February 13, 2015
What a week for the 38th Senate District! I’ve always said we have the best people in our region. We work hard, have strong values, and help each other succeed. This week proved that as we had several very exciting things happen.
First, I am proud to say my friend and neighbor, and friend and neighbor to many of you, Phil Nelson, was unanimously approved by the Illinois Senate Appointments Committee to lead the Illinois Department of Agriculture. Once the full Senate gives the approval, Phil will officially be the Director of the agency.
Phil is a fourth generation farmer from Seneca, which is one of the biggest reasons he will succeed in his new role. How nice is it to have a farmer leading the Department of Agriculture! Phil has decades of experience in the fields, harvesting his crop, and delivering his yield to the elevator. That, combined with his proven track record of success as the leader of the Illinois Farm Bureau, means Phil will take Illinois agriculture to the next level.
Phil was selected by Governor Bruce Rauner to lead the Illinois Department of Agriculture last month. He served as the Illinois Farm Bureau President from 2003-2013. He also served in roles at the Illinois Soybean Association and LaSalle County Farm Bureau and was Vice President of the American Soybean Association. I know he will represent our farming and energy industries wonderfully because he not only understands the importance of these industries, he lives them. Please join me in congratulating him!
Also, big news for Putnam County and for our district. Communities in and around that area will soon see more jobs with good wages and see a boost to their local economy, thanks to IPS Steel out of Michigan purchasing the old Hennepin Steel Mill. Action on the site is already taking place. This week, there was an on-line public auction for old spare parts, excess tools, etc. That will allow for clean-up and demolition of buildings that have been determined to be inefficient to begin next month.
Cement pads and other valuable infrastructure will remain at the site, including a power station, barge dock, and extensive rail track. Norfolk Southern determined the track in and around the site is in good condition, despite having been not used for years, which should help revitalization at the site move quicker.
It took a lot of work from a number of people to get this site sold and begin the revitalization, and that’s a big reason why it’s so rewarding. The Hennepin Steel Mill was a huge asset for this area before it closed. Now, Hennepin and the communities around this region can look forward to this site becoming an economic and jobs engine again. IPS Steel’s vision for this site is to have multiple businesses sharing all the resources that it has to offer.
This week, we also announced a new initiative to put an emphasis on energy in our district. We are calling the 38th Senate District the “Energy and Chemical Corridor of America.” It's amazing how many energy and chemical producers are in our backyard, supplying millions of people with power at a low cost, employing thousands, and giving school districts, local economies, and the state’s economy a huge boost. I don’t know of any other district in the country that has as many power producers. That’s something we should be proud of as we are looked to as leaders in the energy industry from people across the country.
Over the next few months, I expect we will be announcing expansion projects at different facilities, new energy entities coming to our area, and more jobs coming as well. It’s an exciting time for the 38th District, and we should be very proud we are "The Energy and Chemical Corridor of America."
I hope you have a great weekend!
State Senator Sue Rezin
Top: Sue speaking in favor of Phil Nelson to the Senate Appointments Committee.
Next: Our logo for our District, "The Energy and Chemical Corridor of America."
Bottom: Sue with students from Wilmington High School for the National Honor Society. Congrats to all our students!
Videos on Phil Nelson and our energy and chemical corridor
My testimony in front of the Senate Appointments Committee supporting Phil Nelson as Director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture.
Why our region is what I consider to be "The Energy and Chemical Corridor of America."
Hiring event coming to the 38th Senate District
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Senate Week in Review
Executive Order: Rauner creates commission to study criminal justice system
Saying Illinois is in “desperate need of criminal justice reform,” Gov. Rauner issued an Executive Order Feb. 11 creating a new commission charged with identifying ways to reform the criminal justice system and sentencing laws in the state.
The Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform will study a variety of issues, including incarceration time, early release, prison alternatives and community supervision. Rauner said the thorough examination of the current system will be used to develop strategies to improve public safety and reduce recidivism and prison overcrowding.
