New Year’s Resolutions & New Laws for Illinois



Happy New Year! I hope 2015 brought you and your families love and joy and that 2016 brings good health and prosperity for everyone.  The change of the calendar year symbolically closes out a period in our lives and begins anew another chapter yet to be written.  As tradition holds, it is proper to partake in establishing New Year’s resolutions to work towards throughout the year.  Instead of heavily weighting short term goals, I’ve always found “working goals” to be more effective guidelines for myself because they allow me to track my progress all year long.  I’ve made several goals this year and I am resolved to improve upon our results from years past.


On January 1, 237 new laws will take effect in Illinois. Unfortunately, a balanced budget is not among them.

Several of the new laws affect children, veterans and the elderly. Others affect drivers and consumers. Below is a quick look at some of the more notable laws taking effect on Friday,
January 1.

For the full list, click HERE.





Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays

The second to last column for the year is at hand, and with the holiday season upon us I’ve been reflecting over the past year in Springfield and the 89th District.  Many happy memories come to mind, yet I am plagued by the worst that came out of Springfield; maybe, I should have said what didn’t pass out of Springfield.  The State budget shenanigans and the general process in Springfield are not even close to good government.  You’ve sent me to Springfield to be your voice, and I’ve seen how the proverbial sausage is made or not made for that matter.  It is not acceptable to me or the citizens of Illinois.  There are a few who relish in the quagmire of Springfield, but I will assure you there are well over 100 House members (118 of us total) that are bewildered by how the General Assembly has kept thousands of Illinois’ families, units of government, and non-profit organizations languishing and awaiting services or funding from the State.

Good bills, good legislation never receives a fair up or down vote on the floor because of the political gamesmanship.  This is not the amateurs, this is professional politicking the likes of which Illinois has seen for decades.  It’s disheartening and disenfranchising that our next generation of leaders hasn’t been instilled with the same sense of public service, duty, and commitment that appears stronger in older generations.
Bipartisanship Wins, More Work to Be Done  

In case you missed it, a lot happened this past week in Springfield. Governor Rauner and the four legislative leaders held a semi-public meeting to discuss the current fiscal woes and the budget impasse.  House members passed a bipartisan appropriations bill that funds critical state services and we reformed the Illinois Unemployment Insurance Act (IUIA) that will help with small business growth.

The meeting between Governor Rauner and the four legislative leaders should have happened a long time ago, but now is better than tomorrow.  Televised live via the internet, the Governor and four leaders made an opening statement, each explaining their position on how to move forward.

District Update and Holiday Blessings

Where has the time gone this year? It seems I ask myself that question around this time every year, but it never ceases to amaze me how time flies. The past two weeks have been very productive for the 89th District as we begin to close out 2015. I have outlined a few of the legislative events below, and would be happy to listen, discuss, or present for your group in the future – weather and schedule permitting. Also, I’d like to remind everyone to drive defensively and be courteous to others on the road as we approach the season with some of the most dangerous weather conditions.

Speaking of weather, I was driving home from Chicago when our first snow fall of the year began in the 89th District. I have had the pleasure of serving on Governor Rauner’s Criminal Justice Reform Commission this year, and we spent the day advancing a bipartisan agenda for our final report due in December. All commissioners have passionately debated and had a healthy exchange of ideas which span multiple ideologies and personal backgrounds. Our final report will ultimately be suggested as part of a comprehensive overhaul to the Illinois criminal justice system. I’m proud of the work my colleagues and I have done, but there is much more to accomplish.

This past week I also held two of my annual Legislative Luncheons to assist in updating our local leaders on new laws and pending legislation to solicit feedback in each of our communities. Sometimes laws are passed that have great intentions, but in specific circumstances they create terrible results. Hearing from our local leaders that experience these difficulties assists in eliminating burdensome regulations and mandates from Springfield.

I’d like to thank all of our area school Superintendents and the Chiefs and Sheriffs of our local law enforcement agencies for attending their respective meetings. Public safety and public education impact every individual and are at the forefront of our daily lives. The public servants providing an education and those keeping the peace in our community often go unnoticed. Remember to thank them when you see them, especially around the holidays.


