Local fire departments receive state grants
The Office of the State Fire Marshal has announced that five local fire departments have received funding under the Small Equipment Grant Program. In all, more than 100 departments statewide were awarded a share of the $2 million in grant funds which were announced this week. The grant program is intended to help fire departments and not-for-profit ambulance services with purchases of small firefighting or ambulance equipment.

Governor signs teacher licensure bill into law
Governor Rauner has signed into law my bill to help ease Illinois’ teacher shortage. The legislation, House Bill 5627, makes it easier for teachers who hold out-of-state teaching licenses to become teachers in Illinois as well. It also eliminates a requirement that someone who already holds a teaching license in Illinois must go through the long and costly process of getting a separate license to become a substitute teacher.


Plan to protect safety net and rural hospitals approved
The federal government has approved Illinois’ plan to protect safety net and rural hospitals while ensuring continued federal support for quality healthcare to more than three million Illinoisans.


PONTIAC – State Representative Tom Bennett (R-Gibson City) recently expressed his appreciation for the Illinois Department of Transportation’s (IDOT) inclusion of more than 40 local road projects in its multi-year improvement program.


Soil and Water District Funding released
Soil and water districts, as well as county fairs, agriculture societies and the University of Illinois Extension will be receiving $16 million in state funds which were released last Friday. The funds come from the current year state budget and will serve the important programs these agencies operate. I was honored to join the Governor, Illinois’ Secretary of Agriculture and legislators from both parties at the announcement on a farm near Springfield.


Partial pension reform passed on final day of session
One of the largest long-term challenges state government faces is the large unfunded pension liabilities in state-managed pension funds. These include the systems which cover pension payments promised to teachers and other public-sector professional workers. We cannot even determine the exact size of these liabilities because they are based on future interest rates and estimated future rates of return on the funds which have already been invested. The current estimate of the unfunded pension liabilities stands in excess of $130 billion, with the largest portion being the $71 billion of commitments made by the Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS).

Bill to address teacher shortage headed to the Governor
A bill I sponsored which would make to hire classroom teachers and substitute teachers has passed both houses of the legislature and is on its way to the Governor. Under House Bill 5627, Illinois would recognize out-of-state teacher licenses, allowing licensed teachers from out-of-state to teach in Illinois without meeting additional requirements. The bill establishes a Short-Term Substitute Teaching License and sets out the qualifications for obtaining one from the State Board of Education. It also allows an educator with a Professional Educator License or Educator License with Stipulations to work as a substitute teacher without having to obtain a separate substitute teacher license.


SPRINGFIELD – Rep. Tom Bennett (R-Gibson City) spearheaded the fight over the past several months to ensure that county fairs received the money appropriated to them in the FY18 state budget.


General Assembly passes state budget
For the first time in four years, the House and Senate have passed a full-year state budget before the May 31 adjournment deadline.

This budget was the product of months of bipartisan negotiations between members of the legislature and the Governor. This budget is balanced: Illinois is expected to bring in $38.52 billion in revenue in the next fiscal year, and this budget spends $38.5 billion. It increases funding for K-12 public education, and addresses important priorities like public health and safety, transportation and many others. It also includes a disaster assistance tax credit for the residents of the Watseka area who suffered damages from the flooding earlier this year. It does all of this without any more tax increases. While we still have a series of long-term issues to address, I believe this is a step in the right direction.

Make no mistake: state government still faces a number of significant challenges. They include our bill backlog and our underfunded pensions, among others. I hope this marks the beginning of the long-overdue process of getting our fiscal house in order. Now that we have enacted a balanced budget, we need to be watchful and make sure that state spending does not stray from this plan, or that we do not fall back into our old, bad spending habits once again. Today we can be proud of the fact that elected officials have come together in way they have not been able to do in the past few years and accomplished something positive for the people of Illinois.



State Rep. Tom Bennett (R-Gibson City) recaps the final day of the 2018 spring session of the Illinois House of Representatives. The House passed a bi-partisan balanced budget for the first time in four years before adjourning for the summer.
Session heading into its final days
The House and Senate are scheduled to adjourn on Thursday May 31. Under the Illinois Constitution, both houses must complete their work by May 31 or it becomes much harder to pass bills – they need a three-fifths supermajority instead of just a majority in order to pass. These last days of the scheduled session are always very hectic as members rush to get their bills through the process and on their way to the Governor before the deadline.


Governor proposes new classification of homicides
This week Governor Rauner issued an amendatory veto of House Bill 1468, proposing changes to enhance public safety in Illinois. His proposal included the creation of a new class of homicides, to be known as “death penalty murder” for those 18 or older who murder peace officers, or more than one person and who are convicted “beyond all doubt.”

New legislation would help put Illinois workers back on the job
House Bill 5864, the Blue Collar Jobs Act, was introduced recently to help kick-start construction projects throughout Illinois and create middle class jobs. The plan, which is supported by both business and labor groups, would use the withholding tax paid to construction workers to offer tax incentives to companies which make significant capital improvements in Illinois.


House and Senate Republicans call for adoption of revenue estimate
When you make your household budget, you probably start by considering two questions: what will my expenses be, and how much money will I have to work with. Making a state budget should not be any different. Yet, while we always consider the first question, in recent years we have failed to consider the second one, even though we are required to by the Illinois Constitution. House and Senate Republicans have each filed resolutions calling on the legislature to adopt a revenue estimate in order to begin the budgeting process for fiscal year 2019.

Busy week in advance of House bill deadline
It was a hectic week on the floor of the Illinois House as Friday was the deadline for getting House bills passed by the body. Any House bill not passed by Friday is most likely done for the year. The House met all five days this week and passed dozens of bills, large and small, trying to beat the deadline.