Illinois has one of the most crowded prison systems in the country, and the state’s recidivism rate is dangerously high. The Department of Corrections is operating at 150 percent of capacity, while 48 percent of adult inmates and 54 percent of juvenile inmates are returned to the system within three years of release.
Executive Order: “Fair share” dues targeted
On Feb. 9, Gov. Rauner signed an Executive Order preventing public employee unions from collecting mandatory dues from certain employees. Calling them “unfair share” dues, Rauner said there are currently 6,500 state employees who have opted out of the union but are still required to pay dues to help finance certain union activities.
The Executive Order allows state employees who wish not to support government unions’ activities to stop paying the forced fees. It has no impact on those employees who wish to remain paying members of the union and fund union activities out of their paychecks.
The Governor said 29 other states have laws that prohibit government entities from forcing public workers to join or financially support labor organizations.
Rauner has hired a legal team to seek a declaratory judgment in federal court to rule on the constitutionality of fair share dues. Rauner points to a previous Supreme Court ruling on a fair share case, which found the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act violated the First Amendment by forcing certain state home health-care workers to involuntarily pay fees to a labor union despite opting out of the union.
In the interim, the Governor ordered fair share dues from the paychecks of the more than 6,500 employees to be put into an account and held until the courts issue their rulings. Rauner said that money would be returned to those employees if the courts support the Executive Order.
Budget preview: Funding for schools
While Illinois residents wait to hear what Gov. Rauner will propose during his first budget address on Feb. 18, the state’s chief executive says he’s confident schools and other critical programs can be fully funded.
During his State of the State address, Rauner told lawmakers he wants to increase funding for early childhood and K-12 education. The current budget, passed by Democrat lawmakers and signed by former Gov. Pat Quinn, currently “prorates” funding for schools, meaning they only receive 89 percent of the funding they are supposed to receive from the state.
The Governor recently outlined his budget expectations to a group of students at a Springfield High School, saying he is hopeful lawmakers will give him the authority to move money around in the budget to help fund areas that are reaching a breaking point, including daycare programs and the prison system.
Money for court reporters reaching a breaking point
Besides immediate budget concerns for prisons and daycare programs, Illinois could soon run out of money for the state’s court reporters. The Rauner Administration said the state program faces a more than $14 million budget gap, and funds will be exhausted by the end of March. The Rauner Administration says they are working with lawmakers right now to identify a solution to these revenue shortfalls.
Many state programs are running short of money prematurely, due to the Democrat leaders passing a budget that failed to account for the January 2015 phase-out of their 2011 tax hike. This was exacerbated by former Gov. Quinn, who failed to scale back spending during the first half of the budget year. Now, Gov. Rauner and the Legislature are tasked with addressing the budget problems aggravated by former Gov. Quinn’s lack of spending control.
Education funding reform legislation introduced
The ongoing discussion of how to reform Illinois’ education funding system continued during the week, as State Sen. Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington) introduced legislation to change the system for funding schools. Barickman was joined by the education reform alliance known as “Vision 20/20.”
Under Barickman’s proposal, the current education funding formula would be replaced with an evidence-based model. This plan would take into account the needs of every Illinois school district, leading to individual, need-based assessments for each school. Once in place, lawmakers would then have a scalable method to establish funding levels for each district.
The legislation would also require an Evidence-Based Professional Judgment Panel to update a 2015 study completed in 2010 by the Illinois School Finance Adequacy Task Force that already developed an evidence-based model for Illinois. The Panel would also determine the minimal level of state and local funding for each district, and provide recommendations on how to address the state’s neediest districts first, using a multi-year plan to phase in the adequacy model in an equitable manner. They would need to submit an updated study by Dec. 1, 2015.
The “Vision 20/20” model could be implemented over time by first targeting low-income school districts and implementing best practices as additional funding becomes available. The group is advocating for the proposal to be implemented for the 2016?2017 school year and includes a hold?harmless provision that ensures that no district would fall below state funding levels for the 2014?2015 school year. There would also be adjustments for factors like poverty, transportation, support services employees, and other costs.