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Update from the Capitol 2/7/2020

Friday, February 07, 2020 - Posted 10:15:09 AM by Rep. Tom Bennett

As always, you can reach me through the contact form at, or by phone at (815) 432-0106 (Watseka) or (815) 844-9179 (Pontiac). Thank you for the honor of serving as our district's representative in Springfield.

Investigation of the Automatic Voter Registration program

A few weeks ago we learned that Illinois' Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) program had made a serious error in registering potential voters. The AVR program registers eligible individuals to vote when they conclude certain contracts with the state, the most common of which is obtaining a driver license. But in recent months, the troubled program has demonstrated an alarming inability to recognize those who may legally obtain a driver license but may not legally register to vote.

It has been discovered that more than 4500 teenagers were allowed to begin the registration process, even though they were not yet old enough to legally register and vote. This followed the revelation that more than 500 non-citizens were registered last year. A small number of these individuals actually cast ballots. House Republicans demanded an immediate investigation, and also called for the glitch-plagued AVR program to be suspended while the investigation is underway. So far this action has not been taken. The House Executive Committee held a hearing into the matter on Wednesday, less than six weeks before the primary election. Officials from the Secretary of State's office blamed the faulty registrations on a "programming error."

Coronavirus cases in Illinois, DPH says risk remains low

A second case of coronavirus was detected in Illinois early this week. The first was a Chicago woman who had recently traveled to Wuhan, China, the hardest-hit site of the outbreak. The new case reported this week was the traveler's husband, who had been in close contact with her after she became ill. The Illinois Department of Public Health is continuing to advise Illinoisans that "the risk of this novel coronavirus to the general public in Illinois remains low."

While the coronavirus outbreak has garnered much attention in the past few weeks, it is important to remember that the seasonal flu remains a more widespread illness in Illinois. Many of the strategies for avoiding catching coronavirus are the same as those a person would use to protect against more common illnesses. During February's cold and flu season, we are all reminded to wash hands often, using soap and water, for at least 20 seconds. Everyone should also avoid touching their eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands and avoid close contact with people who are sick.

How much do we owe?

As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $6,688,154,275 in unpaid bills to state vendors. One year ago, the backlog stood at $7.8 billion. 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 subject to a wide range of factors and has been estimated to be more than $137 billion.

Need for ethics reform remains clear

Every few weeks it seems like we hear about another example of the need for ethics reform in the General Assembly, and this past week proved to be no different. On Friday we learned that a former state representative was accused by an employee of sexual harassment, stalking and intimidation, and that the investigation may have been mishandled.

This comes one week after a former state senator pled guilty to bribery charges and a former state representative was formally charged with bribery in a separate investigation. He pled not guilty.

We have to pass meaningful legislation to clean up state government, including my bill to prohibit legislators from becoming lobbyists until they have been out of office for at least two years. Many sensible ethics reforms have been proposed, and Governor Pritzker has expressed his agreement that we need to fix this system. I hope that Speaker Madigan will allow these reform bills to be considered and passed in this session.

State Police testify on DNA backlog

State Police director Brendan Kelly reported during a committee hearing that the State Police have reduced their sizable backlog of DNA testing kits by 16% since being appropriated additional funds in the state budget to do so. The delays in processing these genetic evidence kits have the potential to hinder the prosecutions of serious crimes, including criminal sexual assault.

The State Police have been able to hire additional chemists and technicians to pick up the pace at which they conduct the testing of these evidence kits. The agency's leaders also warned that while law enforcement's enhanced ability to find matches between crime-scene evidence and perpetrators has been providing prosecutors which gold-standard evidence, they are concerned that the portrayal in entertainment programs of what they call "impossible" triumphs in DNA technology have created unrealistically high expectations for what DNA investigations can currently deliver.

Support for youth center in Gilman

I had a great time with Ray Smith and his team of volunteers, as well as the more than 70 youth they serve at The Garage in Gilman. It is a great place for kids to come, play games and socialize with each other under adult supervision. A few months ago I pledged to you that I would not keep a salary increase which was given to state legislators this year, and so this month I donated my raise to The Garage to support their good work. It appears that a chunk of the donation went to pay for the kids' pizza the night I was there! It was a fun visit and I love their enthusiasm.

Did You Know?

February 10 is the birthday of the Illinois Central Railroad, which was chartered on that date in 1851. The line connected Illinois' northern and southern tips, and took five years to complete. The railroads were responsible for much of Illinois' growth in the years before and just after the Civil War, as the state became a magnet for new settlers and the rail crossroads of the nation.