Update from the Capitol 4/22/2016

Bipartisan compromise reached on higher education funding

The news has been filled lately with stories of the hardships that state universities, their students and staff have encountered due to the ongoing budget stalemate. In fact, Chicago State University officials stated that their school would run out of money and close on April 30 if something wasn’t done.

This week, rank-and-file legislators from both parties worked together to come up with a compromise that would get some desperately-needed funds to state universities, community colleges and students who rely on MAP grants for their education. Governor Rauner and leaders from both parties came on board with the agreement, and on Friday the House passed the compromise bill.

I was proud to vote with the majority on a bill which, though it did not solve the problem in full, was the first major step in the right direction. This fully-funded lifeline keeps our higher education institutions running through the rest of the fiscal year, and represents the kind of bipartisan cooperation that we sorely need to see much more of in Springfield. I hope this is the beginning of the end of a budget standoff that has gone on for far too long.

As budget crunch deepens, Republicans offer real solutions

As of April 2016, Illinois has entered its tenth month without a balanced budget, making this the only state that has not yet enacted a spending plan for the current fiscal year.  No plans have been enacted to control and continue state spending during this period.  Many providers of essential social healthcare services, including vitally-needed services for seniors, veterans, persons with challenges relating to mental health or developmental disability, and victims of domestic and sexual violence, have been affected by this lack of budget appropriations.  Many of these entities have been forced by cash-flow realities to reduce services.  Some of these service providers have been forced to lay off personnel, and in some cases completely shut their doors, in the communities they serve or have served. 

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin is co-sponsoring HB 6553, the “lifeline” bill, with Senate Republican Leader Radogno.  HB 6553 would allocate $1.3 billion in funding to providers of community services in areas where the need is most intense.  The measure is backed by transfers of real money, including proceeds to the state from immediate pension reform measures.  HB 6553 is backed by Governor Rauner, who has assured General Assembly members of both parties that he will participate in negotiations to finalize what spending items should be covered in this measure.  The Governor has told members of the House and Senate that he expects to be able to sign a “lifeline” bill similar to HB 6553 if it conforms to the broad outlines of this proposal, is passed by both houses of the General Assembly, and is transmitted to his desk.

No pay for legislators until a budget is passed

State Comptroller Leslie Munger announced on Sunday that legislators and statewide elected officials would have to wait in line for their paychecks the same way so many service providers, state universities and others have had to wait during this budget stalemate. I have joined with several of my colleagues to go one step further and suspend legislator pay entirely until a budget is passed.

House Bill 4253 would change state law to prevent legislators from receiving pay during the time the state is without a budget. We introduced this bill last summer, and I believe if it had been enacted then we might not be in the tenth month of this standoff today. If you agree that state legislators should not be paid while the state is without a budget, visit my website at repbennett.com and sign our petition.

I have not collected a paycheck since the state began operating without a budget last July. If the state is going to ask soil and water conservation districts, health departments and so many others to go without pay, then legislators should do the same.

Small Business Administration flood assistance center opens in Watseka

The U.S. Small Business Administration has set up an outreach center to assist Iroquois County residents who sustained losses during the flooding this winter. Residents of Ford and Vermillion Counties are also eligible for assistance.

SBA representatives will be at Watseka City Hall until Thursday taking applications for low-interest loans to assist those who had flood damage. The center will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekdays, and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday April 23. It will close down at 3 p.m. on Thursday April 28.

For more information, visit the SBA disaster assistance site by clicking here.

House passes bill to change license plate sticker renewal date to the driver’s birthday

Late last year, the Secretary of State suspended the mailing of reminder notices to Illinois drivers with soon-to-expire license plate registration stickers. Shortly afterwards, the number of citations and fines for drivers with expired stickers began to climb. As people stopped getting the reminders, they failed to renew their stickers.

On Tuesday, the House passed my bill to allow drivers to set their birthday as the date by which they must renew their sticker. With the renewal reminder notices still suspended, too many Illinois drivers are missing the deadline to renew their stickers. My bill, which passed the House 109-2, would let drivers set their renewal for a date which is easy to remember, and make it less likely that an Illinois driver would inadvertently find themselves in violation of the law. It is now awaiting action in the Senate.

Bill to protect rights of law-abiding deer hunters passes the House

Earlier this month, I told you about House Bill 4558, a bill to allow certain repeat violators of hunting laws to be brought before a judge. On Wednesday, the bill passed the full House by a vote of 115-0.

This issue was brought to my attention by the Illinois Conservation Police who had become frustrated after catching repeat, egregious violators of laws regarding deer hunting, only to have them receive a small fine and not have a day in court. My bill protects the rights of law-abiding deer hunters by giving law enforcement the ability to bring repeat offenders to court to possibly face harsher penalties when they break the law again. It does not add any new offenses or penalties; it simply makes it possible for a judge to review the cases of those who violate the existing law multiple times.

Keeping in Touch

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