Several new laws took effect on July 1; an update on fair maps

New laws require five-hour school day, pay raise for DCFS workers

Under a change to state law which became effective July 1, students in Illinois public schools must now receive at least five hours of instruction time in every school day. The law has required a five-hour minimum school day for several years now, but this legislation takes into consideration students who are involved in career development programs off school grounds and those who are enrolled in dual-credit college classes. The legislation creating the new law was Senate Bill 28.

Employees of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) who work with at-risk children will receive a 5% increase in their reimbursement rates effective with the start of July. This is the first increase these employees have had in several years. It comes after we in the legislature were reminded of just how dangerous the job of DCFS employees can be. This spring the House also passed legislation to toughen penalties for assaults on DCFS workers after the death of Pamela Knight of DCFS, who was attacked and killed while checking on an at-risk child.

Supreme Court ruling keeps fair maps issue alive

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling late last month regarding political gerrymandering: the practice of politicians drawing districts to help elect or defeat certain candidates. The Court ruled that federal courts do not have standing to intervene in disputes over gerrymandering: that the issue remains in the hands of state legislatures.

The decision in Rucho vs. Common Cause did not oppose fair maps. Several states, including our neighbors in Iowa, have requirements in their state Constitutions that their legislative and Congressional maps must be fair and non-partisan. The ruling in Rucho makes clear that states with partisan gerrymandered maps, like Illinois, will continue to operate under those maps until their state Constitutions are amended to create a fairer system. I co-sponsored such a Constitutional amendment in the General Assembly this spring, but Speaker Madigan assigned it to the Rules Committee and it did not come to the floor for a debate or a vote.

How much do we owe?

As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $5,487,717,946 in unpaid bills to state vendors. One year ago, the backlog stood at $6.6 billion. 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.

Flags at half-staff

The Illinois Flag Display Act gives the Governor the authority to decide when to fly the flag at half-staff. In recent times, these declarations have come following the death of Illinois servicemembers or first responders in the line of duty, as well as serious national tragedies and occasions such as Memorial Day. Most recently, flags were lowered on June 29 after the death of a Fulton County Sheriff’s Deputy in the line of duty. Flags are flown at half-staff on the day of the fallen hero’s funeral and for the next two days.

When the Governor issues a proclamation directing the flags to be lowered, the information is collected by the Department of Central Management Services (CMS). CMS has recently created an e-mail notification system for interested parties to use to sign up for alerts when the half-staff proclamation is issued. Visit https://www2.illinois.gov/Pages/News/flag-honors.aspx for more information.

Saluting local veterans

It was my honor to participate in several 4th of July events throughout the district last weekend. I was especially proud to present Commander Lyle Kofoot of the Watseka American Legion post with a flag which had been flown over our state capitol building. It was a good opportunity to say thank you to our nation’s veterans for their service and sacrifice for our nation.

Easier access to vaccines for low-income children

The Illinois Department of Public Health and the Department of Healthcare and Family Services are making vaccines available for children covered under the Children’s Health Insurance Plan. The effort is part of the Vaccines for Children (VFC) program. The program will allow a larger number of providers to offer vaccines and make them more available for low-income families. The move comes in part due to an increase in the number of measles cases in Illinois to a level not seen in more than a quarter century.

VFC is a federally-funded program which covers eligible children up to 19 years of age who are Medicaid-eligible, uninsured or underinsured. Additional details about the VFC vaccine program can be obtained from the Department of Public Health.

Did You Know?

Henry Dement served as Illinois Secretary of State from 1881 until 1885. He was a Civil War veteran who fought at Vicksburg and later served in the state legislature. As Secretary of State he was the custodian of the Capitol building. In that role he is remembered for his devotion to keeping pigeons from roosting on the Capitol dome. Dement was known to climb to the roof of the Capitol and fire a shotgun to scare the birds away.