SPRINGFIELD – State Senator Kwame Raoul (D-13th) announced that the law he sponsored to expand the availability of health care purchasing groups will take effect January 1, giving more businesses a new opportunity to offer health insurance to their employees. Health care purchasing groups allow multiple businesses to join together to negotiate lower premiums. Previously, Illinois law had restricted their membership to businesses with 500 or fewer employees; now employers with up to 2,500 workers are eligible.

“When more businesses can form health care purchasing groups, the insurer’s risk will decrease and so will the premiums,” Sen. Raoul said. “Purchasing groups have a history of providing superior care at competitive prices, and expanding this option makes Illinois a better place for workers and business owners alike.”

Federal health care reform legislation has also authorized $6 billion in federal loans to assist in the creation of health insurance cooperatives, which allow businesses to band together and contract directly with health care providers. These two options – health care co-ops and purchasing groups – will help more businesses insure their workers, leading to better health outcomes and fewer working people forced to purchase costly individual insurance, apply for government assistance or go without coverage.

“Purchasing groups and co-ops are critical to reaching the goal of health care access for all Illinoisans,” Sen. Raoul said. “They also help level the playing field so small and medium-sized businesses can attract a talented workforce, compete and grow.”

After January 1, judges will be able to enroll non-violent, first-time criminal offenders in an innovative diversion program expected to relieve prison overcrowding and combat recidivism. State Senator Kwame Raoul (D-13th) sponsored legislation creating the Offender Initiative Program, which is similar to probation in that it requires offenders to satisfy certain requirements and stay out of trouble with the law during a two-year period.

“We have a problem in Illinois with overcrowded prisons, and we have a problem with first-time offenders going to prison, not being rehabilitated and given the tools to succeed on the outside and then cycling through the criminal justice system again and again,” Sen. Raoul said. “Programs like Offender Initiative will help break that cycle by encouraging offenders to make restitution, put their lives in order and stay out of prison.”

The state’s attorney and a judge must consent to allow the offender to enter the program. The Offender Initiative Program requires minimum conditions for the two-year period, including holding a job or performing community service, passing drug tests, making full restitution to the victim and not owning a firearm. A judge may also require the offender to complete a drug treatment program. Both minors and adults are eligible, and judges may require minors to live with their legal guardians and attend school during the diversion program.

Once the court determines the offender has successfully completed the program, his or her arrest record will be expunged immediately. If, however, the individual is convicted of any offense within five years after the dismissal, the previous encounter with the law will be admissible as evidence in the new trial.

Senator Kwame RaoulSPRINGFIELD – Senator Kwame Raoul (D-13th) heralded the passage of Senate Bill 957 and issued the following statement:

As a child of immigrants, I understand the many and diverse contributions immigrants – regardless of documentation – make to our economy and our communities. The reality is that undocumented immigrants are already driving on our roads as they go to work, take their children to school and purchase goods and services. The federal government, on a bipartisan basis, has fallen short on immigration reform. While implementing comprehensive immigration reform is not in our domain as state legislators, we can recognize that we have hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants living in Illinois who inevitably utilize our roads. It’s in the interest of public safety that we acknowledge this reality and give undocumented drivers a pathway to drive legally.

SB 957 passed the Senate by a bipartisan vote of 41-14 and will next be considered by the House.

Senator Kwame RaoulSPRINGFIELD – Thanks to legislation sponsored by Senator Kwame Raoul (D-13th), Illinois law now allows first-time, non-violent offenders to participate in a two-year diversion program similar to probation. Once they successfully complete the program, their records will immediately be expunged, increasing their odds of getting a job and staying out of prison.

“It’s not enough just to be tough on crime; we have to be smart on crime,” Sen. Raoul said. “With our prisons filled beyond their intended capacity and our state budget stretched thin, we simply can’t afford to lock away non-violent offenders with a high likelihood of making restitution, addressing any behavioral or substance abuse problems, and turning their lives around. Enrolling these individuals in alternative programs will be cheaper and more effective than traditional incarceration.”

Senate Bill 3349, signed today by Governor Quinn, allows offenders convicted or indicted on certain felony charges (including burglary, theft, forgery, possession of a stolen vehicle, and drug possession) to participate in the “offender initiative” program only with the consent of the state’s attorney and a judge. During their two years in the program, offenders must meet minimum conditions set by a judge, such as making restitution to victims, performing community service, holding a job, completing a treatment program, and/or passing drug tests. Participants may not own a firearm during the probation period, and if they reoffend within five years, the expunged records can still be used against them in a trial.

