In last week’s column, we talked about HB 40 – a bill that, at face value, expands taxpayer-funded abortions in Illinois. But at its core, the bill’s primary purpose was to force the Governor into a corner – he had to choose between siding with pro-abortion advocates or pro-life advocates. It truly was a game of “Pin the Tail on the Governor.” It should come as no surprise that I voted “No” on HB 40.

So after a week of political gamesmanship, we still don’t have a budget. But what do we have? The House soundly passed a taxpayer-funded abortion expansion. As the House passes toxic bills that do nothing to improve our state, the window on reaching a budget is closing. With only five weeks left until session ends, we are running perilously short on time.
This week I’d like to pose a question to you, and if you have an opinion on the matter, then I would love for you to send me your response. By the way, now would be a good time for me to mention that we have updated our contact information. You can now send communications directly to my office by visiting “www.ilhousegop.org/contactstewart."

Without any further ado here’s the question I’ll pose to you this week: which is more important to you? Taxpayer funded abortions or a balanced budget? Now don’t think too hard because it really isn’t a trick question. And yes, it really is a “this or that” question.

Why? Because instead of continuing to work toward an agreement that could lead toward fiscal certainty and responsibility, House leadership has opted instead to push a bill that reaffirms taxpayer funded abortions. Though there is absolutely no practical reason to bring HB 40 to a vote, some members on the other side of the aisle are relishing an opportunity to put Governor Rauner in a tough spot.

Thankfully, Governor Rauner has not caved to this shameless political ploy. He announced that if both chambers pass this sideshow of a bill, he will put an abrupt end to the political theater by vetoing HB 40. To that I say, “Bravo, Governor Rauner, bravo!” Do you support the Governor’s decision?

I’m not ashamed to say that I am pro-life, and I’m also not ashamed to say that I am anti-political theater. In fact, I’ll go as far as to say this: how about instead of this nonsensical bill that does nothing to help working families, we work on passage of HB 3096 (the Lincoln Douglas Tax Credit) – a bill that would create jobs for Freeport and other cities across the state. Or perhaps we could pick up where we left off and continue negotiating on a budget compromise.

But instead of passing a balanced budget, we find ourselves grappling with an issue that came to the forefront simply because House leadership calculated that it would hurt the Governor’s standing with either pro-life advocates or pro-abortion advocates. Yes indeed, putting the Governor in a political bind is far more important than working to pass a balanced budget.

I’ve said before that the legislature loves nothing more than to play kick the can. I’m beginning to think that I should amend my previous statement and add another game that has been very popular in Springfield lately – pin the tail on the Governor. I mean, why focus on the issues that matter when we have a prime opportunity to stick it to the Governor, right?

Well I’m fed up with the games. We need to immediately resume working on a balanced budget. No more stopgap spending plans that don’t even come close to fully funding social services. No more finger pointing. And especially – no more political theater just for the sake of sticking it to the Governor. From your calls and e-mails I know that the vast majority of you want us to pass a balanced budget, and that’s exactly what I will continue to work toward.

But until such a time as House leadership decides that our state is more important than partisan politics, I’ll continue doing whatever I can to help the district. That’s why this week I invited Lieutenant Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti to Freeport to meet with our newly elected Mayor. And that’s why last week I spoke with the Governor about the needs of some of our local employers. Budget or no budget, I will fight for the best interests of the 89th District. You have my word on that.

And as for the budget, I remain optimistic that we will eventually set aside our differences and work together on a balanced and long term solution. Am I foolish for remaining optimistic? Perhaps. But as Winston Churchill said, “I am an optimist. It does not seem too much use being anything else.”

As always, you can reach me or Sally at 815-232-0774, or visit my website at www.repbrianstewart.com and use the contact form to send me an e-mail.
Please be advised State Representative Brian Stewart will no longer be monitoring the email address repstewart@gmail.com. If you would like to reach the Representative, you are encouraged to fill out the contact form on his state website by clicking here. Thank you for your understanding.

