More new laws; Studying property tax relief

Governor working his way through many bills which passed this spring

Many of the bills which passed both houses in the spring session have specific effective dates – usually July 1 or January 1. But quite a few others become law immediately upon the Governor’s signature. In all, 599 bills passed both houses and have been sent to the Governor, who has 60 days from the time he formally receives the bills to decide whether to sign or veto the bill. He could also issue an “amendatory veto” in which he recommends specific changes and sends the bill back to the General Assembly for further action. All the legislation passed in the spring session will be acted upon by the Governor by late August.

I have mentioned previously some of the bills which passed both houses this spring. Here are a few more.

House Bill 2135 protects the rights of victims of sexual assaults by removing the statute of limitations on prosecutions for these crimes. Recently we have seen accusations of sexual assaults come to light only after many years have passed, but authorities have been powerless to bring charges because the statute of limitations had passed. This legislation would remove that restriction and allow prosecutions to move forward. We also passed Senate Bill 75, which better protects hotel workers from assaults and other dangerous situations by ensuring that they have safety devices like panic buttons to summon help in an emergency.

New property tax relief task force created

I was honored this week to be appointed to the bipartisan Property Tax Relief Task Force in the General Assembly. This new task force was created this spring to examine the causes of our high property taxes, look at actions taken in other states to reduce property taxes and propose the kind of policy changes here in Illinois which will bring down the property tax burden on local taxpayers.

The task force will present an interim report in 90 days and a final report by the end of the year. We will serve without compensation, and will work with the Department of Revenue, the State Board of Education and the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget to come up with solutions to the challenges which high property taxes impose on everyday Illinoisans.

How much do we owe?

As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $5,611,221,995 in unpaid bills to state vendors. One year ago, the backlog stood at $7.8 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.

Federal reimbursements help state cash flow to grow

The state began its new fiscal year on July 1 with some good news regarding cash flow: the base receipts used to cover general funds expenses grew by $750 million. The nonpartisan Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) credits an increase in federal reimbursements to the state for Medicaid bills for most of the increase. Of all the federal funds Illinois receives, Medicaid matching funds are the largest.

The June COGFA report put state revenue for the just-completed fiscal year 2019 at $43.6 billion, which is up by $1.2 billion from the previous year. We were able to balance the budget for FY 2019 without adding any new taxes. The budget for FY 2020 is also projected to spend less than the state is expected to take in.

Meeting to discuss flood prevention

I was glad to meet with officials from Iroquois and Kankakee counties recently regarding flooding issues which affect not just those two counties but our entire region. Flooding is unlike any of the other natural disasters we face in Illinois because while there is much an individual can do to prepare for an ice storm or a tornado, flood response requires entire communities and regions to work together. Our regional flood alliance has brought together leaders from our district and from the areas just outside the district lines because flooding here can be impacted by factors dozens or even hundreds of miles away. In a spring and summer that have been so difficult for many living near rivers and streams throughout the state, I am appreciative of those who have joined with us to find solutions to the problem of flooding in Illinois.

Staying safe around the grill

There is nothing quite like firing up the grill on a warm summer afternoon. But before you throw those steaks or burgers on the grill, the Office of the State Fire Marshal wants you to remember some important safety precautions. July is the leading month of the year for grilling fires, with August not far behind. More than 10,000 house fires occur nationally because of grills, and 19,000 people will go to an emergency room each year because of some kind of grilling mishap, including over 9000 thermal burns.

Whether your grill is propane or charcoal, it should only be used outdoors. It should be kept a safe distance away from your home (including any overhangs), deck railings or nearby trees and shrubs. That is also good advice for fire pits or campfires. Keep kids and pets away from the grill and never leave it unattended – more than a quarter of those coming to emergency rooms with burns from grills were children under 5. If you use a gas grill, be sure to check your tank and hoses for leaks, and if you smell gas call the fire department immediately. If it is a charcoal grill, be sure that the fire is completely out and the leftover coals are cool before disposing of them in a metal container.

County fair season underway

We are right in the heart of this year’s county fair season. I really enjoyed visiting the Livingston County Fair in Pontiac and the Iroquois County Agricultural and 4-H Fair in Crescent City this week. We also have the Cullom Junior Fair and the Woodford County Fair coming up in the next few weeks. Vermilion and Ford Counties had their fairs last month. These fairs are great American events: a chance to showcase agriculture and our future ag leaders, as well as an opportunity to get out and have some great food and lots of fun for the entire family.

Did You Know?

July 21, 1899, is the birthday of the famed Illinois author Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway traveled the world, served in World War I and later wrote about his experiences and adventures. He is regarded as one of the greatest novelists in American history, and his writing earned him both a Pulitzer Prize and a Nobel Prize. Hemingway died in 1961.