As always, you can reach me through the contact form at repbennett.com, or by phone at (815) 432-0106 (Watseka) or (815) 844-9179 (Pontiac). Thank you for the honor of serving as our district's representative in Springfield.
Watch for your Census form in the mailbox
Over the next few weeks, forms from the U.S. Census Bureau will begin arriving in mailboxes across the country. It is critical for our communities and our region that every single resident be counted by the Census.
Every year, residents of the 106th district pay millions of dollars to Springfield and Washington in taxes. Those taxes go into hundreds of state and federal programs for everything from public schools to transportation to police protection and much more. When the policymakers in Springfield and Washington decide where to send those funds, one of the first statistics they look at is the census.
For example, if a small town in our area requests a grant to put in a new water and sewer system, the agency will consider the town's population when deciding how much funding to approve. But if only half the town's residents were counted in the Census, the agency might only approve half of the necessary funding for the project, even though everyone in town paid their taxes. In other words, the town and its residents would not get their fair share of funding because the population count was inaccurate. In a state like Illinois, Census officials estimate that we would miss out on $1400 in federal funding per year for every uncounted person.
Be sure to complete and return your census form, and make sure your neighbors do as well. A full and accurate count is essential. Call the Census Bureau Customer Service Center at 1-800-923-8282 if you have any questions about your form or the census in general.
Re-introducing some bills from last year
Last year I was the lead House sponsor on six bills which were passed into law. I am proud of each of them, but I am no less determined to see the other bills I proposed last year make it through the process this year. In order to give these ideas a chance to become law this year, I have re-introduced many of the bills which I sponsored last year, but which did not make it to the House floor in time for a vote.
House Bill 4654 is an ethics reform idea I introduced last year to prohibit legislators from going to work as paid lobbyists until they have been out of the General Assembly for at least two years. In the past year we have seen the problem with legislators immediately becoming lobbyists as soon as they leave the General Assembly. We need ethics reform in state government, and this is a good place to start.
Another idea I have re-introduced this year is House Bill 4343, a tax credit for businesses who offer paid internships to high school and college students. This is a great way to encourage businesses to give students a chance to learn job skills and start collecting a paycheck. I have also introduced House Bill 4340, an idea I sought to get passed last year, which would protect correctional workers by changing the way we sentence inmates who commit crimes while in Department of Corrections custody.
I will keep you posted on the progress of these bills throughout the spring.
Sheriffs concerned about new IDOC policy
This week some of our local sheriffs spoke at the Capitol to raise the alarm about a new policy from the Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC) which releases convicted felons at the end of their prison sentence even if they still have outstanding federal immigration warrants. According to the sheriffs, there were more than 200 such warrants carried out last year; including 36 individuals found guilty of sexual abuse of a minor and 11 found guilty of murder, attempted murder or intent to kill or injure; but DOC will no longer honor these federal warrants. This is a misguided policy that puts public safety at risk. DOC owes us an explanation and should reconsider this plan.
How much do we owe?
As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $6,726,847,997 in unpaid bills to state vendors. One year ago, the backlog stood at $7.9 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 $137 billion.
Seclusion room rules being finalized
Last fall I was shocked to learn of the abuse of "seclusion rooms" for disciplinary purposes in some Illinois schools, as were many state policymakers. An emergency rule was put in place to stop the practice, and now the Illinois State Board of Education is finalizing new administrative rules to ban certain uses of physical restraints and seclusion rooms on a more permanent basis. The State Board adopted the new rules on February 18.
Educators and experts in school security will have the opportunity to study the proposed rules as the legislature's Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR) conducts its own review process. The chair of the State Board of Education has pledged to conduct a six-month study of the effectiveness of the new rules in protecting students while maintaining order in classrooms.
Congratulations to Rob Schmitt
Our area is fortunate to have some excellent facilities for treating our health care needs. One of these is Gibson Area Hospital in Gibson City. I was honored recently to present the hospital CEO Rob Schmitt with a certificate of congratulations from the Illinois General Assembly for being named the 2020 "Rural CEO to Know!" by the National Rural Health Association, American Hospital Association and the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society.
Providing quality health care in a rural area like ours presents unique challenges, and thanks to local leaders like Rob our area hospitals do their best each and every day to meet the needs of our community. I appreciate Rob's leadership and the hard work of the staff at Gibson Area Hospital, and I was glad to see him receive this much-deserved recognition.
Did You Know?
This weekend's "Leap Day" is necessary to get the calendar back into synchronization with the Earth's orbit around the sun. As everyone knows, leap years occur every fourth year. But you may not know that leap years do not occur in years perfectly divisible by 100, so there was no leap day back in 1900 and there will not be one in 2100. But this rule does not apply in years divisible by 400, hence the reason why there was a leap year in 2000.