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Debate over redistricting may draw in voters

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    A group calling itself Yes for Independent Maps is taking steps to change the way legislative districts are drawn in Illinois. If successful, the question would be put to the voters in the November 2014 election.
    Yes for Independent Maps is comprised of a coalition of 16 groups and organizations from around the state, including the League of Women Voters and the Illinois State Chamber of Commerce.
     “I think there’s a very strong sense of public opinion in Illinois that our state government is dysfunctional and I think one of the reasons it is dysfunctional is because of these legislative maps,” said Doug Whitley, Chamber president. “Legislative districts are the foundation upon which representative government is dependent. How you draw the map to a great extent determines who is going to be the legislator.”
    According to a written Chamber statement, “The adoption of this Constitutional Amendment would represent the most dramatic action the citizens of Illinois could take toward fundamental change to shake up the status quo in Illinois government.  Establishing an independent process for drawing legislative maps will diminish the influence of party ‘powerbrokers,’ yield more competitive elections and produce boundaries that the average citizen would acknowledge as more reasonable and sensible than those we have seen from the professional politicians.”
    Incumbents in the Illinois House of Representatives won 97 percent of their general election races in 2012, according to Whitley. Two-thirds of the incumbents seeking re-election to the House of Representatives did not even face a challenger in the general election. Thirty of 59 State Senate legislative offices had no opposition on the general election ballot. Conversely, 65 of 118 state representative offices had no general election opposition.
    So, Whitley said, 95 of 177 Illinois legislators were generally guaranteed uncontested campaigns once they got past the March primary.
    Yes for Independent Maps must secure 298,000 valid signatures from registered Illinois voters to gain approval of the State Board of Elections to certify the validity of the citizen initiated referendum. The filing deadline is May 4, 2014. It is estimated that in order to secure 298,000 valid signatures, the group will need to gather 600,000 signatures. The campaign is expected to cost approximately $2 million just to get the question on the ballot.
    If adopted, the “Illinois Independent Redistricting Amendment” would establish an 11-member Independent Redistricting Commission to draw state legislative maps. The amendment would not affect Illinois’ Congressional district or local maps as Illinois initiatives are limited by the state Constitution to matters pertaining to the state Legislature.
    Under the proposed amendment, the independent commission would draw district boundaries that would:
    • Be contiguous, substantially equal in population, and in compliance with federal laws.
    • Not dilute or diminish the ability of a racial or language minority community to elect the candidates of its choice.
    • Respect the geographic integrity of cities, towns, and other units of local government.
    • Respect the geographic integrity of communities sharing common social and economic interests
    • Not purposefully or significantly discriminate against or favor any political party or group, and not consider the residence of any person.
    The Commission would hold public hearings throughout the state both before and after it releases its draft maps. All Commission records and communications between commissioners would be open for public inspection, and all Commission meetings would be open to the public and publicly noticed at least two days ahead of time.
    In order to approve any plan, seven of the Commission’s 11 members would need to approve it — including at least two Democrats, two Republicans and two unaffiliated members. No legislative action would be needed once the commission approves a map.
    The process would be similar to that used by other states including Arizona, California, New Jersey, Iowa and Florida, according to Whitley.
    He acknowledged that there had been an unsuccessful attempt at a redistricting initiative a couple of years ago but believes chances of success this time are good. This effort has gotten a much earlier start; supporters have brought in professional management; and he expects they will be able to raise enough money to hire professional petition circulation help.
    Illinois state Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon, backs the initiative.
    Kay said most states leave the drawing of legislative districts to the state Legislature and the governor who typically try to maximize their party’s prospects for the next election. He said that Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, and Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, and Gov. Pat Quinn did exactly that when drawing the last map.
     “I don’t think we ought to be operating in this day and age on the concept that, to the victor goes the spoils,” Kay said, “because Illinois literally is spoiled and we can’t afford to go down the path we’ve been on for the sake of electing the same people to the same offices year in and year out.
     “Careerism is a big thing in the General Assembly in Illinois. People want to go there and be there forever. That’s never been my view and it isn’t my view. But, in the state of Illinois and many other states we’ve been carving out a lifetime career for people who really like to be in the political realm — who like to be in that environmentI’m not sure that when somebody likes a job in politics that much they ought to stay that long.”

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    The ACA not only authorized the creation of COOPs but established a forgivable loan fund to help them get started. Land of Lincoln was the 24th and last COOP approved under the act and it received a $160 million forgivable loan from the federal government. Some $15 million of that amount was used for startup expenses, including hiring staff, securing office space and buying computer equipment. The remaining $145 million will be used to fund reserves. A total $1.8 billion has been distributed by the federal government to the 24 COOPs.
    Prior to passage of the ACA, applications for health insurance policies covered a rather extensive examination of existing conditions and prior illnesses and injuries. That’s no longer the case, Yunker said. Now there are only three criteria used in pricing a policy: age, geographic area and smoking behavior.
     “Health insurance can be complicated,” said Yunker, “but we’ve done a lot here at Land of Lincoln Health to try to make it simpler for consumers. We want our plans to be easy to choose and easy to use.”
    With winning approval and receiving the loan award late last year, Land of Lincoln had a lot to do to start up the company and get it operational in time for the debut of the health insurance marketplaces on Oct. 1. Yunker said organizers had to secure space, buy equipment and hire staff, but they were able to streamline the process by developing partnerships with existing companies.
    Land of Lincoln Health currently has 34 employees, but Yunker estimates that, when including the partners, there are more than 250 people working to provide Land of Lincoln services.
     “Our team is comprised of group health insurance company experience at the leadership level as well as the operational level,” Yunker said, calling it “deep experience in the benefits area and deep experience in health care in general. We think that it’s because of this great foundation and collaboration of some strong talent that we’ve been able to successfully build Land of Lincoln Health thus far.”
    Yunker said that there are an estimated 1.8 million uninsured people in Illinois with more continually entering the pool plus individuals and employers who may consider switching insurance companies. Land of Lincoln’s target is to enroll 40,000 customers by the end of 2014.
    Illinois’ health insurance marketplace called “Get Covered Illinois” includes 165 plans offered by eight different insurance companies. With all of the options confronting consumers, Yunker recommends that shoppers don’t just look at price but also product.
     “When pricing health insurance, it is really important to look at it from a perspective of total cost, not just the monthly premium,” he said. “You need to also consider the deductible levels and copays as well as various benefits that are included, like pharmacy benefits and so forth. We focused a lot on total cost and our 35 plans are competitive across all rating areas.”
    He added: “But, we’ve taken the strategic approach that we wanted to design our 35 insurance plans to have lower deductibles, which means they will have slightly higher monthly premiums. But, what’s important is we want folks to be able to use their health plan. We don’t want them to think they have insurance and then not be able to use it.”