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Senate Week in Review: Oct. 10 – 14, 2016

SPRINGFIELD – Gov. Bruce Rauner takes an important step to reform government; the Illinois Supreme Court issues an important ruling dealing with child suspects in court; a state ban on synthetic drugs receives national recognition; and new survey results reveal a large majority of Illinoisans are still waiting for a new direction for state government.

Reforming Medicaid
State Sen. Dave Luechtefeld said Gov. Rauner is pushing ahead on government reform that he can implement as the state’s chief executive. On Oct. 13, the Administration officially submitted a Medicaid waiver proposal to the federal government to improve state programs for behavioral healthcare.

“Illinois is transforming the way we provide behavioral and mental health care services to our residents,” Gov. Rauner said. “This waiver focuses on helping the whole person by getting the right services to the right person in the right setting at the right time.”

A major part of the waiver, which has bipartisan support, is a request to accelerate the shift in care from institutions to community settings. It’s the goal of the waiver change to allow the state to intervene earlier with those needing help and provide increased access to healthcare services.

The state’s waiver asks to use $2.7 billion in federal Medicaid funds to invest in early interventions and infrastructure over the next five years to support and improve the quality of care, while avoiding more costly traditional methods of admissions and treatment in institutional settings.

The waiver was developed by the Governor’s Office in cooperation with 12 state agencies and community organizations and representatives. The effort also involved a number of public hearings.

Courtroom Changes for Juvenile Suspects
The Illinois Supreme Court recently adopted new rules that ban the use of physical restraints on child suspects in juvenile court. New Supreme Court Rule 943 declares that restraints should not be used “unless the court finds, after a hearing, that such restraints are necessary to prevent physical harm to the minor or another, the minor has a history of disruptive behavior that presents a risk of harm, or there is a well-founded belief that the minor presents a substantial flight risk.”

Illinois joins other states, which have made similar changes to rules governing juvenile suspects.

“The amendments adopted by the Court will eliminate instances of indiscriminate shackling of minors in juvenile delinquency proceedings that were occurring without an individual judicial determination,” Chief Justice Rita Garman said in a statement released by the Court.

The proposed changes were brought to the Court by a number of youth advocacy organizations including the Illinois Justice Project, the Children and Family Justice Center of the Bluhm Legal Clinic, the Juvenile Justice Initiative and others.

Illinois Law Becomes Model Policy for States
Illinois’ recently enacted ban on synthetic drugs might be adopted by other states thanks in part to the endorsement of the policy by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an association of state lawmakers from across the nation. The Illinois law, which took effect this year, was introduced and passed with bipartisan support in 2015 by Republican State Sen. Kyle McCarter.

Synthetic or designer street drugs are commonly known by names such as K-2, Spice, Yucatan Fire, Scooby Doo and others. They pose serious risks. They are more readily available at much lower prices than the typical street drugs they mimic such as marijuana, cocaine and meth, but with higher potency and significantly more dangerous to the user. They are often purchased at convenience stores as an over-the-counter product. And while the labels often carry a disclaimer “Not for Human Consumption,” such statements will no longer qualify as a legal “way out” for the makers. Getting rid of the label’s liability loophole is a key component of the new Illinois law and ALEC’s model policy based on the law.

Sen. McCarter presented the Illinois law to the Council during their recent national meeting in August. ALEC formally adopted the legislation as a model policy for all states on Sept. 12.

Poll: Voters Looking for Reform in Illinois
A new poll of registered Illinois voters by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute released Oct. 10 reflect the public’s view that good government reforms are needed in state government to take Illinois in a different direction from the failed policies of the previous two administrations.

According to the poll, 84 percent of registered Illinois voters believe the state is heading in the wrong direction. Only 10 percent said Illinois is the right track. Though voters clearly desire change in how Illinois does business, since the beginning of Gov. Rauner’s term Democrat legislative leaders have rejected real, good-faith proposals to change the direction of state government.

Instead, the realistic reforms introduced by Republican lawmakers that would help employers, create jobs, boost the economy, and eliminate waste and fraud in state government, were quickly defeated or not given an opportunity for debate.

Like the Choice Hotels TV commercial that asks, “Should I stay or should I go?” Illinois residents were also asked the same question in the survey, and 47 percent indicated they would like to move, while 51 percent would stay. The poll found that taxes were the single biggest reason for leaving, followed by the weather, the government and jobs.

The poll clearly indicates that Illinoisans are not satisfied and reform is needed to restore confidence in government, address the ongoing fiscal crisis and rebuild the Illinois economy. The Paul Simon Public Policy Institute surveyed 1,000 registered Illinois voters from Sept. 27 through Oct. 2.

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