May 25 legislative briefs







SPRINGFIELD -- A legislative proposal to offer health insurance to all Illinoisans will be amended to help employers with workers covered by outside insurers avoid a penalty tax, state Sen. David Koehler said Friday.



During testimony before an Illinois Senate committee, Koehler, D-Peoria, said his amendment would especially help employers from his area whose spouses work for Caterpillar or other large companies with health insurance for workers and families.



Under Senate Bill 5, the Illinois Covered proposal, employers that don’t spend at least 4 percent of their payroll on workers’ health insurance would be taxed 3 percent of the payroll. Koehler’s proposal would omit the salaries of employees covered under other insurance plans from calculations to determine whether the employer meets the 4 percent requirement.



“In my community,” he said “I know there are companies that exist where half their work force would be spouses of Caterpillar employees. You don’t want to then put a penalty on a company because they can’t reach that threshold.”



Koehler’s amendment was not called for a committee vote Friday because it contained several drafting errors, he said. He will offer it in a later amendment to the universal health insurance legislation.



SB5 still awaits a vote in the full Senate. A stumbling block for some lawmakers is how to fund the $2 billion-a-year program. Those proposals, such as expanded gambling or a tax on gross revenues of businesses, are contained in other legislation.




Teen phones




State lawmakers this week approved legislation that would forbid 18-year-olds from talking on a cell phone while driving.

Senate Bill 140 expands on an existing state law that prohibits anyone under 18 from using cell phones while behind the wheel. If enacted into law, the measure would apply to anyone younger than 19.

Rep. John D’Amico, the Chicago Democrat who sponsored the legislation, said cell phones distract young people when they should be focused on driving.

Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, voted against the bill, saying: “Older people can be distracted as well as younger (people).”

The House voted 92-23 for the bill Thursday. The Senate voted 55-2 for it in March.

The legislation’s next stop is the governor’s desk. If Gov. Rod Blagojevich signs it, it would become law.