Legislator of the Year; Good month for job creation

“Legislator of the Year” Award

I was honored this month to be chosen as the “Legislator of the Year” by the Illinois Association of Agricultural Fairs (IAAF) during a ceremony at the Iroquois County Fair. The IAAF is the statewide association which represents all the county fairs in Illinois.

This spring we worked hard to get millions in state funding released for county fair operations and facility renovations at county fairgrounds. The release of these funds from the Department of Agriculture also benefitted soil and water conservation groups and the University of Illinois Extension. This funding not only benefits county fairgrounds, but also local students in 4-H and FFA, our local agriculture economy and communities throughout the state. A study from the University of Illinois Extension recently found that county fairs contribute $170 million to the Illinois economy and support 1000 non-fair jobs.

Unemployment rate holds steady after more than 18,000 jobs created
The Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) has announced the employment figures for the state in June 2018. As with the numbers from the previous month, the state’s economy continued to approach an unemployment rate of 4.0%, which is considered “full employment” by many economists. According to information submitted by employers to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, non-farm employment statewide increased by a total of 18,100 jobs.

The net gain of 18,100 payroll jobs in June 2018 was better than any monthly figure reported in the past year. Over the past twelve months there have been 58,300 net new non-farm jobs created in Illinois. The 4.3% unemployment rate, which is unchanged from the month before, represents the lowest unemployment rate Illinois has had in the past 12 years.

How much do we owe? 

As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $7,600,646,100 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 subject to a wide range of factors and has been estimated to be approximately $130 billion.

Gov. Rauner signs Quincy Veterans’ Home bills
For more than three years now, we have been working on a solution to the tragedy that occurred at the Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy. An outbreak of Legionnaire’s Disease in 2015 sickened dozens of the residents there and killed 13. Emergency improvements have helped in the short-term, but long-term problems remain to be addressed.

Governor Rauner has signed legislation that will cut bureaucratic red tape on future construction projects, allowing the state to move quickly to build a new and much more modern facility at the campus, which dates back to the late 1800s. The Governor signed Senate Bill 3128, which allows the state to use the design-build delivery method for renovating, rehabilitating and rebuilding the facility. This method will hasten the process by getting rid of redundancies in the traditional state construction process. In so doing it will shorten the overall project time by months and save taxpayer dollars. With the problems in the water supply system at the home which were brought to light by the report of commission which investigated the deaths, it is clear that time is of the essence.

The Governor also signed House Bill 5683, which makes a nearby nursing facility which was recently purchased by the state an official part of the Quincy Veterans’ Home. Renovations are already underway on the new unit and should be complete by the end of the year. It was necessary to purchase the new facility in order to have a suitable location to temporarily house residents and to ensure their continuity of care while the upgrades at the existing facility are underway.

Legislation signed to help Gold Star families, students with dyslexia
As the summer goes on, more of the bills which passed both houses in the spring will be getting signed into law. Once a bill passes, the legislature has 30 days to send it to the Governor, who then has 60 days to decide whether or not to sign it into law.

Some important bills which were signed recently include a bill to help families of fallen service members and a bill to help students with dyslexia. House Bill 4317 was sponsored by Rep. Mike Unes of East Peoria after a conversation he had with the widow of a fallen serviceman. The family was living in housing which had required a long-term lease, but after they suffered their loss it was necessary to move. In order to do so before the lease was up, they had to pay a penalty. The new Illinois law would allow families of service members who have lost their lives in the line of duty to move without being subject to penalties for early termination of certain leases.

House Bill 4369, sponsored by Rep. Keith Sommer of Morton, directs the Illinois State Board of Education to create a handbook for schools to use when teaching students with dyslexia. The handbook will include guidelines, proven educational strategies and lists of resources for the school to use in helping the student to achieve their full potential. The handbook will be posted on the board of education’s website, rather than printed and distributed, which will make it widely available without a large cost to taxpayers.

Did You Know?
Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas met 160 years ago this weekend, on July 29, 1858, at the Bryant Cottage in Bement, Illinois, to plan their upcoming series of debates. The owner, Francis Bryant, a local merchant, was an old friend of Douglas. The two decided to hold seven debates around the state, each in a different Congressional district. Though Douglas went on to win the election for the U.S. Senate, it was this series of debates which launched Abraham Lincoln to national fame.