Look forward to hearing from you!
***Guest Column*** 

As many of you know, former Freeport Mayor Richard (Dick) Weis recently passed away. He will forever be remembered in Freeport as the “Big Kahuna” who had the big heart.  If every public servant and politician modeled their life after Dick Weis, the world would undoubtedly be a better place.  It was my honor to present Illinois House Resolution 287 honoring former Mayor Weis’s life and his career of public service – both as an elected official and a private citizen.

If you didn’t know anything else about Dick Weis, all you need to know is what his family has asked of those who wish to honor his memory.  His service information reads: “In lieu of flowers, please honor Dick’s life by doing a random act of kindness for someone in need.”  What a truly wonderful man and what a wonderful family he leaves to carry on his legacy.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned House Bill 3096 – which creates the Lincoln-Douglas Tax Credit for a qualified rehabilitation of a historic structure located in the seven cities of which the Lincoln-Douglas debates occurred.  Since that column, I received several calls and e-mails asking for more information on the bill.

To properly explain the bill in context, we need to take a step back and take a quick look at another successful tax credit – The River Edge Redevelopment Zone Program (RERZ). The RERZ is also sometimes referred to as the “River’s Edge Tax Credit.”

The RERZ tax credit saw enormous success in spurring economic development in five cities: Aurora, East St. Louis, Elgin, Peoria and Rockford.  Landmarks Illinois estimates that between those five cities, over $200 million dollars in private economic development has come as a direct result of that tax credit.  Our neighbors to the east in Rockford have received the lion’s share of that economic boom landing over $120 million in developments with even more expected to come.

Ask just about any downtown Rockford business owner what has contributed to the downtown’s resurgence, and they will tell you – “It’s the River’s Edge tax credit.”  Many of us have enjoyed a meal or perhaps even a beverage at the Prairie Street Brewhouse in downtown Rockford.  The next time you’re eating dinner on the docks and you’re watching the boats float down the Rock River, just remember that none of that would be possible if it were not for the River’s Edge tax credit.  Nearly one dozen projects like this have been made possible through the tax credit.

The RERZ credit became law in 2010, and at the end of last year, Governor Rauner signed an extension to keep the credit alive through the end of this year.  And just this week, the Rockford City Council approved another multimillion dollar project – a downtown hotel – that would have never come to fruition without the existence of the RERZ credit.

It worked for Rockford, so why not Freeport?  That’s why I introduced HB 3096.  My bill would give those seven communities across the state a chance to improve their historical downtowns through a tax credit that is much like the RERZ.  This is something that Illinois’ bigger cities have already had the opportunity to utilize, but up until this bill the mid-sized cities had been left out.  If my bill passes – Ottawa, Freeport, Jonesboro, Charleston, Galesburg, Quincy and Alton would all be eligible for this tax credit.  Currently the six representatives of those other cities (both Republican and Democrat) have signed on to my bill, and I will be working to recruit more co-sponsors in the future.

This bill would be a game-changer not only for Freeport, but also for the entire region.  As we saw in Rockford, when private investments were made in the downtown, employers added jobs. HB 3096 means investment, opportunity and jobs for the 89th District, so that is why I will be working hard to do everything I can to push this extremely important bill.

I can’t help but think of Field of Dreams when we talk about economic development.  The iconic line from the movie was, “If you build it, (they) will come.”  But I guess in this case, the situation is only slightly different.  In this case, the quote should be “If you pass it, they will build.  And if you build it, they will come.”

As always, you can reach me 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.
***Guest Column*** 

This week I wish I could report to you that the Illinois General Assembly passed a long-term solution to the state budget crisis.  Unfortunately, that did not happen.  Instead of fixing the problem, the House voted to pass another stopgap spending plan House Bill 109 – one that funds some of higher education and social services but effectively kicks the budget can down the road for six more months.

