I was sworn in as your State Representative in the 89th District on October 3rd, 2013. My first public comments were to thank my family, my friends, and Representative Jim Sacia who supported me. Then I spoke about our state’s pension crisis, saying, “The state’s pension debt is growing by the millions each day. Those dollars could be used to fund education, senior services, and other important areas in the State budget. We must tackle this problem and protect retirees before the system is in total disarray.”

The legislature passed Senate Bill 1 to reform pensions that December, and as you recall I voted. “No”. I was convinced then, as I am today, that pension reform in Illinois must start with an amendment to the Illinois Constitution. It turns out that the Illinois State Supreme Court agreed with me when it declared SB1 unconstitutional in 2015. The reason is because Article VIII Section 5 of the Illinois Constitution says, “Membership in any pension or retirement system of the State, any unit of local government or school district, or any agency or instrumentality thereof, shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired.”

The pension crisis has only grown worse, to the tune of $130 billion. We already know the Chicago machine’s plan. They’ve done the math on what it will take to pay our current bill backlog and pension debts. It means another income tax increase, starting with people earning $7500 a year.

You are already paying more taxes to state and local governments than families in any other state in the country. Our income taxes were hiked just last year. And our property taxes are punitive. Many of us know people who have moved, or are thinking about moving, because their property taxes are too high.

It was Roy Disney who said, “It’s not hard to make decisions once we know what our values are.” My values are simple. We simply cannot raise taxes on working families and retirees before making commitments to reform state spending and solve our pension crisis.

Let me explain. Right now, pension costs amount to 25 percent of the state budget, more than any other state and almost double the national average! In 1995, the pension deficit was $20 billion. As I mention above, today’s unfunded pension liability is $130 billion and growing. Take education related pension costs as an example. The Illinois Policy Institute tells us that by “2025, the state will spend more of its education budget on teacher pensions than it will in the classroom.”

I understand these numbers are astonishing. Identifying there is a pension crisis in no way diminishes the respect all of us have for our state and local government employees. No one is saying they do not deserve a pension. We are saying that the system as it stands today cannot stand much longer.

Three factors have contributed to the crisis. The state has been shorting pension payments for decades. Crain’s Chicago Business reported that “underpayments between 1985 and 2012 totaled $41.2 billion.” Both Republican and Democrat governors contributed to the problem, the common denominator – the Chicago machine.

The second factor is the built in increases. Starting in 1989, cost of living increases were set at 3% and enhanced even more in the late 1990’s. According to the Illinois State Supreme Court, once these were passed into law, they became protected by the state constitution and cannot be revoked without a constitutional amendment.

The last factor is the contribution burden. According to the Illinois Policy Institute, Illinois workers contribute less to their retirements than the national average, putting more of the burden on non-government employees.

There is hope. Other states and municipalities have managed to solve their pension crises. We can too. The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago reported in its Chicago Fed Letter, No. 398 about a pension conference it sponsored with the Civic Federation earlier this year. Former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed spoke about how his administration addressed Atlanta’s underfunded pensions. Instead of kicking the can down the road, Reed chose to address the problem head on because the pension costs were “threatening to crowd out public services”.

The President of the Professional Fire Fighters of Arizona, Bryan Jeffries, shared how his organization worked with Arizona state legislators to solve their pension crisis. “His group focused on educating firefighters across the state about pension issues and eventually helped develop and pass both pension reform legislation and an amendment to the Arizona Constitution that permitted the benefit reforms to be implemented.”

Solutions are possible. They will require all sides to work together until we get it done. I look forward to the challenge.
I know I’ve quoted him in the past, and I think it’s appropriate to quote him again. I agree with George Washington who wrote, “In a free republican government, you cannot restrain the voice of the multitude.” For a government to be successful we need legislators who are thoughtful, are willing to stick to their guns when it makes sense, and work to accomplish the will of the people.

That is why I conducted the End of Session Survey this past August. If I have said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times. Leadership is better when it is better informed. I will continue to conduct surveys and work with staff to improve the quality of the surveys in the future. I want to know what you think. I want to know what is important to you. And I want to continue a dialogue so I can make better decisions for us.

Almost 1,000 of you returned the survey in the mail or through my website. Thank you. The survey asked which were the most serious challenges facing Illinois - education funding, gun violence, transportation and infrastructure, environmental protection, health care costs, or high taxes. More than half of your responses said high taxes was our most serious challenge.

