Notes from the Field...

May-June 2011

Legislative Wrap-Up

From January to May, the 97th General Assembly session was something of a roller-coaster ride with highs, lows, twists, turns and an overall feeling of free-fall. With legislators bogged down in budget talks - which included posturing, competing versions of an FY 2012 spending plan and continued threats to human services - there was little certainty of how much actual legislation could get passed.

The good news is that key bills aligning with our public policy agenda around Education, Income, Health and Sector Strength made it through both houses. The budget again offered mixed results for human services but the outlook is again bleak.

Education Reform Wins Broad Support

SB 7 passed the Senate unanimously in mid-April after Sen. Kimberly Lightford led closed-door negotiations with teachers unions, education reform groups and school management. Despite initial unanimity, union leaders pulled their support after SB 7 passed the Senate because of concerns about collective bargaining and strike rights.

United Way of Illinois encouraged parties to continue to work together as the legislation moved to the House. The bill won almost unanimous support in the House with one no vote and one member voting present.

Overall, SB 7 ties teacher performance to decisions regarding teacher layoffs, teaching assignments, tenure and certification. It requires school surveys of learning conditions in schools to identify best practices and it mandates training for school board members. For Chicago Public Schools, the bill paves the way for lengthening the school day and year.

Teacher union concerns that SB 7 requires 75% of Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) members to authorize a strike were addressed in a trailer bill that passed at the end of May. That bill, HB 1197, specifies the three-fourths majority includes only members with voting rights. CTU officials expressed satisfaction with the legislation's ultimate outcome.

United Way Helps Restore Funding for Parent Resource Centers

United Way of Illinois responded to an alert from United Way Worldwide and the National PTA to advocate for federal funding of Parent Information and Resource Centers (PIRCs), the sole providers of technical assistance and capacity building for local districts and states to engage families in education reform.

In mid-May, U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter of California introduced HB 1891, an education spending bill that would have eliminated PIRCs. The bill came out of the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education, on which U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert of Illinois sits.

United Way of Illinois outreach to Congresswoman Biggert secured her support of PIRCs. An amendment for the program's reauthorization squeaked through subcommittee markup with a 20-19 vote. It was the only amendment that cleared markup and the only program that was not defunded.

In the midst of an extremely difficult economic and political climate, United Way advocacy protected parent engagement in education.

New Bill Puts Spotlight on Immunizations

Promotion of HB 1338, the Immunization Data Registry Act, during our annual Lobby Day in Springfield helped secure the bill's passage in both houses. The act gives the state authority to develop and maintain an immunization data registry to collect, store, analyze, release and report immunization data.

The Illinois Department of Public Health already operates and maintains the state's electronic immunization data registry system, the Illinois Comprehensive Automated Registry Exchange (I-CARE). HB 1338 establishes rules for I-CARE at no cost to the state. The bill passed unanimously in the Senate and with an overwhelming majority in the House.

Data in the registry only would be used to:

Better use of and participation in I-CARE could lead to cost-savings for the state through a more efficient immunization system.

Agreement with State is First Step to Outreach on 529s

HB 261, which United Way of Illinois supported, turned into an agreement with the state Treasurer's Office to collect data on race, ethnicity, income, etc. of participants of the state's 529 Bright Start College Savings Program.

The Bright Start program provides tax-incentives and low minimum savings requirements to encourage college savings for individuals of all income levels.

While technically available to anyone, the program's current structure makes it difficult for low-income families and ethnic and racial minorities to participate. Understanding who uses the accounts will allow targeted outreach and planning to increase college savings for all Illinois students.

HB 261 would have made data collection mandatory. Under the agreement with the Treasurer's Office, answering questions on enrollment forms will be voluntary. Even so, it offers a basis for data collection.

Management Improvement Initiative Committee Passes with Unanimous Support

Our persistence in advocating for HB 1488 led to unanimous support in the Illinois General Assembly. The bill creates the Management Improvement Initiative Committee to review state contracts with community health and human service providers, eliminate redundancies, and integrate work processes across state divisions and departments.

The bill is part of a larger effort to make collecting information from providers simpler. It continues our work last year to help draft and win passage of the HB 5124, the Streamlined Auditing Bill that is now law as PA 96-1141.

PA 96-1141 requires the Department of Children and Family Services, Department of Human Services, Department of Healthcare and Family Services, and Department of Public Health to develop a streamlined auditing and accreditation system.

Reducing the number of required audits and accreditations will save providers time and money. Each department review costs providers between $4,300 and $9,000 while taking valuable staff time away from client services.

Passage of HB 1488 this session was crucial to ensuring the requirements of PA 96-1141 become reality.

HB 1488 passed the House unanimously in March and was amended and passed unanimously in the Senate in May. The Senate amendment added a sunset date for the committee of Dec. 31, 2014. The House passed the amended bill unanimously at the end of May.

State Budget Passes Budget With 17% Decrease for DHS

Despite advocacy urging the General Assembly to pass the Senate's $34.3 billion budget for FY 2012, lawmakers instead went with the House's version of $33.2 billion. Using the Senate's revenue estimates, which were backed by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, could have spared human services from steeper cuts.

Instead, the $3.2 billion allocated to the Department of Human Services represents a 17% decrease from the FY 2011 budget. The almost $670 million cut is disproportionate compared with other agencies, though community-based providers did not bear the brunt of cuts.

Overall, state agencies saw a 6% decrease in funding with the Department of Healthcare and Family Services gaining 1%, the Department of Aging gaining 17% and the Department of Children and Family Services losing 3%.

In the final hours of the session, Senate Democrats tried to add more than $430 million for education and human services through a public works bill. House leaders refused to approve the bill but Gov. Quinn has said legislators need to come back to Springfield to address HB 2189 or the state would have to shut down summer road construction.

At this time, it is unclear what ultimately will happen with the budget. An additional $430 million would restore about $110 million to DHS. Instead of a 17% cut compared with FY 2011, the department would be cut 14%. A complete analysis of the enacted state budget will be provided after its approval.