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Illinois House gives PANDAS-PANS a code

Thomas Clatterbuck

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In its last day of veto session, the Illinois House voted to give a code to cover PANDA-PANS.  Despite its cute sounding name, PANDAS-PANS is no joke.  PANDAS, or Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections, is a potential side effect of a normal strep throat infection.  During a strep infection, the body’s natural defenses hunt down the strep bacteria, which can mimic normal cells.  Sometimes, when strep mimics brain cells, that can cause the body to attack healthy brain cells by mistake.  The result is a sudden onset of conditions such as ODC or anxiety disorders.  PANS (Pediatric Acute-onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome) describes the same effect, but from any source, not just strep.

In July, HB 2721, better known as “Charlie’s Law,” required insurance companies in Illinois to cover the disorders.  Illinois was the first state to make such a requirement.  There was only one problem: PANDAS-PANS are relatively new disorders.  As such, there is no code for either disorder, so there was no way to bill for it or record that someone had it.  To fix this problem, HB 1277 allows PANDAS-PANS to be coded as autoimmune encephalitis until the disorders get unique codes.

Technical bills like HB 1277 often get ignored as boring or unimportant.  HB 1277 is only three sentences long.  But when it comes to keeping our state’s medial system on the cutting edge, small changes can be critical.

To learn more about PANDAS-PANS, visit the PANDAS Network.

Senior strategist, statehouse reporter and political correspondent for Springfield Daily. Graduate of District 117 and UIS. Thomas covers stories in both Morgan and Sangamon Counties, as well as statewide politics.

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Education

School district leaders ask Rauner to veto $40,000 teacher pay mandate

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A group of school district leaders is urging Gov. Bruce Rauner to veto a bill that would require a $40,000 starting salary for teachers by 2022.

The Illinois School Management Alliance said the unfunded mandate would result in layoffs, dismissals and program cuts.

Senate Bill 2892 passed both chambers last month. State Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, sponsored the bill.

“If we don’t guarantee a salary for a college graduate, we’re not going to get the right folks to go into the teaching profession in the first place,” he said.

Other supporters of the measure said the minimum salary will help attract teachers to Illinois, which some say has a shortage of qualified teachers. The bill would require schools to pay teachers an annual wage of at least $40,000 by the 2022-23 school year. Starting next year, the minimum salary would be $32,076. Once starting salaries hit $40,000 in the 2022-23 school year, the minimum salary rate would continue to increase yearly at the rate of inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index, subject to review by the General Assembly.

The Illinois Federation of Teachers said on its website that the union “was a vocal advocate” of the bill’s passage.

In a letter sent to Rauner on Friday, the Illinois School Management Alliance asked the governor to veto the bill because it would be a costly mandate.

“Though the increase is phased in, it will be a substantial unfunded mandate on local school districts that will consume much or all of any new funding benefit school districts receive from the commitment to the new evidence-based funding formula,” Illinois Statewide School Management Alliance’s Deanna Sullivan said in the letter provided to Illinois News Network.

The Illinois School Management Alliance represents the state’s associations of School Administrators, School Business Officials, School Boards and Principals Association.

The statewide average salary for teachers in Illinois in 2017 was $64,516, according to the Illinois Report Card. Nationally, the average salary for public school teachers in 2015–16 was $58,064, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics.

While the bill wouldn’t affect many Chicago and suburban-area school districts, many in southern Illinois would have to increase pay for teachers. According to the Illinois State Board of Education, more than 500 schools would have to increase their beginning pay for teachers with a bachelor’s degree, some by more than $10,000 over the next four years.

Before voting against the bill last month, state Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, said the minimum salary requirement would force districts to cut other school offerings, like sports.

“Those are the choices that your school officials back home are going to have to deal with if we say, ‘By the way, you’re going to have to pay everyone at least $40,000,’” Righter said.

Sullivan’s letter to the governor echoed that sentiment.