Additionally, I hosted the Department of Children and Family Services Director, George Sheldon, in Freeport last week and invited some of our local service providers and DCFS regional staff. It has been many years since a DCFS Director was in our area to address the staff and providers, let alone visit one of the providers as Executive Director Sheldon did with me. A special thanks to Director Cara Williams and her entire staff at the Norman C. Sleezer Home in Freeport for welcoming Director Sheldon and me to tour your facility.

Amy Morris and Autumn Kubatzke of the Regional Access and Mobilization Project (RAMP) met with me to keep me updated on the legislative side of their Center for Independent Living (CIL). RAMP was the second CIL in Illinois, and they advocate for policies that assist people with disabilities in directing and living independent lives. Regardless of disability, RAMP, promotes (and I support) an agenda where everyone has the same range of choices in housing, transportation, education and employment.

The Jo Daviess County Mayors Association invited me to attend their monthly dinner, and this one was held in Stockton at Stella’s Café and Catering. Thank you to the McGovern family for hosting us. The Mayors and Village Presidents representing their communities across Jo Daviess County are the definition of public servants. They often serve in part-time positions, with little compensation, and have dedicated themselves to the betterment of their city, village, or town.

Finally, I had the privilege of presenting to the Stephenson County Leadership Institute led by Alan Wenzel at Highland Community College, and I can tell you every year I grow more impressed with the program. Participants engage in a nine month program that covers a variety of community issues and leadership perspectives. It is an incredible feeling to watch the next generation and experienced professionals take leadership roles in local businesses and non-profit organizations alike.

The upcoming holidays and the past two weeks have revitalized my sense of public service and charity. I hope and encourage all of you to do two things: volunteer your time to any cause you choose and provide a random act of kindness to a stranger. Thanksgiving this past week always reminds me of the many blessings we have to be thankful for and following is a quote from President Franklin D. Roosevelt which brings this to mind, “We have always held to the hope, the belief, the conviction that there is a better life, a better world, beyond the horizon.”

As always, you can reach myself or Sally at 815/232-0774 or e-mail us at repstewart@gmail.com.  You can also visit my website at www.repbrianstewart.com or on Facebook.

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 repstewart@gmail.com. You can also visit my website at www.repbrianstewart.com 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)

Agency 
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 


Budgets, Bill Signing & Youth Activities

I have nothing new to report as we wrapped up the fifth week of the new fiscal year without a balanced budget in place.  Instead of voting on a balanced budget the House Speaker once again issued his talking points for another round of show-trials.  

This is a continuation of the “gotcha politics” at the expense of families who need us to put differences aside and pass a balanced budget.  The right thing is usually the hardest thing to do and this week was full of easy things. 

Speaking of budgets, I wanted to share with you our district office budget information.  Since being elected into office in 2014, I have given money back from the district allotment every fiscal year.  In FY 2014 I returned $21,314.45 to the state and in FY15 I returned a little over $13,000 which represents 19% of our annual office allotment.

I believe legislators and other elected officials should be leading by example if we are asking everyone to share in the sacrifices needed to get our finances in order.  For months now, Democrats in Illinois have known legislators were going to receive a pay raise, and they did nothing until mounting pressure from the taxpayers finally woke them up. 

House Republicans filed legislation (HB 4225) to reject the pay raises two months ago.  The Democrat majority had repeated opportunities to deny the COLA in a timely fashion.  Rather than doing the right thing, they waited until the last minute; a time when many would say it is too late.
Now, no matter what we do, the pay raise will go through for at least the next paycheck, as the Senate won’t be here to act on the House bill until at least next week.  So while it’s better late than never, the Democrat majority should have allowed a vote on HB4225 before it got to this point.

This past week was more than just budgets.  I had a very important piece of legislation signed into law by Governor Rauner that is important to remember.  House Bill 246 designates December 23 of each year as "Scott's Law Day"  to honor public safety workers and to remind motorists to slow down, change lanes away from a stationary authorized emergency vehicle, and proceed with due regard to safety and traffic conditions.

As a former law enforcement officer, I have seen firsthand how dangerous it can be during a traffic stop.  Each year we are reminded of this danger with the names of fallen officers who were killed in-the-line of duty during a traffic stop, assisting a motorist or working an accident scene.
Scott’s Law Day is to remind us and never let us forget the public safety workers whose lives were taken by a motorist passing by.  It’s simple, change lanes away from a stationary authorized emergency vehicle, and then proceed with caution to avoid an unforeseen accident that could occur while driving.

