By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network
SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois House has passed a measure aimed at providing greater access to dental care.
The House on Wednesday concurred by 105-to-4 votes with a pair of Senate amendments to House Bill 500, sponsored by Rep. Mike Zalewski, D-Riverside.
Supporters say the bill, now headed to the governor, broadens the range of services that properly trained dental hygienists and dental assistants can provide.
The bill is the result of negotiations among many parties, including the Illinois State Dental Society, Illinois Public Health Association and Illinois Dental Hygienists Association, Zalewski said.
“It’s straight down the middle, a fair compromise to offer access to dental care for more patients in Illinois,” said Zalewski.
Greg Johnson, executive director of the Illinois State Dental Society, said the legislation broadens the capacities of the entire dental team and will allow dental offices to see more patients and get more dental professionals into community clinics.
In one example, he said properly trained dental hygienists will be able to provide more services, such as simple exams, as long as the dentist is in-house.
In another, dental assistants with additional training will be allowed, with supervision, to do simple scaling of teeth.
Expanding the number of services each team member can provide should increase access for patients, especially for those in underserved populations including Medicaid recipients and the working poor, Johnson said.
Conservation police staffing
The House put on hold an effort to establish a minimum number of sworn conservation police officers within the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
House Bill 4104 by Rep. Mike Smiddy, D-Hillsdale, would require the department to have 175 sworn conservation police officers by July 1, 2020.
And should the number of the officers on staff afterward dip below 165, the department would be obligated to start up its hiring process to bring it back to 175.
Smiddy said IDNR — responsible for conservation law enforcement in all of Illinois’ 102 counties — is down to 109 working officers but that number would drop to 82 by the end of this month because of retirements and other departures.
A spokesman for the department on Thursday said there are now 135 conservation police officers.
In debate Wednesday, Smiddy said Illinois doesn’t have enough conservation police officers to staff the entire state.
“We have a very big problem now with officers being able to cover the 102 counties in the state of Illinois and do the job that they need to do,” Smiddy said.
Republicans objected, saying the measure represented unwarranted meddling in a state agency’s staffing. They also said the estimated cost, roughly $3.5 million, amounted to Illinois placing an unfunded mandate on itself during a budget crisis.
“As much as I want to support the department and the conservation police officers, the only right vote is a ‘No’ vote,” said Rep. David Harris, R-Arlington Heights.
The measure drew only 58 of the 71 votes needed for passage, leading Smiddy to pull it from the floor for later consideration.
The House also passed what is likely to be the last bill sponsored by Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley.
House Bill 3213 would allow St. Mary’s Hospital in Streator to become a stand-alone emergency center. The House approved a Senate change to the bill on a vote of 109-0, which means the legislation can now head to the governor.
A 25-year member of the House, Mautino was recently selected by the General Assembly to become the state’s next auditor general. He will take up that post in January.
The representative, who followed in his father’s footsteps by representing the Illinois Valley area, was applauded and praised by both sides of the aisle.
“I want to thank you for so many dedicated years of service to the state of Illinois and for being a true gentleman … during some very, very difficult times,” House Republican Leader Jim Durkin told Mautino. “You’ve epitomized bipartisanship — you truly have — and that’s something we need more of.”
Rep. Jack Franks, D-Woodstock, told Mautino, “You bring a lot of class to this joint, and we need more like you.”