“A top-down approach to mandate a minimum salary for one group of employees within the school setting, without fully funding the increases, will cause layoffs, dismissals, and program cuts across the board in Illinois schools,” the letter said. “Additionally, programs required to meet state and federal education standards will suffer as there will not be enough qualified staff or programming to meet student needs.”

Asked about the issue at two different events last week, Rauner said he wants to see teachers earn more but “get the mandates off from Springfield.”

“We have too many regulations, too many unfunded mandates, too many restrictions on how our teachers teach,” Rauner said in Belleville last week. “Get the mandates off. Get more local control and we’ll have the money to be able to pay our teachers more.”

At a stop in Urbana, Rauner said locally elected school boards should determine how much teachers are paid.

“Let schools run their districts as they see fit,” he said. “Get the mandates off and that will free up resources as well. That’s the way we’ll get more money.”

The bill could be sent to the governor’s desk by the end of this month. Once he has it, Rauner will have 60 days to either change the bill, veto it outright or sign it into law.

The measure passed the Senate with enough votes for a possible override, but didn’t pass the House with the required super majority needed for an override if Rauner were to veto the bill.

Article by Greg Bishop, Illinois News Network. For more INN News visit ILnews.org 

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News

Frerichs: Coming budget is “somewhat out of balance”

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The state’s treasurer says whether Illinois’ budget for the coming fiscal year is balanced depends on how the money is spent by the governor.

State lawmakers have handed out much adulation for passing a budget on time. While many proclaim it’s balanced, government spending watchdogs like Truth In Accounting and Wirepoints, and credit ratings agencies like S&P Global Ratings, have said it’s not because it assumes too much that can’t be guaranteed.

Treasurer Michael Frerichs Monday described the coming fiscal year’s budget as “somewhat out of balance.”

“If the sale of the Thompson Center, which has been booked for the last three years, never happens it will be out of balance,” Frerichs said. “But it is the governor’s job to manage the budget to make sure it’s balanced by the end of the year.”

“It will take careful management to keep the FY19 budget on track,” Gov. Rauner spokeswoman Rachel Bold said. “With continued bipartisan cooperation, we can get that job done at maximum value for taxpayers. The Rauner administration will remain vigilant.”

“The Treasurer is echoing (Rauner’s) comments on the day he signed this budget,” Bold said. “For the first time in many years, we have a budget that can – with proper management – be balanced.”

One area of the budget that Frerichs said will need to be scrutinized is the assumed savings from optional pension buyout plans. Lawmakers hope the potential buyouts will save more than $400 million.

“It remains to be seen whether or not people will participate in these to have the savings that were projected,” Frerichs said. “We’ve looked at Missouri, but Missouri has different protections on their pensions than in Illinois.”

While Illinois lawmakers based the budgeted savings of one pension buyout plan by looking at a state like Missouri, which has offered pension buyouts to vested employees who are no longer employed by Missouri state government, it’s unclear how Illinois’ pension protection clause in the state constitution might muddle the voluntary program that has yet to be offered to eligible members.

Regardless, Frerichs said Rauner will have to keep an eye on it and act accordingly.

“And if the governor is realizing that the sign up rates aren’t matching projections, then he will need to correct throughout the course of the year,” Frerichs said.

Concerns of assumed savings not panning out aside, Frerichs said the fiscal 2019 budget is better than what the state has had in recent memory.

“A budget that is somewhat out of balance needing effective management is a lot better than what we’ve had for the last three years,” Frerichs said.

Rauner has said Illinois hasn’t had a balanced budget for more than 15 years.

The coming fiscal year begins July 1.

Article by Greg Bishop, Illinois News Network. For more INN News visit ILnews.org 

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Announcements

Republican Congressmen Caution Against Pardon of Former Governor Rod Blagojevich

Staff Contributor

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President Donald Trump has been discussing the idea of commuting former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. But seven Illinois congressmen have said that would not be a good idea. Congressmen Rodney Davis (13), Darin LaHood (18), John Shimkus (15), Peter Roskam (06), Randy Hultgren (14), Adam Kinzinger (16), and Mike Bost (12) published a letter laying out why they opposed leniency for the former governor:

Dear President Trump,

We write with a unified message as Republican Members of the United States House of Representatives for the State of Illinois to express our concern regarding your recent comments contemplating the pardon and/or commutation of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. We ask that you give thoughtful attention to our fear that granting clemency for the former governor would set a detrimental precedent and send a damaging message on your efforts to root out public corruption in our government.

