January 1st ushers in the New Year and also 237 new state laws in Illinois, State Representative Tom Bennett said today.  Bennett (R-Gibson City) said local families should be aware of the wide-ranging changes.

Among the new laws about to take effect is the Right to Try Act (PA 99-0270) which may provide new hope to some battling a terminal illness. It will allow them, once they have considered all FDA-approved treatment options, to try new drugs or treatments in testing that have not yet been fully approved.

Also effective January 1st is a new law that creates a new state website to assist those wishing to start a new business or relocate their business to Illinois (PA 99-0134), and new guidelines that allow private employers in Illinois to support our veterans by adopting a voluntary veterans preference policy for hiring (PA 99-0152).
 Budget Meeting
The Governor and all four legislative leaders sat down last week for the first time since May to discuss the budget. Following some brief, public comments, they met privately for more than an hour.
They did not emerge from the meeting with a budget agreement, but I don’t think anyone realistically expected that they would.  The fact that they’re finally all talking together, and that they all agreed to continue to meet and talk, is in itself progress.  Like you, I am hoping for productive discussion in the weeks to come.

I am ready and willing to head back to Springfield at any time during the holidays to work on the budget, but I think a January solution is more likely. With this year’s spring session ended, it would now take more than 70 votes in the House to pass any bill that takes effect immediately, as we would want a budget bill to do. It is more likely that the Speaker will wait until January when it will only take a simple majority in the House to pass a bill of his liking.

MFT Funds Progress
II am very happy to report that we did make progress last week on securing the release of motor fuel tax revenues for our local municipalities and townships. This is vitally important for our local communities – its money that local governments need to pay for road projects and for public safety, including 9-1-1 services.

Last month my House Republican colleagues and I secured House passage of House Bill 4305 to release the funds. We were disappointed at that time that the legislation was not advanced as a Senate amendment that could have quickly been implement.  In addition, the legislation itself was delayed by a parliamentary maneuver to prevent it from advancing.

Last week, we were finally able to attach the appropriation language for funding as an amendment to Senate Bill 2039. Yesterday, the Senate passed our amendment and the Governor promptly signed it into law.

This is the way our system was meant to work – progress through cooperation.

Unemployment Insurance Reform Agreement
This past week we made progress on another critical issue as well. Governor Rauner and the General Assembly reached agreement on reforms to Illinois’ unemployment insurance law. 

Once passed and signed, the new law will explicitly protect the interests of employers that terminate an employee for grossly negligent conduct. If terminated for reason of grossly negligent conduct, individuals will not be eligible to receive unemployment insurance payment. 
The law also provides an appeals process to former workers who believe they were improperly treated.

Another critical piece of the law will allow recently laid-off, or separated workers to both collect Social Security and receive a full Illinois UI benefit (if they are eligible for Social Security). Under current Illinois law, Social Security recipients may only receive UI half-benefits.  Moving to full UI benefits will lead to an addition $25 million per year being paid to Illinois senior citizens who have suffered layoffs.

This agreement too is a direct result of bipartisan, bicameral cooperation.

Safe Shopping Guide for 2015 Christmas Season
 Many parents and relatives of young children are concerned when they learn that a product has been recalled for reasons of child safety.  The Illinois Attorney General ‘s Office offers a  Safe Shopping Guide with detailed descriptions of many of the toys, baby products, children’s clothing, bedding, and other products recalled by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.  The Guide also provides helpful information for parents and relatives considering the purchase of many types of well-known electronic goods asked for by children. The guide is available online at http://www.illinoisattorneygeneral.gov/consumers/2015_Safe_Shopping_Guide.pdf.

Winter Emergency Preparedness Guide
 The Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) has also posted their Winter Weather Preparedness Guide to help you get ready for the ice and snow. (http://www.illinois.gov/iema/Preparedness/Documents/winter_storm_preparedness_guidebook.pdf)
IEMA is especially conscious of the need for Illinois homeowners to be prepared for possible ice storms and related power outages.  The Holiday Safety Tips list includes homeowner maintenance of flashlights with fresh batteries in a house and car, a battery-powered radio that can access weather alerts, and other items. 

Wishing you and your family a happy and safe holiday season!

Tom