State of the State Address; legislation to help protect correctional workers

Governor delivers State of the State Address
Governor Rauner went before a joint session of the legislature on Wednesday to deliver his third State of the State Address. The Governor struck a positive, upbeat tone, as he reviewed some of the accomplishments of his term, like record education funding, transparency and initiatives to streamline government.

He also expressed his optimism about the movement toward bipartisan agreement for changes to our political system and about reaching a truly balanced budget. He asked for the legislature’s help in advancing reforms such as term limits and fair redistricting maps. He focused on education funding: decreasing the gap between funding of schools in high-income areas and lower-income areas.

The Governor also touched on the unresolved issues we need to get to work on: the deficit, pensions, the unbalanced budget, workers compensation and property taxes. He closed with the idea that we all live here, we all have families and communities here, and we’ve got to find a way to make Illinois better: it is such a great state but it can be so very much better.

I was encouraged by the Governor’s calls for bipartisanship to get Illinois out of the mess it is in. Working together is the only way we can start to solve the problems the state is facing. I hope legislators of both parties will take up this call to bring about change and find bipartisan agreement on real solutions to Illinois’ challenges.

Bills introduced to enhance safety of correctional workers
Since I took office two years ago I have talked with many correctional officers and staff from the district who have shared with me ideas to improve their safety while doing a very dangerous job. With their suggestions in mind, I have introduced a series of bills to help keep our correctional workers safer on the job.

House Bill 310 clarifies that the use of force or of chemical agents is permissible in an adult correctional facility for correctional officers to defend themselves or others from a physical attack by an inmate. Currently they are only allowed to do so as a last resort, which sometimes is too late. To be clear, the legislation prohibits corporal punishment and states that the use of force shall be terminated as soon as it is no longer necessary.

House Bill 391 makes changes to the policies regarding inmates in the Department of Juvenile Justice being isolated for disciplinary reasons, subject to the approval of the chief administrative officer. House Bill 392 would allow a person to be charged with mob action if they and at least one other person engage in the reckless use of force or violence that creates a disruption in the operations of a youth center, correctional facility or other detention facility. The bill specifies that a person has committed mob action if they do not withdraw when commanded to do so by an officer or other correctional employee.

Legislation to help young Illinoisans entering the job market
I am sponsoring House Bill 390, which will offer tax credits to businesses that offer training and internship opportunities for high school and college students. These internships provide valuable work training and real-world experience for students on the verge of entering the work force, and they give them a leg up when they go to apply for full-time jobs after finishing their education. We should be encouraging local businesses to provide these opportunities, and this legislation is a way to do so.

Term limits on legislative leadership, crafting a better budget process
One of the ways we can take on the entrenched powers in Springfield is through limiting the amount of time someone can hold a leadership post in the General Assembly. My bill, HB 491, would cap the amount of time someone could spend as Speaker of the House, President of the Senate, Minority Leader of the House or Minority Leader of the Senate at 10 years, beginning with the start of the General Assembly which convenes after the bill is enacted into law. This is a common-sense way we can get back to having a citizen legislature and return power back to the people of Illinois.

I am also sponsoring an amendment to the Illinois Constitution to create a strategic planning process for putting together the state budget. Too often we see budgets thrown together at the last minute and put in front of members for an immediate up-or-down vote. My amendment, HJRCA 10, would require the Auditor General to certify that the budget passed by both houses is balanced. If the Auditor General determines the budget is not balanced, the legislature would have to come back within five days to renew its efforts.

New law to help with substitute teacher shortage
A study by the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools reported that Illinois schools have about 16,500 teacher absences in a typical week due to sickness, family leave, and other factors. Most of the time, a substitute teacher can be assigned to cover the absence, but the study found that nearly 20% of the absences cannot be filled.

As a result of the statewide shortage of substitute teachers, 600 K-12 classrooms throughout the state on average are left without a substitute educator each day. The more specialized the class; special education or foreign languages, for example; the harder it is to find a substitute.

The General Assembly took action to help relieve this situation. Senate Bill 2912, which makes new efforts to ease the substitute teacher shortage in Illinois, was signed into law earlier this month. The new law streamlines the process for both out-of-state educators and retired teachers to begin working as substitute teachers here in Illinois.

Did You Know?
Illinois got its name from French explorers who first visited this area in the 1670s. Along the way, Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet encountered Native Americans who had organized a confederation called the Illiniwek. It is believed that the confederation included the Tamaroas, Peorias, Mitchagamies, Kaskaskias and Cahokias. It was from this confederation that the French derived the name “Illinois.”