Dale Righter

Illinois State Senator | 55th District


Senate Week in Review: Nov 11-15, 2013

Friday, November 15, 2013

An agreement on a pension reform measure could be close to finalization, according to State Sen. Dale Righter (R-Mattoon). The state’s four legislative leaders recently told lawmakers from both chambers to be prepared to return to Springfield for a possible vote during the first week of December.

Pension reform negotiations were handed over to a bipartisan Conference Committee in June. Lawmakers on the committee worked for months considering witness testimony, pouring over information and trying to establish common ground. The Conference Committee recently handed the reins back to the state’s four legislative leaders, who have continued to hammer out the details of a final proposal.

It is not unusual for initial discussions on major issues to be handled by senior lawmakers, who work together to develop the broad outlines of a potential agreement. Discussions are then frequently turned back to the top leaders to nail down the details and determine if sufficient votes can be found to pass a measure.

Although there appears to be progress on a pension reform proposal, no final decision can be made until the ideas under discussion are “scored” by financial experts. That painstaking process relies on complex financial projections outlining the potential impact of each individual component on the retirement systems over the coming decades. Those calculations will then be used to arrive at an estimated overall savings.

Illinois holds the record for the worst-funded public pension system in the nation. The system is about $100 billion in debt and only has assets to cover less than 40% of the debt the state owes. The state’s poor pension funding has been a major contributor to Illinois having the worst credit rating in the nation.

Huge Medicaid Increase in State

An Associated Press report has found that “only a few hundred middle-class Illinois residents were able to sign up for health insurance” when the federal health insurance exchange opened in October. However, the state’s system for signing up new Medicaid recipients has seen applicants signing up “by the thousands.”

Although the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states did not have to expand Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act (commonly called Obamacare), Illinois elected to greatly increase eligibility anyway. Senator Righter has spoken out against this voluntary expansion, which is expected to cost taxpayers almost $3 billion over the next seven years.

“Just one year after lawmakers took a huge step forward in attempt to reduce costs associated with the state’s Medicaid system, Democrat lawmakers pushed through yet another massive expansion of Medicaid,” said Righter. “They wanted taxpayers to believe that there would be no costs associated with this expansion, even though the Department of Healthcare and Family Services estimated that in just seven years it would cost taxpayers more than $2.9 billion.”

Senate Bill 26 made almost 350,000 individuals eligible for the Medicaid program beginning on Jan. 1, 2014. That number is in addition to 250,000 Medicaid enrollees added in 2012 as a result of a Cook County waiver to implement “Obamacare” earlier.

Illinois Drone Legislation

On another front, a new Illinois law is going into effect Jan. 1 to regulate the use of unmanned “drones” by law enforcement agencies. The law is likely to be closely watched across the country, and is expected to be the first of many efforts in Illinois to reconcile privacy issues with this new technology.

Senate Bill 1587 prohibits law enforcement agencies from using drones to gather evidence, except when a warrant has authorized the use of drone technology. There is an exception for emergency situations. Additionally, evidence collected by the drones must be destroyed after 30 days unless it is part of an ongoing criminal investigation.

A drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). Originally, UAVs were designed for use in the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, but recently this technology has been purchased for use by local law enforcement agencies across the nation. Both the Illinois National Guard and the Champaign County Sheriff’s Department have tested drones in Illinois, and other law enforcement agencies have considered employing drones.

As use of this technology becomes more widespread, it is likely  additional regulations will be put in place, as lawmakers seek to balance privacy concerns with the benefits that unmanned flying machines can have.

Many of the advantages that drones have demonstrated in war zones can be easily translated into domestic uses. Searching farm fields for a missing child, giving police an early warning if they see a surge of street gang members congregating in a park, and surveying a disaster scene before sending crews into a life-threatening situation are just a few possible applications.

Without proper regulation drones, could be used privately to do things like track individuals and conduct corporate espionage. Senate Bill 1587 may have been one of the first measures seeking to address the many issues surrounding unmanned aerial vehicles, but it almost certainly won’t be the last as this technology continues to develop.

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