This legislation was passed by the House and is headed to the Senate which will most likely vote on the bill later this month.  To be clear, this bill does nothing to address any of the problems Illinois is facing other than education and social services – and even those are being addressed inadequately.  The Governor called the stopgap spending plan a “failure.”  He shares the same opinion as many of us in the legislature who want a balanced budget that actually ensures, as he says, “the problem (can be) fixed.”

Though I was disappointed to see the passage of yet another “duct tape fix,” as the Governor refers to the stopgap measure, there was some positive legislation that came out of Springfield this week.  Earlier this year I introduced HB 465, a bill that would amend the municipal code to extend Pearl City’s tax increment financing (TIF) district which is set to expire.  I am pleased to announce that the bill passed the House and will be presented to the Senate by Senator Bivins.

Another bill that received a lot of attention this week was HB 496.  This bill, which passed the House almost unanimously, would allow voters the right to dissolve a township by referendum. The township and municipality must be coterminous (or mostly coterminous) for this to happen, and the township trustees or 10% of registered voters in the township must initiate the referendum.

I received some calls this week that involved some misunderstanding surrounding the bill.  To clarify, there is no automatic consolidation attached to this bill.  The bill merely gives citizens the right to choose whether or not they wish to operate a Township if their municipality could provide the same services.

It's not every day that you see a bill of such magnitude passing the Illinois House with only two objections, but this bill was seen as an obvious choice for many in the General Assembly.  Illinois has more units of government – almost 7,000 – than any other state.  According to the Illinois Policy Institute, these units of government create a cumbersome bureaucracy that drives up property taxes statewide.

By contrast, Florida (which has a higher population than Illinois) has roughly one quarter the units of government compared to Illinois.  It is also little coincidence that Illinois – the state that has more units of government than any other state – has been found to have the highest overall tax burden of any state.

Each year WalletHub conducts a state by state study of effective tax rates.  Their findings include all state and local taxes and rank each state by taxpayer-friendliness.  According to the study, Alaska is the most taxpayer-friendly state with an overall effective tax rate of 5.64%.  Illinois finished dead last – ranking 51st, with our overall effective tax rate estimated to be 14.76%.

After seeing this, it should come as no surprise that our state is losing population to our neighbors.  We must address this growing problem, and I believe that this week we took a small step towards doing just that.  Now it’s time for the Senate to pass this bill so Illinoisans can decide for themselves.

Though I am encouraged about some small victories this week, I find myself repeating the same refrain I have been singing since I first was elected to the Illinois House – we need a balanced budget!  Then – and only then – can we become successful in bringing our state back and making Illinois a better place for all of us.

This week, the House made a mistake in not working on a long-term solution to the budget, but we also took a positive step on the journey of reforming Illinois.  I am proud to see that there was bipartisan support – almost unanimous support – behind a commonsense reform bill this week. But we still have a long way to go. As someone once said, “To get through the hardest journey, we need take only one step at a time… but we must keep on stepping.”

As always, you can reach me 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.

***Guest Column***

On Tuesday, April 4th, voters across the 89th District go to the polls to cast their vote in the Municipal General Election. Historically, turnout for local elections has been as low as the single digits, and never has it reached as high a turnout as November elections. This sad reality has always baffled me because I think local elections are more impactful on our daily lives than national elections are.

Of course, national elections for congress and the presidency impact our income taxes, but local elections determine the direction of our community. Beyond our own current status, it’s not a stretch to say that our vote could in some small (or perhaps large) way play a role in our children’s and grandchildren’s future. And I don’t care who you vote for, I just hope that you exercise the most sacred freedom that we have in the United States.

Whenever I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to speak directly to young people, I consistently make an effort to highlight the importance of voting. Someone told me the other day that he takes his son and daughter with him into the voting booth so that they understand from a young age that voting is important. I thought that was a wonderful idea!

So here is my challenge to you this week: let’s be a good example for younger generations by exercising our right to vote. And when you vote, make sure you tell your kids and your grandkids that you voted. Let’s take this opportunity to teach the next generation an important civics lesson.

