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Bills expanding telehealth, limiting isolated timeouts advance in General Assembly

Those were some of the measures state lawmakers advanced in the waning hours of their session, which is set to end Monday.

The Illinois House of Representatives in 2016.
The Illinois House of Representatives in 2016.
Seth Perlman/AP file

Lawmakers in Springfield sent legislation reducing the use of isolated timeouts in schools to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk and advanced a measure meant to adopt and expand telehealth services ahead of the close of the legislative session Monday.

In the House, legislators unanimously passed changes made to House Bill 219, which requires administrators to develop school-specific plans for reducing and eventually eliminating the use of isolated disciplinary “timeouts” and physical restraints in schools.

The legislation follows a report on the practice by ProPublica and the Chicago Tribune.

Legislators also unanimously agreed to changes made to House Bills 2748 and 2784. The first of those bills allows students in special education programs who have turned 22 to remain in their programs through the end of the following school year because of the pandemic’s disruption of in-person learning. Typically those programs are only available to students up until their 22nd birthday.

House Bill 2784 requires that 911 call centers and other providers of emergency services dispatched through a 911 system “must coordinate with the mobile mental and behavioral health services established by the Division of Mental Health of the Department of Human Services,” according to the language of the bill.

Sponsor of the bill, Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, said it is the result of the death of Stephen Edward Watts, a man with autism who was shot and killed by police when his parents called 911 seeking help, a “horrific occurrence,” Cassidy said.

Those bills also head to the governor’s desk.

Lawmakers in the Senate unanimously passed a measure providing several incentives to residential housing developers that provide more affordable housing.

“People are still recovering from the financial struggles brought on by the pandemic, making affordable housing more necessary than ever before,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Mattie Hunter, D-Chicago. “With many people behind on rent and struggling with unemployment, we have to do more to help them.”

One of these incentives would reduce the property taxes if 15% to 35% of units are rented at or below market value for 10 years. Developers’ property taxes would also be lowered for multifamily units if at least 20% of those units are set aside for low-income families for 30 years.

The bill would also create the COVID-19 Affordable Housing Grant Program, which would supplement affordable housing developments that qualify for federal tax credits, according to Hunter.

Sen. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago, said the crisis of affordable housing has “escalated as the pandemic continues.”

“The housing crisis is one of the most crucial issues we are facing in Illinois, and providing landlords with incentives to offer tenants more affordable rent is a necessary step forward,” Feigenholtz said.

The bill, HB135, passed unanimously and returns to the House so members there can agree on changes.

The Senate also passed a measure sponsored by Sen. Napoleon Harris, D-Harvey, meant to “ensure insurance companies adopt and expand telehealth services, with a particular focus on serving disadvantaged communities,” according to a news release on the bill’s passage.

Harris said the bill is “merely leveling the playing field” so that future legislation can make health care even more accessible.

“[This bill] provides access that each and every one of us need throughout our districts for our constituents. It provides access for them to contact their medical and health providers, to gain services that were so much needed during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Senate Republican leader Dan McConchie, who uses a wheelchair, urged his Republican colleagues to vote in favor of the measure.

“As someone who is disabled and sometimes has a difficult time getting around… for years I’ve been very frustrated at the lack of accessibility there was in telemedicine,” the Hawthorne Heights Republican said. “I’m very excited about what kind of opportunities this is going to open up, whether it be for people who are disabled or whether it’s going to be people in rural areas.”

That bill, House Bill 3308, now heads back to the House so members can agree on changes made to the bill since it left that chamber.