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State Representative Brian Stewart (R-Freeport) gathered with law enforcement agencies from around Northwest Illinois on Wednesday as part of his annual legislative advisory meeting. Rep. Stewart shared last years legislative efforts in reforming law enforcement along with answering questions about the new body camera regulations.

Law enforcement agencies in attendance shared their concerns with current laws and discussed possible new legislation to help ensure citizen safety.
Suddenly reasonable is not enough 

For months, opposition to change here in Springfield has called for “reasonable” discussions and compromise surrounding the budgetary process.  It’s clear by the actions taken during session this past week, with a compromise very much on the table, that majority Democrats in the House have absolutely no intention of compromising.

I have maintained throughout the entire budget impasse that compromise is essential to changing the direction our state is on.  This week the Rauner Administration compromised on several issues.

The first, Governor Rauner acted in good faith to restore eligibility for the overwhelming majority of families receiving child care assistance.  Compromised language supported by the Governor brings CCAP eligibility up to 162 percent of the federal poverty level.  This is a reasonable compromise that protects child care for hard working families, while at the same time holding the line on spending.

Secondly, Governor Rauner announced that the Determination of Need (DON) Score used to determine eligibility for long-term care will be not increasing.  Instead, the State will use the existing DON Score of 29 to ensure the elderly and most vulnerable citizens receive appropriate care.

Lastly, with the State now in the fifth month of Fiscal Year 2016 without an approved budget in place, many important appropriations have been left in limbo.  HB 4305 would provide the appropriation authority necessary to distribute motor fuel tax receipts to local governments. These funds are vitally important to municipalities and townships for local road projects and public safety.  The Governor urged passage of legislation to appropriate MFT, 9-1-1 services, police training and additional public safety funds, which the House passed with bipartisan support, 115-1-1, while in session on Tuesday.

While there are plenty of Representatives on the other side of the aisle that believe compromise and bipartisanship must be upheld in order to solve the fiscal woes of Illinois, they showed their true agenda this past week, politics.  The compromise was accomplished without the need of legislation, which is how things should be done, but for political reasons was still called for a vote.

It was honor an to deliver the keynote address for the Veterans Day Celebration at Blackhawk School.  I’d like to especially thank Sheriff Snyders, the Air-One Coalition Crew Nick Miller, Bob Eldridge and Jim Norton as they provided me a safe flight to the event via helicopter after a brief fly-around of Freeport.  Upon arrival the students burst out chanting “USA” and the tribute to the veterans was underway.  The 333rd Military Police Company was also on site to allow students to look at their Humvees and view the helicopter flight and landing.

The program was organized by Jeff Lehman, Principal Stacey Kleindl, and Committee Chair Peggy Tell.  All were absolutely outstanding.  I want to congratulate the faculty, parents and students of the school as well.  Most importantly, a special "Thanks" for their service to all the veterans who attended.  It was a very special tribute and honor to all veterans!

Remembering the sacrifices that the men and women of this country have endured to protect our freedoms is vital in understanding the very freedoms we possess.  Father Dennis Edward O'Brien, USMC, said it best by stating "It is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press.  It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech.  It is the soldier, not the organizer, who gave us the freedom to demonstrate.  It is the soldier, who salutes the flag, who serves beneath the flag.  And whose coffin is draped by the flag, who allows the protester to burn the flag."

As always, you can reach me or Sally at 815/232-0774 or email us at You can also visit my website at or follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus.

 Standing Firm for the Future

When are you going to pass a budget? That is the number one question my office receives on a daily basis.  I have spoken with many people who have been directly affected by this political process.  The most vulnerable citizens in Illinois have been used as political pawns to put pressure on legislators to give up on changing Illinois for the better.  People who do not have a voice are being told there is no money to help take care of their specific needs until a budget is passed.

I hear them even if they feel like they are not being heard.  The legislation that is being brought forth for a vote to “help” these people and programs is a political trap set by House Speaker Madigan.  If it was not a trap, then the Democrat supermajority would have already appropriated for these services.  Neither Governor Rauner nor the super party controls the legislative agenda or has the power to call legislation for a vote.  Even though they have a supermajority in both chambers and could end this impasse tomorrow, they choose not to.

