This Week in Illinois

CHILDREN

Governor signs Davidsmeyer bill to create Pediatric Cancer License Plate that funds cancer research.  Senate Bill 946, sponsored by Senator Steve McClure and Representative C.D. Davidsmeyer, was signed into law Thursday by Governor Pritzker in honor of Jerseyville resident Jonny Wade, who passed away from cancer at age eight. The legislation authorizes universal special license plates and license plate decals to raise awareness and funds for pediatric cancer treatment and research. 

“When I learned about Jonny Wade and his family, I wanted to introduce legislation to help fight pediatric cancer,” said Sen. McClure. “His story and the wisdom that he showed during his courageous fight is inspirational, as is his continued fight against cancer through the work of his family. I’m proud that this legislation was my first bill to pass out of the Illinois Senate. It is in honor of Jonny and all the kids in our state who have fought and are fighting cancer.” 

“The Wade family mission is to end pediatric cancer through their ‘Kids Shouldn’t Have Cancer Foundation,’” said Rep. Davidsmeyer. “It is unimaginable to know the sorrow that their family has had since the loss of Jonny. However, they have turned their grief into the goal of ending cancer. This specialty license plate will allow all Illinoisans to choose to direct funding towards ending pediatric cancer.”

Senate Bill 946 authorizes the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) to issue a decal for pediatric cancer awareness. The funds raised will go to the Pediatric Cancer Awareness Fund which benefits the University of Illinois Cancer Center for pediatric cancer treatment and research. The decals will have an original issuance fee of $25; with $10 to the awareness fund and $15 to the Secretary of State Special License Plate Fund. The renewal fee would be $25 with $23 going to the fund and $2 going to the Secretary of State Special License Plate Fund.

HEALTH CARE

Insurers required to cover long term treatment of Lyme disease. Lauryn Russell is a 13-year-old student from Mercer County in northwestern Illinois who has faced a medical challenge made even more difficult by the laws of her home state. When she was 7 years old, Lauryn contracted Lyme disease, a tick-borne illness that is characterized by headaches, fevers, rashes, joint pain and fatigue. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports about 30,000 Lyme disease cases in the United States each year, but also says that reported cases are likely only a fraction of the true number of cases, which could be as high as 300,000.

Lyme disease is usually treated with a brief period of antibiotics. Lauryn’s illness was not correctly diagnosed for quite some time. She contracted what is known as persistent Lyme disease, or post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome, a condition in which the symptoms of the disease continue after the normal course of treatment has ended.

In September 2017, Lauryn and her mother, Jennifer, met with State Representative Dan Swanson to seek assistance.

“Jennifer and Lauryn said ‘we need help. We’re not being treated as we feel we should be from our medical care,’” Swanson recounted to WOC radio earlier this year. He said doctors in Illinois were reluctant to treat the disease because of how easily misdiagnosed it is. He also said they were only willing to follow the CDC protocols of antibiotic treatment of up to 21 days. Swanson said fears of punitive action by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation were holding the doctors back from going beyond the CDC protocols to treat Lauryn. Advocates for Lyme disease sufferers have long claimed that the CDC protocols are not sufficient for patients with more persistent cases of Lyme disease.

“Lyme disease has a 28-day course,” Swanson said. “So since we’re treating it with 21 days of antibiotics when it’s first diagnosed, it’s like giving someone two days of medicine for a three day flu. It would just fall short.”

So Swanson took action. In February 2018, he introduced House Bill 4515, the Lauryn Russell Lyme Disease Prevention and Protection Law, which allowed Illinois doctors to go beyond CDC protocols when treating especially persistent cases of Lyme disease – like the one Lauryn had – without facing punishment from state regulators. It also created task forces to study the disease and provide educational resources to health care providers about its symptoms and treatments. The bill passed both houses and then-Governor Bruce Rauner’s amendatory veto was overridden in November to make the bill become law.

But neither Swanson nor the Russells were satisfied just yet. There was still work to be done on the issue of proper treatment of Illinoisans with Lyme disease.

“Last year’s legislation was giving doctors the ability to treat Lyme disease above and beyond CDC protocols and also to establish a task force to help educate doctors to develop training packets,” Swanson said. “This year, our push is to get people with Lyme disease insurance coverage.”

This year, Swanson introduced legislation to amend the Illinois Insurance Code to require insurance policies “to provide coverage for long-term antibiotic therapy for a person with a tick-borne disease,” like Lyme disease.