If you’re looking for something to do this weekend with your kids, the Illinois Conservation Foundation will be hosting a free Open House at the Torstenson Youth Conservation Education Center which is a 750 acre youth outdoor education property in Pecatonica to highlight conservation activities this Sunday, August 2nd from 12:00pm to 5:00pm.

The event will have kid-focused hands-on activities for a fun family event.  There will be a live animal show, archery range, crafts, free lunch and more.  Additional organizations that will be on-site include the National Wild Turkey Federation, Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, and more.  In addition to scheduled events, the ICF is also offering tours of the full property to see the new catch-and-release fishing pond, the beautiful 11,000 square-foot log cabin and archery range.

This event will occur rain or shine, and food will be provided in return for donations to the ICF and Torstenson Center.  The Torstenson Center is located at 13735 Cook Road just east of Pecatonica, IL.  You may visit www.ilcf.org or call (217) 785-2003 for more information.

While we work on finding a bi-partisan solution to fix the budget I would implore each and every one of you to send me an email or contact me on my website with your thoughts.  Thank you to those who already have.

“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing,” Theodore Roosevelt.  The right thing to do is to pass a balanced bipartisan budget, but again we did nothing.  
The Fight for the Future of Illinois

Happy Independence Day! I hope you all enjoy the holiday festivities while keeping in mind the sacrifices for our freedom so many have made. Enjoy your BBQs and fireworks and parades, and never forget.

The rumbling of a state government shutdown is no more in question.  July 1st came and went without a balanced budget in place.  The stalled negotiations over the budget in Springfield empowered Democrat leadership to continue to muscle its veto-proof majority through politically charged show-trials and sham legislation votes with no compromise in sight.

The Governor recently stated, “This is a fight for the future of Illinois.”  Well, he’s exactly right. We are in a fight to change the way government operates.  Illinois’ devious political culture has been threatened and the powers that be are starting to feel the pressure.  Don’t be fooled by their temporary solutions or their parade of what-ifs.  The fact remains that we need a balanced budget that aims to spend less than what we take in.  The rhetoric might seem redundant in recent columns, but it’s the honest truth.  
 
This week, we began session on Tuesday with another “Committee of the Whole” that discussed government operations.  A panel of organizations around Illinois addressed the House with their concerns and possible financial problems that could occur if a shutdown was permitted.

During the doomsday testimony of government operations, per usual as of late, House Speaker Mike Madigan held a press conference to alert the media that a short-termed budget solution would be voted on during session on Wednesday.  “This is a one-month budget.  This is a reasonable budget,” Madigan said.  This one-month budget would relieve some of the pressure legislators are experiencing from constituents back in their districts and once again give reason to create a political mail piece for anyone who would dare not vote with the Speaker.

In reality, this was the Democrat majorities attempt to take a piece-meal approach to the budget by backing a temporary budget to fund certain services at a level that is not sustainable over the course of the entire fiscal year.

Tuesday concluded with the understanding that we would resume the government operation discussions on Wednesday and vote on the Speaker’s “one-month budget.”  We had till midnight on Tuesday to work on a solution before the state would begin to shut down, but instead, we adjourned.

On Wednesday morning, we resumed the “Committee of the Whole” concerning government operations.  We heard more stories and possible outcomes from the effects of a government shutdown.  That afternoon, House Speaker Madigan called for the “one-month budget” to be voted on.  To my surprise, the neediest services that gave hours of testimony during the “Committee of the Whole” were not funded in this bill.

All this bill would do is march the taxpayers of Illinois toward an unbalanced budget one month at a time.  No matter how they slice it and dice it, the math just doesn’t add up.  It still does not fix the problem.  I would guess if Democrats were serious about fixing the unbalanced budget they passed in May, that they would have already used their veto proof power to override the Governor’s veto of their $4 billion out of whack budget.  However, that means they would have to use their super majority to pass a tax increase as well.

It’s pretty clear where both sides stand at this point.  One side wants to spend $4 billion more than actual revenues, with a tax increase attached, while the other side wants structural reform to government and a balanced budget that is fiscally responsible to the taxpayers in Illinois.  My colleagues and I stand united in our support for a truly balanced budget that protects the interests of taxpayers, working families, and seniors.

