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Update from the Capitol 3/13/2020

Friday, March 13, 2020 - Posted 9:38:44 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.

Legislators briefed on coronavirus developments in Illinois

State and local health officials have been working overtime to protect the public from the coronavirus (also known as COVID-19) outbreak, and they recently gave state legislators a briefing on their efforts. This week saw the confirmation of additional coronavirus cases in Illinois. The Department of Public Health (IDPH) has opened labs in Springfield, Carbondale and Chicago to allow the state to speed up testing and improve monitoring of the illness should it spread. But as more testing is done, it is likely more cases will be detected and reported.

On Monday, Governor Pritzker issued a disaster proclamation which makes additional state resources available should they be needed. We have seen many closures, cancellations and other restrictions put in place to slow the spread of the illness. The Attorney General is also warning Illinoisans about e-mail and social media scams related to the virus.

According to an update on Wednesday from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) "for most people, the immediate risk of being exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19 is thought to be low. There is not widespread circulation in most communities in the United States." The update goes on to explain which groups of people the CDC thinks are at "elevated risk" for exposure, such as healthcare workers and close contacts of persons with the illness, as well as travelers returning from overseas locations where the illness is more widespread.

IDPH and the CDC continue to remind Illinoisans to protect themselves from coronavirus the same way they should already be protecting themselves from more widespread illnesses like the flu: wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, clean and disinfect frequently-touched objects and surfaces, avoid close contact with people who are sick, and refrain from touching your eyes, nose and mouth. If a person is sick, that person should stay home except to get medical care and should cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.

More information is available and is being frequently updated by IDPH at and the CDC at IDPH also has established a coronavirus hotline to answer questions: that number is 1-800-889-3931 or via e-mail at I have also posted a link to this information on my website at

Two bills advance, one does not

Two more of my bills advanced out of committee last week, but one other bill will not be going forward.

House Bills 4562 and 4563 both passed the Judiciary-Civil Committee last week. They have to do with the rights of Illinoisans who have a guardian to help manage their affairs. HB 4562 would require a guardian to consider the preferences of a person, also known as a ward, to the extent that the ward has the ability to participate in decision-making when those preferences are known or reasonably ascertainable by the guardian. HB 4563 has to do with the processes for petitioning for the temporary appointment of a guardian for a disabled person. Both bills now advance to the House floor for further discussion.

Sometimes, passing a bill into law is the only answer to a perceived need, but other times it is better if we can find another way to resolve the underlying issue without making a permanent change to state law. I am glad to report that this is exactly what happened in response to the issue I sought to address with a bill I introduced this spring. House Bill 4342 would have changed state law to allow long-term care facilities to provide an opioid treatment program if they receive written approval from the Department of Public Health. It would have set up a process for a facility to use empty beds to treat persons in the community suffering from opioid addiction.

Once the bill was filed, all the interested parties had time to review it and study the situation a little closer. After doing so, we came to an understanding that with only a few minor changes in processes and information sharing, facilities can work together with state agencies to offer this kind of treatment, without needing a permanent change to the law. I was glad that the introduction of this legislation helped bring people together to find common ground. It is not often that a legislator is pleased to have a bill stop moving forward, but this is one of those cases.

How much do we owe?

As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $7,037,466,449 in unpaid bills to state vendors. One year ago, the backlog stood at $8.3 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.

Busy week for ag

Last weekend I spoke at the Livingston County Farm Bureau's legislative breakfast. It was a good opportunity to visit and provide a Springfield update, as well as hear what is on the minds of the attendees. It capped off a week of much activity between the agricultural sector and the legislature.

FFA students and members of 4-H from all over the 106th district and throughout Illinois visited the Capitol for their annual lobby day. I always enjoy meeting with these groups of students who represent the future of Illinois' largest industry. We had a series of good discussions about public policy in general and the needs of Illinois agriculture. My thanks to the students and to the sponsors of these organizations in our local communities for all that they do!

Illinois has the 2nd highest property taxes in the nation

I know it sounds like a broken record, but a new study has found that Illinois has the nation's second-highest property taxes. This survey came from the consumer finance website WalletHub, and it determined that Illinois trails only New Jersey in high property taxes. The study found that the average taxes on a $205,000 property in Illinois were around $4700. In Indiana or Kentucky, that same piece of property would be taxed at $1760. This is one of the key reasons why we continue to lag behind our neighboring states in job creation and retention. It should be a top priority for state policymakers this legislative session.

Did You Know?

Baseball season is just around the corner, and March 14 marks an important date for Cubs fans. It was on that date in 1914 that Wrigley Field was completed. The park at Clark and Addison was then called Weegham Park, and was home not to the Cubs but to the Chicago Whales of the short-lived Federal League. The Cubs moved in a year later in 1915 and have called it home ever since.