Fallen Paxton-area officers recognized; Unpaid bill backlog grows

Legislation to honor fallen Paxton-area police officers presented in House
In 1979, a shootout on Interstate 57 claimed the lives of Illinois State Trooper Michael McCarter, Paxton Patrolman William Caisse and civilian Donald Vice. Paxton Patrolman Larry Hale was wounded in that same shootout. Patrolman Hale recovered from his wounds and continued to serve the residents of Paxton as a part-time patrolman.

This week, I had the honor of introducing Mr. Hale to the members of the Illinois House and to tell the story of what happened that day. I have introduced legislation, House Joint Resolution 21, to name the overpass at the site of the shooting the McCarter-Caisse-Vice-Hale Memorial overpass. We are grateful and thankful for their standing in harm’s way that day. I was honored to have Mr. Hale and Paxton Mayor Bill Ingold join me in the House chamber for the discussion of the legislation on Tuesday.

Bill backlog hits all-time high of $12.8 billion
The Office of the Comptroller reported last week that the state’s backlog of unpaid bills has reached $12.8 billion, equal to $1,000 for every one of the 12.8 million people who call Illinois home.

The unpaid bill backlog refers to bills which the state owes and has as yet been unable to pay. This includes money owed to health care providers, colleges and universities, social service providers and many other program service providers. The last full Illinois state budget expired on June 30, 2015, and the last partial or “stopgap” Illinois budget ran out on December 31, 2016. The House and Senate are currently debating budget action for Fiscal Year 2018, which begins on July 1, 2017. Challenges facing budget negotiators include flat Illinois tax revenues, few new jobs being created, and increasing spending commitments, particularly those related to services provided under Medicaid and other programs.

New computers for local school district
On Wednesday state education leaders announced a partnership between Computer Banc, a Springfield-based non-profit, and school districts around the state to provide computers to local schools. One of the schools benefitting from this pilot program is Rooks Creek Community School District 425 in Livingston County.

The intention of the program is to provide local schools with refurbished computers at low cost. The computers will be equipped with software designed for both online learning and off-line curriculum. If the pilot program is successful, Computer Banc hopes to expand it to more schools in time for the 2017-2018 academic year.

Law enforcement survey shows concerns about illegal drugs
A statewide survey of law enforcement relating to the threats from illegal drugs was set in motion last spring by the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority (CJIA). CJIA asked a sample of police chiefs and sheriffs around the state to identify the most frequently trafficked drugs in their jurisdictions. Eighty-three of these chief law enforcement officers responded to the survey. In results released last week, the chiefs and sheriffs pointed to heroin and prescription drugs (many of them opiate painkillers) as the most-frequently-trafficked substances within their jurisdictions. The illegal sale of these drugs is a criminal offense under the Controlled Substances Act.

In addition to the threats from heroin and prescription drugs, officers in central and southern Illinois identified methamphetamine as the chief drug threat to their communities.  Methamphetamine arrests are concentrated in these sections of the state, with 86% of total Illinois meth arrests in the downstate area. Some police chiefs also reported concerns about cocaine and marijuana. Police chiefs from 68 municipalities and sheriffs from 15 counties; representing 35% of the Illinois population and 51% of total jurisdictional drug arrests; responded to the CJIA survey.

House Republicans call for vote on fair maps
Members of the House Republican Caucus last week called on House leadership to respect the wishes of Illinoisans by allowing redistricting reform, or House Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 17, to be called for a vote immediately.

HJRCA 17 would allow voters to decide, by statewide referendum, to amend the Illinois Constitution to create the Independent Redistricting Commission for the purpose of drawing the districts for members of the state legislature. A poll conducted by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute last fall found that 72% of voters, including a majority of both Republicans and Democrats, supported the creation of an independent commission to draw legislative district maps.

Members noted that redistricting reform is directly tied to the state budget and the failure of having unbalanced budgets for more than 10 years. Reforming this process to eliminate gerrymandering would make members more accountable to the people of Illinois. The legislation is currently stuck in the House rules committee.

Undergraduate enrollment drops at most state universities
Eleven of twelve Illinois public universities showed declines in 2017 spring term undergraduate enrollment compared to where they were at this time last year. The statewide decline in student numbers overall was 2.8%, with every state university showing a decrease in enrollment except the state’s largest, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. At UIUC, undergraduate enrollment rose by 2.4%. The spring 2017 figures were reported by the Illinois Board of Higher Education.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and some other state universities, are often characterized as “research universities” that are not as dependent on state general funds appropriations as are some other institutions of higher education. The U of I announced this week the launch of a new financial aid program targeted at Illinois residents to help make college more affordable and keep talented high school seniors in the state.

Did You Know?
Following the attack on Fort Sumter at the outset of the Civil War in April 1861, President Abraham Lincoln made the first of several calls for troops from each of the states of the north. According to records in the Secretary of State’s office, 259,052 Illinoisans (or 15% out of an 1860 population of 1,711,951) served the cause of the Union in the Civil War, making Illinois one of only a few states which actually exceeded its quota.