Disability Political News Roundup: New Session Starts Today

Access Living advocates displaying their colors in the State Capitol
Below is a blog entry from Amber Smock, Access Living's Director of Advocacy, about recent political events in Springfield, Illinois, the State Capitol. The piece covers legislation that passed, or failed to pass, during the lame duck session, and looks ahead at what will happen with the new legislature.

Dear Access Living friends and allies,

Feeling that weird mixture of being majorly underwhelmed and possibly a little hopeful at the same time? Yep, it's January in Springfield 2013. Here's a roundup of our struggle on disability issues as it relates to our state legislature today:

• First, yesterday was the last day of our state's lame duck session. Today is the inauguration of the new legislature and the official beginning of the new session. Lots of parties in Springfield today to welcome new members of the Senate and House.

• During lame duck, legislators failed to approve $12 million in funding for the Division of Mental Health. The reason is politics, but the fact is that all they had to do was add the language to a supplemental spending bill and it would have been in. Fail. Advocates will continue to fight for this funding in the new session.

• During lame duck, the Medicaid expansion bill made a lot of progress due to some great advocacy efforts, but failed to move to a vote. This is the bill that would allow people who are currently NOT insured but still fall within a certain low income level to get Medicaid. It would benefit thousands of uninsured people in Chicago alone not to mention across the state. According to the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, State Senator Heather Steans and State Representative Sara Feigenholtz will file the new Medicaid expansion bills tomorrow and the fight will continue!

• Last big lame duck item: legislators did not pass a bill to fix the state's pension payments problem, which is really scary because that could mean the next budget will lose another billion dollars to pension payments. While workers definitely earn pensions and deserve it, it is a real disaster that this has not been fixed so far because so many state services need money. This is part of why the fight for the 2014 state budget promises to be very hard.

• We are now all settled with the re–mapped legislative districts and the elected officials that go with them. Your legislator and district may be different and you can check that out at www.ilga.gov AFTER NOON TODAY. Normally you can look this up at the Illinois State Board of Elections website but it is currently not allowing searches pending upload of the new legislative info.

• There are more than 40 new legislators. After today's inauguration, they will all be in their districts until everybody goes back to Springfield on February 5. So you have almost a month to reach out to legislators and let them know what your priorities are.

• As you may expect, Access Living's general priority as it has always been will be to defend and expand opportunities for independent living in the community for people with disabilities. Expect to see more detailed talking points over the new few weeks.

• Finally, Access Living's consumer advocates are raring to come back to Springfield once the legislature is in session again! Please get in touch with us if you would like to be involved in visiting with legislators either in their home districts or in Springfield. Please let me know at asmock@accessliving.org.

Moving onward and upward! A big thanks to all the advocates who worked so hard during lame duck. I have been very impressed by the strengthening coalitions around health care and human services. Way to go!

Amber Smock
Director of Advocacy
Access Living

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