Renewed call for redistricting reform; penalties for texting and driving

Calls for redistricting reform intensify
Under current Illinois law, the districts for state legislators and members of Congress are redrawn every ten years to reflect the findings of the U.S. Census. The next redistricting will occur in 2021. But our system of mapmaking has a fundamental flaw: the districts are drawn by the very same elected officials who seek to represent those districts. This has led to partisan maps which have cut down on competition.

This week I joined with dozens of my colleagues in introducing House Resolution 995, which calls for a fairer, more independent redistricting process. The business of drawing legislative district boundaries should not be in the hands of those who have a direct interest. Instead, districts should be drawn in a transparent fashion by an independent body which does not seek to create a preferred partisan outcome.

One of the major problems with state government in Illinois is that there is too much power concentrated in too few hands, and too little accountability. A fairer redistricting process would be a big step in the right direction.

Tougher penalties for texting while driving
Nearly all Illinois drivers are aware of the serious dangers of distracted driving. One of the most obvious, and serious, of these distractions is the sending and reading of text messages while behind the wheel. In recent years the General Assembly has taken steps to discourage texting while driving, but this activity continues to be a factor in car crashes throughout the state. Texting while driving is already illegal in Illinois.

To try to further discourage this practice, legislation has been introduced which would no longer allow a police officer who stops a driver for texting while driving to let the motorist go with a warning. House Bill 4846 requires a $75 fine for a first offense of the texting-while-driving statute. Under this legislation, texting while driving would be considered a formal moving violation and would have an impact upon the driver’s vehicle insurance status and rates in addition to the cost of the ticket. The bill passed the House on Wednesday and is now awaiting action in the Senate.

How much do we owe? 
As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $8,550,576,622 in unpaid bills to state vendors. This figure represents the amount of bills submitted to the office of the Comptroller and still awaiting payment. It does not include debts that can only be estimated, such as our unfunded pension liability which is estimated to be more than $100 billion.

Resolution filed in opposition to graduated income tax
The Illinois state Constitution calls for all taxpayers in the state to pay the same income tax rate. It does not pick winners and losers, it taxes everyone equally. But in recent years there have been voices calling for a graduated income tax, one which would allow legislators in Springfield to set different tax rates for different taxpayers. States which do not have Illinois’ Constitutional flat-tax mandate are able to put in place complex, graduated income tax rates, which allow these states to charge higher taxes. Last week I joined with House Republican Leader Jim Durkin and most of the Republican caucus in co-sponsoring House Resolution 975 to state our opposition to a proposed graduated income tax on Illinois residents.

According to a report from WalletHub, Illinois already has the highest state and local tax burden in the entire country. Some other states already have this kind of graduated tax system. In those states, the graduated income tax has only put an even larger tax burden on the middle class. These higher taxes also help to persuade job creators to locate elsewhere. One example is California, where the state income tax can be as high as 13.3%: a 12.3% tax rate plus a 1% surcharge.

In order to change the tax structure as defined by the state Constitution, supporters of the graduated income tax would need a three-fifths supermajority to vote in favor of it in both the House and the Senate, and would then need the approval of voters in the fall. Our resolution has 50 co-sponsors, which would be enough opponents to block its passage in the House.

Public meetings coming up
I will be hosting a pair of public meetings for constituents in Livingston and Vermilion Counties. The first will be in Pontiac at the Livingston County Courthouse at 112 W. Madison Street on Wednesday May 2. The next day, Thursday May 3, will be a second meeting at the Hoopeston City Hall at 301 W. Main Street. Each meeting will start at 5:15 p.m. They are open to the public and no RSVP is necessary. I encourage anyone with ideas, questions or concerns about legislation pending in Springfield to attend.

Teachers’ Advisory Board meets
Last summer we passed historic education funding reform legislation which will transform the way Illinois funds its public schools. The first payments to be issued under the new funding formula were distributed earlier this month. But funding is only one aspect of the challenge we face in making sure our schools are able to do all they need to do to give our students the best education possible.

Last weekend I met with my teachers’ advisory board, a group of educators from around the 106th District to hear their thoughts and ideas about the future of education in Illinois. It was a great, enthusiastic conversation and as we continue to work on education legislation in Springfield I will keep their thoughts and comments in mind. Thanks to all who attended!

FFA Day at the Capitol

Last Wednesday we were visited at the Capitol by hundreds of FFA students from chapters all over the state, including from right here in the 106th District.  These bright young men and women are the future of agriculture in our state. Talking with them in my Springfield office I was impressed by the depth of their knowledge of agriculture and the legislative process. Agriculture is one of Illinois’ leading industries, and it is especially important in our district. I appreciate the FFA students and their sponsors who took the time to come to Springfield and meet with legislators to remind us to do all we can to support agriculture in Illinois.

Did You Know?
The first Illinois soldiers to deploy for the Civil War went into the field on April 21, 1861. Company C of the 16th Illinois Cavalry, better known as the “Chicago Dragoons” were called into action by Governor Richard Yates and sent to secure the vital river junction at Cairo, Illinois, which would later become General Ulysses S. Grant’s headquarters for the operations in the western theater of the war.