I can certainly understand why so many of you are concerned about high taxes. Illinois families pay more taxes than families in any other state in the country. There are people who think you should pay more taxes without reforming government in any way whatsoever. I think those people are wrong. We need to reform Springfield’s spending, and put a stop to government corruption before asking working families to pay more taxes.

The next six questions of the survey addressed various issues. A few responses stood out. For example, ninety-two percent of you think that we should take the legislative map-drawing process out of the hands of politicians! Given the autocratic rule we have seen by the Chicago machine, controlling our state for the past three decades, it’s easy to understand why so many of us agree that one way to fight this corruption is to end gerrymandering.

Progressive taxes were next on the list. Over eighty-three percent of you said you opposed a progressive income tax if it would raise taxes on the middle class. There are folks who are trying to convince you that changing our tax system would benefit working families and only tax the “rich”. However, they want you to blindly support the change without telling you exactly what the tax rates will be and who they will affect. For those who don’t remember, the only progressive tax bill that has been filed is House Bill 3522, which starts raising income taxes on families earning $7,500 a year, and increases them again for families earning more than $15,000 a year. The legislator who filed that bill included a letter to the remaining 117 members of the House of Representatives explaining how the only way to pay our current debts and pension obligations was through that tax bill, and included a calculator for us to check his math.

Seventy-eight percent of you are opposed to the proposal by the Chicago Fed to increase your property taxes for the next 30 years to pay down pension debt. This is easy to understand. I took a phone call from a gentleman just the other day telling me about how high his property taxes are compared to similar properties in Minnesota.

Also, many of your comments on the question expressed distrust that the state would spend the money to pay down the pension debt. After all, wasn’t that what the old 2011 tax increase was for?

One question, Question 7, we refined from last year’s survey. Last year, we asked about government consolidation and a significant majority of you were in favor of it. This year, you were asked if you favored consolidating Townships or Township Road Districts without first providing data proving that the consolidation would save you money. Seventy-three percent of you said “No.” This makes sense. The survey indicates that taxes are your highest concern. It makes sense that you would want to know if consolidation would save tax dollars.

I relate to the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, “Do what you feel in your heart to be right – for you’ll be criticized anyway.” Now there are always people who will disagree with the decisions I’ve made. They will most likely disagree with any decisions I will make. They disagree with the beliefs you and I have. There’s no pleasing these people, even after presenting the facts.

However, we can remember that what unites us is far greater than anything that divides us. With that in mind, I would like to take a moment and note the passing of a long-time friend, Kenneth “Pat” Patrick Martin, who I always called, “K. Patrick”. I knew him for many years both personally and professionally, since I served as a Freeport Alderman with his wife, Mickey Martin. I had the privilege of honoring their daughter, Kelly, who was one of Time Magazine’s People of the Year in 2017 for her bravery in speaking out against sexual harassment.

K. Patrick was active in our community, committed to making Freeport a better place for all of us. He was also a founding member and dedicated to the Highland Chapter of Pheasants Forever and to the Illinois State Council of Pheasants Forever for the past 35 years. He was a great man and will be missed.
Some of you remember Paul Harvey. For those who don’t know, he was a radio broadcaster on ABC’s radio networks from 1952 until 2008. He was most famously known for his segment called, The Rest of the Story.

Everyone has opinions. In today’s world, full of posts and tweets and grams, forming an opinion is easy. With the inception of the internet, we have more information at our fingertips than any generation ever had before. More often than not, what we need is perspective. More information isn’t always better. We need to get the right information to help us make the right decisions. We need the rest of the story.

It was famous author and management consultant Peter Drucker who said, “Making good decisions is a crucial skill at every level.” He is absolutely right. This especially holds true for our public officials. We pay taxes for public officials, elected and unelected, to make decisions that will impact our lives. Our expectation is that they will make good decisions.

I remember making the decision to start my first business. I remember each choice I had to make, and how much I was asking, of my family, my future employees, and myself. While my businesses have grown, I continue to approach every decision with the same care and precision.

That is how I make decisions as your State Representative as well. I am responsible for approximately 108,000 people in the 89th District. When I make a decision to vote for or against legislation, it’s with you in mind.

An example is Senate Bill 607, which was legislation filed by State Senator Tim Bivins. It was approved by both houses and signed into law last year. 

