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Bush pushes for fees on nuclear waste disposal

bush-zion-passesSPRINGFIELD — Cities would have the power to issue fees to companies that store nuclear waste in their communities under a proposal by State Sen. Melinda Bush that passed the Illinois Senate today.

“This is about responsibility, and giving power to our local communities, rather than companies who occupy their land for a few years and then leave it unusable,” Bush said.

Local leaders in Zion have called for the legislation. The community has struggled in the wake of the 1998 closure of the Zion Nuclear Power Station. Now owned by Exelon, the facility is undergoing a years-long decommissioning process, and in the meantime stores spent nuclear fuel from the plant.

Due to the nature of the plant’s security and environmental concerns, the lakefront land it sits upon is largely unavailable for redevelopment, a fact that has cut deeply into property tax revenues for Zion. In the wake of the plant’s closures, Zion lost an estimated 55 percent of property tax revenue, and has had to make up the difference through regular rate increases.

“Zion was a partner in welcoming a nuclear plant, but now that the plant and it’s jobs are gone, the utility company needs to be a good neighbor and remain a positive part of the community,” Bush said. “I want to give local governments the power to hold nuclear plants accountable for leaving something like that behind.”

David Knabel, Chief Financial Officer for the City of Zion, said the closure of the facility lowered local property tax revenues by nearly $20 million while the city needed to provide the same level of services to the surrounding community.

“[A nuclear disposal impact fee] will help to offset the impact to the residents and businesses and help to repair the damage done to the area,” Knabel said in a statement by the city.

The legislation is Senate Bill 544. It proceeds to the House for consideration.

Bennett passes initiative to secure financial independence

bennett-savings-passesSPRINGFIELD- Illinois families worried about the financial security of loved ones suffering from disabilities could soon have another resource to promote their independence.  

State Senator Scott Bennett (D-Champaign) passed Senate Bill 1383, which creates a tax exempt plan to assist individuals and families in saving money to cover the expenses for people with disabilities.

“We all want our loved ones to be able to live their lives with respect and dignity. This legislation empowers Illinois residents to provide a stable future to family members with disabilities,” Bennett said. “The flexibility of the plan makes it easier for families to save money and make important life decisions for their future. “

SB 1383 creates the Illinois Achieving a Better Life Experience Act (ABLE Act), which creates accounts similar to tax-advantaged college saving plans where income earned in the account is not taxable.

This legislation comes after the federal government passed the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act of 2014 with bipartisan support. Last week, Virginia was the first state to enact the program since the federal legislation was passed.

The Treasurer’s office would be responsible for creating ABLE accounts in accordance with federal rules and regulations. The accounts can be used to pay for qualifying expenses such as education, health, housing and transportation costs.

"I chose a life of public service to help Illinois families. Today, I am proud of the members of the Senate for passing legislation that helps ease financial strain on these families,” Illinois Treasurer Michael Frerichs said. “With the ABLE Account program, we can help individuals with disabilities get the tools necessary to attain financial stability and independence."

SB 1383 passed the Senate with bipartisan support and now moves to the House for consideration.

Another battle against hunger won in a SNAP

biss-snapSPRINGFIELD — The Illinois Senate voted today by a vote of 34-17 to increase access to the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps). Illinoisans earning 165 percent of the Federal Poverty Level will now be eligible for these benefits, up from 130 percent, the lowest permitted by federal law.

"Expanding access to SNAP benefits is a no-brainer," said state Senator Daniel Biss (D-Evanston). "We have the opportunity to give this lifeline to more hard-working families in Illinois, and because it's completely federally funded, it is fiscally responsible even in our current difficult budgetary situation."

The legislation, Senate Bill 1847, also classifies a household that includes an elderly, blind, or disabled person as eligible to be considered for these benefits if the household's gross income is at or below 200% of the nonfarm income poverty guidelines.

This is all part of a larger effort led by the Shriver Center to help the working poor feed their families and respond to the Rauner Administration’s stated desire to maximize Illinois’ access to federal funding. About 2 million Illinois residents received SNAP assistance in November of last year, and according to the Shriver Center, the prospective new law would have a fiscal impact of $1 million to the state.
Federal regulations state that SNAP recipients can use their assistance to buy most food items and plants and seeds to grow food, but cannot use the SNAP benefits to purchase hot prepared foods or non-food items, such as diapers.

The measure now goes to the House for discussion and may still be subject to federal approval.

Illinois Senate passes lifesaving heroin antidote law by Bush

bush-narcan-passesSPRINGFIELD — The Illinois Senate voted to expand access to emergency, life-saving medication, announced State Sen. Melinda Bush, D-Grayslake.

“Heroin use among our youth is a serious problem in the suburban areas I represent,” Bush said. “In the couple of weeks between this measure passing out of committee and today’s vote, Lake Zurich police saved another life with naloxone hydrochloride. By making opioid antidotes like Narcan available by prescription at pharmacies, we give families the same chance to stop a heroin overdose and save a life.”

Dubbed “Lali’s Law,” Senate Bill 1466 would make Narcan available by prescription, allowing families to keep it on hand in the event of an emergency. The name honors the ongoing efforts of Live4Lali, a drug addiction education and awareness not-for-profit founded by Chelsea Laliberte and her mother. The family formed the organization after Alex “Lali” Laliberte, Chelsea’s brother, died of a heroin overdose in 2008. The group has promoted awareness of and access to the drug.

Delivered via a nasal injection, Narcan blocks the effects of narcotics like heroin on the brain. When administered quickly enough, the fast-acting drug can counteract the effects of a narcotics overdose. Medical professionals report little to no negative side effects in the event it is used in error.

The drug is already in use by law enforcement officials, who earlier this month saved a Lake Zurich man who was overdosing. In March, Mundelein police were able to save another man in a similar situation. Police chiefs like Lake Villa Police Department’s Craig Somerville and Eric Guenther, chief of the Mundelein Police Department, have expressed their support for wider availability of the antidote.

“I’ve been on many overdose scenes personally where EMTs came in and revived a person who was as good as gone,” Somerville said of his experience seeing the drug deployed in the field. “It’s pretty much foolproof. I’ll have it in the pocket of my uniform when I come into work tomorrow.”

Bush said concerns about the drug’s availability in households possibly enabling narcotic use is understandable, but the potential to save lives can’t be ignored.

“People didn’t start driving more recklessly because cars suddenly added seatbelts,” Bush said.  “Nobody goes out looking to OD.  When people do, those who discover them are often their family or friends. This could give people the ability to save a loved one in the precious minutes available.”

The proposal is Senate Bill 1466. It passed the Senate with a unanimous 56-0 vote and proceeds to the House for consideration.

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