New law will double fines for passing school buses, other traffic safety changes
More than 200 new laws will go into effect on January 1. They include small technical changes to existing laws as well as major new legislation. One of the areas in which the General Assembly and the Governor passed important new legislation this year concerned traffic safety.
Beginning January 1, fines will double for those who pass stopped school buses on Illinois roadways. This legislation came about in response to a tragic crash in Indiana in which three students were killed by a driver who did not stop while the students were crossing the road to board a school bus. Under the new law, a first offender of the law requiring stops for school buses will be subject to a mandatory $300 fine, up from $150. Subsequent violations will get the offender a minimum fine of $1000.
State law is also being changed to bring more attention to the importance of keeping first responders safe on the roadsides. In the past we have toughened penalties for failure to move over or slow down for a stopped emergency vehicle (better known as Scott’s Law), but it is even better to avoid the incident altogether. So this year, the state is working to improve the public’s knowledge of the requirement. Two different new laws are intended to better educate drivers about the requirements under the law, including a law requiring that a question about Scott’s Law be added to the driver license exam. Driver’s education classes will also teach the “zipper merge” method on multi-lane highways when approaching a lane closure or work zone.
Better protecting children online
Illinois will also have a new law on January 1 which closes a loophole in existing law meant to protect children from exploitation online. A bill passed this spring updates the definition of “computer” in state law to include any cloud-based networks or remote services hosted on the internet. In so doing, the new law will give law enforcement enhanced ability to charge offenders accused of such crimes as fraud, child pornography or online solicitation of a minor using these services.
How much do we owe?
As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $5,908,109,501 in unpaid bills to state vendors. One year ago, the backlog stood at $6.8 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. This process for estimating the unfunded pension liability is subject to a wide range of factors. This month the General Assembly’s non-partisan fiscal watchdog, the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA), has revised its estimate upward to just over $137 billion.
Donating the pay raise
Over the summer, state legislators in Illinois got a pay raise which we did not deserve. Legislation I sponsored which would have stopped the raise from going into effect was not called for a vote, and so our salaries automatically went up. I have pledged that I will not keep the increase that was added to my paycheck, and over the last few months I have been donating the raise each month to a non-profit which serves the people of our district.
Recently I visited the St. Vincent de Paul food pantry and clothing store in Pontiac. I toured their facility and talked with Father Adam and Evelyn Ribordy about the important work they do there. More than 1500 of our neighbors are served by St. Vincent de Paul each month.
This week I also stopped by the Multi-Agency Service Center in Hoopeston and met with Beth Bray Knecht and Valarie Hinkle of the Hoopeston Chamber to donate another of these pay raise checks to their food pantry and thrift store. They provide needed assistance to individuals and families in northern Vermilion County and the surrounding communities. Each of these agencies meets an important need in the area, and I was honored to present them with a donation this month.
Illinois Farm Bureau holds its annual meeting
The Illinois Farm Bureau held its annual meeting in Chicago last week, and it was great to see so many local faces there. Amongst the delegates and other attendees was a group from the Ford-Iroquois Farm Bureau, as well as others from throughout the 106th district. We had a lot of good conversations and presentations about the status and the future of agriculture in Illinois and the challenges that farm families are having to confront as we move into 2020. I was also glad to be joined by several other east-central Illinois legislators in hosting a reception and a Springfield update for farmers from our area. Overall it was a good series of meetings and a helpful look at what our legislative priorities concerning agriculture should be in the upcoming session.
Cover crop premium discount applications now available
The Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) is accepting applications through January 15 for its fall cover crop discount program. Winter cover crops grow roots which stabilize the soil in farm fields and, in some cases, bring nitrogen-fixing abilities and nourishment to the soil. This can help prevent agricultural runoff which brings down the value of farmland and degrades water quality in our rivers.
Eligible applicants can receive a premium discount of $5 per acre on next year’s crop insurance invoice for every acre of cover crop which is enrolled in the program. The program was enacted to encourage Illinois farmers to plant more cover crops beyond those which are already covered by existing state and federal incentives. It is applicable to those who are covered by the USDA’s crop insurance program.
Funding will be made available on a first-come, first-serve basis up to 50,000 acres. For more information, contact the Illinois Department of Agriculture at (217) 782-6297.
Did You Know?
The Lewis and Clark expedition which would explore the newly-acquired western United States set up its winter encampment at Camp Dubois on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River on December 12, 1803. The small camp was located near the junction of the Wood River and the Mississippi in present-day Madison County. The expedition remained there until spring, when they set out across the Louisiana Purchase.