Legislature called into ‘lame duck’ session; Some details on vaccines

House to meet on Friday

After refusing to call the House back into session for months during the pandemic, Speaker Madigan has announced that there will be a ‘lame duck’ session starting this Friday. A ‘lame duck’ session refers to a meeting of the legislature in the days between an election and the swearing-in of newly-elected members. The new General Assembly will be sworn in next Wednesday.

These types of sessions are used to wrap up business from the previous General Assembly, but have also been used to ram through legislation which could not have passed before the election. Most notably, a 2011 lame duck session was used to pass an income tax increase – with outgoing members providing the necessary votes for passage. Speaker Madigan has reportedly promised a tax increase in the near future.

I would vote No on an income tax increase if one were proposed. Last spring many of us warned about the dangers of passing an unbalanced budget based on the hope of a bailout from Washington. Now we are seeing the consequences of that poor decision. Raising income taxes is not the solution. Responsible, realistic, cooperative budgeting is.

The session convenes on Friday and is expected to run for several days. The 101st General Assembly ends at noon on Wednesday.

Vaccines arrive in our region; priority given to health care workers

Throughout the nation we have seen millions of coronavirus vaccinations administered with many more to come. As vaccine production is ramped up, more people will be able to receive one. In the short term, however, certain high-risk groups have to be prioritized until more vaccines are available. Health care workers, first-responders, nursing home staff and vulnerable populations have been among the first to receive the vaccines.

For more information on vaccine availability and distribution policies in your area, you should contact your local health department.

Petition to help local businesses safely re-open

Our local small businesses have been struggling with lockdown orders for months now. Restaurants have been especially hard hit, as the ban on indoor dining and the arrival of cold weather have left many of them barely hanging on, and quite a few others closing their doors permanently.

We all know the importance of keeping people safe from the spread of the coronavirus, but also know that our communities cannot carry on like this for much longer, with businesses closing and people losing their jobs. There has to be a way to safely re-open these businesses, at limited capacity with social distancing, in order to keep them from shutting down permanently.

Click here to sign our petition to Governor Pritzker to urge him to allow some safe, limited re-openings of those businesses which have been shut down by his order, so that we can save the businesses which are the lifeblood of our communities.

New federal coronavirus relief legislation has aid for self-employed

The newly-enacted coronavirus relief bill from Washington creates a new program called Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation, MEUC, which provides help for those who have some income from self-employment, but who cannot obtain benefits under the existing Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program. This program will be administered by the states as its implementation is rolled out. Click here for more information.

From the Illinois Department of Employment Security: Protecting your personal information

This information was recently shared by the Illinois Department of Employment Security as part of the ongoing response to the fraudulent unemployment applications filed in the names of thousands of Illinoisans:

With criminal networks targeting unemployment insurance (UI) systems nationwide, it is more important than ever to protect your personal information. USDOL, IDES and our law enforcement partners encourage you to review some key cybersecurity tips:

  1. Use a strong password: Use a combination of numbers, symbols, lower-case and capital letters. Ensure your password is a minimum of 12 characters. And, never use the same password with a different account. You can change your password here.
  • Don’t share private information: Never share your password or information about your claim with someone you don’t know. Be mindful about posting information on social media.
  • Beware of scams: Do not click on pop-ups, unknown emails, or suspicious links. Criminals in other states are using “phishing” scams to gather sensitive information from claimants, and USDOL has issued this warning. Remember to keep your security software up-to-date and remain alert.

If you think you may be the victim of unemployment fraud, please contact the Benefit Payment Control unit at (800) 814-0513.

IDES is working closely with state and federal partners to stop criminals and protect the unemployment insurance system.

Speaking to 8th grade career conference

In the last couple of years I was able to meet with students face-to-face as part of the annual 8th Grade Career Conference, but things have changed this year. The event coordinator, Amanda Brockway, helped me to record a 10-minute program for the students to learn more about what a state representative does, how we try to help constituents, develop bills and work on a state budget in Springfield.

Thank you Amanda for keeping this great program going (now in its 30th year!) and for inviting me to be a part of it. I wish everyone involved lots of success in bringing together a number of presenters from different fields.

Three new laws took effect January 1

Usually there are hundreds of new laws that take effect on January 1, but because the session was so abbreviated last spring, there are only three this year. I voted in favor of all three.

One new law requires law enforcement to report information about missing persons to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons system. Another added some address confidentiality protections for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. The third one capped the price of a 30-day supply of insulin at $100, which makes a big difference for those who use insulin on a regular basis.

How much do we owe?

As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $5,516,619,992 in unpaid bills to state vendors. One year ago, the backlog stood at $6.7 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 $141 billion.

More news from around the state

The latest update from the Department of Public Health reports deaths in Livingston and Woodford Counties

As restaurant closures mount, effort intensifies to help others survive next stretch

Attorney General warns of scams related to COVID-19 vaccine

IHDA accepting applications for next round of the Abandoned Property Program

January is radon action month in Illinois

IDOT looking for snow-removal operators

ISAC provides free assistance statewide for students completing financial aid applications

USDA conducting 2020 local food marketing practices survey

January’s IDNR Kids for Conservation topic: coyotes

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).