Senator Steans on the Seante floor.

Illinois a step closer to endorsing constitutionally protected rights for women

SPRINGFIELD – After a nearly 50 year-long battle, the Illinois State Senate took a historic vote Wednesday to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment and solidify equal rights for all.

“Women across the nation are rising up and pushing back against laws and policies that deny our equality,” said State Senator Heather Steans (D-Chicago), sponsor of the measure. “By voting to ratify the ERA, Illinois lawmakers are saying to women everywhere, ‘We hear you, and we stand with you.’”

The Equal Rights Amendment declares that equality of rights will not be denied by the United States or any state on account of sex. It initially was introduced in Congress in 1923 and was sent to the states for ratification 46 years ago.

Several advancements for women’s rights, such as the Equal Pay Act and Title IX, could be repealed by a majority vote in Congress. The Executive Branch also could reduce enforcement of these acts. The ERA solidifies legal protections for women.

“Many people do not realize women have no guaranteed equal rights under the U.S. Constitution. From equal pay to equal health care access, women’s rights are in jeopardy as long as our equality is not cemented in the Constitution,” Steans said.

Decades of widespread misinformation have hindered Illinois’ ability to ratify the ERA, she added.

“For decades, opposition has argued that the ERA would open women to being drafted and that it would hurt mothers in custody or divorce battles,” Steans said. “The fact is the ERA would strengthen protections and legal standards for women.”

To date, 36 states have voted to ratify the ERA, with Nevada being the most recent. To be ratified to the Constitution, 38 states must approve the amendment.

The legislation now moves to the House for further consideration. For Illinois to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, three-fifths of House members will need to vote in support.

Steans also sponsored a measure to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment in 2014.

This is the first piece of legislation passed in the Senate with the support of the newly formed, bipartisan Senate Women’s Caucus.

Demand grows for intractable pain to be on Illinois’ medical marijuana approved condition list

Sen. Steans and Rep. Cassidy deliver petition signatures to the governor.SPRINGFIELD – Nearly 5,000 petition signatures asking that intractable pain be added to the list of approved conditions for Illinois’ medical marijuana program were delivered to the governor’s office today.

State Senator Heather Steans and State Representative Kelly Cassidy, both Chicago Democrats, delivered the petitions, along with a strong message about Gov. Bruce Rauner’s preference to continue appealing a judge’s ruling on the matter.

“Given a choice between showing compassion for those suffering from chronic pain or pursuing a costly legal battle, the Rauner administration chose the latter,” Steans said. “I do not believe that appealing the court’s decision is an effective use of taxpayer dollars. From the number of Illinoisans that signed this petition, I’m not the only one that seems to think so.”

In February, the Rauner administration decided to appeal a Cook County judge’s ruling to add intractable pain to the list of qualifying conditions in the medical marijuana program. Intractable pain is a severe form of chronic pain. Patients with intractable pain may be prescribed opioids to cope with this condition.

"Tens of thousands of Illinois residents who are suffering from intractable pain have few choices for relief besides dangerous opiates,” Cassidy said. “Intractable pain isn't going away, but we can provide folks a safer alternative."

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Senator Steans presents legislation to leverage federal funds to support the Medicaid program.SPRINGFIELD – Hospitals that serve Medicaid patients would continue to benefit from federal funding under a measure sponsored by State Senator Heather Steans (D-Chicago) which passed the Senate today.

“I have worked with my colleagues in both chambers for several months to develop a new Medicaid Hospital Assessment Program that is fair to patients and hospitals,” said Steans. “This new program supports hospitals that serve a vital role in communities while distributing funding in a more accurate manner.”

The Medicaid Hospital Assessment Program was designed to leverage federal matching funds to cover the cost of services provided to Medicaid patients in private Illinois hospitals. Currently, hospitals receive a flat payment based on a variety of factors, such as the number of Medicaid patients served. The new program would use more recent patient data and phase in a claims-based payment model over the next six years.

“Hospitals are not reimbursed for the full cost of treating Medicaid patients and rely on these payments to help some of the neediest Illinoisans,” Steans said. “I urge the federal government to review this proposal immediately so that service to patients in Illinois will not be disrupted.”

Nearly half of the annual Medicaid payment funds are set to expire under Illinois statute on June 30, 2018. The assessment laid out in Senate Bill 1773 requires state and federal approval before it can take effect.

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Senator Steans on the Senate floorCHICAGO – As hospitals, police departments, judges, counselors and coroners grapple with an unprecedented opioid abuse crisis in Illinois, Gov. Bruce Rauner wants to slash funding for local mental health services and addiction treatment.

That’s counterintuitive and irresponsible, said Senator Heather Steans (D-Chicago).

“At a time when thousands of Illinoisans are dying across the state from the opioid epidemic, I do not believe it is prudent for the governor to cut funding for addiction and mental health services,” she said. “The opioid crisis is a serious and multi-faceted problem that requires substantial funding.”

According to an Illinois Department of Public Health report published in December, nearly 2,000 Illinoisans died from an opioid-related overdose in 2016, an 82 percent increase since 2013. More people died from opioids than homicides or car crashes in Illinois, the report stated.

The governor’s budget proposes the following cuts:

•    Community mental health services — $48.4 million
•    Addiction treatment for Medicaid-eligible — $16.1 million
•    Addiction prevention services — $483,000

Steans noted that access to medical marijuana can reduce reliance on opioids and help stem the abuse and overdose epidemic in Illinois. A report from Aclara Research revealed that 67 percent of respondents stopped using opioids after using medical cannabis.

“I believe that expanding access to cannabis could reduce the negative impacts of the opioid epidemic,” Steans said. “I think the governor needs to rethink his budget priorities and his policy stance on this issue.”

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