As you know, Illinois has gone through a difficult period of public corruption in the past, with several of our recent governors falling to corruption charges and convictions. This trend reached its pinnacle with the impeachment, and later criminal conviction, of former Gov. Blagojevich on 18 counts of public corruption including lying to federal agents, wire fraud, extortion, and bribery.[1] The events leading up to his impeachment, conviction and sentencing to 14 years in prison grew out of a series of actions by the former governor that showed a consistent pattern of public corruption – both within the State of Illinois and it’s agencies – culminating in the ultimate act of public corruption attempting to sell a United States Senate seat.

We believe that it is important to outline why facts from the case of former Gov. Blagojevich show a much larger problem and underlying pattern of public corruption. During his tenure in the governor’s office, Rod Blagojevich participated in several pay-to-play practices in which he attempted to solicit money in exchange for official public acts. Two examples include withholding $8 to $10 million in reimbursement money from Children’s Memorial Hospital until they agreed to contribute over $50,000 to his campaign and withholding the signing of a piece of legislation beneficial to race tracks until one of the race track owners agreed to a $100,000 campaign contribution.[2]

This type of quid pro quo behavior was further exemplified by Gov. Blagojevich’s attempt to sell an appointment to fill a vacancy in the United States Senate. First, he failed to convince then President-elect Barack Obama to either nominate him to a cabinet position or encourage a foundation to hire him at a large salary in return for appointing Valerie Jarrett. Next, he offered the seat to Rep. Jessie Jackson Jr. in exchange for a $1.5 million campaign contribution.[3] Negotiations for the sale of the seat only ended when the former governor learned of federal wiretaps on his phone just days before his eventual arrest.[4]

We believe it is important to take into account both the findings of his impeachment trial by the Illinois General Assembly, as well as his lengthy criminal trials, appeals, and ultimate denial by the United States Supreme Court.[5] After Rod Blagojevich’s arrest, the Illinois House of Representatives, led by members of his own political party, passed legislation authorizing a Special Investigative Committee (SIC), with the purpose of investigating the conduct of Gov. Blagojevich, including any misfeasance or nonfeasance, and providing a recommendation and findings for impeachment under the Illinois Constitution.[6] The report from the SIC recommending an Article of Impeachment was signed by all 21 members, including 12 Democrats and nine Republicans. The Speaker of the Illinois House, Michael Madigan, filed the Article of Impeachment with 13 counts articulating Gov. Blagojevich’s abuse of power which passed the Illinois House of Representatives by a near-unanimous vote of 114-1-1.[7] It is also important to recognize that, following the start of a new legislative session, legislation to reaffirm the actions of the previous General Assembly to impeach Gov. Blagojevich was passed by a vote of 117-1-0 with the only no vote coming from the governor’s sister-in-law, Rep. Deborah Mell.[8]

After passage in the Illinois House of Representatives, the Illinois Senate passed legislation to organize into an Impeachment Tribunal to try the governor as required under the Illinois Constitution.[9] After the impeachment trial was complete, wherein the governor appeared and testified on his own behalf, the Illinois Senate voted unanimously 59-0 to sustain the Article of Impeachment, to immediately remove the governor from office, and to prevent him from holding Illinois office in the future. A clear, nearly unanimous decision from the Illinois General Assembly shows that, in a bipartisan manner, members found overwhelming evidence to impeach the governor for his actions.

