Under current Illinois law, many professional occupations require a state license to practice. Obtaining licensure can often be a lengthy process, which creates a unique problem for our military service members and their spouses who frequently relocate.
To address this issue, I co-sponsored SB 275 this year to expedite temporary occupational or professional licensure to a service member and their spouse when they move into our state. My intent was to ease the financial and psychological stress of military service, help them become re-employed and practice their professions.
The bill, supported by the U.S. Department of Defense, heads to the governor’s desk.
Gaming expansion approved
Among the major pieces of legislation passed by the House last week was an expansion of gambling that would put a casino in Rockford, Chicago and three other cities, add gaming positions at the 10 existing riverboats and allow slot machines at horse racetracks. This follows authorization for video poker and gambling over the Internet.
SB 1849 now moves to the Senate, which has passed similar legislation before. Proponents of the legislation see the expansion as a way of raising money for the state — including some $1.2 billion in up-front fees and annual tax revenue of $300 million to $1 billion. They also believe the expansion will infuse new life into the state’s struggling horseracing industry, create jobs and breathe life into economically stagnant towns.
As we used to say on the farm, the horse is out of the barn when it comes to legalized gambling in our state. Many people want the excitement of gambling but I continue to ask “at what cost?” For the state to earn millions of dollars, individuals must lose billions of dollars. Gambling is income redistribution at its finest and I don’t think it creates sustainable economic vitality for communities or our state.
Medicaid spending reduced
To balance the state budget, legislators need to stop the annual growth in some of the key programs that drive expenses. The House took historic steps toward that goal last week with the passage of Medicaid program changes and efforts to reduce abuse and fraud.
The reforms cut nearly $1.6 billion from our $11 billion Medicaid program; the deepest cuts in the country, except for those made recently in New York.
SB 2840 focuses first on eliminating waste and fraud by ensuring those receiving benefits are truly eligible. In total, 300,000 individuals are expected to be “scrubbed off” Illinois’ Medicaid rolls because they do not meet income eligibility guidelines, are not Illinois residents, have died, or have aged-out of the All Kids program. This eligibility verification alone will save taxpayers $350 million.
The legislation limits or eliminates health care coverage not required by the federal government, increases patient cost sharing, and controls utilization of services. The bill reduces provider rates for care and expands managed care to improve the health of patients and reduce hospitalizations. SB 2840 also provides oversight and assistance from an independent contractor to make sure the agency is making the needed reductions and reforms.
The reforms and increased revenue for the Medicaid program are contained in six pieces of legislation most of which passed last week. Besides SB2840 are HB5007, SB 1355, SB2194, SB3261 and SB3397.
Tax issues combined
Among the difficult votes for legislators last week was SB 3261. The bill included a tax increase on cigarettes while clarifying a property tax decrease for hospitals. With passage of the revenue bill, further cuts to the reimbursements for services of doctors and hospitals were avoided.
The Illinois House voted to raise the Illinois cigarette tax by $1 per pack ($1.98 total) and increase taxes on other tobacco products. This is a regressive tax, but it was a major component to the Medicaid package.
Taxes on other tobacco products, like cigars and pipe tobacco, are increased under the bill. People who use commercial machines to roll their own cigarettes will no longer escape the tax on cigarettes and will pay the $1.98 a pack.
It is anticipated tobacco taxes will collect $350 million per year. Paired with federal matching funds, the plan would produce $700 million to help pay for Medicaid programs.
Bob Pritchard, R-Hinckley, is the state representative for the 70th Legislative District, which includes most of DeKalb County. He can be reached in DeKalb at 815-748-3494, or online through his website, www.pritchardstaterep.com.