I and all other elected officials are here to represent the people of Illinois.  I am proud to make my weekly trip to Springfield to represent the 89th District and the good people of Northwest Illinois. We elected a new governor because they wanted to change our government processes.  Change will not be easy, and as the debacle continues to unfold, our perseverance for the good of our State will be tested, but the fight for the future of Illinois must be pursued and the powers to be must be challenged.

Once again, President Abraham Lincoln said it best, “You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”  It does not matter if Democrat leadership passes a one-month budget, a six-month budget or an entire fiscal year’s budget.  As long as the Democrats continue to spend more money than we take in, it’s still an unbalanced, unconstitutional budget.


FAQs for Budget Situation
We understand state employees have questions on how their benefits will be impacted as the state budget is no longer in place beginning July 1. The following Q&As were designed to help answer any questions you may have.
Employee Benefits
Q.  Will an employee's health, dental or life insurance be affected?
A.  No. Group insurance coverage during a budget situation will not be impacted. If paychecks are delayed, and as long as the employee continues to work and earn a paycheck, insurance premiums will be taken accordingly. The missed payroll deductions will be taken once paychecks are issued.
Q.  What will happen to an employee's contributions to any flexible spending accounts (i.e., MCAP, DCAP) during the budget situation?
A.
Ø  Employees enrolled in MCAP will not be impacted. ConnectYourCare debit cards will continue to work. If the employee continues to work and earn a paycheck, deductions should be taken accordingly. If MCAP deductions are missed, they must be made up when the budget situation is resolved.
Ø  Employees enrolled in DCAP may be impacted as reimbursements are limited to the available account balance contained in their DCAP account. If the employee continues to work and earn a paycheck, and once all payroll deductions are deposited into the DCAP account, reimbursements can be made for eligible expenses up to the available account balance.
Q.  What will happen to an employee's Commuter Savings Program benefit?
A.  Employees enrolled in the Commuter Savings Program will continue to receive the benefit under this program. Employees will owe any underpaid amount upon their return to payroll.
Workers' Compensation Program
Q.  Will an employee's Workers' Compensation benefits be affected?
A.  No. In the event of a budget situation, Temporary Total Disability (TTD), Permanent Total Disability (PTD) and survivor death benefit payments under the Workers' Compensation Act will continue through July. Work-related injuries should continue to be reported through the procedures in place today.
Deferred Compensation Program
Q. What will happen to an employee's Deferred Compensation contributions during the budget situation?
A.  As long as the employee continues to work and earn a paycheck, payroll deductions for Deferred Compensation should be taken accordingly. Deferred Compensation contributions can only be made through payroll deduction. The employee cannot deposit money directly to his or her fund to catch-up the contributions.
Q.  If an individual is currently receiving a distribution from their Deferred Compensation account, will that distribution continue during the budget situation?
A.  Yes. Current distributions and changes to distribution amounts will continue to be processed. To make any changes in distribution, call T. Rowe Price at 1-888-457-5770.
Q.  Will hardship distributions/loans from an employee's Deferred Compensation account be available during the budget situation?
A.  A loan provision is available at any time and allows a participant to have one outstanding loan and borrow a minimum of $1,000 up to a maximum of $50,000 or 50% of their account balance over a five year period. The interest you pay goes back to your account along with the principal amount each month as you repay the loan through Automatic Clearing House (ACH) deductions from your bank. Employees would likely not qualify for a hardship distribution as they will be made whole of any missed payrolls when the budget situation ends.
Q.  How do I borrow from my Deferred Compensation account?
A.  To apply for a loan from your account over the phone, call T. Rowe Price at 1-888-457-5770 to speak to a Representative. There is a $75 processing fee and you will need to supply bank routing and account information for your checking/savings account numbers to set up the automatic ACH deduction. Participants are allowed one outstanding loan at a time. You may repay the full loan balance amount at any time through the same phone number at T. Rowe Price.
State Employee Compensation
Q. What options exist if certain parties take action to temporarily block pay for state employees?
A. State employees will be paid for their work. If certain parties take action to temporarily block pay for state employees, there may be an opportunity for employees to get bridge loans from local financial institutions. Credit Union 1, for example, has already agreed to offer no-interest loans for qualifying members of the credit union should salary payments for state employees be delayed. To be eligible to receive 0% interest loans from Credit Union 1, participants must have been members on or before May 1, 2015. Employees who have become members of Credit Union 1 since May 1, 2015, can apply for a loan, subject to normal criteria, rates and terms.
What’s Really Happening in Springfield?

