House acts on some, but not all measures
The House of Representatives will be back in session Saturday after failing to complete its work during the three-day special session. Several bills were passed Friday, but major issues like the state budget and a possible Chicago casino were not acted upon before the House adjourned for the night. I and many other representatives are still calling for a House vote on the re-opening plan, but that has still not occurred.
Thursday night a state budget proposal was introduced as an amendment to Senate Bill 264. The amendment was 2258 pages long and spends $39.9 billion from the state’s General Revenue Fund. The budget is more than $5 billion out of balance and relies on billions in new borrowing and a hoped-for federal bailout that does not exist. This is a terrible way to make a budget.
Some bills which did pass included legislation specifying how essential workers might be considered eligible for workers compensation should they contract coronavirus. This legislation was the result of negotiations between business and labor groups, and replaces a much more heavy-handed rule that was attempted to be imposed earlier this month with no input from business. This legislation protects workers while treating small businesses much more fairly.
Another important bill was passed to help students and families coping with the challenges of distance learning and digital classrooms during the shutdown. Senate Bill 1569 prioritizes accountability in the new environment created by two months of distance learning. A bill to help Illinoisans by allowing counties to delay property tax payments, fees, penalties, and tax sales passed today as well.
The House passed a bill to reauthorize the state’s hospital assessment program, a bill which was produced through months-long bipartisan negotiations involving state agencies and the state’s hospitals. It will generate about $3.9 billion a year for Illinois hospitals through a federal Medicaid match. This is a very important piece of legislation to help our hospitals dealing with the coronavirus outbreak.
This is only a summary of the action taken in the House during the special session thus far. I will have more details for you in the coming days.
Speaking out for local small businesses
Our local businesses have been shut down for more than two months, and many of them are barely hanging on. For a few weeks now I have been sharing their stories with you in this newsletter, and Friday I got the chance to share some of those stories with the House of Representatives. I have also been sharing these stories with the Governor to help him understand the importance and the need of these small businesses for our local economy. We cannot become so focused on the big picture that we lose sight of the individuals who are the backbone of our local communities, and the tremendous pain they and their employees are suffering from this lengthy shutdown.
I sought to remind legislators that these small business owners are taking on the same risks as everyone else when they re-open. They are people like Jeanine Litwiller in Gibson City, and Karen Brasel in Milford, and Carolyn Ledford in Pontiac, who are in the store with their customers and their employees every day. They are not just customers, they are friends and neighbors.
They know them personally, and share the same concerns about health and safety. They want to re-open and provide for their families. They are determined to keep themselves and those around them safe. And they are the lifeblood of small towns like the ones I represent.
We need to start lifting the shutdown order where it is safe to do before it is too late. Our communities are depending on it.
Expanded child care part of Phase 3
A week ago I joined nearly 30 other House members in writing to Governor Pritzker to urge him to safely re-open child care centers for those returning to work. I am glad to report that Friday the Governor announced he is taking our advice and moving to re-open these centers as part of Phase 3 of the state’s re-opening, which is set for the end of next week. As more places open and Illinoisans get back to work, they will need child care. And child care centers will be able to use this time to plan and prepare for safe re-openings. This is another step forward. I hope more are to come.
Have a happy Memorial Day weekend
In yet another sad change made necessary by the coronavirus pandemic and the stay-at-home order we have seen many Memorial Day observances cancelled around the area. But even though we cannot gather to honor those who gave their lives for our nation, we should all take time to remember their sacrifice.
Throughout this crisis we have been reminded of the great challenges this nation has overcome, going all the way back to the struggles of the Patriot army at Valley Forge. Our nation has endured because of great Americans willing to serve and to sacrifice for the freedoms we all cherish. We look to the heroes of the past to find the inspiration to meet the challenges of today. Thank you to those who serve, their families and all those who have risked everything to make ours they greatest nation in the world.
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).