Despite rumors that the Illinois Senate would take up concealed-carry legislation May 17, Senate lawmakers adjourned for the weekend without hearing the right-to-carry measure. However, the Senate debated and passed another controversial bill that would legalize the use of marijuana for some chronically or terminally ill residents.
Earlier in the week, the Senate approved several measures intended to provide greater transparency and review of the state’s education funding system, and an audit of the state’s Road Fund revealed troubling confirmation that a majority of state road fund dollars aren’t being used for road infrastructure improvements, maintenance or construction.
Medical Marijuana - House Bill 1
House Bill 1 was approved by Senate lawmakers 35-21, and if signed into law, would allow qualifying patients to receive permission from the Department of Public Health to possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis during a 14-day period. The measure lists a number of qualifying diseases and illnesses, but does not include general eligibility for chronic pain or nausea.
Proponents stressed that the bill strictly limits prescription of the drug to only those with serious illnesses, emphasizing that medical marijuana has been shown to alleviate pain, nausea and improve appetite for many patients with terminal or debilitating diseases.
However, opponents raised a number of concerns, citing evidence that marijuana is a “gateway” drug that opens the door to abuse of more harmful drugs and reiterated apprehensions raised by law enforcement officials; no local, state or federal law enforcement support the measure. They also pointed out House Bill 1 conflicts with federal law, and would create an additional layer of bureaucracy in Illinois to regulate cannabis.
The bill establishes distributing criteria for cultivation centers and requires them to be registered by the Department of Agriculture. The Department of Agriculture may approve up to 22 licensed marijuana growers, but no more than one per State Police District. House Bill 1 stipulates that cultivation centers may only provide medical cannabis to dispensing organizations whose purpose is to dispense cannabis and paraphernalia to qualified patients.
Dispensing organizations are to be registered by the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR), and IDFPR may approve up to 60 dispensaries. In response to concerns raised by the business community the bill provides a framework for employer regulation and disciplinary procedures for the use of cannabis in the workplace. The bill also specifies that a patient may not drive while under the influence of medical cannabis, and creates a new provision allowing for field sobriety tests to be administered and admissible in court.
Having passed the General Assembly, the measure now heads to Gov. Pat Quinn. Though the Governor has reportedly said he is “open-minded” about the measure, he has not given an indication of whether or not he intends to sign House Bill 1.
The audit confirmed concerns that a majority of Road Fund revenue has been spent on costs other than road construction. Alarmingly, it was discovered that less than half of state Road Fund expenditures went for direct road construction in eight of the past 10 fiscal years. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on items for which the Road Fund is not typically responsible.
It was also revealed that the Road Fund was being overcharged for State Employee Group Health Insurance (GHI). The audit found that in FY 2010 and FY 2011 the Road Fund was overcharged by a cumulative $156.6 million for GHI. Additionally, the fund was overcharged for workers’ compensation costs by a cumulative $54.2 million between FY 2010 and FY 2012.
State Sen. Bill Brady (R-Bloomington) sponsored Senate Resolution 788, which called on Illinois Auditor General Bill Holland to take a closer look at the revenues to and expenditures from the Illinois Road Fund, a fund that helps finance road and bridge construction. The Senator sponsored the legislation after becoming concerned about the apparent lack of Road Fund dollars available for the state’s annual construction program when it become clear that funds were being diverted and used for purposes other than road construction and improvement. An audit was pursued in order to achieve a clear picture of Road Fund revenues and expenditures.
The Road Fund accounts for the activities of the State highway programs, including highway maintenance and construction, traffic control and safety, and administration of the State’s motor vehicle laws and regulations. Funding sources for the Road Fund come from federal aid, transfers from the Motor Fuel Tax Fund, and various license and fee charges.
Education Funding Transparency and Review - House Bill 3133/SJR 32
Bringing greater accountability and transparency to the state’s system of funding schools is the goal of House Bill 3133, which was approved May 15 by the Illinois Senate. The state’s General State Aid (GSA) appropriation is currently outlined as a lump sum appropriation without any detail on how the state’s different education funding components are allocated.
House Bill 3133 will require that the budget include the approximate amounts that the State Board of Education forecasts will be paid for PTELL adjustments and Poverty grants. Supporters said the public and policy makers have a right to know how the state is spending its limited education dollars.
Approved May 14, Senate Joint Resolution 32 creates an Advisory Committee on Education Funding tasked with conducting a thorough review of education expenditures and distribution methods. The task force would then be required to make recommendations on how to enhance the adequacy and equitability of Illinois’ education funding system.
Both House Bill 3133 and Senate Joint Resolution 32 are the outgrowth of a school funding report (http://www.senategop.state.il.us/News/NewsDetails/tabid/120/nid/475/r/4/Default.aspx) unveiled in March by Senate Republicans that took aim at claims by some that downstate and suburban schools in Illinois receive a “free lunch” through the state’s contribution to teacher retirement funds. Using data provided by the State Board of Education, the Caucus found that Chicago Public Schools are currently receiving a disproportionate share of state school funding—and that these funding decision are being made without review by policy makers or the public.