The McDermed Dispatch for November 18th

The General Assembly met last week for the final three days of veto session. That was the end of scheduled legislative action for the year. The House and Senate are not scheduled to reconvene until Tuesday, January 28.

Diaper Drive

It’s time to kick off my 3rd annual holiday drive! You have all been very generous in the past, I hope to continue this tradition and bring some much needed holiday cheer to Journey, a non-profit in Will County that helps struggling pregnant young women and new moms. 

Serious Ethics Effort Fails

Over the course of the veto session House Republicans introduced a sweeping ethics reform package to address unacceptable practices brought to light by ongoing federal investigations:

The ethics package included:

  • House Bill 3954 that will revise statement of economic interests to include more details similar to the information required for judicial statement of economic interest forms. This forces full disclosure of potential conflicts of interest and provides greater transparency for members of the General Assembly.
  • HJRCA 36 will require a special election to fill General Assembly vacancies through the same laws governing our party primaries. This will prevent political powerbrokers from picking their preferred candidates for the vacancies as is the current case with Rep. Arroyo who resigned in disgrace and is now in charge of picking his successor.
  • House Resolution 588 will allow a Chief Co-Sponsor of any bill with five co-sponsors from each party to call it for an up or down vote in a substantive committee.
  • House Bill 3947 would ban members of the General Assembly, their spouses, and immediate live-in family members from performing paid lobbying work with local government units. Currently, members of the Illinois General Assembly – state representatives and state senators – are prohibited from lobbying the State of Illinois, but are not prohibited from lobbying local government units, such as a counties or municipalities.
  • House Bill 3955 will create mandatory and publicly available documentation of General Assembly communications with any state agency regarding contracts. 

This is in addition to the numerous ethics bills filed earlier this year, including one I filed myself to impose a one year revolving door ban so that lawmakers are not serving as a legislator one day and then a state lobbyist literally a day later (as was the case last year with Rep. Lou Lang). None of these bills were given a hearing or a vote. I’ve sponsored numerous good government and ethics bills in my time in office. They’ve been dead on arrival. Of all the bills listed above, HR 588 is probably the most important. The most glaring issue in the ILGA is that even good bipartisan bills cannot pass unless Speaker Madigan gives his approval.

What little movement we got was only due to pressure put on the Democrats by House Republicans and the public in the face of a string of federal investigations.

So what did pass? Lawmakers that lobby other units of government have to tell us they’re doing it and yet another commission to study the issue (made up of 6 Republicans and 10 Democrats). The Secretary of State also has to combine existing online databases of lobbyists, campaign contributions and statements of economic interest. The Democrats version of ethics reform is placing a Band-Aid on a gaping wound…

Police and Fire Pension Consolidation

Illinois has the second-highest number of pension plans of any state in the country. This includes the 649 downstate and suburban police and fire pension funds, which are underfunded by a whopping $11 billion. Held and managed separately, these funds earn significantly lower investment returns than larger pension plans like the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (IMRF).

Under new legislation, for the purpose of investment only, the funds are consolidated to minimize investment risk and maximize investment returns. Projections are that combining assets could improve investment returns by $820 million to $2.5 billion over the next five years.

Several times during the debate the questions and concerns that pensioners have were brought up- is this a cash grab, will these funds be swept? Will a well off pension fund be used to prop up a poorly performing fund? The sponsor of the legislation repeatedly expressed that none of these things would occur. The legislation as written ensures local autonomy is maintained as well as an individual pensioner’s guarantee which is enshrined in the state constitution.

I understand the skepticism that some police and firefighters might feel when it comes to getting the state involved in anything, but their statewide advocacy organizations, inlcuding the Illinois Firefighters Association, and the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police support this plan. Watch this video here of House Republican Floor Leader Mark Batinick questioning the bill sponsor regarding the concerns pensioners had.

This is a good bill that will help stabilize the finances of the pension funds while relieving pressure on local property taxes.

Vaping Moved to Back Burner

Although a topic of much discussion before and during veto session, bills aimed at curbing electronic smoking devices and their flavors did not advance past both the Senate or the House and are dead until the spring session. The issue primarily came down to exactly what kind of a ban Illinois should implement; the flavorings, THC cartridges, or e-cigarettes all together? Only one bill got to the point where it actually came for a vote. SB 1864 passed the Senate, but ran out of time to be considered in the House. The bill would outlaw flavored vaping products and ban electronic cigarette use in indoor public spaces.

There have been 42 vaping related deaths nationwide (4 in IL) and many more hospitalizations. The latest breakthrough from the CDC says that the lungs of 29 patients across 10 states contained Vitamin E acetate. Vitamin E acetate is used as an additive in the production of e-cigarette or vaping products. While Vitamin E is the first potential culprit, other chemicals have not necessarily been ruled out as the cause. THC is present in most of the samples tested by the Food and Drug Administration to date, and most patients report a history of using THC-containing products.

Difficult Insulin Vote

If you read the headlines, it might sound like I don’t care about those living with diabetes because I “voted to keep insulin prices high” by voting no on a bill that set insulin co-pays at $100 + CPI.

One of the reasons why our drug prices are so high nationwide is because of government policies that increase, rather than decrease, costs. It’s not the appropriate role of state government to set prices on individual medications, price controls never work. We need to get skyrocketing drug prices under control, but setting an arbitrary cap is not the way to do it. That creates a disincentive for companies to bring more affordable generic alternatives to the market. This bill doesn’t “lower” costs, it just shifts them. Someone is still going to pay those costs, and rest assured it won’t be the major players in the industry like PBMs, drug manufacturers, and insurance companies. This bill didn’t limit the price that insulin manufacturers can charge insurance. Consumers will still pay, it will just be less transparent how and where. For example, those pay who are currently paying less than $100/month might now end up paying up to $100/month to spread around the costs. Or everyone will see their premiums rise. 

Finally, this bill doesn’t even apply to most people seeking insulin, it only covers about 20% of Illinoisans with diabetes, meaning it is yet another empty promise in a sound bite and a feel good headline. This is not the structural reform needed to drive prescription drug costs down.