Senate Week in Review: March 6-10, 2023

SPRINGFIELD – The Governor and his Administration revealed a plan during the week for the “repurposing and restructuring” of the Choate Mental Health and Development Center, which will relocate more than 100 residents to other residential facilities and community homes.

Also, this week the Senate was back in Springfield working to meet a March 10 deadline by which substantive Senate Bills must be approved by committees. Thousands of bills have been filed since the start of the 103rd General Assembly.

Governor’s plan would force 123 residents to relocate

The Governor and the Illinois Department of Human Services announced this week they would be greatly reducing over the next three years the number of residents at Choate Mental Health and Developmental Center located in southern Illinois. The plan unveiled by the Governor’s Administration comes following negative news coverage involving stories of abuse at the facility.

Currently, Choate is home to approximately 270 residents with mental health and developmental disabilities. Under the Governor’s plan, 123 residents will be forced to relocate to either another state-supported center or a community residence, posing grave concerns for many residents and their families who fear how far away they’ll have to move and the ability to find a facility that fits their needs.

Just two weeks ago, Republican legislators called for public hearings on the issues surrounding Choate and outlined a list of potential solutions to implement for the facility to continue to serve Illinois’ most vulnerable residents. Despite the plan announced this week, Senate Republicans remain committed to ensuring any future action is in the best interest of the residents of Choate and their families.

Protecting long-term care residents against isolation

One of the most vivid memories of the COVID-19 pandemic was the isolation many long-term care residents faced in response to strict government mandates imposed throughout Illinois. Legislation sponsored by State Sen. Jil Tracy (R-Quincy) to ensure that kind of isolation can no longer happen was passed unanimously by the Senate’s Executive Committee this week.

Senate Bill 2322 directs the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) to establish a statewide policy for visitation of residents in the event of a public health emergency. This policy would require facilities to inform residents of their right to designate both a “primary essential support person” and a “secondary essential support person” of their choice. These support people provide essential care for residents far beyond a general visit. Senate Bill 2322 allows residents to continue receiving essential care from their support persons despite visitation restrictions, and even under a statewide emergency.

“There’s a lot that could have been done differently during the COVID-19 pandemic, and one of those things is that no one should ever be alone, especially our most vulnerable,” said Sen. Tracy. “There is no reason that we can’t still keep residents and staff safe, while also ensuring they maintain good mental health by allowing them to see their loved ones. It is my hope that Senate Bill 2322 will continue to move through the legislative process and ultimately be signed into law so that no one will ever have to be isolated again.”

Senate Bill 2322 is expected to receive an amendment to clarify that provisions found in the bill would not affect hospitals or certain care facilities where IDPH has no regulatory oversight.

Sen. Tracy says it is possible to still maintain the safety of residents and staff while also ensuring that our vulnerable population can continue to receive support and care from a loved one.

Ending Illinois’ ban on building nuclear plants

For more than three decades, Illinois has had a ban on the construction of new nuclear power plants. A bill that passed out of Senate Committee this week would end the moratorium and allow the state to increase its energy capacity with this efficient source of energy.

Senate Bill 76 would allow public utility and energy companies the option to choose whether they want to invest in the construction of both traditional, large nuclear reactors or new, small modular reactors that could be placed in existing infrastructure such as factories or pre-existing coal-fired power plants that are already connected to the electric grid.

Nuclear power provides a safe, clean, and reliable source of energy, said Sen. Tracy who supports ending the archaic and arbitrary ban. She noted that allowing more nuclear energy onto the grid would likely lower energy costs for families and consumers and boost local economies impacted by the closure of coal-fired plants.

Senate Republican bill advance during busy week

Of the thousands of bills that have been filed this year in the Illinois General Assembly, only some actually get a hearing and make it through the committee process. This week, Senate committees had a busy week approving substantive bills, many of which are filed and sponsored by Senate Republican members, including:

Senate Bill 1468: Seeks to address the teacher shortage by allowing teachers who are receiving retirement benefits to accept employment as teachers for up to 150 days or 750 hours per school year through 2025, and a maximum of 100 days or 500 hours in 2026 and thereafter. An amendment will be filed to change it from 150 days to 120 days through 2025.

Senate Bill 1470: Allows schools to use remote learning days instead of emergency days, for a maximum of five days per school year to help schools maintain schedules.

Senate Bill 1360: Seeks to address rural food deserts by creating a program where the Illinois Department of Agriculture would establish and operate projects and strategies that focus on the distribution of fresh and nutritious food while providing education in food preparation and nutrition.

Senate Bill 2005: Addresses veterans’ homelessness by requiring housing authorities to develop and implement policies granting housing preferences to homeless veterans.

Senate Bill 2044: Requires the Illinois Department of Public Health to develop a mandatory continued medical education course that surrounds protocols and best practices for identifying, diagnosing, and treating tickborne diseases in Illinois.

Jil Tracy

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