House Bill 889 quickly accumulated a bipartisan group of co-sponsors, and passed both the House and Senate unanimously.

On Tuesday, Governor Pritzker signed House Bill 889, which requires insurance companies to cover office visits, testing and treatment for tick-borne diseases like Lyme disease. Taking effect immediately, the new law aims to support farmers throughout the state who have struggled to afford continuing treatments. From 2004 to 2016, tick-borne diseases have risen dramatically according to the Centers for Disease Control.

“The ability to receive treatment when you have previously been insufficiently treated is life changing,” said Rep. Swanson. “By mandating insurance coverage of long-term antibiotic treatment needed for patients, we are putting another piece of the puzzle into place for some patients and removing one additional hassle on their path to recovery.”

Bill signed to mandate EpiPen coverage. The governor also signed House Bill 3435 last week, which requires insurance companies to cover epinephrine injectors, most commonly prescribed as EpiPens, for children with severe allergies. The cost of an EpiPen has skyrocketed over the last decade, rising by more than 400% for the two-pen injector pack. Without insurance, these EpiPens can cost a family nearly $700 and typically have a shelf life of a little more than a year before the medicine needs to be restocked in stores. The law takes effect on January 1, 2020.

West Nile Virus in Illinois. Medical authorities have reported the first Illinois West Nile diagnosis of 2019. The transmittable virus is spread by mosquitoes during the warm months, and disease reports typically cluster during the final weeks of summer. These and other diagnostic reports are shared with the Illinois Department of Public Health, which confirmed the case on Tuesday, August 13. The case was reported from an anonymous Chicago patient in his 70s. Approximately four-fifths of all people who get West Nile never know it; and people with the disease who develop serious symptoms, seek treatment, and get diagnosed are, typically, persons in their senior years and persons with other challenges to their immune systems. 

West Nile can be a serious illness for some people. Federal and state public health officials urge Illinois residents to wear effective insect repellent, to wear protective clothing, and to monitor and promptly correct any situations on their properties or around their houses that include standing, stagnant water where mosquitoes can breed. West Nile can cause fever, nausea, headaches, and muscle aches. Symptoms can last for a variable period that extends from a few days to a few weeks. In rare cases, infected person can develop neurological complications, such as meningitis, that may be life-threatening. 

Suburban Chicago hospital declares bankruptcy; 230-bed facility could close.  Westlake Hospital’s future was in doubt this week as lawyers sparred over its fate. The Melrose Park-based health care facility filed legal papers under Chapter 7 of the federal Bankruptcy Code, which signals intent to work with a bankruptcy court to cease operations and liquidate. Hospital officials could use this filing to begin an immediate hospital shutdown. The bankruptcy papers were filed on Tuesday, August 6. 

Westlake Hospital, which has 230 beds, is currently owned by an out-of-state business firm, Pipeline Health. Pipeline has publicly stated that Westlake treats a disproportionate share of low-income, uninsured, and under-insured patients, and is only 20% utilized. The firm reports that the hospital, as an ongoing enterprise, loses nearly $3 million each month. 

HOME OWNERSHIP

Illinois Housing Development Authority announces additional $2,500 Closing Cost Grant to be used with existing programs. The Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA) has launched a new, limited-time grant to help homebuyers across Illinois afford their closing costs. Through the new IHDA Advantage Subsidy program, IHDA will give eligible homebuyers an outright grant of either $1,500 or $2,500, depending on household income, to pay for closing costs associated with their home purchase. The grant can be layered with IHDA’s current Down Payment Assistance (DPA) programs, allowing homebuyers to receive anywhere from $8,500 to $12,500 in assistance when purchasing a home.

Household eligibility for the new grant is based on income. Homebuyers earning less than 50% of the area median income are eligible for an additional $2,500 under the IHDA Advantage Subsidy program, while those earning less than 80% of the area median income are eligible for $1,500. Borrowers must meet all eligibility requirements established for IHDA’s DPA programs, and homebuyer education is required. The program is not exclusive to first-time buyers and may be used by buyers in any county in the state. 

