House re-convenes; Realistic state budget should be a session priority

House re-convenes in Springfield

Yesterday the House finally got back into session in Springfield. It was a very unusual day to say the least. We met in a large convention center instead of the Capitol and had to keep six feet apart throughout the day. It was strange without the handshakes or other friendly gestures that we are all so used to.

The first day of this three-day special session was mostly spent on procedural matters, getting bills lined up for action today and tomorrow. As I told you yesterday afternoon, the day started with good news as the administration withdrew its proposed rule to allow criminal charges against businesses deemed “non-essential” if they try to open their doors before the stay-at-home order is lifted. While this is a big win, we now have to guard against any effort to implement the idea through legislative action.

There is an Executive Committee hearing at 10 a.m., and the House is back in session at 1 p.m. today. Follow the action live by clicking here.

State budget a priority of shortened session

The state budget expires on June 30, so one of our top priorities will be passage of a balanced budget for next year. Unfortunately, even in the midst of the pandemic, some of our old bad habits endure. We knew that this year’s budget was going to be challenging because of the billions in lost revenue due to the shutdown. We also knew that our health care sector was going to need even more support in the budget. But the proposal we saw yesterday didn’t offer a serious, realistic plan for meeting the challenge.

Instead, the budget proposal relies on gimmicks and illusions. It includes revenue from a large tax increase on small businesses, and money from a federal bailout that does not exist. Illinois has gotten into trouble through years of unrealistic budgeting, and we are poised to make that mistake yet again. This should not be a partisan issue. We should work together to craft a realistic, balanced budget that meets our priorities.

I joined with a group of legislators who called for the graduated tax increase Constitutional amendment proposal to be withdrawn. This crisis has put some small businesses out of business, and a very large number of others are just hanging on by a thread. The same is true of many of our farmers. It is irresponsible for us to now hit them with a tax increase. The House should consider our motion to withdraw the proposed amendment before it can cause further harm to farmers and small businesses. Building a budget on such a flimsy proposal is a bad idea.

Local business working with health department to find way to safely re-open

A couple of days ago I heard from John Stevens, the owner of the Paxton Public House restaurant, which has been in operation for six years. His story will sound familiar to those who have been reading this newsletter in the past few weeks: a local small business facing hardship due to two months of shutdown, but seeking to find a way to re-open while prioritizing safety.

John wrote, “we have lost our dining room sales, beverage sales and video gaming money. The mortgage and insurance is still due, utilities must be paid and every effort is being made to take care of long-tenured employees.” He has been working hard and consulting the county health department to come up with a plan for safely re-opening. “We have a plan inside our facility to provide space for social distancing. We have a disinfectant plan for table rotation and have a working plan with our terminal operators for safe gaming operations.”

Local small businesses, their owners and their employees want to serve our communities and keep themselves and their neighbors safe. They are demonstrating their willingness to take whatever steps they need to in order to keep people safe, while keeping their businesses from going under. We need to begin lifting the stay at home order before it is too late.

Yesterday afternoon at his press briefing Governor Pritzker said that restaurants will be able to re-open with outdoor seating once we reach Phase 3 of the re-opening plan at the end of next week. This is a welcome change. It is a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done.

More news from around the state

The Department of Public Health’s latest update includes one Woodford County death

All regions of Illinois look to be ready to move to Phase 3 of re-opening

Illinois Supreme Court allows circuit courts to design local re-opening plans

All Illinois State Parks to re-open on May 29

Online contact form for those trying to reach the Department of Employment Security

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For additional helpful resources, click here.

For continually updated news from state agencies, visit: coronavirus.illinois.gov or my website at repbennett.com and click on COVID-19 Info. Persons with coronavirus questions or concerns should call the statewide toll-free coronavirus hotline at 1-800-889-3931. You can also submit questions via e-mail at dph.sick@illinois.gov.

My district offices remain closed to in-person visits, but are still accessible by phone at (815) 432-0106 (Watseka) and (815) 844-9179 (Pontiac).