By JERRY NOWICKI
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – With the Legislature on spring break until April 30, advocacy groups are working to get their points across on topics such as cannabis legalization and a graduated income tax.
State Sen. Heather Steans, a Chicago Democrat, said she expects amended language to be filed on her adult-use legalization, Senate Bill 7, by the end of April.
While details of the bill have not been released publicly in an official capacity, 60 state representatives have signed onto a resolution by state Rep. Marty Moylan, D-Des Plaines, urging lawmakers to “slow the process of legalizing recreational marijuana.”
On Tuesday, a mental health advocacy group urged caution in the legalization process as well, noting that legalization will come with a behavioral health care impact, particularly on teens, and lawmakers “must be ready to pony up the money to pay for care.”
Illinois Association for Behavioral Health CEO Sara Howe said data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows the average rate of regular teen marijuana use in the legalized states of Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington is 30 percent higher than the U.S. rate as a whole.
Howe said the IABH is ready to assist the Legislature “in crafting a well thought out and carefully implemented policy,” but funding will need to be provided for such measures.
“We cannot and under no circumstances should be expected to, prevent or treat the increase in substance use or mental health disorder diagnoses without a significant and permanent increase in monetary resources – to not do so is simply naïve and ignores the reality of what will occur in communities,” she said in the release.
* * *
MEDICINAL PILOT PROGRAM: Meanwhile, the Medical Cannabis Alliance of Illinois, a trade association representing cultivation centers and dispensary organizations, issued a news release in support of House Bill 895, a bill to make permanent the state’s legalized medicinal program.
The bill is carried by Rep. Bob Morgan, a Deerfield Democrat and the former head of the state’s Medical Cannabis Pilot Program. In addition to making the pilot program permanent, HB895 would expand qualifying conditions for medical cannabis treatment.
MCAI announced a new online resource, www.cannaqualify.com, to help people get access to medicinal cannabis.
“Many people benefit every day from medical cannabis pain relief that they simply cannot get through opioids and other medications. Cannabis is changing lives for the better,” Pamela Althoff, MCAI’s executive director, said in a release. “Yet, too many Illinoisans don’t know if they qualify for medical cannabis help, or they hear misinformation about what our members can offer.”
* * *
GRADUATED TAX: While the public vote for a graduated income tax is more than 19 months away if the measure makes the ballot, dark money groups continue to pour resources into advertising campaigns for or against Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s signature proposal.
Both Ideas Illinois – a business-tied anti-graduated tax 501(c)4 organization – and Think Big Illinois – a Pritzker-aligned 501(c)4 to which the governor has admitted to donating – were active on tax day Monday, sending out news releases and announcing new advertisement spots.
In a Chicago Sun-Times op-ed highlighted in a tax day email, Ideas Illinois Chairman Greg Baise said a constitutional amendment to allow lawmakers to implement a graduated tax is “like giving a kid in a candy store a blank check.”
“At least with a kid in the candy store, unlike Springfield politicians, there’s a fighting chance they will keep their spending to whatever they can stuff in their pockets,” Baise wrote.
Think Big Illinois showcased a competing op-ed from Illinois Federation of Teachers President Dan Montgomery, which ran in the Daily Herald. That piece highlighted why “a fair tax is needed to lift the burden off middle- and lower-income families and provide much-needed funding to our state’s education system.”
Think Big also announced an internet advertising campaign Monday featuring Facebook ads and banner ads on a variety of sites, including the Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune, Peoria Journal Star, State Journal-Register and CNN.
On Tuesday, Think Big launched a 15-second television ad named “Almost Every,” which will run even as Think Big’s two previous spots remain on the air. The ad highlights that in “almost every state with an income tax, wealthy people pay a higher tax rate than the middle class.”
Of the 41 states that levy an income tax, 33 have graduated structures, and eight have a flat tax.
Ideas Illinois and Illinois Policy, another conservative 501(c)4 organization, remain active with anti-graduated tax ads online and on the air as well.