Update from the Capitol 8/14/15

The budget stalemate is dragging on in Springfield, but there was a bit of good news this week with passage of a “Federal Funds” budget that will allow for the spending of approximately $5 billion in federal funding to provide some temporary relief for vital program and services.

In addition, local farmers whose crops were devastated by the recent flooding can now apply for assistance, thanks to an Agriculture Disaster Area declaration for local counties.  Details are below.

I’ll keep you posted,


Democrats bow to pressure on pay increases

For months, my House Republican colleagues and I have been working to stop the automatic pay increase for members of the General Assembly scheduled to go into effect this month. Speaker Madigan, President Cullerton and their members for months blocked all attempts to stop their pay increase, but in the past two weeks both finally bowed to pressure from you, the taxpayers, and finally voted down their raise. 

House Bill 576 freezes cost-of-living adjustments and other benefit compensations for General Assembly members and other high-ranking elected and appointed State officials in FY16. The bill received final General Assembly approval on Wednesday, August 5, and was sent to the Governor who is ready to sign it into law.

Federal funds budget will meet some emergency needs

While the state budget stalemate continues, there may be a bit of good news on the horizon. The Illinois House and Senate have now approved legislation to appropriate the federal funds allocated to Illinois in FY16 for spending and use. These federal funds, which total approximately $5 billion, are separate from the money paid by Illinois taxpayers to the State.

Programs that operate senior centers, Women, Infants and Children supplemental nutrition efforts, adult education programs, and home weatherization assistance offices are among the programs funded by federal grants that are funneled through the State. These programs may be able to maintain some of their operations during the stalemate with the help of this bill.

While the House Democrats initially pushed to derail the measure, they eventually came to their senses and worked with us to provide a bipartisan stopgap relief. The measure now returns to the Senate for concurrence, and could be sent to the Governor as soon as next week.

Lt. Governor surveys flood recovery in Watseka, Governor Rauner declares area Counties Agricultural Disaster Areas

I was very glad to have Lt. Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti visit Watseka last week for an update on how our local communities are recovering from recent flooding. Mayor Bob Harwood, his team, IEMA, DNR and others have done a tremendous job for the citizens of Watseka. The Mayor sent me the following message of thanks to pass along to all those who helped:

I would like to thank the employees of the Watseka Police, Fire and Public Works departments for the outstanding job they did during the response phase of the July flooding in Watseka. They all worked long hours for days serving the public during this very trying time. Numerous volunteer organizations and area churches also stepped up to assist the community. County EMA coordinator Eric Ceci was available at all times and the County Board was very supportive. Representative Bennett was a constant during and after the event, either calling or in person and always willing to get involved. All of this support made my job as Mayor somewhat easier during this event.”  – Bob Harwood, Mayor of Watseka

This week Governor Rauner declared all of the counties in the 106th district Agricultural Disaster Areas due to crop losses caused by the rain and flooding. Farmers who believe they may be eligible for assistance should contact their county Farm Service Agency office. Loan applications will be considered on a case-by-case basis. If you have questions you should contact the state FSA office at 217.241.6600. You can read more about it here.

A big week for bill signings

This past week I was honored to have three bills signed into law, bringing the total of new laws I guided through the Illinois House to five. Much of the credit goes to constituents here in the 106th district – four of the five new laws came from ideas brought to me by local constituents!

Public Act 99-0235 is aimed at keeping school students and faculty safe.  It clarifies that school boards may go into executive session to discuss security details if they feel that’s what they need to do to best ensure everyone’s safety. It’s a very unfortunate reality today that schools need to have security measures in place, and specific plans to deal with threats of violence in their buildings.

Public Act 99-0272 allows elderly or disabled victims of financial exploitation or abuse to promptly proceed in court with a civil case, and increases the damage awards they may recover. All too often the most vulnerable in our community are targeted by criminals, but the high burden of proof in criminal cases often discourages prosecution. Expediting the civil process affords another avenue for victims to seek justice and to recover financially.

Public Act 99-0048 ensures that the materials on SIDS prevention new parents receive at the hospital will include information developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics or a statewide or nationally recognized SIDS or medical association. As we continue to learn more about SIDS, prevention information continues to evolve as well. It’s crucial that new parents leave the hospital armed with the best, most reliable information available.

Public Act 99-0123 clarifies that counties and municipalities will be in control of establishing standards for wind farms and electric-generating wind devices within their boundaries.

Public Act 99-0242 permits auxiliary lighting on motorcycles that will make them more visible to motorists on the road to help reduce collisions. The measure was initiated by ABATE in cooperation with their “Start Seeing Motorcycles” safety campaign.