Senate Week in Review: August 20-24

Growing enrollment decline inspires higher education reforms 

Continuing efforts to keep students in-state, new laws focused on improving the affordability and effectiveness of Illinois’ higher education system were signed into law this week.

Senate Bill 2927 creates the AIM HIGH Grant Pilot Program to encourage access and affordability for Illinois colleges and universities through a new merit-based scholarship. Colleges and public universities have the option to participate in the program where eligible students would be awarded an institutional match grant, making college more affordable for students seeking to obtain their degrees in-state.

Also signed into law was House Bill 4781, which creates the College and Career Interest Task Force. The Task Force will develop a process by which data may be collected and shared amongst public institutions of higher education. The goal is for the data to be utilized to make Illinois’ institutions of higher learning more marketable and attractive to potential students. The Task Force will submit their finding before the General Assembly by January 30, 2019.

Both measures were included in the comprehensive package of legislation proposed by the Higher Education Working Group earlier this year. The bipartisan group of lawmakers came together to address the growing out-migration of college students in Illinois.

New laws to address growing opioid crisis

Five new state laws take steps toward addressing the state’s ongoing opioid crisis and improving access to mental health and substance abuse treatment.

Included in a package of recently-signed legislation was Senate Bill 1707, which expands the definition for “mental, emotional, nervous, or substance use disorder or condition.” Under this legislation, insurance companies’ coverage for patients seeking treatment for mental health and substance abuse disorders will be improved and consumers will receive better protections from the Department of Insurance. 

Also signed into law was Senate Bill 682, which creates the Emergency Opioid and Addition Treatment Access Act, removing authorization barriers that could discourage or delay individuals seeking help for substance abuse disorders from receiving treatment.

Senate Bill 3049 expands the list of Medicaid providers eligible to receive reimbursement for Psychiatric Telehealth services allowing patients to have increased access to behavioral and mental health care.

Senate Bill 3023 creates the Community-Law Enforcement Partnership for Deflection and Addiction Treatment Act, facilitating a partnership between law enforcement agencies and licensed substance abuse service providers to address the growing opioid crisis.

Senate Bill 2951 requires the Department of Healthcare and Family Services to create pilot programs for Medicaid beneficiaries targeting early treatment for mental illness and opioid addiction.

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, opioids were involved in 80 percent of overdose deaths in 2016. 

New law seeks to empower victims of sexual assault

A new law recently signed by the Governor will extend the statute of limitations of reporting of sexual assault cases, correcting an anomaly in current law for victims of sexual assault.

Senate Bill 2271 extends the statute of limitations to allow for the prosecution of a sexual offense committed against an adult within one year after the victim’s discovery. The law previously set the statute of limitations for one year after the offense was committed.

The legislation was proposed in response to a case where a woman was unconscious during the time of a sexual assault, and evidence of the offense was discovered on the perpetrator’s computer during a search warrant for an unrelated crime. The statute of limitations for the offense committed had already expired, and the defendant could not be charged for the sex crime.

The criminal law measure received unanimous support from Senate lawmakers in the spring and was signed into law on Aug. 21.

Two-year registration available for Illinois drivers

A new law that gives motorists the option to register their vehicles for more than one year at a time aims to make vehicle registration more convenient while saving the state money. 

Under House Bill 4259, motorists will be able to register their vehicles for one or two years. It also allows owners of trailers to register their trailer up to five years. The price per year would be the same, but motorists would be able to pay multiple years up front and would not have to change their sticker every year.

The cost-saving initiative was signed into law on Aug. 20 and will take effect beginning in 2021.

Blaze pink helps hunters stay safe

Hunters’ apparel selection will now include blaze pink under legislation recently signed into law. House Bill 4231 allows for blaze pink to be worn as an alternative to orange during firearm deer season and upland game season.

Current law required hunters to wear solid blaze orange caps and upper garments to help increase visibility and improve safety. However, proponents of the legislation argued that blaze pink is a viable and safe alternative color.

According to a study conducted by a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor, spectrometric analysis showed that blaze pink tested with similar visibility as blaze orange, if not better in certain instances.

The measure, which received unanimous support in the Senate and the House, was signed into law on Aug. 18 and will take effect immediately.

Illinois receives passing grades from national small business advocacy group

Illinois’s business outlook received passing grades under a recent report conducted by the National Federation of Independent Business, a nonprofit organization advocating for small businesses and independent business owners throughout the nation.

According to the NFIB’s August 2018 Small Business Scorecard, Illinois’ received an A- ranking for the projected estimate from the Tax Foundation of more than 59,000 new jobs by the year 2025.

A- rankings also highlighted Illinois’ potential for technology usage by freight trucks, Southern Illinois’ thriving tourism industry and a recent veto of House Bill 4572, legislation that raised concerns for small-business owners.

Changes to Medicare cards

According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), Medicare recipients can expect to receive new Medicare cards that better protect private information moving forward.

The Center is removing Social Security Numbers from all Medicare cards, replacing the number with a new Medicare Beneficiary Identifier. Citing medical identity theft as the main reason for the change, CMS says they can better protect private information by removing SSN from the cards.

Current benefits will not be affected by this change and recipients will receive their new cards in the mail. More information about the new Medicare cards can be found at the CMS.gov website.

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