Interested homeowners can find additional information and a list of the nearest participating lenders at: www.ihdamortgage.org

JOBS

July 2019 unemployment rate drops to 4.2%. The rate marks a drop of 0.1% from the 4.3% rate notched in June. Illinois is adding some net new jobs; payrolls were up by 7,200 over the most recent two-month period. However, the increase is almost statistically insignificant in relation to the almost 6.2 million seasonally-adjusted nonfarm payroll jobs reported by employers in Illinois. The picture is brighter when measured on a year-over-year basis. There were 62,700 more nonfarm payroll jobs in Illinois in July 2019 than there were a year earlier, an increase of 1.0%. Job creation of this type can encourage population growth, family formation, and the enjoyment of new lives as parents.

As in other recent months, Illinois continued to underperform national numbers. The national July 2019 unemployment rate was 3.7%, 0.5% below the rate in Illinois. The neighboring states of Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, and Wisconsin all have jobless rates that are significantly below the rates announced in Illinois. The July 2019 jobless numbers, compiled with the help of data maintained by the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES), were announced on Thursday, August 15. 

PUBLIC SAFETY

Rep. Chesney appointed to Scott’s Law panel; new video shows importance of issue. The “Move Over” law requires drivers, when approaching a stationary authorized emergency vehicle, to shift lanes or slow down depending upon traffic conditions. Earlier in 2019, the Illinois General Assembly enacted landmark legislation, SB 1862, to toughen Scott’s Law and to increase civil and criminal penalties for violations of the law. The law is enforced by the Illinois State Police and by local law enforcement.

House Republicans strongly support Scott’s Law, and played a key role in the enactment of SB 1862. A companion bill, SB 2038, will push the cause of Scott’s Law compliance forward by hearing from advocates who will present ways to further strengthen the law. The Move Over Task Force will hear from these advocates at meetings this fall, and will report to the General Assembly on January 1, 2020. House Republican Leader Jim Durkin has appointed Representative Andrew Chesney to serve on the Task Force. 

“Following the penalty enhancements to Scott’s Law made this spring, I am honored to be appointed by Leader Durkin to work on issues regarding causations of violations of Scott’s Law and ways to protect law enforcement and emergency responders,” said Chesney.

“We owe a great debt of gratitude to law enforcement and first responders to do everything we can, from a policy perspective, to try to keep them out of harm’s way on our roadways,” Chesney continued. “I look forward to continuing this work.”

The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) is also seeking to increase enforcement of Scott’s Law. Many Illinois motorists have seen messages flashed on IDOT highway bulletin boards to remind them of the law. IDOT has now produced a video that supports Scott’s Law. The video pays tribute to Kyle Deatherage, an Illinois State Police trooper who was killed by a motorist while making a traffic stop near Litchfield, Illinois. His death in 2012 was the consequence of the failure of the motorist to move over, slow down, and avoid hitting a first responder. The IDOT video was released on Tuesday, August 13. 

Governor signs sexual assault evidence tracking bill. Senate Bill 1411 provides sexual assault victims with more transparency on the status of the processing of rape kit evidence. The new law creates a real-time electronic tracking system for evidence processing in cases of sexual assault. The statewide system will be hosted online, have a 24-hour help desk, make law enforcement agency contact information available to victims and provides real-time entry and updates of information. The new law is a result of the Sexual Assault Evidence Tracking and Reporting Commission. SB 1411 goes into effect immediately. 

“Illinois currently lacks a uniform system across all law enforcement to track sexual assault evidence,” said Sen. Dan McConchie. “No one who has been sexually assaulted should be left in the dark while the evidence is being processed. This new law will allow survivors to access real-time status updates. This is just the first step in providing transparency for victims, ensuring survivors are treated with the seriousness they deserve, and bringing more offenders to justice.”

“Today’s bill signing is the best ending for my three-year journey,” said Rep. Margo McDermed. “With bipartisan support from the legislature and recommendations from all the members of our study commission, victims of sexual assault will now be able to track their kits through the system.”

ILLINOIS HERITAGE

DuQuoin State Fair. The “State Fair for Southern Illinois” begins on August 23 and will continue for eleven days of summer fun. TheDuQuoin State Fair features entertainment, machine showings, competitive events, animal showings, festival food, and summer carnival rides.  Grandstand entertainment events center on country music, with Wynonna Judd and the Big Noise playing on Sunday, August 25th. Competitive events include a demolition derby on the 24th, and dirt track events on the 31stand the 1st. Machine showings include a monster truck show on the Fair’s closing day, September 2nd. Attendance at the Fair is completely free this year, but a fee is charged for parking at the fairgrounds.