Even if his pattern of behavior and unanimous impeachment are not sufficient, the judicial history of his criminal conviction provides additional insight as to the need for his full 14-year sentence. During the course of his two trials, multiple appeals, and a denied writ of certiorari by the United States Supreme Court, his 14-year sentence was continually upheld. During the course of his legal battles, there was never any alleged wrongdoing or nefarious intent by the judges or juries; and on appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit determined the sentence to be within the proper guidelines. Over the course of two trials, he was convicted of 18 total counts of public corruption. On appeal, the court upheld 13 of these counts, articulating that the evidence on appeal against Rod Blagojevich remained overwhelming[10] and remanded the case back to the lower court where his sentence of 14 years was reinstated in full and then upheld again on further appeal.[11] The 7th Circuit Court of appeals confirmed that the District Court judge was within the sentencing guidelines for his convictions.[12] This 14-year sentence was also not at the maximum end of the applicable guideline range.

Commuting the sentence now would actually ensure the governor served less than the low end of the applicable guideline range. The sentencing judge had over 30 years of state and federal experience and knew precisely the damage pay-to-play schemes have on the public, which was recognized with his appropriate sentence. The evidence against Rod Blagojevich was gathered through the diligent efforts of law enforcement professionals in the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. To now excuse him would be demoralizing to those committed agents and officials who work hard every day in Illinois to fight public corruption and defend the rule of law.

On Blagojevich’s last appeal to the United States Supreme Court, not only was his petition for writ of certiorari denied, but Solicitor General Noel Francisco, who your administration appointed, asked the court not to take up what he termed an “unwarranted” appeal.[13] We also believe it is important to point out that, up until the possibility of clemency was reported in the media, Rod Blagojevich’s lawyers had not filed a request to your administration, doing so only after your remarks. From this background, we feel that it is clear that at all levels of the government and judiciary, the correct decision was made given the volume of corruption Rod Blagojevich participated in over the course of his two terms. We hope you will continue to recognize the full scope of his criminal conviction and the personal pattern of corruption and uphold his full 14-year sentence.

While we understand that, as president, you have the privilege and right under our Constitution to grant pardons and clemency as you determine fit,[14] we ask that you consider very carefully the precedent this may set and the impact it will have on acts of public corruption in the future. As you well know, the integrity of our democracy and the core of American values depend on our elected officials being honest in upholding the trust given to them by the American people. Granting clemency to Rod Blagojevich would go against this trust.

We thank you for your consideration of our concerns against granting clemency and the message it would send to the American people.

Sincerely,

 

[1]U.S. v. Blagojevich, 594 F. Supp. 2d 993 (N.D. Ill. 2009).
[2] United States v. Blagojevich, 794 F.3d 729 (7th Cir. 2015).
[3] United States v. Blagojevich, 794 F.3d 729 (7th Cir. 2015).
[4] United States v. Blagojevich, 794 F.3d 729 (7th Cir. 2015).
[5] Blagojevich v. U.S., 854 F.3d 918 (7th Cir. 2017), cert. denied, 86 U.S.L.W. 3523, 86 U.S.L.W. 3526 (U.S. Apr 16, 2018) (No. 17-658).
[6] H.R. 1650, 95th Gen. Assemb., Reg. Sess. (Ill. 2009).
[7] H.R. 1671, 95th Gen. Assemb., Reg. Sess. (Ill. 2009).
[8] H.R. 5, 96th Gen. Assemb., Reg. Sess. (Ill. 2009).
[9] S.R. 6, 96th Gen. Assemb., Reg. Sess. (Ill. 2009).
[10] United States v. Blagojevich, 794 F.3d 729 (7th Cir. 2015).
[11] United States v. Blagojevich, 854 F.3d 918 (7th Cir. 2017).
[12] United States v. Blagojevich, 794 F.3d 729 (7th Cir. 2015).
[13] Mitchell Armentrout, Fed lawyer urges Supreme Court to ignore Blagojevich’s latest ‘unwarranted’ plea, Chicago Sun Times, Mar. 1, 2018, https://chicago.suntimes.com/news/solicitor-general-slams-blagojevichs-latest-call-for-supreme-court-to-hear-case/.
[14] U.S. Const. art. II, § 2, cl. 1.

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