Let me first begin by wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! I hope the holidays are a great and relaxing time and you have a wonderful 2019!
Looking back on 2018, it was good to finally see Illinois pass a budget that didn’t include tax increases. That said, the lack of reforms is beyond frustrating because it’s costing our state and our future substantially. We must put laser focus on enacting changes that will create jobs, boost the economy, offer real property tax reform, pay down the state’s backlog of bills, and keep our families living and working in Illinois!
So while I have frustrations over some important things that didn’t occur last year, I want to focus on the still plenty of accomplishments we should all be proud of from 2018. These may not have grabbed the headlines, but they are certainly wins for our district and our state.
The issues on this list I couldn’t have done without the support of you and the constituents of the 38th Senate District. So, thank you for your support, helping me craft legislation, and educating me on issues that make our area a better place to live, work, and raise a family.
Education: An historic, fair, and equitable bi-partisan education funding reform package was signed into law in 2017 which allowed schools in 2018 to rightfully gain more critical resources to provide for more opportunities for their students. The budget I supported and passed fully funds ($350 million) the new K-12 Education evidence-based funding formula, resulting in more financial support for schools and reducing reliance on local property taxes this year.
Higher Education: For far too long, Illinois has rapidly lost students to colleges and universities outside of the state. I am proud the General Assembly took an aggressive approach with new laws that will help keep students here. That includes:
- Starting in 2019-2020, student advising will be enhanced to prevent duplicative or unnecessary course work that adds to tuition costs and the Illinois Board of Higher Education and Illinois Community College Board will develop policies to encourage reverse transfer credits for students at colleges and universities (this law is designed to help make college more affordable).
- MAP grant awards will change from being given annually to every four years. The problem before is that schools outside Illinois could guarantee four-year financial aid packages and students in Illinois had to apply again and again every year. Making this change canbe a game-changer, allowing Illinois to compete equally.
- K-12 and higher education will now have better coordination of information sharing between them to help families better understand the options available to students to further their education.
- The budget created the AIM HIGH Grant Pilot Program to encourage access and affordability for universities through this new merit-based scholarship. It’s funded by $25 million from the state and a matching $25 million from universities to help retain Illinois students. This helps middle class parents access affordable higher education in Illinois and targets the current “brain-drain” in Illinois.
Flooding:In February, our Illinois Valley Flood Resiliency Alliance (IVFRA) proved yet again to be a game changer for those who live along the Illinois and Fox Rivers. Everything that we planned for in the past several years came together incredibly well, allowing communities along the rivers to communicate in ways they previously never did. Our IVFRA also continues to gain more statewide exposure, this year at the Upper Mississippi River Conference in Moline. The IVFRA is a model other regions of the state and the country should adopt. It allows our communities a better chance at staying dry.
Stormwater Issues:All counties in Illinois will be able to establish stormwater commissions that can adopt plans and ordinances under a new law I sponsored. Very few counties in the state have this ability right now. For our district, we need better tools to address flooding issues and stormwater mitigation. This new law will help. For example, Bureau, Livingston, and Putnam Counties do not have a county stormwater commission. Under this law, they could vote to have a commission. In a recent report, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources found that over 92 percent of flood damage claims they reviewed were outside of any floodplain.
Water Bills:This year, I sponsored and pushed hard for legislation that was aimed at preventing unjustified water rate increases for American Water customers. The legislation would have capped at 2.5 percent each year water rate increases for American Water customers and private water companies. I hear from constituents all the time about their “sticker shock” to their sky-high water bills. Unfortunately, the legislation didn’t move, but I hope it starts a conversation and puts these private water companies on notice.
Local Jobs:Last year, I told you about how the Illinois Valley is now more competitive in bringing new jobs and new investment to the area thanks to the activation of an enterprise zone for the region. Now, we are really seeing the fruits of that. 16 companies in places like Peru, Mendota, Yorkville, Montgomery, Utica, Oswego, Batavia, St. Charles, LeLand, and LaSalle are investing in those communities and a big reason is because of the enterprise zone. All that that translates into more than 1,500 jobs for our region. That is great news!
Robo-calls:I co-sponsored legislation this year that would help reduce unwanted robo-calls, the number one complaint to the Federal Trade Commission. Robo-calls are annoying, frustrating, and they seem to never end. It’s time we beef up our laws on this issue to protect consumers from this unwanted practice. My hope is we can move this legislation next year.
Opioid Epidemic:This is a major problem across the state and nation, and our region is no different. I am pleased several new laws were signed into law that could help curb this epidemic. This includes a new law that allowsindividuals who have been prescribed opioids the option to use medical marijuana to treat their pain; requiring licensed prescribers of controlled substances to complete three hours of continuing education on safe-opioid-prescribing practices prior to renewing their prescription license; and the creation of the Community-Law Enforcement Partnership for Deflection and Addiction Treatment Act, facilitating a partnership between law enforcement and licensed substance abuse service providers to address the crisis.
Future Leaders:In October, I continued my Youth Advisory Council, where we hosted dozens of high school students from across the 38th Senate District in this unique, hands-on experience in public policy, state government, and leadership. This is one of my favorite experiences of the year because I get to meet so many incredible, hardworking, and enthusiastic young people. In the spring, the students will come visit me and experience the Statehouse.
Keeping Local Talent Local:The Grundy County Summer Internship Program continued again this year with tremendous success. Dozens of students were selected after interviews, interning at several area companies. In 2013, I teamed up with the Grundy Economic Development Council and the Grundy Area Vocational Center and several area businesses to provide students in Grundy County real world experience, with the end goal of keeping local talent local.
Honoring Local Veterans:This year, I sponsored and passed legislation that will make theRoute 23 Bridge in Streator that spans the Vermilion River the "Vietnam Veteran Michael W. Ragusa Memorial Bridge.” Ragusa was born in Streator in 1948. While in the Marines, he was deployed to Vietnam. For 35 years, he worked for the Disabled American Veterans of Illinois.
Honoring All Veterans:In November, the Senate Republican Caucus teamed up with the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs to display the names, photos, and faces of Illinois veterans from across the state on the “Honor Wall” inside the Capitol. We had several tributes of veterans from our district. To all our veterans, thank you!
District Coffee and Conversations:This past year, I hosted several Coffee and Conversation events across the district. These are casual events were constituents come to visit and talk to me, ask questions, and offer their thoughts and suggestions.
Concealed Carry Help:Just a reminder that my district offices in Morris and Peru can help those in the 38th Senate District apply for a concealed carry license. Just schedule an appointment!
These are just a handful of legislative and district oriented accomplishments I am proud of from 2018. I look forward to working with you in 2019!
Thanks for all your help in making our region a great place to live, work, and raise a family!