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Update from the Capitol 3/6/2020

Friday, March 06, 2020 - Posted 9:44:29 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.

Protecting downstate communities

One of the most common concerns I hear from constituents has to do with Chicago's dominance of Illinois government. Because so much of the state's leadership comes from the Chicago area, it often seems that those of us who represent downstate communities have a difficult time making our voices heard. During my time in Springfield I have worked hard to ensure that our region's importance to the state as a whole is not overlooked and that downstate communities are protected from overreach by Chicago. This week, that effort took another step forward.

I am part of a team which has introduced a package of bills to protect downstate communities by making sure state government works for all of us, not just one corner of the state. House Bill 5029 would require the specific disclosure of the financial impact of legislation on downstate communities before it could be called for a vote. This was a major concern that was raised last year during the debate on raising the minimum wage to a level Chicago could afford but many downstate communities could not.

House Bill 5030 will make state agencies work harder to address conditions downstate when they make administrative rules or regulations. The third bill in the package, House Bill 5031, seeks to bring more balance to state boards and commissions by requiring the Governor to report to the General Assembly on the geographical distribution of gubernatorial appointees to these important policy-making bodies. Decisions affecting downstate Illinois should be made by people with knowledge of rural communities.

Bill to fight wrongful convictions moving forward

I have been working with Vermilion County State's Attorney Jacqueline Lacy on legislation to extend the statute of limitations for prosecuting those who commit perjury in criminal trials. This week our bill, House Bill 4236, was heard in the House Judiciary-Criminal Law Committee. I am very appreciative of State's Attorney Lacy for bringing this issue to my attention and helping legislators take action.

The bill came as the result of a murder trial where a witness falsely identified a defendant as the killer, but was later found to have lied on the stand. By the time the truth was known, an innocent man had been convicted, the real murderer was still at large, and a local government was the subject of a large legal settlement because of the wrongful conviction. To make matters worse, the person who committed perjury on the stand could not be punished because the statute of limitations on the crime had already expired by the time it became known. Our bill would extend the statute of limitations so that these offenses can be prosecuted and so that innocent defendants will be less likely to be wrongfully convicted.

How much do we owe?

As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $7,424,187,720 in unpaid bills to state vendors. One year ago, the backlog stood at $8.5 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.

Touring Illinois' carbon sequestration facility

A couple of weeks ago I told you about legislation I am sponsoring which would create regulatory rules for the process of carbon sequestration in Illinois. This clean-energy process allows carbon emissions to be pumped deep underground, more than a mile, and stored there to be dissolved, rather than released into the atmosphere where they contribute to global warming. Illinois' unique geology makes our state a good location for this clean energy process. On Monday I invited legislators to tour a carbon sequestration facility already operating in the Decatur area to allow them to hear from experts about what carbon sequestration is and to see how this facility works.

Opposition to new vaccine mandate

Legislation has been introduced in the House which would mandate all students entering sixth grade in Illinois to receive the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, and require confirmation that the student has completed the series of HPV vaccinations upon entering 9th grade. I am opposed to this requirement because HPV is not an easily communicable disease like measles or the flu. I believe a decision on the HPV vaccine is one which is best left to parents.

Speaking out on the ongoing FOID card difficulties

Over the past few months I have heard from numerous people in our area who are having trouble renewing their Firearm Owner Identification (FOID) cards. This week I joined some of my colleagues in the House who spoke out in favor of legislation to address the delays and reduce the cost and the regulations placed on law-abiding gun owners.

The question of whether or not the FOID card is even constitutional is on its way to being addressed by the courts. In the meantime, there are actions we can take to help Illinoisans cut through the bureaucratic red tape which has been slowing down these applications and renewals. Among these bills are House Bill 4447, which would require the State Police to accept a renewal application submitted within 180 days before the FOID card or Concealed Carry License (CCL) expiration date. If a FOID card expires during the term of a CCL, House Bill 4448 would automatically renew the FOID card unless the State Police have a reason to believe the person is no longer eligible. House Bill 4450 spells out specific timelines and processes for an applicant to appeal a denial of a FOID card or a CCL. We also discussed the need for enactment of HJRCA 40, an amendment to the state Constitution to prohibit funds collected for FOID card renewals from being swept away for other purposes.

The bills are currently in the House Rules Committee awaiting action.

Did You Know?

On March 7, 1833, Abraham Lincoln was appointed the postmaster of New Salem, a small settlement just northwest of Springfield, by President Andrew Jackson. Lincoln held many jobs in the small community, including running a general store. He educated himself on the issues of the day by reading the many newspapers which came through the post office. For his work, he was paid $30 a year.