Legislative Update: March 27, 2017

Legislators Continue to Push Bills Through Committees
This Friday marks the deadline by which House Bills must clear a substantive committee if they are to remain viable this legislative session. Legislators are working to address concerns expressed during the committee process with hopes that any opposition can be removed and bills can be favorably reported to the Floor. To that end, it will be another committee-heavy week for lawmakers. I serve on several committees this year, including: Appropriations-General Services, Elementary & Secondary Education: Licensing & Administration, Financial Institutions, Mass Transit, Aging, and Government Consolidation & Modernization. I have enjoyed hearing my colleagues’ bills and offering input and suggestions.

Rep. Olsen Co-Sponsors Comprehensive Pension Reform Bill
The unaffordable pension system in Illinois is one of the most pressing issues that face our state. With nearly 25% of all state revenue being channeled toward the pension obligation, reforming the system to make it more sustainable must be a priority. 

On Friday, I was proud to join House Republican Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) and 24 other House Republicans in filing a comprehensive compromise pension reform measure that would provide significant savings for taxpayers and a one-time-only $215 million pension parity payment to the Chicago Public Schools (CPS). Through the provisions of this legislation, it is estimated the State of Illinois will realize short-term savings of $2.25 billion dollars from the general funds, which represents a substantial step towards closing the deficit gap. HB 4027 would not change benefits for current retirees. However, for current and future participants, the bill:
  • Includes Senate President John Cullerton’s “consideration model” that would require members of TRS, SURS, SERS, GARS, and CTPF to exchange their Tier 1 COLA for the right to have future raises to be counted as pensionable, or keep their COLA and sacrifice future raises as pensionable. 
  • Provides a one-time normal cost payment to the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund of $215.2 million for FY 17. 
  • Closes new member participation in GARS. 
  • Offers Tier 1 TRS, SURS, SERS and GARS employees the option to participate in a defined contribution (DC) plan. 
  • Creates a voluntary Tier 3 Hybrid defined benefit/defined contribution plan for new Tier 2 employees under TRS, SURS, and certain SERS members who do not participate in Social Security.
There are elements of this comprehensive package that I do not like. But in the spirit of compromise and in an effort to show our Democratic colleagues that we are serious about achieving Constitutionally-sound pension reform, my Republican colleagues and I are willing to support this compromise package. Pension reform is a critical element of putting Illinois’ finances back on track, and I have been disappointed that the topic has taken a back seat to other issues lately. It is my pleasure to stand with Leader Durkin and many of my House Republican colleagues to push this important legislation.

Legislation to Strengthen Protections for Youth in Park District Programs Clears House
This year I am partnering on bipartisan legislation that would strengthen laws that prohibit sex offenders from volunteering for park district programs. HB 786, which cleared the House unanimously on Thursday, would require all park districts to have volunteers complete an application prior to beginning work as a volunteer, and would require that the application include a question concerning whether the applicant has been found to be a child sex offender. While most park districts already take steps to ensure their volunteers meet these guidelines, the new bill would require it. HB 786 has now moved to the Senate for consideration.

Mobile Office Hours Continue in District 81
We had another good turnout last week for a mobile office hours event I hosted at the Downers Grove Library. My mobile office tour will continue next month with an event on Wednesday, April 19, from 6:00 – 7:30 PM at the Naperville Public Library, 2035 S. Naper Boulevard in Naperville. My staff and I will be available to hear your concerns and address issues related to state agencies and services. Additional mobile office hour events will be added throughout the year. Visit www.repolsen.com often to learn about these and other community outreach events.

Women’s Scholarships Available Through COWL
The Conference of Women Legislators in the Illinois General Assembly, known as COWL, encourages female legislators from both side of the aisle to work in a bi-partisan fashion to advance the interest of all women, children and families, through state, local and federal initiatives. COWL members have made a scholarship fund available to assist mature women who wish to continue their undergraduate education. The scholarship is awarded annually to deserving, qualified women whose educations were interrupted due to family concerns and economic problems. Particular consideration is given to women who have shown leadership promise through community service. The fund is made available through a fundraiser. You can learn more about COWL here and you may access the application here.

Olsen Meets with Experts to Discuss Importance of Prostate Health
On Friday morning, I met with Dr. Brian Moran, the team at Chicago Prostate Cancer Center in Westmont, and Downers Grove resident John Aguzino to discuss adequate and affordable access to prostate screenings and healthcare. It was a very informative meeting. The Chicago Prostate Cancer Center works hand-in-hand with Prostate Cancer Foundation of Chicago to encourage prostate cancer awareness and prevention, patient peer-support, education and clinical research.

New School Accountability Plan Moves Away from “No Child Left Behind”
The new plan approved by the Illinois State Board of Education creates a revised grading system to assess public school districts on their performance. While “No Child Left Behind” was widely criticized for its concentration on imposing proficiency guidelines on challenged school districts, the 2017 ISBE plan concentrates on academic growth metrics. Schools and school districts will be positively reinforced for showing healthy movements, including movements from a challenged or low baseline.

The ISBE plan follows the replacement of No Child Left Behind by the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015. Illinois, like other states, has been asked to adopt a plan that sets long-term goals, determines metrics for measuring progress towards these goals, and creates a system to identify and support challenged schools and school districts. By 2032, the ISBE plan looks forward to at least 90% of children and adolescents meeting a series of age-appropriate goals. At least 90% of high school graduates should leave school in a state of readiness for college and career.

The ISBE’s reliance on standardized tests will continue to be key factors in determining whether these age-appropriate goals are being met. The ISBE will continue to use standardized tests to determine whether third graders are reading “at or above grade level” and fifth graders are “meeting or exceeding expectations” in math.

New ID Cards Available for Persons with Disabilities
New ID cards are now available to assist persons with disabilities in Illinois. The ID cards, which eligible persons can show to law enforcement, contain an official notification that the bearer is age 16 or older and has a medical condition that may impair his or her ability to communicate with others. The new ID cards are available at all Drivers Services facilities operated by the Illinois Secretary of State.

The ID card was developed by the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS). Approximately 100,000 of the cards have been printed for distribution, matching estimates of the number of Illinois residents who may face challenges if encountered by police officers and other first responders. Persons who are eligible for the card include persons with physical, developmental, visual, hearing, or mental challenges and disabilities. The card application must be cosigned by a physician. An application for the specialty ID card can be found here.

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