Audit into outbreak at Veterans Home; School construction bill signed

Audit outlines series of failures in state’s response to COVID outbreak at Veterans Home

In the fall of 2020 more than 30 veterans lost their lives at the LaSalle Veterans Home due to a COVID-19 outbreak that was mishandled by state agencies. That was the finding of a performance audit by the Illinois Auditor General looking into what happened at LaSalle.

The audit found that the Department of Public Health (IDPH) was informed of the increase in positive cases, but did not respond to the seriousness of the outbreak until the VA Chief of Staff asked for help, and even then IDPH was slow to respond. IDPH took days to test the staff at the veterans home, even though some were already known to be positive. This delay was not in compliance with the facility’s policy. The then-Director of the Illinois VA stepped down, but this audit has showed that the failures extended beyond the VA into the Department of Public Health and the Pritzker administration.

The Auditor General issued several recommendations for preventing these kinds of tragedies in the future. IDVA should have better testing policies in place for residents and employees. The agency should clearly define its role in monitoring outbreaks and develop criteria for mandating intervention by IDPH. The VA should ensure that its director works with the IDPH Director and the Governor’s office during outbreaks to advocate for the health, safety and welfare of those residing in the Veterans Homes. My colleague Rep. David Welter, has called for legislative oversight hearings into this latest information. We need to keep the pressure on the administration to ensure that something like this never happens again.

School construction grants bill signed into law

Late on Friday Governor Pritzker signed a bill which I sponsored to improve the way the state awards school construction grants. House Bill 3637 was the result of a long study by the School Construction Task Force. The bill sets up a new program for K-12 school construction requests to make the process work better for school districts once funding becomes available from the state.

My two lead co-sponsors on the bill were Speaker Chris Welch and Republican Leader Jim Durkin. This just goes to show that bipartisanship is possible in Springfield. The bill passed the House 105-0 and the Senate 54-0.

Great crowd at town hall meeting in Pontiac

There was a great turnout from the community for a town hall meeting Tuesday to discuss concerns and activities around the Pontiac Correctional Center since February 9. Click here to see my opening remarks.

The focus was on the total lack of communication, information and transparency by the Department of Corrections (DOC) with legislators and this community concerning Director Rob Jeffreys plans and vision for the Pontiac Correctional Center. DOC’s communication with legislators and the community has stopped. We are being ignored by our own state government. I am deeply disappointed.

I appreciate the many hours of meetings, phone calls, emails, texts,  preparing and planning by Senator Barickman and his office, my office and staff, 12 other state legislators, Mayor Alvey, County Board Chair Arbogast, Union President Lee, GLCEDC leaders Adam Dontz and Brad Solberg and Pontiac Township Superintendent Jon Kilgore working together to help tell the story of what has happened and to help find a way to bring Director Jeffreys here to this town hall for him to share his plan. Despite all efforts, the Director refused and ignored our requests.

There will be much more to come. We will continue to fight for our community and for answers. Government must be more responsive to the people they are supposed to serve.

Justice Garman announces retirement

For almost 50 years, Justice Rita Garman has served as a judge in central Illinois, including many years as the Supreme Court justice for the district including Ford, Livingston and Vermilion counties. Justice Garman began her career in Vermilion County as a lawyer for the Legal Aid Society. She became an assistant state’s attorney and then an associate circuit judge – the first woman to become a judge in that circuit. By the 1990s she was the presiding judge for Vermilion County. Not long after that she was elected to the Appellate Court and was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2001, serving as Chief Justice from 2013 to 2016.

This week Justice Garman announced her retirement from the Court. She will retire as the longest-serving judge in Illinois. I want to thank Justice Garman for her decades of service to the people of Illinois and her commitment to the cause of justice for all.

Utility assistance available through May 31

This week the temperature shot up into the 90s in some parts of our district and many of us turned on our air conditioners for the first time. Summertime can see energy bills go through the roof, and so a state program called Help Illinois Families is accepting applications for utility bill assistance through May 31. Help is available for electric bills, but also for utilities like natural gas and propane. You can find more information at HelpIllinoisFamilies.com.

How much do we owe?

As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $1,804,753,078 in unpaid bills to state vendors. One year ago, the backlog stood at $4.0 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?

Our state song, “Illinois” was written by Charles H. Chamberlin for the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 and set to music composed by Archibald Johnson. The song praises the beauty of our state and the bravery of its soldiers in the Civil War. Its first performance was at a Civil War veterans’ reunion where the toastmaster, future President William McKinley, said it was a song “that will never die.” When Chamberlin passed away, a verse from the song was engraved on his Chicago tombstone. “Illinois” officially became the state song in 1925.

More news from around the state

May is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month

Livingston County Health Department ready for exams and immunizations kids needs for school

License plate thieves target neighborhoods across Illinois. Here’s what you should know

Mental health help available for farmers

Illinois State Police donates protective equipment to Ukraine

Graduate of Illinois high school throws Major League no-hitter