This past week I was in Springfield for a week of committee hearings. One of the more notable happenings is that House Democrats released their “Comeback Agenda” this week. This is obviously in response to the “Turnaround Agenda,” the plan released by Republicans in June of 2015. Though I find many of the points in the Democrat’s “Comeback Agenda” to be lacking, I am heartened to see that my friends on the other side of the aisle are actually putting forward a plan.

If you’ve been reading my column, then you know that I have been calling for a bipartisan approach to addressing our state’s fiscal woes. I remain optimistic that Democrats and Republicans can come together and find a compromise that will result in a balanced budget that puts our state back on track.

Though much of the Democrat’s “Comeback Agenda” is antithetical to nearly everything I believe will spur growth, we can safely say that we have passed an extremely important threshold: both sides have now produced definable proposals. It is my hope that we start working together on a compromise that is good for Illinois and ends the budget crisis.

We all know that we cannot continue down this same path. Failed policies have left us with one of the highest overall tax burdens in the country, and good people are leaving Illinois in droves. The good news is that Democrats and Republicans have both presented their plans. Now it’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work on finding common ground. I believe it can be done!

Lastly, I’d like to take a moment to mention House Bill 769 which designates Illinois State Trooper Day. April 1st is the day we remember the Illinois Troopers who lost their lives and recognize the ones who risk their lives every day protecting us. From the bottom of my heart I would like to thank Illinois State Troopers for all that they do.

I’ll end this week’s column by quoting the Illinois State Trooper Oath of an Officer: "I solemnly vow to the people of Illinois, upon my honor as an officer and citizen, to discharge the duties of an officer of the Illinois State Police to the best of my ability, to adhere to the rules and regulations of the Illinois State Police, and to adopt the Agency's mission and goals into my everyday life. I pledge to be honest in thought, word, and deed; to maintain unimpeachable integrity; to be just, fair, and impartial; to be steadfast against evil and its temptations; and to give my utmost to protect the rights, property, and lives of our citizens. I shall strive to give thoughtful, intelligent obedience to the commands of my superiors, to make my conduct friendly but impartial, courteous but firm, and charitable to the inadvertent violator. But I shall never compromise with crime and shall, at all times, uphold the Constitutions and laws of my country and the state of Illinois."

As always, you can reach me 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.

**Guest Column*** 


Everyone loves a positive news story. We are excited to hear when a company announces that it is expanding in our area. Even better, we love to hear that a company is leaving another state and setting up shop in Illinois, though I must admit, as of late we’ve heard more about businesses leaving our state than entering.

We can point to any number of reasons as to why companies have chosen to pack up and leave Illinois for another state: cumbersome regulations, the burden of worker’s compensation, high property taxes, or even the state budget stalemate – just to name a few. The one thing that is certain is that we don’t want businesses leaving Illinois. All that leads us to the question: what are we doing to stop businesses from crossing the border?

If we can agree on the obvious premise that Illinois can’t compete with other states’ lack of red tape and favorable tax climate, then we can see that a mechanism to keep jobs in our state is necessary. For that reason, the Economic Development for a Growing Economy (Edge) Tax Credit Act is imperative if we want to minimize the damage that Iowa, Indiana and Wisconsin are doing to our local economy. In fact, all three of those states also have a version of Edge to lure businesses away from Illinois.

I think of the Edge program as being our last line of defense against a constant onslaught of neighboring states who are poaching our businesses left and right. And if you don’t think other states are actively working on recruiting Illinois businesses, then look no further than the billboards scattered along I-94 near the Illinois-Indiana border.

