Legislation legalizing the use of marijuana for certain medical conditions was signed into law during the week ending August 2, but many questions still need to be resolved about how the measure will be implemented.
Also during the week, a special conference committee continued to work behind the scenes trying to hash out a compromise on pension reform, while the Legislature’s top two Democrats went to court seeking to overturn Governor Pat Quinn’s plan to withhold pay from legislators until he gets a pension bill he likes.
Medical Marijuana Approved
With the approval of House Bill 1, which I supported, Illinois will join 20 other states in allowing the use of marijuana to treat dozens of serious illnesses.
The legislation, which goes into effect January 1, 2014, will create a four-year pilot program that allows persons with any of several dozen serious diseases to obtain up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis every two weeks.
More than 35 serious conditions would be covered, including cancer, glaucoma, HIV, Hepatitis C, Crohn’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, and a number of spinal cord diseases and injuries. There will be a statewide registry of all patients and their caregivers. The legislation does not include a general eligibility for chronic pain or nausea. The legislation establishes a system for licensing up to 22 growers and 60 dispensaries.
But, many questions must still be resolved. For example, a doctor’s prescription will be required, but physicians may be hesitant to write a prescription that could bring them into conflict with federal anti-drug laws. Similarly, insurers are unlikely to cover the cost of the herb.
Pension Committee Working
The special conference committee on pensions has been meeting in small groups and submitting proposals to financial experts to determine what the potential savings may be under various options. No details of the plans under consideration have been released, but it is generally expected that a final proposal could incorporate ideas developed by a University of Illinois government think tank.
Senate President John Cullerton and House Speaker Michael Madigan filed a court challenge July 30 to Governor Quinn’s decision to veto legislative salaries from the state budget. Governor Quinn vetoed the salaries in retaliation for the legislature’s failure to adopt pension changes. The Governor cut the salaries even though he was the one who asked that a conference committee be created to develop a pension reform plan.
After lawmakers agreed to the special committee, the Governor refused to testify before the group or submit his own plan for reform. Those actions have contributed to legislators’ frustration, with many seeing Governor Quinn as more interested in scoring political points than seeking a genuine solution.
Withholding legislative salaries until pension reform is passed was a high-risk decision by the Governor. But – to give credit where credit is due – at least he is doing something to focus attention on the issue. If a legislative pay freeze is upheld, there could be nothing more effective to get the players engaged and get this pension mess resolved.
I share the Governor’s frustration over the slow pace of pension reform; however, there are serious concerns that his actions could set a dangerous precedent. For example, the Governor is staunchly anti-gun and might use a similar tactic to attempt to push through gun control legislation that has been consistently rejected by lawmakers.
There is also the risk that legislators might enact a plan that would do little to solve the problem in order to again start receiving their pay, instead of passing comprehensive reform like Senate Bill 2026, which would permanently fix the problem.
Other Measures Approved
Also during the week, the Governor signed legislation that will allow for online voter registration (House Bill 2418), create a revolving loan program for minority-owned businesses within the state’s Transportation Department (House Bill 3267), provide new protections from potential abuse of senior citizens (Senate Bill 1287), and give disabled student athletes more flexibility to meet physical education requirements (Senate Bill 2157).