Why? It’s not because Governor Rauner wants “non-budgetary” items passed first, which they say are budget related however the Governor has already dropped almost all issues except for a few.  It’s because House Speaker Madigan wants to show Governor Rauner who is in charge.  Plus, Speaker Madigan is going to need a massive tax increase to help cover a portion of his budget that spends $4 billion more than state revenues.  Add another $2 billion in spending for a delayed budget and now we are going to have to make dramatic cuts as well.

This delayed budget has had other harmful effects on Illinois finances.  Comptroller Leslie Munger told Illinoisans two weeks ago that the State’s unpaid bills, in the absence of budgeted appropriations for FY16, have reached $6.9 billion.  Based on the assumption that no significant changes will alter current trends, the State’s backlog of unpaid bills will be about $8.5 billion by December 31, 2015. What has this done to Illinois’ credit rating? Fitch Ratings, whose credit ratings are closely watched by Wall Street and the global investment community, reduced Illinois’ “general obligation” (GO) bond rating from single-A-minus, the former ranking, to one notch closer to junk-bond status on Monday, October 19.  The new BBB+ rating is only two notches above the lowest investment-grade rating (BBB-) and is three notches above BB+, which signals non-investment-grade (“junk bond”) status.  Illinois’ GO bond rating is the lowest among the 50 states.

Following Fitch’s downgrade, Moody’s Investor Services downgraded its ratings on Illinois bonds. Moody’s downgraded Illinois outstanding $27 billion of GO bonds to Baa1 from A3, while also lowering ratings on the state’s sales-tax (Build Illinois) bonds to Baa1 from A3, and on the state’s subject to appropriation bonds to Baa2 from Baa1.  The outlook for all of these obligations remains negative.

Even worse, Moody’s reduced credit ratings for six State universities last week.  The downgrades reduced the credit ratings of, and increased the interest rates due and payable by, six Illinois universities.  The affected institutions were Eastern Illinois University (EIU), Governors State University (GSU), Northern Illinois University (NIU), Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU), Southern Illinois University (SIU), and Western Illinois University (WIU).  The New York-based credit rating firm attributed the decision to the budget turmoil facing Illinois.

However, some movement has been made between the four leaders.  Governor Rauner will chair a public meeting with legislative leaders on Nov. 18.  We should be meeting every day until we have a budget, but some progress is better than none.  The meeting is expected to examine the delayed FY16 budget process.  The State has continued to operate under consent decrees, court orders, continuing appropriations, and school appropriations, which has created many operational problems.  Recipients of State services, and providers of goods and services to the State, have all been affected by the lack of a legal budget document.

I have said from the beginning that this is going to be a fight for a better Illinois.  Not everyone always agreed with President Lincoln, but he believed in what he stood for.  He once stated, “Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm”.  I am and will always continue to stand firm for the future of Illinois.

Fall Arrives and Still No Budget

Fall officially arrived this past week and farmers have begun harvesting the fields.  As I made my way to Springfield for another day of session, I began to think about all our region has to offer during this time of the year.

Take some time to ask your neighbor or get online to find a new festival or parade you have not attended in the area.  There are so many to name I would hate to leave anyone out.  I would like to note that it’s important that we take time to interact with our community and surrounding areas, which many do.  These events and the people that attend, is what makes living in Northwest Illinois the greatest!

Going back to session in Springfield this past Thursday, I have nothing new to report in regards to the budget impasse other than we still do not have one.  Instead of staying in Springfield and getting the job done that we were elected to do, we adjourned until October 20th.

Delaying to negotiate a solution or agreeing to a compromise is going to cost taxpayers more and more money.  We are far past the $4 billion gap that was originally stated during budget negotiations in May.  Some statistics show the gap has doubled up to $8 billion.  A tax increase by itself cannot fix that big of a gap.

We have to reform current practices to help save taxpayer money for the future.  Letting the courts make decisions for elected officials is absolutely outrageous and is not helping solve this budget disaster.  We need a balanced budget, structural reforms and to make sure we take care of the people who cannot speak for themselves.

