Good government legislation; honoring fallen first responders

Some good government legislation headed to the House floor
While we continue to work to find agreement on a state budget, the House is acting to put into place legislation to make us better stewards of taxpayer money. House Bill 682 would bring transparency to initiatives to increase state spending. The bill creates the Local Initiative Sunshine Act and directs the Comptroller put on her website a listing of every initiative that earmarks state funds for specific local groups and governmental units. Included in the information to be made public would be details on who sponsored the initiative, who is receiving the funds, the amount of money being transferred, its purpose and other relevant information.

This kind of disclosure will help taxpayers see how our money is being spent and what kind of processes are used to spend it. HB 682 was approved unanimously by the House Committee on Government Transparency in February and now goes to the full House for further discussion.

House Bill 643 would stop legislators from receiving raises or cost-of-living adjustments in 2017. Current law allows for the pay given to members of the House and Senate to rise each year with inflation, though in recent years we have passed legislation to stop the increase for that year.  The bill was unanimously approved by the House Executive Committee last week. It would block any legislative pay hike this year.

Honoring fallen first responders
All of us are indebted to those who volunteer to put their lives on the line for our communities. Every day, police officers and firefighters face danger to keep the rest of us safe. When one of our first responders gives his or her life in the line of duty, we owe it to them to never forget their service or their sacrifice.

This spring, I have introduced two pieces of legislation to honor some local first responders who have given their lives for our communities. House Joint Resolution 4 honors the life of Dana Schoolman, a volunteer firefighter with the Ashkum Township Fire Protection District who gave his life at the age of 31 while responding to an emergency call on November 6, 1988. HJR 4 would memorialize his sacrifice by naming the section of U.S. 45 in Iroquois County where he lost his life the Firefighter Dana Schoolman Memorial Highway.

House Joint Resolution 21 honors Illinois State Trooper Michael McCarter, Paxton Police Department Patrolman William Caisse, Donald Vice, a civilian who was riding along with Trooper McCarter and Larry Hale, a Paxton police officer. McCarter, Caisse and Vice were killed and Hale was wounded in a shootout on Interstate 57 on April 7, 1979. All four showed great courage, standing in harm’s way to protect the community. This legislation would designate the overpass at the spot of the shootout on I-57 just south of Paxton as the McCarter-Caisse-Vice-Hale Memorial Overpass.

It was a very sad day when we lost these public servants. This is a good way we can honor them for giving their lives for our community.

Governor’s prison reform commissioners speak out
In December, the Governor’s Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform presented its report, in which it outlined goals for reducing Illinois’ prison population without increasing the danger of crime. Illinois currently holds about 44,000 inmates within the Department of Corrections system, which places a substantial burden on the state’s taxpayers. At the same time, the overall system of criminal justice demands that those who are guilty of crimes be suitably punished for their offenses.

Two members of the Governor’s commission, retired circuit judge Elizabeth Robb and University of Illinois law professor Andrew Leipold, spoke at a forum in Bloomington-Normal last week. They told the forum that there are many things Illinois can do to reduce the prison population by as much as 25% over a long-term period. The panelists urged comprehensive action on the recommendations in the commission’s report, which included a review of the practice of sentencing nonviolent first-time offenders to felony prison time.  Another recommendation that would reduce prison population was a form of compassionate release to inmates who are terminally ill and can be monitored and confined at home.

Moving closer to compliance with federal REAL ID Act
Illinois continues its efforts to come into compliance with the federal REAL ID Act. Federal law requires all 50 states to take steps to issue REAL ID-compliant drivers’ licenses, but Illinois drivers’ licenses are only partly compliant with the Act. In the near future, individuals who do not have a compliant ID will not be allowed to board a passenger airplane, enter a federal building or military base.

HB 395 moves Illinois further along the road to compliance with the REAL ID Act by providing for the issuance of REAL ID-compliant identification cards which are meant to replace, over time, the current Illinois drivers’ licenses. To apply for a REAL ID-compliant identification card, an Illinois resident would have to give up his or her current license, and would also have to turn over certain personal information which is mandated by federal law.

Anyone who does not wish to apply for the new card will not have to do so: they can keep their current drivers’ licenses or apply for non-compliant ID cards, which allow the person to continue to drive but which will not be valid for federal public-safety purposes. The Secretary of State has not yet publicly announced the proposed time frame for the changeover should the bill become law. HB 395 was approved by the House on February 23 and now awaits action by the Senate.

Did You Know?
The man believed to be the tallest man who ever lived was a native of Illinois. Robert Wadlow of Alton, who stood at 8 feet 11 inches, was born in 1918 and passed away in 1940. He was so big that his family had to purchase size 37 shoes at $100 a pair until the International Shoe Company provided him with free shoes in exchange for his help promoting their business around the nation. Today, a statue of the “Gentle Giant” stands in his memory in his hometown of Alton.