Update from the Capitol 4/18/2016

Fire Fighters Memorial Fund license plate bill passes House

On Wednesday the House passed my bill to allow motorcycles to carry the Illinois Fire Fighter Memorial Fund license plate, proceeds from which go to provide scholarships to children and spouses of firefighters killed in the line of duty, and to maintain the Illinois Firefighters Memorial at the Capitol. This specialty plate already existed, but it currently cannot be carried by motorcycles. Under my legislation, motorcyclists who wish to support the Fire Fighters Memorial Fund may request one of these license plates from the Secretary of State. The bill is House Bill 5649 and it is now pending in the Senate.

New Illinois Ag Director Confirmed

The Illinois Department of Agriculture has a new director. Former State Representative Raymond Poe of rural Springfield was appointed to the post by Governor Rauner in November. This week, he was formally confirmed by the Senate in a 56-0 vote. Poe served for more than 20 years in the Illinois House, many of those years as a member of the House Agriculture and Conservation committee. He is a third generation family farmer and a former county Farm Bureau president.

Governor Rauner releases school funding formula proposal

The issue of school funding reform is one of the major topics we are tackling in Springfield during this year’s session. This week, Governor Rauner released his proposal, which ends the practice of “proration,” under which schools would receive a smaller amount of state funding than the existing formula called for. The Governor’s proposal also increases funding on education from pre-kindergarten up to 12th grade by a total of $120 million: $55 million to elementary and secondary education, $75 million to early childhood education.

Other proposals are floating around the General Assembly as well, so the final version is still developing. I hope we can get some real reforms enacted that will make sure every school and every student gets the funding they need. I will keep you posted as this issue continues to unfold.

Faster trains coming to Chicago-St. Louis Amtrak route

As work continues to improve on the railroad right-of-way between Joliet and Alton; a route that includes the stops at Pontiac and Dwight; improved timetables grow near for the implementation of service along much of the route as fast as 110 miles per hour.  The faster trains could be running as soon as 2017.  Amtrak is also taking steps to revamp and rebuild the interior space in Chicago’s Union Station, with moves underway to concentrate passenger ticketing and waiting areas in the station’s Great Hall and open more multilevel space to West Loop-oriented private-sector retail activity.

While Illinois continues to tighten its belt with regard to a wide variety of spending commitments, the Joliet-Alton speedup is being implemented through a multi-year capital improvement consortium program that includes U.S. Department of Transportation money and partial funding from the Union Pacific Railroad, the owner and operator of the railroad bed.  Union Pacific has consented to continue to allow Amtrak trains to run on its line in return for federal and State help in improving the roadbed, on which it is running an increasing count of double-stacked trailer trains. 

House in session all week

The House is scheduled to be in session Monday through Friday, as the deadline approaches for all House bills to be voted upon. House bills not receiving a vote by the end of this week are virtually dead for the remainder of the session. The Senate is also in session all week, and we should start seeing Senate bills coming over for consideration by the House.

Keeping in Touch

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