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House OKs Higher Health Insurance Costs for State Retirees

A wrap-up of some of the latest state political news.

State retirees should brace themselves for higher health-care premiums. Illinois House lawmakers voted May 9 to reduce the $800 million annual cost of insurance for retired state workers by making them pay more for health care that some now get for little or nothing.

Under the legislation, retired state workers, judges, lawmakers and university employees would have premiums for their group health insurance program set each year by the Quinn administration.

The bill went to the Senate on a 74-43 vote.

The Chicago Tribune reported that the action unfolded as House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, and Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego, implored colleagues to make the legislation part of a major effort to rein in billions of dollars in health-care for the poor, public employee pensions and the state’s budget overall.

“The prescription on the table is huge,” Madigan said, as quoted by the Tribune. “This is one small part of it. …If we can’t do this, what in the world are we going to be able to do?”

Madigan said the decisions in the coming weeks to are “not for the faint of heart,” but must be tackled to improve the state’s financial health, according to the Tribune.

Cross sought to allay concerns by pointing to safeguards in a new letter from the administration that said the retiree contributions for health-care would be determined on a sliding scale and consider length of service and ability to pay. The percent of health-care costs the retiree would pay also would be based on his or her pension level, the letter said. Pension amounts would be broken into seven tiers. The higher the tier, the more the retiree will pay.

Opponents of the measure contended the proposal would break the promises made to rank-and-file workers who retired under the belief their health care would be covered. But supporters countered that the growing price tag is unaffordable given Quinn’s call to cut spending dramatically.

GOP Kills Student Loan Rate Bill; Rates are About to Increase

U.S. Senate Republicans have blocked consideration of a Democratic bill to prevent the doubling of some student loan interest rates, leaving the legislation in limbo less than two months before rates on subsidized federal loans are set to shoot upward, according to the New York Times.

Unless the two sides can come to some agreement, the rate will jump from 3.4% to 6.8% on July 1, newser.com reported.

Along party lines, the Senate voted 52 to 45 May 8, failing to clear the 60-vote hurdle needed to beat back a filibuster and begin debating the measure.

According to the Times, Republicans said they wanted to extend Democratic legislation passed in 2007 that temporarily reduced interest rates for the low- or middle-income undergraduates who receive subsidized Stafford loans to 3.4 percent from 6.8 percent.

But they oppose the Senate Democrats’ proposal to pay for a one-year extension by changing tax law that currently allows some wealthy taxpayers to avoid paying Social Security and Medicare taxes by classifying their pay as dividends, not cash income.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TENN) wants to pay for it by eliminating a preventive health care fund in President Obama’s health care law.

The vote marked the 21st successful filibuster of a Democratic bill this Congress. Republicans have blocked consideration of the president’s full jobs proposal, as well as legislation repealing tax breaks for oil companies, helping local governments pay teachers and first responders, and setting a minimum tax rate for households earning more than $1 million a year.

American students took out twice the value of student loans in 2011, about $112 billion, as they did a decade before, after adjusting for inflation. Over all, Americans now owe about $1 trillion in student loans, and in 2010 such debt surpassed credit card debt for the first time. But the bill in limbo addresses only a portion of that burden.

Court Rules State Eavesdropping Law ‘Likely Violates’ First Amendment

A federal appeals court in Chicago ruled May 8 that Illinois’ eavesdropping law “likely violates” the First Amendment and ordered that authorities be banned from enforcing it, according to a WGN Radio report of a Chicago Tribune news story.

The ruling from the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago is the strongest blow yet to the law, which is one of the strictest in the country and makes it illegal for people to audio record police officers in public without their consent.

The ruling follows last month’s announcement by Chicago officials that they would not enforce the law during the May 20-21 NATO summit when potentially thousands of people armed with smart phones and video cameras are expected to demonstrate in the city.

Public debate over Illinois’ law has been simmering since last summer.

According to Tribune reports, in August, a Cook County jury acquitted a woman who had been charged for recording Chicago police internal affairs investigators she believed were trying to dissuade her from filing a sexual harassment complaint against a patrol officer.

Judges in Cook and Crawford counties later declared the law unconstitutional, and the McLean County state's attorney cited flaws in the law when he dropped charges in February against a man accused of recording an officer during a traffic stop.

Officials at the Cook County state’s attorney’s office were still reviewing the 66-page ruling and were not yet prepared to comment on it, spokeswoman Sally Daly said.

Meanwhile, state legislators are considering a bill that would allow people to record police officers working in public.

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