As always, you can contact me via webform at repbennett.com, 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.
Committee passes infant death investigation bill
This week the House was busy with committee hearings for bills which have come over from the Senate. Dozens of these bills cleared committee and will now be debated on the House floor. One of these was Senate Bill 1568, a bill I am sponsoring which will help protect children by requiring more thorough investigations of unexplained deaths of children under the age of 1. By better understanding the causes of these tragedies we might be able to prevent them in the future.
We have seen cases in Illinois in which a child dies and the cause of death is listed as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), while other unsafe factors were present at the scene. If we do not include these factors in the reports on these deaths, we cannot act to protect other children from similar dangers. This legislation requires that these additional factors be included in the reports so that we will be better informed about any future protective actions that need to be taken.
Some good news on revenue and pensions
The state got some unexpected good news with the April revenue report: more than $1.1 billion more revenue reached the state treasury than what had been projected. The Department of Revenue attributed the rise to several different factors, including the improved stock market, changes in federal tax law and the arrival of federal Medicaid reimbursements.
Governor Pritzker had announced in his budget address in February that he intended to have the state take another pension holiday, a very bad idea which is part of how we got into our current pension mess. With this new revenue he has reversed course and announced that the state will be able to make its scheduled pension payment in full. I am very relieved that he has changed his mind.
The improvement in our state's fiscal condition is a direct result of the bipartisan budget negotiations which took place last year â€“ negotiations which allowed us to pass a balanced budget without any new taxes. Now, instead of balancing this year's budget through a reckless pension holiday, we might actually have a budget surplus. It goes to show that we can meet our fiscal priorities without any of the tax increases Governor Pritzker and the Democrats want. This month's good news is proof that we can balance this year's budget without raising taxes on the middle class, without creating new taxes on grocery bags or without any of the other short-sighted proposals we have heard this spring.
If we work together, we can move toward solving the state's problems. Let's not allow partisanship or bad tax policies get in our way.
How much do we owe?
As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $6,466,686,905 in unpaid bills to state vendors. One year ago, the backlog stood at $6.7 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 approximately $130 billion.
Illinois rolling out new driver's licenses
After years of delays, Illinois is finally issuing driver's licenses that are fully compliant with the federal government's REAL ID law. This law requires state-issued identification cards to be upgraded for enhanced security when they are used to enter facilities like airports, federal buildings and military bases. After a series of extensions, the Secretary of State has announced that Illinoisans can now begin applying for ID cards which are fully compliant with the law.
The application process for a REAL ID is different because the new licenses cannot be produced at the Secretary of State's driver services facility. Instead, applicants will need to bring several important documents with them when they apply. The new license will be created in a secure, off-site facility and mailed to the applicant at a later date. It will have a gold star in the upper right corner to indicate that it is REAL ID compliant.
To apply for a REAL ID, the Secretary of State requires that you provide a document proving identity (such as a birth certificate or passport), a document proving your social security number (such as a Social Security card or a W-2 or pay stub with your full social security number), two documents proving residency (papers with your name and address, such as a utility bill, deed, bank statement or rental agreement), and a document proving your signature (examples include your current Illinois driver's license, a credit card or a cancelled check).
More information is available from the Secretary of State at https://realid.ilsos.gov/. While the licenses are available now, Illinoisans will not be required to have them until October 1, 2020.
Visiting the Capitol
It is always a treat to have visitors from the district stop by the Capitol while we are in session. Last week, several different groups came to Springfield to weigh in on issues pending in the legislature. I sat down with Greg Wolfe from the board of trustees at Danville Area Community College during community college lobby day to discuss the many issues affecting Illinois' community college system. It was also nice to talk with the nurses from Advocate BroMenn in Eureka and Bloomington-Normal. During this National Nurses Week; and having recently seen in person the good work which nurses do; I especially appreciated their advocacy for this important profession.
I was also proud to welcome to the Capitol several groups of local students visiting for Tech Day 2019. Students from schools across the state came to Springfield to share their projects. It was a lot of fun to talk with students, teachers and parents from Pontiac, Milford, Iroquois Elementary, Eureka and GCMS! I love their energy, their smiles and their excitement in showing what they have learned. It really made my day! Thank you for coming!
Flood disaster declaration includes Woodford County
Thirty-four Illinois counties were declared disaster areas by Governor Pritzker due to flooding, including Woodford County in our district. Extended, heavy rains last week caused area rivers to rise and flood several communities from one end of the state to the other. Though the rivers have started to fall now, many areas are still protected by sandbags and some communities are still engaged in cleanup efforts. For information on flood recovery and safety, visitwww.ready.illinois.gov.
Did You Know?
May 9 marked the anniversary of the 1838 beginning of the first railroad in Illinois, a line called the "Northern Cross" that was meant to run from Quincy to Danville, traveling through Jacksonville and Springfield on the way. The line was plagued with problems, and eventually the state abandoned the project. Years later, the technology improved and rail expansion helped make Illinois the crossroads of the nation.