Update from the Capitol 4/11/2016

Local government bill passes House

A bill I am sponsoring to reduce the paperwork burden on county governments and public defenders passed the House Judiciary Criminal Law committee Monday and cleared the full House on Thursday. HB 4603 gives public defenders in smaller counties the option of making a report to the county board quarterly instead of every month. In less populous counties with a smaller caseload for public defenders, this bill will give the county board the flexibility to require fewer reports, and thus reduce the workload and paperwork. It would give each county board the flexibility to decide whether or not to require these reports monthly or quarterly. The bill passed the House 113-1 and is now awaiting action in the Senate.

Bills for hunters, fallen firefighters and motorists pass committee

On Monday, the House Agriculture and Conservation Committee passed my legislation to help the Conservation Police stop poachers. The bill broadens the scope of the Wildlife Code’s protections against deer poaching to give the Conservation Police tools to require serious offenders to appear in front of a judge, rather than just pay a small fine. It came about after a poacher shot a trophy deer on private property without the permission of the landowner. When the poacher was arrested, very little could be done because current law does not allow such charges to be brought before a judge. House Bill 4558, a bipartisan bill which passed committee 17-0, would protect the rights of law-abiding deer hunters in Illinois while allowing stronger action to be taken against violators.

On Tuesday, the Transportation Vehicles and Safety Committee passed two of my bills: HB 5649, which allows motorcycles to carry the specialty license plate for the Illinois Fire Fighters Memorial Fund and HB 5651 which allows Illinois drivers to select their birthday as the date by which they need to renew their vehicle registration sticker. Since the Secretary of State stopped mailing reminders last year, we have seen many stories about Illinois drivers who have forgotten to renew their sticker by the deadline. By giving people the option of setting their renewal date on their birthday, we can make those missed reminders less of a problem.

These bills now go to the full House for consideration.

New committee appointment

This week I was appointed to the Transportation Regulation: Roads and Bridges committee. I am looking forward to this new assignment because of the important role this committee plays in keeping our highway infrastructure safe and up to date. Representing a large, rural district like ours, you quickly gain an appreciation for the importance of good roads and also the essential function that a modern transportation infrastructure plays in our everyday lives.

Continuing appropriation for state employees

As the state budget standoff drags on, far too many service providers, college students, businesses and others have been hit hard. One group that has had to deal with a large amount of uncertainty is state employees and their families.

I believe that our state employees who show up to work every day to serve the public should be paid on time and in full. This issue attracted even more attention in the wake of a state Supreme Court ruling which declared that state employees who were promised raises back in 2011 could not receive them because the funds for their pay were not appropriated.

State government should keep its promises to those who keep it running. Accordingly, I am co-sponsoring two bills to do just that while we continue to work toward a complete, balanced state budget. House Bill 2703 would appropriate the money that we already owe to state employees. House Bill 4245 would make state employee pay a “continuing appropriation,” meaning that those paychecks could still be issued while awaiting the passage of a budget. If we cannot get a full budget passed in the next few weeks, I hope we can at least settle these issues and ensure that state employees get paid for serving the people of Illinois.

Republican leaders introduce bill to free up money in certain crisis areas

Hardest-hit by the current budget crisis have been several broad areas of state spending not protected by court orders, consent decrees and continuing appropriations, such as higher education and some providers of community services. House Republican Leader Jim Durkin has joined with his Senate Republican counterpart, Sen. Christine Radogno, to advocate for a $1.3 billion budget/appropriations relief bill to reopen cash flow for certain providers of community services, including public health-related services. 

Services that would be restored under the categories covered by this proposal include home care for elderly residents, services for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, and screenings for lead poisoning. The areas covered by these definitions are community public-health-related services, traditionally performed by locally-based nonprofit private sector entities that rely on grant support from the state. The failure of the state to enact a budget has forced many of these service providers to carry out significant layoffs. In some cases, longtime service providers have been forced to close their doors entirely.

Under this proposal, parts of the cost of these payments would be met by transfers from other state funds, and part would be met by a partial pension cost shift from the state to local school districts and higher education institutions that took certain enumerated salary actions to obligate their pension systems. This move would be one of several proposed pension reforms being discussed by the General Assembly in the current spring session.

Keeping in Touch

As always, you can contact me via webform at www.repbennett.com.