School mask mandate; More problems with unemployment

Judge rules against school mask mandate, Attorney General immediately appeals

Late last week a Sangamon County judge suspended the statewide school mask mandate but the Illinois Attorney General filed an appeal, meaning that the legal back-and-forth over this issue is not yet concluded. Students are still required to wear masks on school buses because of a separate federal mask mandate for mass transit. After criticizing the ruling, Governor Pritzker on Wednesday announced a plan to begin lifting the statewide mask mandate by the end of the month.

The judge’s ruling about school masks came in response to a lawsuit by parents in more than 100 school districts in Illinois asking for the state’s school mask mandate to be lifted. The ruling states that school districts that were part of the lawsuit cannot require students to wear masks, however, some of these districts are interpreting the ruling to mean that only students who were part of the lawsuit don’t have to wear masks.  She went on to rule against a vaccination requirement for school district employees “without first providing them due process of law.”

The ruling only binds school districts that were part of the lawsuit, however it also prohibited state agencies from enforcing their mandates on any school district, at least for now. This is likely why the Judge added that “School Districts throughout this State may govern themselves accordingly.”  Many local school districts were trying to determine their next steps following the ruling. Now an appellate court will have to rule on the Attorney General’s motion. No timeline has been announced for that decision.

I have long argued that local control needs to be restored and that local school boards should be involved in making decisions about the masking policies for their districts.

Unemployment beneficiaries now having problems obtaining tax forms from state

Over the last two years, hundreds of thousands of Illinoisans were forced to apply for unemployment due to the pandemic and the lockdowns. Unfortunately, many of them ran into a staggering amount of bureaucracy when attempting to get their applications processed and their questions answered. In 2020 and 2021 the number one issue my office dealt with had to do with people needing help with the Department of Employment Security (IDES).

Now, just as that situation seems to have eased, many of those who applied for and received unemployment benefits have run into another problem from the state: difficulty in obtaining their required 1099-G forms which they must file along with their taxes this spring. Illinoisans are having trouble getting their forms and getting into the IDES website to get help.

If you are a 106th District resident who has run into this problem, please contact my office to find out if we can help.

Proposed budget spends more than Illinois takes in

Last week Governor Pritzker proposed a $45 billion state budget for the coming year. Analysis of his spending proposal and Illinois’ expected revenue growth indicates that the Governor’s plan will actually spend hundreds of millions more than the state will take in. The state Constitution requires that the budget be balanced every year. The budget we are reviewing is for the fiscal year which begins on July 1 and ends on June 30, 2023.

The proposed budget spends $2.5 billion more than last year’s budget, which was unbalanced and held together only by billions in federal bailout funds. Revenues for the upcoming year are forecast to fall by $460 million compared to last fiscal year. So what the Governor is proposing to do is spend more money with less money coming in. All this budget will do is lock into place these unsustainable spending patterns and possibly set the stage for more tax increases on Illinoisans in order to make up the difference. We have to do better.

Education council appointment

This week I was honored to be named to the Illinois P-20 Council, a commission established “to foster collaboration among state agencies, education institutions, local schools, community groups, employers, taxpayers and families,” to find ways to reform and improve Illinois’ system of education. The council gets its name because it seeks to work from “P” for pre-school all the way to “Grade 20” which represents continuing education after college.

We have made important strides in Illinois in recent years to improve the way we fund schools and the way we educate our children. I am looking forward to joining the P-20 council to explore the many ways we can continue to build on that progress.

Visit to the Bismarck Lions Club

There is nothing quite like a stack of pancakes on a cold morning, and it is even better in the company of friends and neighbors. I was glad to help out Saturday morning at the Bismarck Lions Club pancake breakfast. I appreciated the chance to see some very special people. Thank you to all those who helped with refills and table cleanup, and also for the delicious pancakes and sausage. There was a great turnout from the community. The Lions Club is a great group with an important cause. Well done!

How much do we owe?

As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $4,056,222,634 in unpaid bills to state vendors. One year ago, the backlog stood at $5.4 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.

Did You Know?

NASA’s first African-American astronaut was an Illinoisan, Robert H. Lawrence of Chicago. Major Lawrence was an Air Force pilot who joined the space program in 1967. He went to Englewood High School in Chicago and graduated from Bradley University in Peoria with a degree in chemistry in 1956. Major Lawrence was killed in a training accident in California just a few months after becoming an astronaut. His name was the 17th added to the Astronauts Memorial Foundation’s Space Mirror Memorial at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

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