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Update from the Capitol 6/21/2019

Friday, June 21, 2019 - Posted 3:36:22 PM 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.

Flood prevention bill and coal ash cleanup bill awaiting action by the Governor

I was proud to have six bills which I sponsored pass both the House and the Senate this year. They are now awaiting action by the Governor. Once they are formally delivered to him, he will have 60 days to decide whether to sign or veto each bill. In all, 599 bills passed both houses of the legislature this year.

House Bill 2583 makes it easier for river conservancy districts to add more territory if voters at a referendum consent to doing so. This will help these districts carry out larger and better flood prevention projects. The idea for this bill came from a meeting of the flood prevention task force I have been coordinating in our area after a series of destructive floods in recent years. If enacted, this legislation will help us do a better job of managing and preventing floods in the future.

Another important bill which passed both houses is Senate Bill 9, a bill which would create a mechanism for preventing coal ash pollution in our local rivers. It was inspired by local concerns about pollution in the Vermilion River, but it can be utilized statewide to keep by-products from burning coal; things like arsenic and mercury; out of our rivers.

Funding for local transportation projects on the way

During my first term in 2016 I helped amend the state Constitution to ban politicians from taking money out of transportation funds to use for other projects. Politicians in the past swept the money away to balance previous years' budgets, and also created a $30 billion backlog of deferred road maintenance. But starting in July we will have the funds to tackle that backlog, thanks to the infrastructure bill we passed a few weeks ago. Because of that Constitutional amendment, money collected for transportation will no longer be diverted.

As funds start making their way into state, county, township and municipal coffers in the coming weeks, highway engineers and road commissioners will decide which projects to prioritize. So in the coming months you will be seeing a lot more crews out in the hot weather fixing up our local roads. Thanks to all our highway workers who do so much to keep us safe and keep Illinois products flowing to markets.

How much do we owe?

As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $6,589,711,983 in unpaid bills to state vendors. One year ago, the backlog stood at $6.8 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.

Honoring a fallen hero

I was glad to be part of the Memorial Highway Dedication Ceremony for U.S. Army SPC Phillip Pannier in Metamora at the Village Square last week. There was wonderful support from the community. Phillip is an American hero who gave his all defending our country in Iraq in 2008. The portion of Illinois Route 116 between Roanoke and Metamora will now bear his name in honor of his sacrifice. Our thanks and grateful hearts go out to Phillip's family. May God bless Phillip, his loving family and our great country.

Governor signs extreme abortion bill

One bill which was quickly signed into law after passage was Senate Bill 25, a drastic expansion of abortion rights in Illinois which I opposed. The new law repeals many safety regulations, which puts both mothers and unborn babies at greater risk. It declares abortion a "fundamental right" under state law, and takes away any independent rights an unborn baby had under state law. The new law allows abortions even after fetal viability; the point at which a baby can survive outside the womb; and among the existing laws it repeals are the Abortion Performance Refusal Act and the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. It has also raised questions about the continued existence of our law requiring parental notice when their minor child seeks an abortion. The signing of this extreme law marked a sad day for Illinois.

Wet weather hindering Illinois planting season

During the months of April and May in Illinois we typically see farmers in the fields planting their crop for the year. But this year has been very different. The unusually wet spring has made work in many fields very difficult during the usual planting season. Finally in early June we saw a few days which were suitable for fieldwork. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as of June 9, 73% of the Illinois corn crop had been planted; compared to 100% planting at the same time last year. There is similar news regarding soybeans, as only 49% of the Illinois bean crop was planted by June 9, versus 96% at this point in 2018.

The slow planting progress raises concerns about a difficult grow cycle and harvest conditions. So far, just over half of the Illinois corn crop has been ranked as fair, poor, or very poor, with the rest of the crop ranked as good or excellent. Across the state, 42% of the farm acreage was reported to have surplus topsoil moisture, which leaves patches of persistent mud and crop death in low-lying stretches of the fields. It is hoped that dry, sunny conditions as we enter summer could help improve these numbers.

DNR accepting grant applications for outdoor recreation projects

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is accepting grant applications from local governments for projects that will enhance outdoor recreation in Illinois.

Applications for the Open Space Land Acquisition and Development (OSLAD) and the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LCWF) programs open July 1 and run through August 19. The OSLAD program is state-financed and helps local governments acquire or develop land for public outdoor recreation areas, according to DNR. The LCWF is geared specifically to land acquisition, and is federally-funded. Both are administered by DNR.

DNR is also accepting applications for funds under the Boat Access Area Development grant program to help local governments acquire and develop land for canoe and boat access areas that are open to the public. The deadline for these applications is also August 19. More information on these DNR grant programs is available on the DNR website or by calling the DNR Grants phone line at (217) 782-7481.

Did You Know?

Springfield became Illinois' third capital city in 1839. When Illinois became a state in 1818, the capital was in Kaskaskia on the banks of the Mississippi. In 1820 it moved north to Vandalia where it remained until moving to Springfield. Abraham Lincoln was instrumental in moving the capital to Springfield, arguing that the seat of government should be more geographically-centered in the large state.