Messages that read “Can you spell deficit? We can’t” and “Envy is a sin, but moving here isn’t” are unmistakably taunting Illinois residents as they drive the corridor. I will readily acknowledge that the Edge program is far from perfect. This year I introduced House Bill 3105 which would strike the portion of Edge legislation that mandates a company must show that an investment could not be made in-state without the tax credit. In my opinion, the current language makes it difficult for small businesses to prove this before a committee. Small businesses often do not have the resources to employ an army of attorneys. And though I will be the first to tell you that the Edge program could be better, I adamantly believe that it is necessary to keep Illinois competitive regionally.

Even as we debate the merits of saving jobs and keeping businesses here in our state, some lawmakers thought it would be a good idea to spend $1.5 million on software that would translate the Illinois General Assembly website into Spanish. At first, this may not sound like a terrible idea, but that’s only because you haven’t heard the punchline yet.

In a classic case of the government trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist, the sad humor is that the free market already has a solution. But wait, there’s more. Not only does the free market have a solution; the free market has a FREE solution. Google Translate is a 100% free application – and it works well.

I would like to thank my colleague Representative Keith Wheeler (R-50, Aurora) for demonstrating the effectiveness of the free technology by translating the entire text of the bill into Polish. When he was asked how difficult the software was, Rep. Wheeler (who runs an I.T. company) responded, “It just took one click.”

And here’s the kicker: my friends on the other side of the aisle wanted to spend $1.5 million on translating the ILGA website into one language. Google Translate can convert text into 100 languages.

Please consider the two topics of discussion this week: tax credits that save jobs, and software that is literally a waste of money. I don’t like to highlight the dysfunction in Springfield, but I do believe it is necessary that we re-focus our priorities to consider what we can do to grow Illinois both in population and job creation.

In the meantime, I would urge all of us, especially my colleagues in the General Assembly to remember that the free market is the only way to create jobs. If we support businesses that create jobs instead of coming up with more “good ideas” on how to spend more money, then perhaps we could see economic growth in Illinois. As someone once said, “There is no problem too great that the government can’t make it worse.”

As always, you can reach me 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.
From the Prairie Advocate:

FREEPORT – Hundreds of area students gathered Saturday in the Highland Community College Student Conference Center for their regular monthly Servant Leadership training session, but their March meeting brought something more to the table – it also was a celebration of the program’s 20th anniversary.

“In 20 years, our servant leaders have clocked more than a million hours of community service in our 4-county region,” Highland Community College Servant Leadership Coordinator Kim Pool said. “They've completed thousands upon thousands of service projects and helped countless community agencies through volunteerism.”
***Guest Column*** 

I recently filed House Bill 3096, which would create the Lincoln-Douglas Historic Tax Credit. If approved by the legislature and signed into law, Freeport would benefit from one more tool to entice developers to invest in Northwest Illinois. As of today the bill is in the Revenue & Finance Committee, I will do everything I can to move this bill along quickly.
Another bill that I filed was House Bill 3555, which is an amendment to the Illinois Unified Code of Corrections. The purpose of the bill is to save taxpayer dollars from being squandered on legal costs when the defendant has the means to pay for his or her own legal costs.

Drew Peterson was arrested, charged and convicted of murdering his wife. Most of us remember the media story surrounding the case. After Mr. Peterson was already incarcerated he was also charged with conspiracy to murder the State’s Attorney who had prosecuted him, so that brought about another trial.

For his second trial, the court appointed a private legal team to defend Mr. Peterson, and those legal fees totaled $264,000. This cost was born entirely by you and me – the Illinois taxpayers. The United States Constitution unequivocally grants anyone accused of a crime the right to an attorney. In fact, every arrest includes the reading of “Miranda warnings” (otherwise known as Miranda rights) which specifically details the arrestee’s right to obtain legal counsel.

In Drew Peterson’s case, he could very well afford to retain private counsel, but the state still stepped in to pay his legal bills. When the judge who oversaw the case was asked about how that had happened, Judge Richard Brown said, “If I were to tell the defense ‘you can’t spend any more,’ then in fact I think it could be said later the defendant wasn’t given a fair trial.”

