Honoring our Nation’s Veterans – A brief history of Veterans Day
The State of Illinois closed its offices on Friday, November 10th in observance of Veterans Day. This week, I was honored to participate in ceremonies in Waltonville and Woodlawn to commemorate the day of remembrance. In the United States, we observe both Memorial Day and Veterans Day. You may be unfamiliar with the differences between the two days, so I want to take this opportunity to share a brief bit information that I found while researching Veterans Day this week.
While those who died are also remembered, Veterans Day is the day set aside to thank and honor ALL those who served honorably in the military – in wartime or peacetime. In fact, Veterans Day is largely intended to thank LIVING veterans for their service, to acknowledge that their contributions to our national security are appreciated, and to underscore the fact that all those who served – not only those who died – have sacrificed and done their duty.
I want to also say a sincere THANK YOU to all who have served. Please join me and thank a veteran that you meet today!
Veto Session Wrap Up
The second week of Veto Session 2017 ended with a flourish of activity on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. Let’s get right to it.
Addressing Sexual Harassment in the Capitol
Many of you are probably aware that there have been a lot of news reports that have focused on the issue of sexual harassment in Springfield. A female lobbyist even appeared in a committee hearing last week and directly accused a sitting State Senator of sexual harassment and inappropriate use of power to stop her legislation from moving forward.
After more than a week of rumors, speculation, and news reports regarding multiple complaints of unethical behavior by legislators and their staffs, action to address these issues began taking place.
For example, last Saturday, the four legislative leaders filled the vacant Office of the Legislative Inspector General with former Federal prosecutor Julie Porter. As the Legislative Inspector General, she is charged with investigating claims of unethical and inappropriate behavior by legislators and their staffs. That’s a good thing for Illinois government. The office was vacant for way too long. It shouldn’t have taken a sexual harassment crisis to get the Speaker to agree to appoint someone to investigate claims of wrongdoing in State government, but now that we have someone in place we should expect to see movement to clean up a backlog of cases that include more than 2 dozen complaints.
I also voted Yes on SB 402, a sweeping package of new regulations that seek to address the issue of sexual harassment by legislators and their staffs. The bill will establish a confidential hotline for individuals that wish to file reports of sexual harassment. The toll-free number will be run by the Illinois Department of Human Rights and will help connect people to counseling services and advice on filing complaints with the proper authorities. It will be open to state employees, as well as residents who work in the private sector. The bill also requires legislators and their staffs to take yearly sexual harassment training. I myself participated in a training held on Wednesday for Republican lawmakers.
It is my hope that the actions taken this week, in addition to the massive amount of attention on the issue of sexual harassment will help to change the culture in Springfield so that victims of this type of behavior no long have to live in the shadows with no recourse.
Comptroller Begins to Pay Down Illinois’ Massive Bill Backlog
This week, Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza announced that she will be using proceeds from Illinois’ recent General Obligation bond sale to begin paying down a major portion of the state’s current $16.7 billion backlog. It is critical to note that this action will stop the clock on a mountain of interest payments accruing on Illinois’ late bills, some dating back as far as 2015.
The bills will be prioritized by those bills eligible for federal matching funds first in order to maximize the revenues available from the $6 billion bond sale. This action will significantly reduce the state’s record bill backlog and end the accrual of interest penalties which in some cases are as high as 12%.
The state owes an estimated $900 million in late payment interest penalties on its bill backlog. The bond sale effectively refinances future interest costs on the state’s existing debt, saving taxpayers billions of dollars over the next decade. There is still a long, hard road ahead of us, but this is a vital first step toward smart planning for FY2019 and beyond.
In total, the Office of the Comptroller expects to receive about $6.48 billion in bond proceeds, including a $480 million premium from the sale on top of the $6 billion initially offered, an indicator of the strong market demand for the bonds.
About $2.5 billion will be spent immediately on unpaid medical bills and close to $4 billion will be used to pay down unpaid state health insurance claims owed to medical providers in the coming days. Over the next several weeks, an additional $2 billion in federal matching funds will be applied to state medical bills.
Through the use of federal matching funds, it is expected this will turn a $6.48 billion bond offering into a nearly $9 billion investment which will help our state’s struggling healthcare system and medical providers, who in recent years have had to turn to third parties for loans just to stay afloat.
Governor Declares Harvest Emergency
Early this week, Governor Rauner declared a statewide harvest emergency to assist farmers and grain handlers who are struggling to deal with the delays caused by recent heavy rains.
Moving corn and other crops in a timely and efficient manner affects the bottom line of hard-working farmers. This declaration is an appropriate response to an urgent need and I applaud the Governor for taking this action.
The declaration permits drivers of trucks carrying agricultural commodities over state highways to obtain a free permit to exceed gross vehicle weight limits by 10 percent. Local authorities may also waive the permit requirement at their discretion. The emergency declaration is in effect for 45 days beginning November 5th.
The Illinois Department of Transportation already is mobilizing the permitting process and notifying law enforcement agencies throughout the state. More information is available at https://truckpermits.dot.illinois.gov
Voting YES on Property Tax Relief
On Wednesday, I voted YES on legislation that would provide much-needed property tax relief to Illinois homeowners. Senate Bill 851 would provide property tax relief and level the playing field with Cook County when it comes to property taxes. High property taxes are among the biggest concerns of working families and seniors in my district. I hear from folks all the time demanding relief.
Senate Bill 851 puts Southern Illinois on a more level playing field with Cook County by increasing the senior homestead exemption to $8,000 and the general homestead exemption to $10,000 statewide. It also allows voters in Downstate counties the flexibility to choose whether or not they wish to enact a two-year property tax freeze.
I was proud to support legislation that will provide real property tax relief to my constituents and treat all homeowners fairly. Senate Bill 851 passed the Illinois House Wednesday on a vote of 75-32-1 and was sent back to the Illinois Senate for final action. If the Senate concurs with the House amendment, the bill will be sent to Governor Rauner for his signature.