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Bristow now vice-chair of economic panel
    
    State Rep. Monica Bristow, D-Alton, has been named the vice chairperson of the Economic Opportunity and Equity Committee in the Illinois House.
    “As former president of the RiverBend Growth Association, it was my job to meet with local business owners, members of economic development groups, lawmakers, labor organizations and corporations in the area to see how we could create more jobs and opportunities in our region,” said Bristow. “I believe that my experience in the job growth sector will be extremely beneficial as the committee works to not only keep jobs in Illinois, but also establish new ideas on how to bring new jobs to our state and to the Metro East.”
    Bristow will also be serving on the committees on Agriculture and Conservation, Human Services, Mental Health, and Prescription Drug Affordability.
    “Mental health and the opioid crisis are two issues that I hear about daily in my district, and I am honored to be serving on these committees to help find viable solutions to combat the opioid crisis and the burgeoning prices of prescription drugs,” said Bristow.
    
Lawmakers seek reform of Illinois health care
    
    Fed up with what they said are delayed and denied state payments, legislators are joining safety-net hospitals to call for landmark reform of managed care companies under Illinois’ Medicaid program.
    House Bill 2814 and Senate Bill 1807, also known as the Safety Net Hospital MCO Reform Act, provide a path to rein in repeated abuses by managed care organizations (MCOs) in their oversight of hundreds of millions of dollars of care each year provided by hospitals who treat Medicaid low-income patients.
    The bills would require MCOs to treat hospitals as expedited providers who regularly need quicker payments, similar to the state’s fee-for-service system; and to discharge patients more quickly upon a doctor’s release, or pay for keeping the patient hospitalized, among other measures.
    
House Democrats push drug reform package
    
    As a legislative committee digs into the issue, Illinois House Democrats are pushing a package of bills this spring that aim to make prescription drugs more accessible, affordable and accountable.
    Led by state Rep. Will Guzzardi, chairman of the new House Prescription Drug Affordability and Access Committee, several lawmakers are discussing proposals for prescription drug reform that target insurance and drug cost impact on consumers.
    
Measure recognizes pay inequities
    
    Lawmakers are cosponsoring legislation to declare April 2, 2019, as Pay Equity Day in Illinois to raise awareness about pay inequity for women.
    American women have long faced discrimination in the workplace, particularly in terms of compensation. Nationally, women continue to earn no more than 80 cents on the dollar compared to men. In Illinois, women currently earn only 78 cents on the dollar compared to men.
    Equal Pay Day was first created by the National Committee on pay Equity in 1996 to draw attention to the gap between men’s and women’s wages.
    The day is observed in April to symbolize how far into the year a woman must work, on average, to earn as much as a man earned the previous year. Equal Pay Day always falls on a Tuesday to represent the day of the week on which women’s wages catch up to men’s wages from the previous week.
    
Task force pushes action on sexual harassment
    
    The Senate Task Force on Sexual Discrimination and Harassment Awareness and Prevention is recommending a series of bills as a follow-up to several laws passed last year.
    Co-Chairs state Sen. Melinda Bush, D-Grayslake, and state Sen. Jil Tracy (R-Quincy) issued a joint statement.
    “The stories from victims of sexual harassment and discrimination that were shared with the task force over the past year were eye-opening experiences that needed to be heard,” Bush said. “As a result of the victims’ bravery, we passed several laws last year that were in response to things we heard and recommendations that were made during task force hearings. We’ve worked hard to pass meaningful legislation to protect victims and prevent harassment and discrimination, but there’s still work to be done. I promise to continue fighting to change our laws, and our culture.”
    Some 12 new laws were passed, touching on the topics of training, fast-track investigations, statute of limitations extension for certain sexual offenses, rights of victims and more.
    Pending legislation backed on recommendations made during task force hearings includes, among several others:
    SB 30 – A workplace transparency act aimed at protecting employees from being forced to sign nondisclosure agreements relating to sexual harassment;
    SB 31 – Ending exemptions for certain employees of officials and;
    SB 74 – Strengthening the independent powers of the legislative inspector general, allowing him/her to investigate complaints without first getting approval from the Legislative Ethics Commission.
    
Committee approves bill for senior relief
    
    A measure sponsored by state Sen. Bill Cunningham that would make it easier for seniors to receive a tax break passed the Senate Revenue Committee in a bipartisan vote.
    Senate Bill 1257 would eliminate the need for Cook County residents aged 65 or older to reapply annually to receive the Senior Citizen Homestead Exemption, a property tax exemption designed to assist senior citizens financially.
    Currently, every county in Illinois other than Cook may allow seniors to receive the exemption without reapplying.
    “The requirement to reapply annually for this tax break places an undue burden on our senior citizens,” said Cunningham, a Democrat who represents portions of Chicago and the southwest suburbs. “Eliminating this requirement will not only assist our seniors by streamlining the process, but also eliminate an unnecessary use of resources that could be directed elsewhere.”
    The measure also requires the Cook County Accessor’s Office and the Recorder of Deeds Office to communicate when a home receiving an exemption is sold to ensure the tax break is not awarded to residents who do not qualify.
    Senate Bill 1257 will now go before the entire Senate.
    
Illinois taxes among tops,another report shows
    
    A new report shows that Illinois property owners pay the second-highest property taxes in the nation and about twice the national average.
    It's not the first time the state's property taxes have made news, but lawmakers in Springfield still don't appear to have a consensus on how to reduce them.
    The Land of Lincoln was ranked No. 50 out of 51, behind only New Jersey in consumer finance website WalletHub’s latest analysis of state property taxes. Illinois landed the same spot as the year before.
    Analyst Jill Gonzalez said in addition to real estate taxes, the report also looked at the taxes people pay yearly on vehicles. Although Illinois doesn't have an annual tax on vehicles outside of registration fees, that wasn’t enough to lower the state’s overall ranking.
    The national average for property taxes was around $2,280. Illinois’ average is nearly double that at $4,476.
    Tax professional Michael Leonard of Leonard and Associates said Illinois’ high property taxes, and the inability to deduct them from federal taxes, is one reason some young people are putting off homeownership.
    Among other reports, Illinois has also been listed as the second most expensive property tax state by Attom Data Solutions.
    State Rep. Michael Zalewski, D-Riverside, chairs the House Revenue and Finance Committee. He said property taxes are a problem that needs to be addressed this session “through innovative ways like changing the way we look at properties (or) whether it’s the good old-fashion increase of the homeowners' exemption.”
    As local governments are spending more of their share of property taxes on pensions, state Rep. Deanne Mazzochi, R-Elmhurst said lawmakers should consider her proposed constitutional amendment to remove the state’s pension protection clause, which would allow for promised benefits to be reduced to sustainable levels.

– Illinois News Network