That’s certainly a legitimate concern. The last thing we need is a mistrial that would result in more wasted tax dollars. But this is where I believe the Illinois General Assembly has an opportunity to right this wrong for future trials.

The text of H.B. 3555 reads: “If it is determined that the person is indigent and eligible for representation by the public defender, the expense of the prosecution shall be paid by the Department (of Corrections).” Under the new legislation, only those inmates who are found to be unable to pay private legal fees will be given representation by a public defender.

No one will lose legal representation as a result of this bill, but those who can afford to pay for their own representation will now be expected to do so. Given the nature of our current fiscal environment, it is imperative that we go line by line through our state expenditures. I believe that this bill will save the state millions – and it’s something that both sides of the aisle can agree on as a common sense reform.

In a statement released by the Governor’s office, Governor Rauner announced his support for the new law by saying, “Taxpayers are on the hook too easily for inmate legal bills… In a time when financial resources are tight across state government, there are better uses for the more than $200,000 the state is paying to defend Drew Peterson.”

If my bill is passed by the General Assembly and signed by the Governor it won’t solve our budget shortfalls or bring the stalemate to an end, but every step helps when trying to balance a budget. As we go line by line through our budget we should remember the words of our favorite debt-free proponent, Dave Ramsey: “A budget is telling your money where to go instead of wondering where it went.”

As always, you can reach me or Sally at 815-232-0774 or email us using the contact form on our website at www.repbrianstewart.com
House Republican Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) and a group of Illinois House Republicans presented House Resolution 58 to a group of state police officers, recognizing the 95th anniversary of the Illinois State Police Department.

The Illinois State Police Department was formed on April 1, 1922 under the direction of Superintendent John T. Stack; its motto is, “Integrity, Service and Pride”.

Today, the Illinois State Police has 21 patrol districts, seven investigative zones, six operational forensic science laboratories, and five regional crime scene services commands under the helm of Director Leo P. Schmitz.

As of 2017, more than 60 state troopers have paid the ultimate sacrifice by giving their lives in service to the state and its citizens. The Illinois State Police Heritage Foundation’s Memorial Park will soon be constructed in downtown Springfield.

“We recognize the Illinois State Police Department on its 95th anniversary and thank them for their service, and wish them many more successful years,” Durkin said.
***Guest Column*** 

We all know that Illinois is in a state of turmoil. We’ve been guilty of kicking the can down the road one too many times, and for decades we have been neglecting our pension payment obligations. I’ll be the first to say that I don’t envy the Governor’s current position.

This past week Governor Rauner gave his annual budget address. In his speech, the Governor laid out his spending plan for the next fiscal year. Some of his numbers relied on the State Senate to continue negotiations in an attempt to fill a budget gap, and the rest relied on anticipated revenues.

There is little debating the fact that Illinois doesn’t have enough funds flowing in to pay all of our bills. The only question is how are we going to fill that void. To his credit, the Governor has shown a refusal to play another game of kick the can. Previous Governors have relied on accounting gimmicks that raided the transportation and other funds, but Governor Rauner is determined to come up with a long-term solution to a far too long ignored problem.

So where does this leave us? The Governor signaled that it is necessary for the Senate to continue their budget negotiations to achieve a balanced budget. We’ve already seen good progress on that front, though some proposals that have been floated were almost universally opposed.

One of the points where the Governor left no room for debate was in adding to the financial burden born by lower-income families and fixed-income seniors. This means that proposals which included taxing retirement income – or raising taxes on food and medicine – would all be opposed by the Governor.

It’s safe to say that we will probably not have a budget until the Senate has reached an agreement, but an agreement is perhaps not as far off as some might think. As I’ve said before, the Senate has never been closer to a budget compromise. Senate President John Cullerton and Republican Senate Leader Christine Radogno have been meeting regularly, and we can only hope that their meetings will result in an agreement.

