SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Senate Democrats bucked Gov. Bruce Rauner's veto Wednesday in instituting a law to fight heroin abuse in Illinois, but ran into predictable Republican derision when they approved spending $3.8 billion to fund a variety of programs from breast cancer screenings to lottery prizes.
The Senate voted 44-11 to override Rauner's partial veto of the anti-heroin bill, following in the House's footsteps a week ago and immediately putting into effect a wide-ranging approach to what advocates say is an epidemic of heroin abuse in the Prairie State.
"It's a long time coming," sponsoring Sen. Dan Kotowski, a Democrat from Park Ridge, said. "Too many young people have died in our state."
On the day marking the 10th week that Illinois has gone without a statewide spending plan for the current fiscal year, the Senate also adopted on a party-line vote a plan to provide $1.8 billion in spending for human service needs, including child care, breast and cervical cancer screening, immunizations, autism treatment and more.
Though federal court orders are forcing the state to pay billions of dollars to cover health and human-service needs, Chicago Democratic Sen. Heather Steans said vital programs are left out.
But the measure, which moves to the House next, faces an almost-certain veto as budget deadlock drags on. Rauner's deputy chief of staff, Richard Goldberg, sent a letter to members of the Senate on Wednesday, calling the legislation a "cynical attempt to stick the taxpayers of Illinois with a massive tax hike without reform."
Rauner had supported much of the heroin legislation, which also received widespread backing in the General Assembly when it passed in May, but the Republican used his amendatory veto authority to strike a provision to have Medicaid include the popular treatment drug methadone and the overdose antidote called Narcan.
Rauner pointed out during his August veto that the insurance program for the poor already covers several types of heroin medication and that methadone treatment in 5,400 licensed placements available through the Department of Human Services. He also said that the law requires Medicaid coverage to exceed private insurance benefits and virtually eliminate cost controls, which would hamper the fiscally strapped state.
Some in the GOP said the time wasn't right to spend more on battling the drug, which researchers have said have led the state to have the highest number of emergency room visits in the nation. But Kotowski responded, "it will save money in the long run" in medical treatment and lost productivity.
The new law requires emergency authorities and school nurses to carry and administer drugs to reverse overdoses, increase education on drug abuse for schoolchildren and anyone taking prescription opioids, provide more treatment options and less jail time for users, and more. Experts say the measure is the first attempt to link the heroin epidemic to prescription drugs, because many move from doctor-provided opioid painkillers to heroin, which is cheaper and more widely available.
The state budget should have taken effect July 1. Democrats object to Rauner's insistence that it come after legislators agree to pro-business changes such as limits on workers' compensation awards and rule-restrictions in civil lawsuit payouts.
The program-funding legislation pushed Wednesday by Senate Democrats also includes $2 billion in other state money, such as motor fuel tax receipts that are owed to local governments and $1 billion in lottery proceeds to pay winners of big prizes who have been told they have to wait. A lawsuit has been filed by two lottery winners, seeking class-action status and for a court order to stop ticket sales until prizes can be paid out.
Democrats threw the criticism back at Republicans, saying Rauner hasn't even attempted to negotiate with their leaders.
"What is that about?" Steans asked. "That ain't leadership."
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