Calls for redistricting reform intensify
Under current Illinois law, the districts for state legislators and members of Congress are redrawn every ten years to reflect the findings of the U.S. Census. The next redistricting will occur in 2021. But our system of mapmaking has a fundamental flaw: the districts are drawn by the very same elected officials who seek to represent those districts. This has led to partisan maps which have cut down on competition.


House returns to Springfield for committee action on bills
The House returned to Springfield on Monday to begin the final week of action before the deadline to have bills out of committee. We started the week with more than 750 bills awaiting action in committees. Any bill not passed out of committee by the end of the week is generally considered to be dead for the year.

Illinois unemployment dips in February
The Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) has announced that the unemployment rate for the state of Illinois has decreased slightly, falling to 4.7% in February. IDES went on to report that nonfarm payrolls increased by 15,200 jobs according preliminary data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and released by IDES. Unfortunately, the January jobs report was revised to show a slight drop (-1,300 jobs) instead of the slight gain that had been initially reported (+200 jobs).


School safety and gun legislation likely to be high on the agenda in Springfield
I recently attended a ceremony at Dwight High School in remembrance of the 17 students who were killed in the terrible shooting in Parkland, Florida. It was a very somber event for students, faculty and staff as they paid respect to the victims and their families. I appreciated the opportunity to attend this event and to hear what the students had to say about how we can keep our schools safe.


FEMA assessing flood damage in our area
Following last month’s flooding in the eastern part of the 106th district, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) this week joined with state officials to conduct assessments of the damage which struck our area. This is the next step in the process of determining whether our area will be eligible for federal assistance to help with cleanup and recovery efforts from the flooding.



House considering legislation on youth tackle football
The House Mental Health Committee has advanced legislation that would prohibit organized youth sports tackle football for any child under the age of 12. The bill, House Bill 4341, now moves to the House floor for further discussion and debate. This legislation was brought about due to concerns over concussions suffered by youth football players and the growing field of science regarding the lasting impact of these injuries.


Sheriff Doran testifies before House committee
This week the House held committee hearings to discuss the issue of school safety. These lengthy hearings produced several ideas which we will be exploring further during the spring session as we work to keep our schools safe. One of the witnesses who testified on Tuesday was Ford County Sheriff Mark Doran, who offered his thoughts from a law enforcement perspective. I appreciated Sheriff Doran and all the other witnesses who presented testimony about one of the most important issues we are facing in the General Assembly.


Flood disaster declared in eastern 106th district
Late last week Governor Rauner declared areas in the eastern part of the 106th district to be disaster areas due to the heavy flooding on local rivers. The declaration covered Vermilion and Iroquois counties in the 106th, as well as Kankakee County. Governor Rauner came to Watseka on Thursday night to see the damage first hand, and together we toured some of the hardest hit areas and met with those who have been forced out of their homes by the floodwaters. My thanks to Watseka Mayor John Allhands for showing us around the community.

Legislation filed to protect DCFS workers from assaults
We have seen far too many reminders of how often the jobs of state employees require them to put themselves at risk to protect Illinois residents. The latest reminder came in the case of Pamela Knight, a Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) investigator who was brutally beaten in September while trying to take a 2 year-old child into protective custody. Ms. Knight died earlier this month from the injuries she sustained in the attack. Her accused assailant is now awaiting trial on multiple charges.


Governor Rauner delivers budget address
On Wednesday, Governor Rauner gave his budget address – which outlined his budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year. He proposed a balanced budget: we have an estimated $37.9 billion in revenue to work with, and he proposed to spend $37.6 billion. He also put forth a plan to roll back last year’s income tax increase. He did not propose any state facility closures and his budget would continue to fully fund K-12 education. He did propose a number of challenging actions to manage costs and revenue for the General Assembly to wrestle with.



Budget address coming up
The House was in session for some routine business this week, mostly committee hearings which will start moving legislation out to the floor. The next big event on the House calendar is the Governor’s budget address, which will be next Wednesday. The Governor told us in his State of the State address last week that he would be submitting a balanced budget proposal during his remarks.

General Assembly back in Springfield
The House and Senate reconvened for the first two days of the spring session this week. A brief session on Tuesday was followed by a handful of committee hearings – the first of many to come over the next few months. On Wednesday we overrode an amendatory veto by the Governor of a bill to implement last summer’s reforms to education funding. Fortunately, an agreement was worked out to address the concerns of all the interested parties. We will be back in session next Tuesday.

General Assembly back in session next week
The House and Senate will re-convene for the 2018 spring session on Tuesday, January 30. The House had originally been scheduled to come back for two days this week, starting on January 23, but the Speaker decided to cancel both days’ session.

Tax credits for internships
In this day and age, many careers begin with internships. Whether it is college or high school students, those entering the job market often take their first step through an internship with some entity in their preferred field. These entry-level jobs provide valuable education for students embarking on their careers, as well as useful experience for them once they have graduated.

Spring session to begin on January 23
The Illinois House will return to Springfield for the opening of the annual spring session on Tuesday, January 23. The Senate will be back a week later on January 30. Governor Rauner will offer his State of the State Address on January 31 and his budget address on February 14. During these opening weeks, members will be filing new legislation and committees will begin their consideration of the bills that are filed. Since this is the second year of the 100th General Assembly, it is possible that a few bills which were introduced last year could be brought back for consideration again this year.

2018 brings more than 200 new state laws
With the arrival of the new year, more than 200 bills which were passed by the legislature and signed by the Governor took effect. For the full list of new laws which took effect on January 1, visit www.repbennett.com and click on "New Year, New Laws 2018." Keep reading for a quick rundown of some of these new laws.