I’ve been inundated with inquiries regarding the “inside” happenings of Springfield. Constituents have seen the news, press conferences, and the attack mailers circulating the state and while two sides initially engaged in a dialogue, it has devolved into one side yelling and the other side trying to have a conversation. Some of you reading this have questioned, why the Republicans keep voting “present” on the “Governor’s legislation.” Well, Democratic leadership continues to play games with the lives of our citizenry by creating a budget that is $4 billion over projected tax revenue. When the government doesn’t have the money, it means a tax increase on all of us. Governor Rauner and many Republicans across the state have refused to consider a tax hike without structural reform. This means Republicans refuse to vote for a tax increase until the Democrats will implement changes to our system that would drive Illinois back to more prosperous times. My friend, colleague, and House Minority Floor Leader, Representative Ron Sandack, recently wrote an incredibly succinct synopsis of the shenanigans in Springfield.

Rep. Sandack is excerpted below:

“Illinois’ voters elected a Republican Governor and a Democrat-controlled House and Senate. That means there are Democrats who voted for Bruce Rauner because they want the state’s fiscal crisis addressed once and for all. Divided, or I prefer shared, government is still very new in Illinois and there have definitely been some growing pains. Because the majority party has controlled the House, Senate and the Governor’s office for the last 12 years, there formerly was a noticeable lack of checks and balances. Democrat lawmakers could push their agenda through knowing former Governors Quinn and Blagojevich would likely sign it. Simply put, they’ve been used to getting their way. Now, the majority party must deal with a Republican Governor who has pledged to veto bills that keep Illinois on a bad financial path. This is not sitting well with House Speaker Madigan and Senate President Cullerton.

Governor Rauner came to Springfield on January 12 ready to tackle important issues, and formed numerous bipartisan working groups which included Republicans and Democrats from both the House and Senate. He wanted these bipartisan and bicameral groups to negotiate and compromise until common ground could be found in several areas. Governor Rauner’s plan to turn things around in Illinois includes several reform initiatives that aim to reduce fraud, waste and abuse, and make Illinois a business-friendly state to increase job growth. The Governor also said he would entertain an increase in revenue, but only after some of his reform initiatives were approved by lawmakers. To that end, the following reform bills were filed in the House in May by Republicans:
HJRCA39: Term Limits; HJRCA40: Fair Maps; HB4223: Workers Compensation Reform; HB4224: Property Tax Freeze and Voter Empowerment for Local Collective Bargaining; HB4214: Allowing for Municipal Bankruptcy; and HB4222: Lawsuit (tort) Reform.

Speaker Madigan has said he does not think budget talks should be tied to non-budget issues, but the Governor is adamant that they be discussed together. Why? Because Illinoisans need only look back at the temporary tax hike of 2011 to see that simply pouring more money into the state’s coffers does nothing to fix the structural reforms that have driven the state into the ground. Budgeting without reforms means the status quo continues. The voters of Illinois sent a clear message in November that the status quo is no longer acceptable.

Governor Rauner and Republican lawmakers have shown [their] willingness to compromise. Empowerment Zones, or right to work zones, were an initial element of the Governor Rauner reform agenda, but he has since agreed to remove that item from the table for consideration. In fact, recently the Governor unilaterally removed other items from the table too. These compromises were met by Speaker Madigan with more digging in of his heels and a renewed refusal to budge.

Democrats ultimately walked away from the bipartisan working groups and said they are not interested in reforms. In fact, in spite of the Governor’s clear directive of reform before taxes, Speaker Madigan has held all six reform measures in the Rules Committee and has refused to bring them to the House floor for full consideration. By not allowing the reform bills to be heard, Speaker Madigan, by his own actions, took discussions of reform, and therefore new revenue too, off the table.

[Democrats created and passed a] budget with zero input from the Republicans and zero input from the Governor’s Office. Speaker Madigan said “no” to bipartisanship and “no” to reforms, but now he wants bipartisan votes on a tax increase that he knows will be incredibly unpopular. Without reforms, the Republicans are not going to support an increase in revenue. If the Democrats want to raise taxes, they have the supermajority votes in both chambers to make it happen.

