Illinois re-opening lags behind, hurts local businesses
Emily and Bob Brown own a pair of small businesses in Hoopeston which, like so many others, are struggling with the ongoing coronavirus shutdowns. One of them, the 112 Wine and Coffee Shoppe, had only been open for eight days when it was deemed “non-essential” and closed down back in March. The other is Bricks and Ivy Sports, a memorabilia shop. Emily told me that under normal circumstances they do not have to worry about their shop having enough of a crowd to exceed the recommendation of no gatherings larger than 10.
She also pointed out a challenge many businesses near the state line are facing. “Now that Indiana has opened up and people can drive 10 miles east of us and dine-in, we cannot compete and are losing sales.” Emily says she has studied the rules and regulations from the local health department and the CDC, and is ready to safely re-open. “Restaurant owners are responsible people who understand how to follow guidelines and follow health codes. We will remove tables, double down on sanitizing surfaces, make hand sanitizer and masks a part of the normal procedures for as long as we are asked.”
This is yet another small business prepared to do the right thing and keep their customers safe, if they can be allowed to re-open. Time is running out.
Calling for a vote on the re-opening
I am glad that we are finally moving forward with re-opening the state, but as the above example illustrates, we need to be doing more. We need a more regionalized approach that recognizes the different conditions in the different parts of the state and which allows smaller areas to take another step forward if conditions have improved there. We also need to bring more local leaders into the conversation about how to get their communities re-opened.
Hoping to see these and other ideas incorporated into the re-opening plan, I joined with almost three dozen members of the House in filing House Resolution 859 which called for the re-opening plan to be put up for a vote by the people’s elected representatives. Legislators and local officials need to be involved in every step of this process. Unfortunately, our resolution was not brought up for discussion or a vote before session adjourned.
Keeping in touch with local leaders
Since we cannot meet in person, for weeks now I have been hosting Zoom conference calls with our local leaders, including groups of mayors from all five counties of the district. This week I held a Zoom meeting with county board chairmen from around the district. We talked about the effect of the shutdown on the local economy, the efforts our county governments are making to fight he spread of coronavirus and what the state can do to help them. These have been good conversations and have provided much good input from those seeing up close the effects of the pandemic and the shutdown.
House task forces continue their work into the summer
The job of being your state representative involves more than just traveling to Springfield for the spring and fall sessions. I have been appointed to some task forces of legislators and other interested parties to work on finding solutions to the many challenges Illinois faces. Even though the House is adjourned for the summer we are still taking testimony, reviewing reports and discussing ideas which can be made into legislation when the House is back in session.
One of these groups is the Licensure Capstone Assessment Task Force which examines ways we can improve the process of licensing teachers in Illinois. Illinois has a teacher shortage, and if we can find ways to make licensing easier; while still maintaining the high quality of education our kids deserve; then we can help local districts find the number of teachers they need. This task force is made up of legislators, educators and college preparation program administrators. We have held two meetings, with a third scheduled for this month, as we examine different ideas and prepare a report on what changes to law might be necessary to move forward.
How much do we owe?
As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $6,885,508,664 in unpaid bills to state vendors. One year ago, the backlog stood at $6.6 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 more than $137 billion.
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).