Budget passes in all-night session; Weak criminal justice bills pass

House pulls all-nighter, passes budget at 6 a.m. Saturday

After a marathon session Friday night and into Saturday morning, the House passed a $46.5 billion budget that increases spending by 10%, even though state revenues are forecast to fall by 5%. It relies on one-time federal revenues to fill the gaps: federal revenue which we will not have going forward. It includes no permanent tax relief, it does not pay down the remaining debt we owe the unemployment trust fund. It is filled with election-year gimmicks.

I voted No.

Illinoisans will see a temporary rollback of the state motor fuel tax (we will also see state-mandated stickers on gas pumps advertising this fact) and the grocery sales tax – but these rollbacks will expire just after the election. There is also a one-time property tax rebate. I supported some of the tax relief measures because I believe that some relief is better than none. But we should have suspended the sales tax on gas and made these improvements permanent, instead of only passing the election-year gimmicks which were in the Democrats’ final budget.

The final draft of the budget arrived around 3 a.m. on Saturday and was passed on a party-line vote just before sunrise. Different proposals were floating around all day, most of which numbered more than 3000 pages in length. I posed for a photo with one of these documents, not realizing that the final stack would be even taller! No one could possibly read and review a document of that size and of that importance in the amount of time available. By the time we voted on final passage (about two hours after the final bill was introduced in the House), the budget bill had grown to 3448 pages. This is the wrong way to go about spending the taxpayers’ money.

Criminal justice bills leave much to be desired

In another case of “some improvement is better than none” I voted Yes on several changes to Illinois’ criminal justice system. The biggest change we could make would be to repeal last year’s deeply flawed SAFE-T Act, which puts criminals ahead of victims and ignores the input of law enforcement. We should instead start over and craft better legislation by involving (and listening to) our police officers and prosecutors. Democrats were unwilling to do that, so instead we got a number of much smaller changes.

For example, additional funding was authorized for body cameras and equipment for police officers. Another bill offered some additional incentives to recruit and retain police officers. These improvements are nice, but they fall far short of the changes that our law enforcement officers are calling for, things like cancelling the scheduled end of cash bail which will let criminals right back out after they are arrested. We did some good things, but we needed to do much more.

Not all bad news

There were some good bills passed in the closing days of session as well. Last week I told you about legislation I sponsored to improve the way we issue permits for farmers’ markets. I sponsored a bill to deem state and county correctional officers as “qualified law enforcement officers” able to carry their firearms off-duty without being in violation of the law. My bill was eventually incorporated into the language of another bill which passed by a wide margin. So even though it wasn’t my bill which passed, the effect was the same. A wise man once said that it is amazing what you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit.

A bipartisan majority also passed legislation to protect nursing home visitation rights should there be any more pandemic lockdowns. Far too many Illinoisans were denied the right to visit their loved ones in nursing homes during Governor Pritzker’s lockdowns. Some of them even suffered the agony of having a loved one die alone because they were not allowed to be together. The bill we passed last week ensures that at least one family member may be permitted to visit a loved one in a nursing home or other similar facility.

The facilities can still set health guidelines to protect against exposures, but they can no longer outright deny the visits. I hope that if we ever find ourselves in the terrible situation we were in during 2020, this legislation might alleviate some heartbreak.

Prescription drug take back event April 23

National Prescription Drug Take Back Day is coming up, and to mark the occasion I am joining with the Iroquois County Sheriff’s Department to host a prescription drug take back event in Watseka on Saturday April 23. From 9 a.m. until 11 a.m. you can bring unwanted or expired prescription drugs to the sheriff’s department at 550 S. 10th Street in Watseka to be safely disposed of. Some items cannot be accepted, like needles or liquids. The event is free and is set up so that you won’t even have to exit your vehicle. For more information you can call my office at (815) 432-0106.

How much do we owe?

As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $3,461,672,643 in unpaid bills to state vendors. One year ago, the backlog stood at $5.2 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?

Somewhere beneath the waves of the Pacific Ocean the submarine USS Illinois is on patrol defending freedom. The nuclear-powered attack submarine was commissioned in 2016. The sub is the third Navy ship to be named for our state: the first was a turn of the 20th century battleship which sailed around the world with President Theodore Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet. In 1945 construction was underway on the second USS Illinois, a much-larger battleship, but it was cancelled when World War II came to an end.

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