“It has been an honor to work with Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez and her office on this legislation,” said Sen. Raoul, who this spring also sponsored a new “early release” law with comprehensive safeguards. “We have seen this year that there is bipartisan momentum toward addressing the aspects of our correctional system that aren’t working and adopting tools to help us utilize our resources wisely.”

CHICAGO — More than 18 months have passed since Haiti was devastated by a catastrophic 7.0 earthquake and rebuilding Haiti is still a work in progress. State Senator Kwame Raoul of Chicago continues to collaborate with International Child Care (ICC), Children’s Memorial Hospital (CMH) and Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine’s Global Health Initiative to help resurrect the Grace Children’s Hospital (GCH) in Haiti. On Wednesday ICC is hosting a dinner at 6:30 p.m. at the Union Club in Chicago to address progress and challenges with the GCH reconstruction.

“I am proud to work with a Chicago-based coalition to continue to aid Haiti, focusing on rebuilding GCH as a resource for pediatric healthcare needs,” said Senator Raoul. “Thousands of children and families will benefit from a fully operational GCH and this Chicago-Haiti partnership will continue working to make sure this hospital and other resources are provided.

ICC has been serving the people of Haiti and the Dominican Republic for 43 years and they assist more than 200,000 people in those nations annually. John Yates, International Director for ICC and representatives from CMH will share specific insights on Wednesday regarding the reconstruction and additional goals to revitalize Haiti.

For Senator Raoul helping improve life for Haitians is a deeply personal commitment. Raoul was born in Chicago to Haitian-born immigrants and he still has family who live in Haiti. His father practiced medicine, made house calls to the underserved and underprivileged across Chicago, and was a board member of International Child Care and now Senator Raoul is an ICC board member.

Business professionals, public officials, architects, doctors, philanthropists and other supporters will participate in Wednesday’s meeting.


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State Sen. Kwame Raoul new 'it guy' in Springfield

Chicago Tribune

For more than a year after he was appointed to fill then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama's seat in the Illinois Senate, Kwame Raoul did all he could to avoid contact with his predecessor.
He would not call Obama for advice unless he absolutely had to. He skipped public appearances where the two might run into each other or, worse, be photographed together.
"I had a sense early on that people, probably including Barack, were concerned about whether I was trying to coattail on his success," Raoul said. "And I was really sensitive about that."
Nearly seven years later, Raoul finds himself the new "it guy" in Springfield. He has led high-profile Democratic pushes to ban the death penalty, reform pensions, overhaul the state's workers' compensation system and redraw legislative boundaries.
Even some Republicans want a piece of him. House Republican Leader Tom Cross appeared with Raoul last month to promote legislation that would require schools to adopt policies regarding concussions and head injuries for athletes.
"People think I am crazy," said Raoul of his workload, which he says sent him to the hospital twice in the last year with stress-related heart arrhythmia. "I don't want to just be down there saying, 'I'm a senator.'"
The 46-year-old son of Haitian immigrants first became interested in politics while an undergrad at DePaul University during the Council Wars in the 1980s. After Mayor Harold Washington's unexpected death, Raoul joined thousands of protesters outside City Hall as aldermen held a tumultuous meeting that eventually saw Eugene Sawyer chosen as mayor.
Raoul, who wanted then-Ald. Timothy Evans as mayor, wound up being hours late for his job as a bill collector so he could pass out "No Deals" signs at the rally.
"I subsequently got fired from a job I wasn't very good at and didn't like, but I remember going home and watching the council proceedings and thinking, 'Wow, we've got to do better than this.'"
Raoul twice ran and lost for alderman against Toni Preckwinkle, who's now the Cook County Board president. She eventually became an ally and backed him for Obama's state Senate seat in 2004 — against Obama's wishes at the time.
Raoul has a law degree from Chicago-Kent College of Law and a year ago went to work in the Chicago office of Michigan-based Miller Canfield. The firm, which also employs Paul Durbin, son of U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., is serving as an underwriters' counsel on a $3.5 billion bond sale the state issued in January 2010.
Raoul said he's never made any calls to help the firm secure state business and voted present Wednesday on a bill that would provide tax credits for Continental Tire, which he said the firm represents. The bill passed.
"I try to be careful and make sure the firm isn't doing anything that could get me in trouble," said Raoul, who added that he is learning about municipal financing so he can help towns and cities with bond deals.
Raoul's signature achievement was pushing through a death penalty ban that few expected to pass.
"I was very surprised when he told me he had enough votes," said Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago. "And that's because it was a very individual, personal type of vote. Those type of bills come along once in a career."
For now, Raoul said he plans to run for his Senate seat next year.
"There's a lot of room out there to serve. I don't want to be one of those people that is trying to hold on to power beyond my time," said Raoul, who added he's not worried if he loses. "For me there's enough stress, there's enough time away from my kids and family."