With the normal session adjournment date of May 31 now passed, the Speaker is calling the Representatives back to Springfield one day each week. Are we being called down so we can negotiate a balanced budget prior to the end of the current fiscal year on June 30? No. Are we being called back to consider the reform bills that represent the Rauner plan to help fix our state? No. We are being called to Springfield for a series of show trials where the Speaker is making a mockery of the process, and is collecting sound bites and roll call votes for the next election cycle where he hopes to strengthen his super-majority. It truly has been Springfield at its absolute worst.

What you’re seeing on the House floor right now is insincere legislation, sponsored by Speaker Madigan’s leading allies and masked as “Rauner bills,” that are part of a plan to thumb their noses at bipartisanship and reform. Their bills are not just insincere; they are sham legislation meant to embarrass the Governor. As a House Republican Caucus we are not supporting the sham legislation that is being sponsored by the Democrats that Speaker Madigan controls. We are standing together and refusing to be bullied into maintaining a status quo that has all but destroyed our state.

At this point we have a spending plan of $36 billion, projected revenues of $32 billion, and a controlling party that has said no to spending discipline, no to job-creating reforms, no to fair maps/redistricting and no to term limits, while asking for bipartisan votes on a tax hike. In a negotiation, each side needs to give something up. Governor Rauner took several of his reform measures off the table; now let’s see the Democrats give something up. Republicans remain ready to negotiate, and hope the Democrats return to the table so we can engage in an honest discussion about compromise and get past this stalemate.

The citizens of Illinois voted for shared policy-making and lawmakers now need to work together to make that happen.”

Asking the people of Illinois for an additional $4 billion in tax dollars reminds me once again of a quote by Thomas Jefferson, “I predict happiness for Americans, if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.”

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

The last week of session is coming to a close and we have yet to agree on a budget that will begin on July 1st. However, it’s not from a lack of effort. Working groups have been meeting for months to negotiate a bipartisan budget. Instead, Democrat leadership walked away from the table and crafted a budget that mirrors previous years’ budgets, leaving Illinois in snowballing debt.

House Speaker Mike Madigan introduced a $36 billion budget during a press conference on Memorial Day, $4 billion more than the expected $32 billion in revenue for FY2016. The Speaker made it clear that Democrat leadership would work with the Governor to find revenue to fund the $4 billion, but would not negotiate a bipartisan budget.

Only a tax increase will adequately fund the extra $4 billion the House Speaker wants to tack on to the budget. The last income tax increase he and his party passed to fix a budget deficit generated billions in revenue but did nothing to resolve Illinois’ financial woes.

Speaker Madigan’s unbalanced budget violates the Illinois Constitution. Article VIII, Section 2 (b), states that “The General Assembly by law shall make appropriations for all expenditures of public funds by the State. Appropriations for a fiscal year shall not exceed funds estimated by the General Assembly to be available during that year.” The Illinois legislature repeatedly undermines the Constitution by passing budget after budget that exceeds funds available.

Illinois does not have the financial resources available to sustain its spending habits without significant reforms, reforms that must be made by cutting unnecessary expenses. It’s time for Illinois government to learn to live like you and I have—within our means.

Lincoln Sculpture Unveiled 

Local artist Ramon “Jay” Castro crafted and donated a 27 inch bronze sculpture of Captain Abraham Lincoln to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum this past week. The sculpture was created to remind the nation of history of the Black Hawk War of June, 1832, which included citizen soldier Abraham Lincoln. The experience of the conflict the young militia captain witnessed certainly reflected on decisions he would later make as President.  

The not-for-profit project, sponsored by Stephenson County, is aiming to place a 7 foot bronze sculpture of Captain Abraham Lincoln at the Black Hawk War Memorial, located near Kent, Illinois, site of the 1882 Kellogg’s Grove Battle. The Lincoln sculpture will complement the National Historic Plaque, laid in 1969.

The sculpture will be on display at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in honor of the project and local artist. Donations for the project can be mailed to, Captain Lincoln Sculpture, State Bank of Freeport, PO Box 778, Freeport, Illinois 61032.

Memorial Day

On Memorial Day the House honored and remembered those who were called to serve our country. Thank you to all the men and women who have sacrificed their lives so that we can live ours. We also cannot fail to forget the families who have lost a loved one for their country. It is a true honor to know we live in the best nation in the world. Please don’t neglect to remember the fallen. They sacrificed their freedom for yours. As we honor our fallen heroes and as we consider the recent shenanigans in Springfield, let us consider an apt quote by Mark Twain: “patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.”