Raised highway weight limits for harvest time; more student aid funds

Weight limit restrictions eased during harvest season
Governor Rauner has signed House Bill 5749, which raises weight-limit restrictions on Illinois highways during harvest time. This is a measure which will help our farmers and those who haul farm products at this busy time of year.

The legislation allows haulers to apply for a permit from the Department of Transportation and local authorities for vehicles which exceed the set weight limits on roadways. The vehicle may not exceed gross axle and gross vehicle weight limits by more than 10 percent. The permits will cost $500 each, but a hauler who might require more than one permit cannot be charged more than a total of $1000. The fees at the state level will be deposited in the State Construction Account Fund.

This is an idea which some of our neighboring states use during harvest time. Previously, Illinois has used short-term emergency powers to lift the weight limits during harvest season. The Governor issued an emergency declaration Friday which allows these changes to go into effect immediately. With this legislation now enacted, the state will not have to go through that process every year. Most importantly, it will help Illinois farmers as they move their crops to markets.

Additional MAP grant aid provided to students at Illinois public universities
Another $50 million in aid in Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants has been made available to students at Illinois’ public universities. The cost of making these funds available will be split evenly between the state budget and the universities in which the students receiving the funds are enrolled. As with the existing MAP grant funds, students and their families will be able to apply for additional money based upon their financial need. That need is determined by information submitted by students on their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) eligibility form.

Flood alliance meets again
My thanks to all the concerned local officials who attended our East Central Illinois/West Central Indiana Flood Alliance meeting in Forrest to talk about county mitigation plans and applications for grants that help us deal better with floods in the future. We were joined by the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Natural Resources and the Illinois State Water Survey. These are the agencies which will review the applications for grant money for flood prevention and mitigation, so it was a very important and informative presentation.

How much do we owe? 
As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $7,733,295,460 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.

License plate stickers now renewable for multiple years
Under current Illinois law, motor vehicle owners were required to renew their license plate sticker every year. A new state law gives motorists the option of renewing their sticker for multiple years instead of having to visit the Secretary of State’s office every year. The legislation was sponsored by Rep. Mark Batinick as a way to ease one of the burdens placed on busy Illinoisans. The legislation, which was signed in late August, gives motorists the option to renew their sticker for two years at a time.

House Bill 4259 passed both houses unanimously. While it allows vehicle owners to renew their stickers for multiple years, it does not require them to do so if they still wish to visit the Secretary of State’s office every year.

September is National Preparedness Month
Earlier I mentioned our efforts to prepare for and prevent flooding in our area. Flooding is just one of the many dangers that local families and businesses must be prepared for. This month, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is partnering with state and local agencies to encourage preparedness for disasters during National Preparedness Month.

Among the preparedness measures FEMA is promoting are things such as learning CPR and first aid, but also which safety steps to take like knowing how to shut off the gas or the water to your building. FEMA also encourages Americans to look at their insurance coverage to make sure there are no gaps in their coverage for disasters which might strike. All households and businesses should have an emergency plan in case of a disaster. More information is available at www.ready.gov/september.

Did You Know?
Congressman Leslie Arends of Ford County served in the U.S. House for 40 years from the 1930s to the 1970s. He served as either majority or minority whip, a very important leadership post, for most of his tenure in Washington. A Navy veteran of World War I, he was also an important figure on the House Armed Services Committee. Congressman Arends died in 1985 and is buried in Melvin. His portrait hangs on the second floor of the Illinois State Capitol.