A sign of the dysfunction in Springfield; update on DOC nurses

Partisanship worsening the dysfunction in Springfield
I have served in the House of Representatives for a little over two years, and in that time I have encountered a great deal of frustration; over the budget, needed reforms and many other subjects. But last week I ran into one of the most frustrating obstructions yet.

I believe that listening to you and taking your concerns to Springfield for action are the most important parts of my job as your representative. Last week I got a lesson in just how difficult that task can be when it runs up against the intense partisanship and gridlock in Springfield.

One of the many good ideas for legislation which I have heard from constituents was drafted into House Bill 2319. This bill was meant to help keep correctional workers safe from assaults. It was presented to me by constituents who had discovered a dangerous loophole in state law.

The bill would have changed sentencing guidelines for Department of Corrections inmates who are found guilty of assaulting correctional officers. Current law allows sentences for multiple assaults to be served at the same time; in other words, an inmate could be convicted of three different assaults, but only serve the prison time for one. The bill would have required the sentences to be served one after the other: three sentences for three crimes.

As is the usual practice, the bill was assigned to a House committee for review and discussion. But then at the last minute, just before the hearing convened, I was informed that it would not be called for a vote. The efforts we had made to better protect correctional officers would have to wait until next year. If ever.

To say that I was angry would be an understatement. It’s no secret that partisan gridlock in Springfield has ground our budget process to a halt, blocked important reforms and helped to make our state’s government a laughingstock around the nation. All of this has been tremendously frustrating to me, as it has been to so many Illinoisans who depend on the continuation of state services.

What made last week’s action so aggravating was that this is an issue that should not have been controversial, that had been brought to my attention by law enforcement officials asking for help, and yet it still got caught up in the partisan deadlock that has come to define Springfield.

These kinds of shenanigans have to stop. When a representative cannot even bring a good and necessary idea from the people he represents to the people’s legislature and get a vote, then something is badly wrong. During the final week of April, 133 bills sponsored by Democrats were brought to the floor and passed by the House, while only 46 Republican bills received similar treatment: a nearly 3-to-1 ratio. Partisan games have ground the wheels of state government almost to a total halt, while the state’s problems grow larger and harder to solve every day. People of good will on both sides MUST come together now to find compromise and agreement on solutions before it is too late.

Update on Department of Corrections nurses
Earlier this spring, more than 100 nurses who work for the Department of Corrections in our state facilities were informed that they were going to be laid off. The Department was seeking to subcontract the nursing duties to an outside contractor. Unfortunately, these individual nurses were going to be caught in the middle.

I joined with several of my colleagues in the House to encourage the Department to rescind the layoffs while negotiations with the Illinois Nurses’ Association were ongoing. I am pleased to announce that as of this writing, those layoffs have been stopped pending further negotiation on the issue of subcontracting. I am hopeful that an agreement can be reached that is best for everyone involved.

No movement on a budget
Governor Rauner and Speaker Madigan met briefly last week, their first face-to-face meeting in a long time, but no agreement was reached. In the meantime, state government continues to spend money faster than it comes in, and our unpaid bill backlog stands at $13 billion and growing. While our families, schools and communities are hurting, the House still does not act. As I said earlier, we need people from both sides to come together for discussion. We need focus. We need action. And we need it soon.

A reminder on the survey
As I mentioned last week, my 2017 constituent survey is active on my website at www.repbennett.com. If you have not already done so, I encourage you to take a few minutes to weigh in with your thoughts on the issues facing state government. Your input is very important to me, and I appreciate hearing from you.

Did You Know?
Illinois is the fifth largest state in the nation, with a population of 12,801,539, according to a 2016 estimate from the U.S. Census Bureau. Pennsylvania is the next largest, at 12,784,227. That is a difference of only 17,312, or roughly as many people as live in Pontiac and Watseka.