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Manar advances measure to address shortage of nurses in Illinois

manar 031617SPRINGFIELD – A measure designed to fill a projected workforce shortage in rural Illinois while connecting students with good-paying careers in health care advanced out of a Senate committee this week.

Senate Bill 888, sponsored by Senator Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill), would allow community colleges to award four-year nursing degrees in an effort to deepen the pool of qualified registered nurses available to be hired by Illinois health care employers.

According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, a bachelor’s degree today is considered the national entry-level educational standard for a registered nurse. A 2015 report by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation indicated that about a third of registered nurses age 55 and older planned to retire within five years, prompting concerns about a statewide nursing shortage.

Manar said the district he represents, which spans rural and underserved areas of downstate Illinois, stands to be especially hard hit by the nursing shortage.

Currently in Illinois, only universities may award bachelor’s degrees in nursing, but they have not been able to address the nursing shortage in some areas of the state.

Community colleges are well suited to help four-year universities ensure hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and medical offices throughout the state have a pool of well-qualified nursing applicants from which to hire, Manar said, adding that it’s also a good way to stem the tide of young people leaving Illinois in search of jobs.

“This approach may be outside of the box for Illinois, but nationally we would not be an outlier. Eleven other states do this type of thing with their community colleges,” Manar said.

“This discussion is about something much bigger than simply the traditional mission of Illinois’ universities and community colleges,” he said. “This is about offering excellent health care, planning for the future, adapting to changing critical workforce needs, offering affordable options for job training, putting people in good-paying jobs and keeping young people in the communities – and the state –where they grew up. These are all vitally important issues in Illinois, and this legislation touches on all of them.”

Senate Bill 888 grants 20 Illinois community colleges the ability to award bachelor of science degrees in nursing and sets standards for establishing nursing programs, including accreditation, documenting unmet workforce needs and more.

It also calls for a four-year review of the effort by the Illinois Community College Board, including a comprehensive statewide evaluation of newly created programs and a written report submitted to the State Board of Higher Education, the governor and both chambers of the General Assembly before July 1, 2022.

The legislation does not require community colleges to offer the degrees. State money may not be used to establish or maintain the program, according to the legislation.

The measure advanced out of the Senate’s Higher Education Committee on Tuesday.

Harmon seeks to expose dark money donors shielded by “nonprofit” status

harmon 031517SPRINGFIELD – As Illinois’ finances deteriorate and gridlock prevails in Springfield, dark money groups spend millions of dollars to influence elections and public policy without disclosing the sources of their funding.

That frequently leaves taxpayers and elected officials in the dark about a group’s true motivations for supporting or opposing legislation or policies.

Senate Bill 2089, sponsored by Senator Don Harmon (D-Oak Park), would require greater transparency of politically active dark money groups by requiring them to register as political committees and disclose their donors.

“Accountability for political donations is vitally important in our system of government and elections,” Harmon said. “For too long, dark money groups have been able to hide behind the cloak of their nonprofit status and conceal the true intent of their work, which is to raise unlimited amounts of money and peddle political influence, unbeknownst to the average voter and taxpayer.

Harmon noted that the groups in question are not the charities and civic organizations for whom tax-exempt status was intended.

“These are political groups organized specifically to take advantage of nonprofit protections and hide their political activity,” he said.

Harmon added that as Illinois continues to see unprecedented spending by candidates and outside groups seeking to influence elections, it’s important for voters that the General Assembly closes loopholes that allow runaway spending by dark money groups.

“I think nearly all of us can all agree that a flood of secret political donations by billionaires and corporations is not good for our state,” Harmon said.

Senate Bill 2089 advanced out of the Senate’s Executive Committee in an 11-3 vote Wednesday.

Numerous good-government organizations indicated support for the measure, including the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, the Better Government Association, Illinois PIRG, and the 2,700 members of the League of Women Voters of Illinois.

Only two organizations indicated they are opposed to the measure, although they did not send representatives to Wednesday’s hearing to explain why: the Illinois Policy Institute and Americans For Prosperity. Both are dark money groups that would be required to disclose their contributions and expenditures when they bill becomes law.

Lightford proposal increases educational opportunities for minority teachers

lightford 031517SPRINGFIELD — Assistant Majority Leader Kimberly A. Lightford (D-Maywood) moved a proposal expanding eligibility for the Minority Teachers of Illinois Scholarship program out of committee yesterday.

Senate Bill 1739 allows licensed teachers pursuing additional teaching endorsements or a master’s degree in an academic field related to the subject they currently teach or plan to teach to apply for the MTI scholarship.

“Minority students have better academic outcomes when taught by someone who also belongs to a racial or ethnic minority. Furthermore, increasing the number of teachers who can offer courses that award college credit creates a path for students from high school to college to career,” Lightford said.

Recipients can get up to $5,000 a year toward their college tuition. Those who receive the grant are required to make a commitment to teach for a minimum of five years in an Illinois school where at least 30 percent of students are identified as minority students.

The legislation will now head to the full Senate for consideration.

Martinez legislation to license midwives approved by Senate committee

martinez 010817SPRINGFIELD — A plan to license midwives in Illinois through the state’s Department of Financial and Professional Regulation was passed by the Illinois Senate’s Licensed Activities and Pensions Committee today.

Majority Caucus Whip Iris Y. Martinez (D-Chicago) is the measure’s Senate sponsor.

“If a mother wants to deliver her child at home with the help of a midwife, then she should be able to make that choice,” Martinez said.  “My plan will improve health care access and ensure that midwives have the training and licensing needed to participate in safely delivering babies.”

Under Martinez’s legislation, Senate Bill 1754, the Home Birth Safety Act would be established to provide midwives who are not nurse-midwives the ability to provide home birth services by establishing two-year licenses for certified professional midwives.

Martinez’s legislation is an initiative of the Illinois Council of Certified Professional Midwives.

“With the number of home births increasing, there is a real need to have professional licensing in place for midwives,” said Martinez. “Now is the time to license midwives in Illinois.”

In 31 states, midwives practice legally within the health care system. In Illinois, they practice outside of the system. Many mothers already seek to have a home birth, but approximately half of Illinois home births are attended by underground providers.

According to the Illinois Council of Certified Professional Midwives, home birth rates increased nationally by more than 77 percent between 2009 and 2014. In 2014, 57 Illinois counties had no obstetrical doctors.