFS personnel in order to be able to grant quasi-parental permissions of this type. HB 5665 was signed into law as P.A. 99-839.
Enrollment for Winter Heating Assistance Program Opens on September 1
The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) will begin accepting applications for winter heating assistance on Thursday, September 1. The program makes heating bill payments on behalf of households.
September applications to the program are welcome from seniors and persons with disabilities who meet the income guidelines included in the program. Persons with income challenges who are eligible for LIHEAP through other pathways, such as households with young children and households that have had their utility services disconnected, will be asked to wait until a second series of application opportunities opens staring October 1.
The LIHEAP program is operated by the Office of Energy Assistance within the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. Illinois residents who need guidance on whether they are eligible for the program, or who wish to apply for admission to the program, should contact the Office of Energy Assistance. In many cases, applicants will be asked to make a contribution toward the total energy bill under the Percentage of Income Payment Plan (PIPP) program within LIHEAP.
Walgreens Sets up Safe-Disposal Bins
Both law enforcement and environmentalists have expressed concerns about the safe disposal of prescription pharmaceuticals. These chemicals are, in some cases, controlled substances that are prescribed only to patients that have conditions that warrant taking them. In other cases, prescription pharmaceuticals are being disposed of in ways that can pollute the environment and cause human hazards. In a few cases, some over-the-counter pharmaceuticals may fall into this second category.
In some cases, people do not know what to do with old and unused pharmaceuticals. The most common example of this situation involves drugs that have expired and should no longer be safely taken for the purpose for which they were prescribed. Other examples include the contents of a medicine cabinet of a person who has died or moved to a care facility. Too often, drugs like these are thrown into the standard waste stream; in a few cases, they may be resold on the street.
Walgreens has taken steps to install more than 500 “Safe Medication Disposal” kiosk bins in drugstores across the U.S., including 45 bins in Illinois. The kiosk bins will offer friends and family members of persons who no longer need their drugs a safe place to dispose of the special waste. The automated bins will create an opportunity for the secure removal of dangerous drugs, such as opiate painkillers, from a household that no longer needs them. Both prescription and non-prescription (over-the-counter) medications may be disposed of in the bins.
Two Bills Signed into Law to Fight Against Human Trafficking
Gov. Rauner signed both bills into law on Sunday, August 21. HB 2822 creates the Human Trafficking Task Force to look into and discuss recommendations for reducing Illinois incidents of human trafficking. The Task Force has been asked to report its findings no later than June 30, 2017.
SB 3007 will speed up the process of granting victim status to persons who have undergone human trafficking, reducing barriers to the provision of medical benefits for these individuals.
Human trafficking refers to the involuntary importation of persons into the United States and into Illinois for purposes of exploitation, typically sexual exploitation or labor exploitation. The National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC), a private-sector reporting center, counted 122 human-trafficking cases in Illinois in 2015. In the first half of 2016, 94 additional cases were reported by or through NHTRC, marking an intensification of patterns of human-trafficking activity in Illinois through June of this year. The Resource Center operates a 24/7 toll-free hotline, at 1-888-373-7888, to report allegations of human trafficking.