I have said on multiple occasions, but I will say it again, we are in a fight for the future of Illinois.  I will not falter in taking our message of reform from the citizens of Northwest Illinois to leaders in Springfield.

I put faith in the words of former President Ronald Reagan, “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.  From time to time we’ve been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people.  Well, if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else? All of us together, in and out of government, must bear the burden.” Stand strong, be brave and know that we are all in this together for the future of Illinois.

Another week of session has come and gone without any action taken to fix the budget crisis. Legislators were dismissed from Springfield this past Wednesday and have been ordered to return on September 24th.  That gives leaders in Springfield the opportunity to negotiate for a balanced budget and end the impasse within the next three-weeks.

Each day, week and month we continue to delay a budget deal the gap between revenue and spending grows larger.  Some estimates show that the gap is closer to $6 to $8 billion over the $32 billion dollar revenue estimate at this point.

How did we get here?  Leaders continue to refuse to come to the table and compromise.  All of the leaders should have the ability to listen to both sides and devise a compromise acceptable to both parties.  I have read Governor Rauner’s compromise proposals, but I have not heard from Speaker Madigan other than his usually weekly talking points.

When you hear the other side of the aisle say they don't want to talk about the “non-related budget issues”, they just want to talk about the budget, what they're really saying is they just want to raise taxes to increase government spending without making a single economic reform to increase jobs or a single government reform to save you money.  What they're really saying is let's just raise taxes, go home, and make hardworking taxpayers foot the entire bill.

We have to reign-in our spending and provide some reforms that will help drive business to create jobs and give the people who truly need our help the opportunity to receive it.  Raising taxes just to pay the bill doesn’t solve the problem.  Offering ideas and solutions and then compromising will solve the problem.

I hope everyone enjoys this Labor Day weekend and thank you to the hardworking families in the 89th District that continue make northwest Illinois great!  In closing, “No government is perfect.  One of the chief virtues of a democracy, however, is that its defects are always visible and under democratic processes can be pointed out and corrected,” stated President Harry S. Truman.

The people of Illinois pointed out the defects and elected Governor Rauner.  While some might believe he is doing more harm than good, change is never easy.  My colleagues and I stand united in our support for a truly balanced budget that protects the interests of taxpayers, working families and seniors.

Federal Funds & Law Enforcement Reform
This past week was significant in that everyone agreed on a funding allocation for federal dollars.  I mentioned last week that Senate Bill 2042 had been unanimously passed by Senate Democrats and Republicans and based on the fact that this appropriations bill is entirely comprised of federal dollars, Governor Rauner publicly committed to signing the measure.

However, once again, my colleagues and I were put on an unfortunate political roller coaster that culminated in House passage of Senate Bill 2042, which will appropriate approximately $5 billion in federal only dollars currently being held up by the budget impasse.

While the House Democrats initially pushed to derail the measure, they eventually realized it best to provide a bipartisan stopgap relief measure to many state agencies. If the Senate concurs next week, the measure will help critical human services, child services, public health services and student assistance programs.

It is unfortunate that it could not be sent to the Governor the same day the legislation passed, but I am pleased that it now includes previously omitted funding for homeland security that was suggested by House Republicans.  

This is yet another step in the budget process, one that is not ideal given the piecemeal approach; nevertheless, this action makes sense as it allows the appropriation of federal dollars that should not be subject to the ongoing budget battle in Springfield.

Monumental law enforcement reforms were signed into law by the Governor.  The legislation, Senate Bill 1304, is a result of negotiations between all four caucuses and stakeholders from the police and legal community, which is a combination of police officer related bills that were held in Judiciary – Criminal committee and various Judiciary – Criminal sub-committees this past spring session, which I sit on.

Specifically, the legislation defines incidents with law enforcement involved deaths, provides for independent investigations and prosecutions, enhances reporting mechanisms, outlines traffic and pedestrian stop procedures, creates chokehold restrictions and allows for body cameras worn by officers.

The bill contains a large variety of reforms that came from both the community and law enforcement themselves.  As a former law enforcement officer, I don’t agree with everything that was put into this bill, but I do agree with the process, compromise and hard work that went into creating this legislation and that is why I was a co-sponsor.

