Brian's Column 01-16-2015

The 99th General Assembly convened for inauguration this past week in Springfield.  Wednesday, January 14th, I took my oath of office, along with the other 117 members of the Illinois House of Representatives.  The pomp and circumstance of the entire production was impressive and well organized.

I want to note again that I appreciate your confidence in me as your State Representative.  I am thankful for the honor and privilege of representing approximately 108,000 Illinois citizens.  The weight of responsibility is one I bear proudly, but the gravity of having a single voice for so many citizens is humbling, and I want to reiterate my gratitude for your support in electing me your Representative.

I realize I cannot always vote to make everyone in the 89th district happy, but I can assure you, I consider each and every bill that comes before the House with an open mind and evaluate the positive and negative impacts that will occur in our communities.  Even the legislation that passes unanimously must be given heavy scrutiny to ensure new laws will benefit our state, our communities, and our people.

I’m excited to say that I think better times are in store for our state: our new Governor, Bruce Rauner, was sworn in on Monday, and the tone of this first week of the 99th General Assembly was one of bipartisanship.  Governor Rauner has the business acumen, intellect, and compassion to lead our State back to prosperous times.  He has the ability to reach across party lines and take a stand for the people of our State.  I had dinner with him on Wednesday night and had great conversation, and while we both agree very tough decisions lie ahead, I believe in his leadership and in his vision for our great State.  I look forward to working closely with Governor Rauner to ensure Illinois moves aggressively forward down a path to prosperity for all the people of Illinois.

The beginning of a new session is a fresh start to introduce new legislation, and while there are many more steps until we are successful, I’d like to outline two legislative priorities for 2015. While pension reform, the budget deficit, and a capital plan to renew our infrastructure are always first and our top priorities, these topics are so broad that I will wait until I can outline them in detail for you in a future column.

I will be introducing legislation to improve our education system and to allow a greater pool of teaching talent into the State.  Currently, new teachers who earned their college degree out-of-state have an exceptionally difficult time getting licensed in the State of Illinois to teach our children.  The current model hinders the ability of rural school districts like the ones in our area to recruit and fill positions because, unintentionally, we limit the number of available teachers here in Illinois.

The current law is a prime example of the law of unintended consequences: the legislature and the Board of Education have implemented seemingly good policies that negatively impact our community.  I’ve listened to too many testimonials from current teachers, principals, and superintendents that we can’t find chemistry or agri-business teachers for our children.  These are not the only examples, but they speak to a problem I hope to solve with bipartisan support.  I will be reaching across the aisle to move this forward and assist our local education leaders in providing a quality education to our children.

The second piece of legislation I plan to introduce will be photo identification for public assistance programs.  I believe in a strong safety net to assist the most impoverished in our cities, and I also believe in the good nature and hard work of people.  Call me foolish, but as a small business owner, I know people appreciate and feel valued when they have a career and an opportunity to better themselves.  Until we can pass a pro-jobs agenda that will help every single able-bodied person in our state to find employment, those who are receiving financial aid, housing, and food provisions from the State of Illinois should be issued a card with photo identification.
I see this as a two-fold measure.  It will first provide an additional state-issued form of identification for those in need of public assistance, similar to a state ID card, but with safety-net benefits.  It will also reduce fraud.  Without a strict control on who uses the card, how can we in good faith allot money to a debit card that could be stolen, sold or used by others? As a good steward of your tax money, the State cannot allow welfare fraud to happen.  The system is set up to assist people back to their feet, and I refuse to let those most vulnerable succumb to the villains that would abuse the system.

As I write this week about moving the state forward I am reminded of a quote by Martin Luther King Jr., whom we honor this Monday.  Dr. King said “If you can’t fly, then run, if you can’t run, then walk, if you can’t walk, then crawl but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”


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.

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