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Update from the Capitol 3/9/2018

Friday, March 09, 2018 - Posted 10:00:10 AM by Rep. Tom Bennett
As always, you can contact me via webform at, or by phone at (815) 844-9179 (Pontiac) or (815) 432-0106 (Watseka).

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.

Severe Weather Preparedness Month

The recent flooding in Iroquois and Vermilion Counties demonstrated the importance of being prepared for severe weather. March is Severe Weather Preparedness Month in Illinois, and the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) is partnering with local emergency managers to promote awareness of severe weather and ways which Illinoisans can protect themselves.

One piece of equipment which can be vital in a severe weather emergency is a weather alert radio. IEMA is sponsoring a contest on its website for Illinois residents to enter to win one of 100 weather alert radios. This contest, called "Weather Alert Radios Save Lives" will be open until March 31.

IEMA is also offering a series of safety tips for severe weather. Among them are a reminder to never drive across a flooded roadway as water can be deeper than it looks or flowing fast enough to cause you to lose control of your vehicle. Have an emergency kit on hand with such essentials as a flashlight and fresh batteries, nonperishable food and water, a first aid kit and more. For more information on severe weather preparedness, visit

How much do we owe?

As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $9,261,534,247 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.

Executive Mansion to re-open July 14

A couple of blocks east of the Capitol building is the Illinois Executive Mansion, the 1850s-era capital city home of our chief executive and also an important element of Illinois' Abraham Lincoln heritage. The mansion has been closed to the public for more than two years so that it could undergo major, privately-financed reconstruction work. The building, which was first inhabited in 1855, had become run down over many years of use and deferred maintenance. The last cycle of renovation took place in 1972.

But now the end of that renovation is in sight. The Illinois Governor's Mansion Association has announced that the building will reopen on July 14. The Association has overseen the $15 million in reconstruction work, which has helped to address a series of urgent livability and structural issues affecting the site. The extensive renovations include the installation of a new roof, a new heating/air conditioning system, and modifications to make it fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Visitors to Springfield will once again be able to take guided tours of the mansion, starting at a new visitor center.

The newly-reopened mansion will house several temporary art exhibits that concentrating on Illinois' history and heritage. The first will be a feature on Chicago's 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. Highlights of the exhibit will include information about the first of two "World's Fairs" held in Illinois, an event that became legendary for the introduction of America's first Midway and the Ferris wheel.

The renovation was funded from private donations.

Illinois EPA releases draft plan for Volkswagen settlement

Back in 2015, Volkswagen was accused of massive air quality evasion. The company has been found to have knowingly installed deceptive diesel-powered-vehicle emissions monitoring software in some of its vehicles. As a result of this misconduct, last April Volkswagen was ordered to pay a $14.8 billion criminal fine as part of an overall criminal settlement. From this fine, $2.8 billion will be distributed to the 50 states.

Illinois' initial share of the fine will just over $100 million. Under the terms of the settlement, each state must use the funds to mitigate its air quality status. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) will be charged with deciding how this money is to be used. The IEPA has developed a draft Beneficiary Mitigation Plan for public review. This plan is not yet a final document, and public comment on the draft will be accepted until April 13, 2018. One key part of the draft plan includes matching-funds grants to be for private-sector entities that are willing to put up some of their own money to reduce the emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx emissions) from machinery units on the motor vehicles and properties they own or operate.

STEM Fusion Campaign launched

Lieutenant Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti, Deputy Governor Leslie Munger, and leaders from the Illinois Math and Science Academy have launched the three-year Illinois Bicentennial STEM Fusion Campaign. The new project will create enhanced teacher professional development opportunities and student STEM enrichment programs to participants in 25 selected schools across Illinois. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

The STEM Fusion Campaign continues the tradition of Illinois' heritage in mathematics education. One of the first bills passed by the Illinois General Assembly in our first year of statehood, 1818, was legislation to set aside a set percentage of the state's frontier land in each township as seed money for a public school system to teach English and math. In total, one-thirty-sixth of the new state's unsettled farmland was set aside for this purpose. Some Illinoisans may still remember hearing that a square mile near their home was once a "school section."

The program will be aimed at students in grades 4-8 to encourage them to study math and science so that they may be better prepared for careers in medicine, education, technology or business. Interested schools may apply through a link on the Bicentennial website.

Did You Know?

Ground was broken on the Illinois State Capitol building on March 11, 1868. The building, at Second and Monroe Streets in Springfield, is the sixth state capitol building in Illinois history. The legislature first moved into the building in 1877, but overall it took 20 years to complete construction, with the finishing touches not in place until 1888.