Capitol Roundup: Springfield Weighs In On Personal Robots, Cannabis And More

Tuesday, April 23, 2019 || By Capitol News Illinois Staff || @maywoodnews

Feature image: A prototype of the gita mobile carrying device is shown in this photo from Piaggio Fast Forward, the company developing the personal robot. A bill passed the Illinois House last week that would regulate such devices.

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.

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, April 16, 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

The Medical Cannabis Alliance of Illinois, a trade association representing cultivation centers and dispensary organizations, issued a news release Tuesday, April 16, 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.”

Jobs report

The unemployment rate in Illinois climbed one-tenth of a point to 4.4 percent in March as the state recorded a net loss of 2,300 jobs, the Illinois Department of Employment Security said Thursday, April 18.

According to preliminary, seasonally-adjusted numbers, the biggest job losses occurred in the professional and business services sector, which lost 4,200 jobs, transportation and utilities, which shed 3,000 jobs, and the construction industry, where employment was down by 1,600 jobs.

Those losses were partially offset by job gains in manufacturing, financial activities, leisure and hospitality, and other services.

Meanwhile, the number of people counted as unemployed in March grew 1.1 percent from February, to 284,400. That was 1.3 percent higher than in March 2018.

Nationally, the U.S. economy added 196,000 jobs in March, while the nation’s unemployment rate held steady at 3.8 percent.

Despite the overall loss of jobs in Illinois, IDES said the state still saw a net gain in employment for the thee-month period from January through March. And the total job count for Illinois in March was up by 47,400 compared to a year ago.

Population report

Census numbers released Thursday, April 18, show that for the first time in seven years, every major metropolitan area in the state saw population decline between July 2017 and July 2018.

The numbers give a county and metro-area look at population changes, and provide more detail on the statewide numbers the Census Bureau released for the same time period last December, which showed Illinois lost about 45,000 that year.

To Bryce Hill, research analyst at the conservative think tank Illinois Policy Institute, the detailed numbers released Thursday are no shock.

“This is something that was expected,” Hill said. “But it is concerning that all of the state’s metro areas are losing population.”

The Chicago metro area, which extends beyond Cook County into the collar counties and parts of southeastern Wisconsin and northeastern Indiana, had the greatest raw number decline of more than 22,000 people.

In Cook County alone, more than 24,000 people left.

While the population drop of 970 people in the Danville metro area was smaller by comparison, it was the fourth worst decline of any metro area in the country at 1.25 percent.

In all, only 16 of Illinois’ 102 counties saw population increases.

Personal robots

Futuristic technology could give Illinoisans their own personal robots that follow wherever they go, and carry supplies like groceries.

In anticipation of a summer rollout of this technology, the Illinois Legislature is moving a bill to regulate it.

But many aspects remain unclear, including how strong demand will be and what the technology will look like in its final form.

Chicago Democratic Rep. Jaime Andrade is sponsoring House Bill 245, which seeks to regulate the use of “mobile carrying devices.” It is headed to the Senate after being passed unanimously by the House last week.

“When the state’s vehicle code was written, people didn’t think of this being a vehicle,” Andrade said of the personal robots. “It’s not a vehicle, but we still need a description and definition for it.”

His bill is primarily in response to a particular product, the personal robot gita, in development at Massachusetts-based Piaggio Fast Forward, an affiliate of the Italian company that makes Vespa scooters.

Gita is a 50-pound spherical robot Piaggio is designing to carry things to make it easier for a pedestrian to walk, ride a bike, or get around by other means.

It tracks and follows the movements of a belt worn by an owner, and uses cameras to survey the surrounding environment, according to the company’s website.

Aaron Winters, an Illinois lobbyist who represents Piaggio, said it’s expected to be available by this summer, which is “why it is important for the legislation to pass.”

Among other things, the legislation would require the owner to be within 10 feet of the personal robot, and would allow home-rule municipalities to set their own rules. It also would not allow the devices to be used to carry people. VFP

Contact: thevillagefreepress@gmail.com | Facebook: @maywoodnews

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