The bill applies to law enforcement statewide and is effective immediately for provisions concerning funding of the Law Enforcement Camera Grant through fines and the Commission on Police Professionalism.  The remainder of the bill has no effective date and is thus effective January 1, 2016.

In light of some recent and unfortunate news, I’ll leave you with some words from former President Jimmy Carter, “You can do what you have to do, and sometimes you can do it even better than you think you can.”  

End of Summer Nears, Still No Budget
Summer session continued for the 6th straight week without a budget in place. At this point, I would not expect there to be a compromise. Unfortunately, I believe this is going to end with whoever blinks first.

There are two philosophies that people need to understand and decide which one to support. The first viewpoint is to continue to do what we have done for the last decade while the second viewpoint would do things completely different. The question is, do you support the way Illinois continues to operate or do you want to see us try something new?

The answer sounds simple, but choosing a new direction is never simple, especially when one of the leaders has been in power for almost 30 years. However, we are all watching the fight for a new direction right this minute. Each and every one of us knows someone being affected by this budget impasse.

This week, the Senate voted on a measure that could bring some temporary relief to people who depend on programs provided by the State of Illinois. Passed 57-0, $4.8 billion in federal dollars would be used for programs like the Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).
It provides spending authority (federal funds only) for $100 million in Aging programs, $1.7 billion in Human Service programs, $400,000 million in Healthcare and Family Services programs, $317 million in Public Health programs and more (Complete list at bottom of page).

This legislation was passed unanimously by both Democrats and Republicans. The Governor has already stated he supports the bill and would sign the legislation if it passed both chambers. I was hoping we would take up this issue this week, but instead Speaker Madigan has the bill assigned to committee next week. While it is a temporary solution to a much bigger problem, we should not be holding federal funds hostage.

Also, I would not get too excited just yet. Speaker Madigan has been known for attaching unrelated items to bills in the past as a political power move. If that were to happen, these federal funds might never be appropriated until a budget deal is negotiated.

 Until then, thank you to everyone who emailed or called the office last week to share your concerns. It’s always great to hear from you. I believe a high level of communication will increase civic participation by ensuring people are aware and informed about the issues facing our state. We don’t always have to agree, but ensuring you remain informed about the struggles facing our state is critical to me.

I’d like to thank the 2015 Summer Civic Interns including Colton Havens, Patrick Muggler, and Megan Smith. Their hard work and dedication has helped up reach out to over 7,000 constituents over 5 weeks by walking door-to-door. I am privileged to mentor and teach the next generation of leaders and I appreciate the commitment to our community our three summer interns demonstrated this year. We are now accepting applications for the 2015 Fall Civic Internship, please call Sally for more details.

“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often,” Winston Churchill. Continuing down the same path is not an improvement nor is it change. While we may never be perfect, choosing a new direction is change with a chance at improving. I will continue to take that chance in hopes of a new Illinois. 

Senate Bill 2042 Federal Funds to be Released:
(ALL figures are rounded)

Aging: $100,900,000 
Agriculture: $13,000,000 
Appellate Defender: $200,000
Appellate Prosecutor: $2,200,000
Arts Council: $1,000,000
Attorney General: $1,000,000 
Board of Higher Education: $5,500,000
Children and Family Services: $10.500,000
CJIA: $65,000,000
Comptroller: $0
Council on Developmental Disabilities: $4,700,000  
Court of Claims: $10,100,000
DCEO: $1,032,000,000 
Emergency Management Agency: $134,200,000  
Employment Security: $319,000,000
Environmental Protection Agency: $65,600,000 
Healthcare and Family Services: $400,000,000 
Human Rights: $4,538,000 
Human Services: $1,700,300,500 
Labor: $5,000,000 
Military Affairs: $37,400,700 
Natural Resources: $27,900,500 
Public Health: $317,500,900 
Revenue: $250,000 
Secretary of State: $7,500,000
State Board of Education: $163,310,500 
State Fire Marshal: $1,500,000  
State Police: $20,000,000
Student Assistance Commission: $344,600,800 
Transportation: $9,800,500 
Veterans Affairs: $1,600,800