House back in Springfield; Public safety working group meets

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.



Four of my bills made it out of committee this year. They included House Bill 5627, which helps address our teacher shortage through such measures as creating reciprocity for a teacher with an out-of-state teaching license to teach in Illinois, or someone with a valid Illinois Professional Educator License to substitute teach without having to get a separate substitute teacher license. Another is House Bill 4396 which requires the Department of Corrections to file a quarterly report about all violent assaults on staff and the use of force by staff on inmates. Two more bills which passed committee deal with the law governing guardians of adults with disabilities. House Bill 4686 would prevent an employee of an agency that is directly providing residential services to the disabled adult to be appointed as guardian. House Bill 4687 allows more family members to petition for visitation rights.

The appropriations committees also continued their work, including the Elementary and Secondary Education funding committee on which I sit. We heard from representatives of several state agencies and state-funded programs about their funding needs for the fiscal year that begins on July 1. We need to have a budget passed and enacted by then, and under our state Constitution it needs to be balanced.

To try and move this process along, Rep. Jim Durkin, our House Republican leader, wrote to Speaker Madigan late last week to remind him of the urgency of the need to pass “a truly balanced budget that is sincere, bipartisan and realistic.” Governor Rauner met with the four legislative leaders Thursday to lay out his goals for balancing the budget this year.

Leader Durkin stated that this needs to begin with the adoption of a revenue estimate: a formal statement of how much money we expect to have to work with when putting together the budget. Leader Durkin expressed his hope (with which I agree) that this will be the year that Speaker Madigan engages with Republicans in a truly bipartisan budget-making effort. We are scheduled to be in session until May 31. Passing a bipartisan, balanced budget should be our number one priority.

Legislative Public Safety Working Group holds first meeting
A bipartisan group of legislators from the House and the Senate met with Governor Rauner’s Chief of Staff late last week in the first meeting of the new Legislative Public Safety Working Group. This group was created earlier this year to develop ideas for making our schools and other public spaces safer. We will be looking at issues such as mental health, school safety, illegal trafficking of guns and more general issues of crime prevention.

It was a good first meeting, which focused mostly on school safety. We heard some recommendations from a group of school administrators and first responders. These ideas covered a wide range: everything from better procedures for fire alarms to behavioral threat assessments and creating a tip line for students to use when they have information about threats to student safety.

We will continue to meet through the spring and for as long as is necessary to adopt better policies to keep our public places safe. I believe we can come together and find some common ground to protect Illinoisans and respect the rights of the law-abiding while doing so. This won’t be an easy task, but this first meeting left me with the impression that there is a real desire on all sides to get something positive done.

How much do we owe? 
As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $7,999,041,030 in unpaid bills to state vendors. 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 estimated to be more than $100 billion.

Comptroller releases first installment of new school funding payments
On Tuesday the Comptroller’s office released $350 million in funding for schools, the first installment of funds to be allocated under the new evidence-based funding model which we passed into law last summer. As additional payments are vouchered by the Illinois State Board of Education, they will be processed on the 10th and 20th of April, May and June. Under this schedule, by the time the fiscal year ends on June 30, all of the Fiscal Year 2018 payments authorized by the new school funding formula will have been made.

More information on the distribution of the funds, including a statewide breakdown by district is available on the Illinois State Board of Education’s website.

Task force urges state to consider major rebuilding of Quincy Veterans Home
The state-run Quincy Veterans Home has been the site of a series of deaths of veterans due to a Legionnaires disease outbreak. Since then, several state agencies have been working to determine the best course of action for cleaning up the facility and protecting its residents. The over 100-year-old facility provides quality-of-life residential care, including specialized nursing care, for Illinois veterans.

A task force is investigating the long-term future of the facility. One key problem related to the water-borne illness is that the home has an antiquated plumbing system. Preliminary findings of the task force’s investigation have asked the state to consider completely rebuilding the historic facility, at a cost of $278 million. That amount would construct a state-of-the-art nursing facility space for a diverse resident population. The investigation is ongoing and the task force will finalize its findings and recommendations no later than May 1.

Did You Know?
State Representative Abraham Lincoln was twice defeated by William L.D. Ewing in bids to become Speaker of the Illinois House. In addition to being Speaker of the House, Ewing had also served as Governor for 15 days, finishing the last few days of Governor John Reynolds’ term after Reynolds resigned to take a seat in Congress. Ewing also served as Lieutenant Governor and was a U.S. Senator.

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