Bi-partisan compromise is the only vehicle that can drive us out of this mess. I’ll say it again and again: the Governor can’t fix the state’s budget by himself. It’s going to take Republicans and Democrats working together for the good of the state. Thankfully, that is exactly what we have been seeing, and that gives me hope for the future.

The one thing that we should all remember is that a balanced budget isn’t just about getting your finances to look good on a sheet of paper – it’s about confidence. When businesses know that Illinois is serious about meeting our obligations and serious about keeping our fiscal house in order, then we can expect to see economic growth.

Put yourself in the shoes of someone who is thinking about purchasing a house in a city whose city hall is so dysfunctional that the council can’t agree to a budget. Would you feel confident about buying that house? Even if that house had everything you wanted, it would still have an ominous question mark lingering over it.

For the most part, that’s how many businesses see Illinois. I can only imagine a board meeting in which the question is asked “Why would we even move to Illinois when Wisconsin and Indiana have balanced budgets? We have no idea what new taxes Illinois will place on us the minute we locate there.”

Not only am I thinking about companies that are considering moving here, I also have to think about those companies who are considering leaving Illinois out of fear for the future. That’s not even to mention the companies that very well could add new jobs, but have held off because of an environment of uncertainty. Once negotiations have concluded, we can move forward with a balanced budget, and we can expect a positive economic impact on our region.

“Certainty” and “sustainability” - those are the words that come to mind when considering what it’s going to take for Illinois to succeed. At this point, I’m hoping that bi-partisan cooperation will lead to a healthy dose of both certainty and sustainability for all of us.

As always, you can reach me 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.
From WGN TV:

CHICAGO — A Republican State Representative has introduced a bill that would require inmates with financial resources to pay for their own defense if they’re charged with committing a crime while behind bars. Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner quickly said he supports the bill.

The legislation is in response to a WGN Investigates report that found Drew Peterson’s court-appointed legal team charged Illinois taxpayers $264,000 to defend the former Bolingbrook cop. Peterson was convicted of plotting from prison to hire a hit man to kill Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow. Glasgow was the prosecutor who put Peterson in prison for killing his third wife Kathleen Savio.

“Taxpayers are on the hook too easily for inmate legal bills,” Rauner said in a statement to WGN. “In a time when financial resources are tight across state government, there are better uses for the more than $200,000 the state is paying to defend Drew Peterson.”

Peterson’s defense cost the Illinois Department of Corrections more than it has spent to defend an inmate in 18 years.

A Randolph County judge told WGN Investigates he decided to forego a public defender and appoint private counsel for Peterson because of the complexity of the case. However the judge said it’s not his job to reign in the costs of private attorneys.

“If I were to tell the defense ‘you can’t spend any more,’ then in fact I think it could be said later the defendant wasn’t given a fair trial,” Judge Richard Brown said.

The new bill, sponsored by State Rep. Brian Stewart, R-Freeport, would require the Illinois Department of Corrections to pay for legal fees in similar cases only if it’s determined the inmate cannot afford a private attorney on his own.
***Guest Column*** 

As I am writing this I have just returned from Springfield after two days of session. Two days of session and not much to show for it, unfortunately. Many of you are asking about the so called “Grand bargain” being discussed in the Senate. As a member of the House, I am not a part of those talks, and quite frankly I learn from the same news reports most of you do.

I will say this about the talks: I am optimistic that members of the other chamber are meeting to discuss budgetary issues in a bi-partisan fashion. Even though some of the proposals that are being talked about are beyond that which I can support, the very notion that the two sides are willing to engage each other is encouraging.

For far too long we’ve heard that everyone in Springfield wanted a compromise but no one was willing to make the first move. The legislative chamber resembled something along the lines of a middle school dance where the guys awkwardly stood on one side of the room and the gals stayed on the other. I can think of no better description of the past year than to refer to it as the most ornate and time-consuming middle school dance in world history.

