Governor signs House Bill 3653, policing overhaul bill
On Monday Governor Pritzker signed House Bill 3653 into law, enacting controversial legislation which dramatically changes policing in Illinois and which a nearly-unanimous law enforcement community argued will make Illinois less safe.
The new law makes it easier for criminals, including those arrested for violent crimes, to be released back into our communities. It puts additional burdens on police departments and makes it harder for officers to do their jobs and protect our communities. Public safety agencies and prosecutors from throughout the state opposed this bill when it was rushed to passage last month. I strongly opposed this bill.
Continued challenges for Illinois’ unemployment system
More than 1.8 million unemployment benefits claims have been filed in Illinois since the beginning of the pandemic almost one year ago. For perspective, that works out to almost one out of every three employed Illinoisans. Making things more difficult, the agency which oversees the unemployment benefits system, the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) was forced to close its offices for in-person visits due to the outbreak. This closure has forced Illinoisans who need assistance to work through either a dysfunctional computer program or an overwhelmed telephone system.
I have been among the many legislators calling for IDES to take steps to speed up the response times and the massive backlog which have been crippling our recovery efforts. People who have applied for benefits are still having to pay their utility and grocery bills while they wait.
The fund which was set up to cover unemployment insurance expenses ran out of funds before the end of last year, and indications now are that the unemployment system will owe anywhere from $8 billion to $11 billion by 2024. Money flows into the fund from the taxes which are paid by employers in the state, but with our economy still struggling to work its way out of the pandemic the cash inflow is not meeting the demand. These problems with the unemployment system are likely to persist far into the months ahead.
Disaster declaration issued due to last week’s snowstorm
The cold wave and heavy snow which hit Illinois along with much of the middle part of the country has caused Governor Pritzker to issue a statewide disaster declaration. The declaration at the state level is the first step in possibly applying for federal assistance to state and local governments for the costs of the response.
The impacts of the storm were felt throughout the state. Schools were closed, travel was disrupted and vaccine distribution efforts were slowed down in some areas. Some parts of Illinois saw record demand for natural gas for heating due to the extended subzero temperatures, and emergency shelters were pressed to their limits. State officials are now collecting data which will be used to determine whether or not to ask for help from Washington.
The storm also led to disruptions of natural gas from Texas, causing price spikes in many Illinois cities and towns. On Tuesday Governor Pritzker announced that the state would make available $15 million in low-interest loans to affected towns; such as Rossville in our district; to help address the skyrocketing natural gas prices.
Around the district
As our area has moved forward into Phase 4 of the re-opening plan it has been nice to be able to start getting out and around the district once again – with masks and safety precautions of course. It has also been nice to see some of our community events beginning to come back.
Recently I stopped by a chili supper hosted by the Emergency Response Service in Paxton. It has been a difficult year for emergency responders, so I was glad to drop in and support their efforts.
I was also glad to be able to visit with Paul Ducat and the team at the Chebanse Community Center who put on a drive-thru biscuits and gravy breakfast over the weekend. It was good to see the long line of cars and trucks as people turned out to support the community.
Thanks to everyone!
House committees to meet virtually next week
Due to the ongoing pandemic the House rules were changed this year to allow for remote committee hearings via Zoom. The first of these hearings will take place next week. To view the full schedule of committee hearings, please click here. To watch one of the hearings beginning Monday March 1, click here (link only active on days when the House is in session).
How much do we owe?
As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $4,885,407,263 in unpaid bills to state vendors. One year ago, the backlog stood at $7.1 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
To get all the latest news and information from every Illinois state agency, visit the state’s newsfeed website at https://www2.illinois.gov/news. There you will find the latest press releases from state agencies. If you want to receive updates only from the agencies you select, you can sign up to receive state agency news alerts by going to https://www2.illinois.gov/sites/gov/pages/communicationsoptin.aspx and signing up for e-mail news updates.
For additional helpful resources, click here.
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).