Election overhaul passes, many concerns remain
The House passed Senate Bill 1863 Thursday, a bill which makes several significant changes to the process to be used for the 2020 general election in Illinois. Under this legislation, Election Day would become a state holiday and an application for a vote-by-mail ballot would be mailed to every person who voted in the 2018 general, 2019 consolidated, or 2020 primary election.
I voted No on this bill after hearing several important concerns go unaddressed in the debate. We need to make sure all eligible voters are able to participate in the election, but I am afraid this bill will cause more problems than it solves. One of my fellow representatives called it “a Pandora’s ballot box.”
It seemed to me like a very strange topic to spend hours discussing during a session that was supposed to be about the coronavirus emergency.
Legitimate questions about fraud have been raised, and this bill does not do enough to address them. It was pointed out that the amount of federal money we have received was not enough to reimburse county clerks for mailing these materials. No satisfactory answer was given to that concern. Questions were raised about the security of ballot drop-boxes allowed by this bill and it was argued that there is insufficient scrutiny on the number of people potentially handling ballots at these collection sites. Our democracy depends on our shared belief in the legitimacy and integrity of our elections. This legislation leaves too many questions unanswered.
In other action on Thursday, the House passed bills extending the sunset date of some state laws which were set to expire in the next 12 months, and also extended several TIF districts in towns around the state. In addition, we adopted a resolution thanking the essential workers around the state who have been working so hard during the pandemic, and mourning those who have lost their lives.
We expect to see a state budget tomorrow. House Republicans have called for a vote on our resolution removing the graduated tax increase from the fall ballot and a vote on the Governor’s re-opening plan.
Defer property tax bills for 90 days, delay late fees
I have joined with a group of legislators in calling on every county in Illinois to defer property tax bills for 90 days to help struggling families endure the enormous financial impact of the coronavirus outbreak and the resulting shutdowns. Counties should delay imposing any late fees or penalties on these payments. Some counties in different parts of the state have already taken this step to help their residents.
Under state law, each county mails out property tax bills and allows residents to make payments in two installments, but the timing of the mailing is up to each county. During this unprecedented financial crisis for Illinois families, I urge counties to give their residents some extra time to make their payments and help them through this emergency.
Restaurants preparing to safely re-open
This week we learned that the next phase in the re-opening of Illinois next week will include allowing restaurants to re-open with outdoor seating. This is a step in the right direction, but we need to do more. Local restaurants are already taking steps to keep their customers and staff safe when they re-open. This week I heard from Nick Bohn, who owns the Longbranch Restaurant in Lerable, about his plans for a safe re-opening.
“I have the cleanest kitchen in the county, and I am very proud of that fact,” he wrote. “We work every shift to clean and keep things clean: always have, always will.” Even before the shutdown order back in March, Nick was taking health and safety precautions, spreading out tables, limiting the number of customers, offering curbside pickup and even removing his salad bar. “I have no doubt the health department would not find any reason prohibiting me from opening if they came to inspect,” he went on.
As Nick shows, Illinois restaurants and small businesses are ready to safely move forward with the re-opening. Let’s lift some more of these restrictions and let them get moving again.
More news from around the state
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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).