Call for special session on coronavirus; Outbreak at veterans’ home

House Republicans call for special session on coronavirus response plans

This week should have been the second week of the fall session of the Illinois General Assembly, but House Speaker Michael Madigan cancelled the planned session, citing the continuing spread of the coronavirus. House Republicans believe we as legislators have a duty to act and to be involved in the state’s handling of the response, which includes the planning for distribution of a vaccine as it becomes available.

A group of House Republicans renewed the call for Governor Pritzker to call the House and Senate into special session to discuss the next steps in the state’s response. Many of us have been calling for the legislature to reconvene throughout this crisis, as the Governor has ruled the state by executive order since March. The legislature met for a quick, four-day in session in late May and has not re-convened since.

The state should be working collaboratively with local leaders and legislators to respond to this emergency. As a vaccine is produced and begins to be distributed over the next few months we need to work together on a plan to ensure that it is made available to as many Illinoisans as possible as quickly as possible, and that the plans are coordinated with local officials to make sure this is done safely and efficiently. I hope the Governor will respond favorably to this call.

Calls growing for investigation into coronavirus outbreak at LaSalle Veterans Home

Last month we learned of an outbreak of coronavirus at the LaSalle Veterans Home just north of our district. Last week the Director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, Linda Chapa LaVia told a Senate committee hearing that she had called for an outside investigation of what went wrong at the facility where 27 veterans have died of coronavirus. Republican members of the House Veterans Affairs committee called for a hearing this week as well.

It is clear that such an investigation is needed. After the outbreak was discovered it took the Department of Public Health 11 days to get into the facility. A report by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs uncovered some very troubling information. Among their findings were coronavirus-positive staff still working at the home, improper use of personal protective equipment, and the wrong kind of hand sanitizer being used to prevent further spread. More than 200 positive cases have now been confirmed among residents and staff at the facility. These veterans their families deserve answers.

Watseka honors fallen hero

Last Friday Sergeant Jeremy C. Sherman of Watseka was brought home to be laid to rest. Sergeant Sherman, 23, gave his life in a helicopter crash in Egypt which also claimed the lives of four other American soldiers. The outpouring of love and support for Sergeant Sherman’s family was overwhelming, as emergency responders lined the highway into town and a procession led by more than 50 motorcycles brought him to his final resting place. Hundreds of everyday citizens stood along the route to pay their respects.

He was a 2015 graduate of Watseka High School and served our country in Afghanistan and South Korea before his peacekeeping mission in Egypt. Sergeant Sherman is survived by his wife, parents and two siblings.

Jobs numbers show continuing recovery

Figures released by the Department of Employment Security show that a growing number of Illinoisans who were laid off or furloughed during the pandemic shutdowns have begun returning to work. Unemployment in the state dropped to 6.8% in October, down from the revised rate of 10.4% in September. Illinois is now in line with the national unemployment rate.

Gains were reported in three sectors: Professional and Business Services, Construction and Trade, Transportation and Utilities. The good news did not extend to all sectors of the economy, however, as small businesses and restaurants continue to be hard-hit. During the most recent week reported, 46,526 Illinoisans filed new unemployment claims. Illinois makes up less than 4% of the population of the United States, but had more than 6% of the new unemployment claims for that week. The overall news is encouraging, but it also shows that many Illinoisans continue to suffer.

Celebrating Christmas in the park in Pontiac

In a time when we could all use something to bring a smile to our faces the city of Pontiac stepped up with its annual Christmas Lighted Parade, slightly modified of course. This year’s event was a drive-thru parade at the Chautauqua Park in Pontiac which included beautiful floats and even a visit from Santa Claus himself! Over 1100 cars and trucks drove through the park to see the floats. It was a well done event. Thank you to the city of Pontiac for bringing us a little cheer when we need it the most!

How much do we owe?

As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $7,084,597,867 in unpaid bills to state vendors. One year ago, the backlog stood at $6.3 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.

Back to the weekly newsletter

Longtime readers will recall that this was a weekly newsletter until the pandemic broke out in March, when it became a daily update due to the fast-moving situation. Over the summer we cut back to twice a week, and now we have returned to the once-a-week update every Friday. Thank you to everyone for reading and for sharing your comments, questions and ideas with me.

More news from around the state

The latest update from the Department of Public Health reports deaths in Iroquois, Livingston and Vermillion counties

Tips to stay safe from COVID-19 scams as vaccine approaches FDA approval

Illinois High School seniors can apply now for 2021 Conservation Achievement Scholarships

IEMA Winter Weather Preparedness Guide

Hunters harvested 47,147 deer during opening weekend of Illinois firearm season

Several Illinois electric and gas utilities commit to greater winter protections for residential customers

Angela Jackson to serve as fifth Illinois Poet Laureate

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).