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Update from the Capitol 9/21/2018

Friday, September 21, 2018 - Posted 9:36:24 AM by Rep. Tom Bennett

As always, you can contact me via webform at, or by phone at (815) 844-9179 (Pontiac) or (815) 432-0106 (Watseka). Thank you for the honor of serving as our district's representative in Springfield.

Illinois forces helping with hurricane response

Soldiers and helicopters from the Illinois National Guard are among those assisting with the disaster recovery following Hurricane Florence in North Carolina. Illinois-based volunteers from the American Red Cross have also been preparing to go to the Carolinas to assist.

Ten National Guard soldiers and two helicopters left Illinois for North Carolina just before the storm hit. They were attached to the 238th Aviation Battalion; based in Peoria; and the Kankakee-based 1st Battalion, 106th Aviation Regiment. These Illinois guard members provided support during the initial 10 days of the disaster and the rescue and recovery. The state of North Carolina picked up the costs of the deployment.

This deployment not only offers a chance to help those in need following a disaster, it also provides the Illinois Guard with valuable real-world training experience. It provides the framework for the kind of assistance Illinois might one day need to request from other states in the event of a disaster here. Illinois is part of the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC), an agreement between the states that allows a state or states experiencing an emergency to request assistance from other states. The Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) has been in regular contact through the EMAC with emergency managers in the mid-Atlantic states in the event that further assistance is needed.

This is not the first deployment from Illinois to respond to a disaster elsewhere in the country. Hurricane Katrina was the largest Illinois response under the EMAC: over 2,500 Illinoisans worked in the Gulf Coast region in 2005. That response was not limited just to the National Guard; also included firefighters, paramedics, IEMA coordinators, law enforcement officers and medical personnel. The most recent deployment before this year was a movement of Illinois National Guard personnel to Puerto Rico following hurricane Maria last year.

National Association of Counties meeting in DC

I was honored last week to join several local officials and Illinois state legislators at the National Association of Counties meeting in Washington DC. It was good to talk with Chad McGinnis from the Iroquois County Board, Chuck Erickson from the McLean County Board, Marty Fannin, the former chairman of the Livingston County Board and Andrew Wheeler, the chairman of the Kankakee County Board.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson was among the main speakers at the conference and we also heard a few remarks from Vice President Mike Pence. Speakers also included officials from the U.S. Departments of Homeland Security, Education, Labor, Transportation and Agriculture. They discussed several good topics about how federal legislation and federal policies can have an impact right down at the county level.

Also during our time in DC, Chad McGinnis and I took the opportunity to talk about several flooding issues impacting our area with Congressman Adam Kinzinger, and staff for both of our U.S. Senators, Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin. They were good conversations all around.

How much do we owe?

As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $7,767,600,175 in unpaid bills to state vendors. 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 approximately $130 billion.

Eight Illinois universities crack U.S. News rankings' top 200

Eight universities here in Illinois were listed in the top 200 of the U.S. News and World Report 2018-19 ranking of U.S. colleges and universities. The group included both the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Illinois State University. Five Illinois schools made the top 100. UIUC was tied with several other schools at #46 and ISU came in at #171 on the list. The University of Illinois/Chicago (UIC) was ranked 129th.

Several private universities in Illinois made the rankings as well. The University of Chicago led all Illinois schools, coming in at 3rd place nationwide, trailing Harvard and equal to Columbia, Yale, and M.I.T. Northwestern was tied for 10th place. Loyola was rated 89th, the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) was ranked 96th, and DePaul came in at 119th.

Opioid prescriptions declining in Illinois

Prescriptions of opioid medications in Illinois, including OxyContin, declined in 2017. We have all heard many stories about how opioid addition began with an introduction to the pain-killing medications through a legitimate prescription. In recent years, the Illinois General Assembly has acted to create programs to improve education for caregivers, physicians and pharmacists in order to cut down on exposure to opioids. While there are cases where a physician determines an opioid painkiller is the appropriate response, these efforts have sought to educate about other alternatives that have less potential for addiction.

One important action the legislature took in 2017 was the enactment of a law mandating that all prescribing physicians in Illinois enroll in the Prescription Monitoring Program, a Department of Human Services (DHS)-maintained database which tracks opioid prescriptions. It was the PMP which generated the data for this encouraging report. The General Assembly continues to work with the Illinois State Medical Society to ensure that law enforcement and state agencies have the kind of high-quality, universal data they need to fight against opioid drug abuse and addiction.

Did You Know?

One hundred years ago this month the Illinois soldiers of the U.S. Army's 33rd Division played a key role in the Meuse-Argonne offensive, a crucial American victory that helped bring an end to World War I just a few weeks later. The division was made up of soldiers primarily from the Illinois National Guard. The service of the 33rd Division is honored with the naming of Illinois Route 54 through our district as the 33rd Division Memorial Highway.