- Associated Press - Monday, November 9, 2015

CHICAGO (AP) - Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office took steps in three areas Monday that the Republican administration said showed “compromise” during a budget stalemate, though some Illinois Democrats and advocates remained skeptical a day ahead of a legislative session at the Capitol.

The first-term governor announced an agreement with labor and business groups on proposed unemployment insurance changes. He also said the administration would ease restrictions on who qualifies for state-subsidized child care and drop plans to curb which elderly and disabled Illinoisans can get state-funded services, two issues that were heavily protested by advocacy groups.

“You’re seeing lots of legislative movement and compromise,” Rauner spokesman Mike Schrimpf said. “All of these issues … took serious and lengthy negotiations with multiple parties.”

However, it’s unclear which moves will stick in a Democratic-controlled Legislature that’s been at odds with Rauner for months over a spending plan. Rauner wants pro-business reforms and other changes aimed at curbing union power before a budget for the fiscal year that began July 1. Democrats want him to sign off on new taxes, among other things.

Senate President John Cullerton’s spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon said the chamber was “hopeful” the moves were a sign the administration was ready to resolve “larger budget issues.” But House Speaker Michael Madigan’s spokesman Steve Brown was unconvinced, saying some unemployment insurance ideas had already been settled and legislation restoring funding to the child care assistance program was likely to emerge Tuesday.

Over the summer, Rauner drastically reduced who qualified for the low-income working parents program because there was no budget. His office also raised copays and instituted other requirements like background checks. Advocates said the changes left some 70,000 low-income children without care.

But Rauner reversed course on Monday easing many restrictions, though the higher copays will stick. He announced a task force to review the program’s long-term stability. His changes, which a spokesman said avoid the high cost of pending legislation, require approval from a rule-making committee that meets Nov. 17.

While some advocates saw Rauner’s proposal as heartening, including the leading advocacy group Voices for Illinois Children, they still pushed for legislation.

“After five months of devastating cuts to child care, families and advocates are understandably wary of deals that might compromise Illinois’ commitment to ensuring families can remain self-sufficient by working,” Voices policy director Emily Miller said in statement.

Rauner also officially abandoned plans to further restrict which elderly and disabled Illinois residents qualify for state services, notifying federal officials Monday that the state won’t change its way of assessing who gets help. The decision was essentially made last week when Rauner rewrote legislation covering the same issue. But his use of amendatory veto also limited qualifying residents to institutional or at-home care, not both. Rauner said Illinois has spent too much money on taxpayer-subsidized facility care when “when less expensive and more appropriate options are available.”

The bill’s sponsor has said he’s studying the veto and considering an override attempt.

Service Employees International Union Healthcare Illinois, an advocate of protecting such state help, deemed Rauner’s moves “last-minute jockeying.”

The unemployment insurance proposal, part of Rauner’s initial pro-business agenda, includes denying benefits to laid-off workers in certain cases such as providing false information on an employment application and damaging an employer’s property through gross negligence. The proposal allows laid-off workers eligible for Social Security to receive a full unemployment benefit. Rauner announced the agreement in a joint statement with business groups and the Illinois AFL-CIO.

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The bills are HB2482 (nursing home), SB570 (child care) and SB1941 (unemployment insurance).

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Follow Sophia Tareen at https://twitter.com/sophiatareen .

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