Illinois elects new Governor, General Assembly
On Tuesday Illinoisans chose J.B. Pritzker to become the 43rd Governor of Illinois. They also elected Juliana Stratton as the next Lieutenant Governor and Kwame Raoul to be our new Attorney General. Secretary of State Jesse White, Treasurer Mike Frerichs and Comptroller Susana Mendoza were all re-elected as well. When the new statewide officers are sworn in on January 14, it will be the first time that Democrats have held all six posts since 2007.


ISBE approves recommendations to expand teacher workforce
The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) approved a set of recommendations first laid out in the Teach Illinois report to help expand and diversify Illinois’ teacher workforce. The recommendations in the report were the result of a year-long study which included data analysis, focus groups and reviews of research conducted at the state and national level. More than 150 public comments were also considered by ISBE in making their recommendations.


Illinois’ ACT scores improved this year
Illinois high schoolers showed a dramatic increase in 2018 in their scores on the ACT exam, one of the nation’s two major college-preparedness tests. Illinois students who took the exam in 2018 averaged a 23.9 score on the test, out of a possible 36. That is an improvement of 2.5 points from the previous year, and puts Illinois students well ahead of the national average, which stands at 20.8.


State Police preparing for spike in concealed carry renewals
Illinois’ concealed carry license law went into effect in July 2013, and now the first of the five-year licenses are coming due for renewal. The Illinois State Police are getting ready for an expected spike in renewal applications.


96% of Illinois K-12 schools connected to high-speed internet
The EducationSuperHighway; a national non-profit which monitors states’ progress in connecting K-12 schools across the United States to high-speed internet; reported some encouraging numbers for Illinois this month. In all, 96 percent of the K-12 school districts in Illinois are able to access the internet at speeds of 100 kbps per student. This figure is up from only 71 percent three years ago. The median bandwidths have also more than doubled since 2015.


Over 500 bills signed from 2018 spring session
Last week the Governor took action on the last of the 612 bills which passed both houses of the legislature this spring. Overall, he signed 529 bills into law and issued a veto on 83. I was proud to have nine bills which I sponsored pass both houses this spring. All nine were signed into law by the Governor.

Employment picture continues to improve
The Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) has announced that the state’s unemployment rate continued its decline, reaching 4.1 percent in August, the lowest figure on record. Jobs are up by more than 47,000 over the year, led by manufacturing, according to the Director of IDES, Jeff Mays.


Illinois forces helping with hurricane response
Soldiers and helicopters from the Illinois National Guard are among those assisting with the disaster recovery following Hurricane Florence in North Carolina. Illinois-based volunteers from the American Red Cross have also been preparing to go to the Carolinas to assist.


Welcome Representative Marron
The 104th district, which borders our 106th district to the southeast, has a new representative. State Representative Mike Marron was sworn in on Friday to the seat vacated by the resignation of Rep. Chad Hays, who had held the seat since 2010.

Weight limit restrictions eased during harvest season
Governor Rauner has signed House Bill 5749, which raises weight-limit restrictions on Illinois highways during harvest time. This is a measure which will help our farmers and those who haul farm products at this busy time of year.


EMS bill signed into law
Governor Rauner has signed into law two more bills which I sponsored this spring, including a bill to better help those having medical emergencies on their way to a hospital. Senate Bill 3255 enhances public safety by allowing Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (ARPN) and Physician Assistants (PA) to practice within the Illinois EMS system as EMS personnel for emergency care before a person reaches a hospital or during non-emergency medical transports, if the ARPN or PA meets certain specified requirements. The legislation creates greater flexibility in the medical system by allowing medically-qualified individuals to utilize their training to help those in need of care who have not yet reached a hospital.


Governor signs Corrections data bill, “pollinator-friendly” legislation
The Governor signed another of my bills late last week, House Bill 4888. Under this legislation, the Department of Corrections (IDOC) is directed to better collect data which can be used by policymakers to reduce violence in state prisons. The better data will help us to understand if current programs for this purpose within IDOC are working. We can make better decisions about the success or failure of violence reduction programs if we have the most accurate and complete information possible about the subject. This new law helps us to collect the information we need to do so.

Governor signs Bennett-sponsored legislation
Four more bills which I sponsored this spring have been signed into law by Governor Rauner. Senate Bill 2713 creates a Greenways and Trails Advisory Council at the state level to serve as Illinois’ advisory council to the federal Recreational Trails Program. The council will help protect and enhance the outdoors experience of Illinoisans. It is also intended to be a forum for public discourse and participation on recreational trails in Illinois. The legislation also clarifies some language about stickers and stamps for off-highway vehicles. Senator Chuck Weaver of Peoria carried this bill in the Senate.


Monster trucks in Ford County
I recently had the chance to visit with Tom Meents and his facilities in Paxton. It is an amazing operation. The visit helped me develop a whole new understanding of monster trucks. They have put together a great team with an impressive focus on safety and details to getting things done right. The facility features a training area where monster truck drivers can learn and excel at their craft. It is a wonderful example of a hard-working entrepreneur in east central Illinois!

Governor Signs Illinois Route 66 Centennial Commission bill into law
Gov. Bruce Rauner signed legislation on Tuesday creating the Illinois Route 66 Centennial Commission. I was an active co-sponsor of the legislation, appropriately numbered House Bill 66.

The commission will develop plans for celebrating the famous road’s 100th anniversary in 2026. Route 66 put Illinois on the national numbered highway network map in the late 1920s as the state became the first to pave the entirety of its share. The creation of the Route 66 Centennial Commission is exciting news for the Livingston County region, as we are the proud home of the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame & Museum in Pontiac.


“Legislator of the Year” Award
I was honored this month to be chosen as the “Legislator of the Year” by the Illinois Association of Agricultural Fairs (IAAF) during a ceremony at the Iroquois County Fair. The IAAF is the statewide association which represents all the county fairs in Illinois.


State Representative Tom Bennett (R-Gibson City) will host a free senior resource fair in Pontiac on Wednesday August 15.

“I encourage seniors and their families to stop by our free event on August 15 to participate in health screenings and pick up information about resources available in the area,” Bennett said.

The resource fair will be at the Pontiac Rec Center, located at 900 N. Elm Street, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. In addition to the health screenings and resource information, there will also be free refreshments and a chance to register for a door prize.

For more information, contact Bennett’s Pontiac office at (815) 844-9179 or visit his website at www.repbennett.com. The fair is being co-hosted by Health Alliance, the Pontiac Chamber and Pontiac Parks and Recreation.
WATSEKA – State Representative Tom Bennett (R-Gibson City) was named “Legislator of the Year” by the Illinois Association of Agricultural Fairs during a ceremony at the Iroquois County Fair.


Patti Bellock named DHFS director
Gov. Rauner has named Patti Bellock as the new director of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services (DHFS). Bellock has served in the Illinois House since 1999. She has established herself as one of the House’s leading experts on Medicaid as well as the health care and social services programs she will oversee as director.


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.