But here we are – finally talking about working together. There is some good news after all. Let’s hope that these negotiations are in good faith and that we can actually achieve the necessary reforms that will allow us to keep school doors open, fund our necessary social services, fulfill our pension promises, and provide a level of certainty that we can use to leverage Illinois as a place to grow businesses and create jobs. That’s the goal, and I hope that’s exactly what we will see.

Now I suppose I should recount what happened in Springfield over the past two days, and I should warn you to brace yourself for an underwhelming explanation. The three takeaways were: 1) we discussed and passed House Resolution 30 Zombie Preparedness Month – yes you read that correctly. No Budget, however we are concerned about Zombies. 2) Lawmakers discussed creating yet another state holiday in which state workers would get one more paid vacation day, and 3) My friends on the other side of the aisle spent almost a whole day complaining about President Trump from the floor of the Illinois House. Oh by the way, after we are done bashing the President maybe we could get around to asking him for a federal bailout. Kidding aside, I don’t believe the charades accomplished much of anything at all. We don’t have a budget, but apparently we have plenty of time to bash the President while on the taxpayer’s dime. That doesn’t sit well with me for some reason. Regardless of how you feel about the President, we, as state legislators, have a job to do. And our job description does not include pontificating on federal issues from the House floor.

Speaking of our legislative job descriptions, I would like to take a moment to share with you my committee appointments this year. I’m proud to say that I have been selected to be on the Agriculture and Conservation Committee – a committee that is very near and dear to the hearts of many of us in Northwest Illinois.

I was also appointed to the Appropriations – Public Safety Committee as well as the Executive, Labor and Commerce, Revenue and Finance, Veterans’ Affairs Committees as well as the Unemployment Insurance, Workers Compensation, Property Taxes, Sales Taxes and Finance Subcommittees.

Finally, I had the honor of being named Republican Spokesperson on the Judiciary – Criminal and the Restorative Justice Committees. Needless to say it will be a busy year legislatively. But most importantly, I plan to use these various committee appointments to be an advocate for Northwest Illinois. At the end of the day, which committees I’m appointed to is not nearly as important as my primary task – to represent you. As your voice in Springfield, I always want to know which issues are important to you. That’s why I have a district office, and that’s why that door is always open.

As always, you can reach me 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.
As I write this column, I am watching the news reports on Inauguration Day.  It’s almost surreal to think that today is the day when the greatest country in the world has its peaceful transition of power.  President Trump took the Oath of Office and with that begins day one of his term.  In my opinion, his record begins right now.  His life up until now was just that – his life, but now – he is our President.  Now he begins the Presidency, and with that we also must begin to hold him accountable just the same as we held President Obama accountable.

And while we may not take any issue acknowledging the fact that he is our President, some of us may vehemently oppose him.  Some of us are strong supporters.  Some of us are lukewarm to the new President.  But we all have an opinion one way or the other.


On Wednesday, January 11th, I had the honor of being sworn in to the 100th General Assembly. I couldn’t be more proud to represent Northwest Illinois in Springfield.  As your legislator, every decision I make is guided by one principal: “What can I do to make Illinois – and specifically Northwest Illinois – a better place to live, work and to raise a family?”  That was the guiding principal that former Representative Sacia carried before me, and that legacy was passed to him by former Representative Lawfer.
 
As many of you know – and as I mentioned in this column previously – Ron Lawfer retired from this earth and took his place on what I’m sure is a farm on the outskirts of heaven.  He had three passions: his family, farming, and Northwest Illinois.  He did so much for this region and for farming, and his legacy will live on for generations.  One of my proudest moments to date in the Illinois General Assembly was this past week when, with his family present, I had the privilege to recognize Ron Lawfer’s legacy with House Resolution 1558 in honor of the man who had such a big heart for our little corner of Illinois.
 
Happy New Year everybody!  Have you made any New Year’s resolutions yet?  We’ve all heard about the success rate of resolutions.  If we follow the law of averages then by February most of our resolutions are out the window and we wait until the next year to repeat the same cycle.