A common misconception is that SB607 legalized switchblades, making life more dangerous for families in Illinois. I do not agree with that characterization.

A small business, RAT Worx USA, in Mount Morris, IL, manufactures high quality automatic knives – the average retail price for one of their knives is $300. Allowing the sale of the automatic knives that they manufacture right here in the 89th District would help their business. As you know, I believe the best way for Illinois to overcome our financial challenges is through economic growth, and that was an important consideration in supporting SB607.

Another important consideration was the benefit an automatic knife or “spring assisted device” has for society. As a retired Stephenson County Sheriff’s Deputy, I turned to law enforcement and the first responder community for guidance. I learned that these devices are very popular with first responders (police, fire, EMT’s and even the Military”). Imagine if you were in a car accident and your car was on fire. Using an automatic knife, an EMT could cut your seatbelt and begin removing you from the vehicle in less time than it would take to open a standard pocket knife with two hands. Automatic knives save time, and for first responders, saving time means saving lives.

The most important consideration was how much a bill legalizing automatic knives would hurt Illinois families. Ultimately, the process narrowed the bill to only allow the sale of automatic knives to Illinois residents who have been issued a Firearm Owners Identification (FOID) Card by the Illinois State Police. Illinois has strict eligibility rules to obtain a FOID Card. Felony convictions, mental health issues, or a history of domestic violence are among the many disqualifying factors.

It is my belief that the FOID Card requirement to purchase an automatic knife helps protect Illinois families. After that, I also considered the endorsement from first responders and the benefits to a local manufacturer, I then supported the legislation. I would also note that these automatic knives were already being sold for years in your big box and sporting goods stores even though they were technically illegal.

Another example of the process I use in making decisions in Springfield is Senate Bill 2298, the Industrial Hemp Act. When many people hear the word hemp, they think marijuana. Before I supported SB2298, I wanted to make sure what I was endorsing, and whether the benefits outweighed potential risks.

What I learned is that special interests fought to make hemp illegal in 1937 because of a government report suggesting hemp could replace wood pulp to produce paper, and other products. Hemp was also later included in the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.

It turns out that the plants farmers grow to produce industrial hemp are different from the plants that are grown to produce the marijuana drug. Industrial hemp plants don’t produce enough of the psychoactive chemical THC for drug users to get “high” and produce more cannabidiol (CBD) which also prevents a user from getting “high.”

Former State Representative I. Ron Lawfer made a compelling argument for the benefit cultivating industrial hemp would have for Illinois farmers. Industrial hemp is a crop that can be used to manufacture paper, textiles, paints, insulation, biofuels, animal feed, and biodegradable plastics. I think we can all agree that this crop would help Illinois farmers and rural communities throughout our state.

I hope these examples provide insight into the process I use to make decisions as your State Representative. I will continue to use the same level of discretion and scrutiny in the decisions I make for the 89th District during the veto session this November.

Bandwidth speeds more than double since 2015; Rauner committed to reaching FCC goal of one megabit per second per student

Gov. Bruce Rauner today announced that 96 percent of K-12 school districts in Illinois can access the internet at speeds of 100 kbps per student, a substantial improvement from 71 percent just three years ago. Median bandwidths also have markedly improved, increasing 2.5 times since 2015.

High-speed connectivity ensures that students have access to more digital resources, which in turn expands learning opportunities. By making high-speed internet accessible, educators and students gain the benefits of greater interactivity, collaboration, engagement and personal instruction.

“Our aim is to give every K-12 student in Illinois access to internet speeds on par with the FCC’s goal of one megabit per second per student,” said Rauner. “When this kind of technology is fully integrated in our classrooms, students will advance more rapidly and with much higher odds of success in the 21st century labor market.”

Illinois’ digital advances were reported by the EducationSuperHighway which tracks progress toward K-12 connectivity across the United States. The national nonprofit advocates for upgrading internet access in every public school classroom in America. Rauner is one of four governors committed to reaching the FCC broadband speed goal.

While Illinois has advanced its school digital resources, work remains. EducationSuperHighway says that 407,093 students in 32 school districts across the state still need adequate bandwidth for digital learning. There also are 136 school campuses that lack scalable fiber-optic broadband connections.

The Illinois Classroom Connectivity Initiative<Click Here>, launched by the Rauner administration in 2016, is an effort to ensure that all districts receive the support and funding to close this school broadband gap. The FY19 education budget includes a $17 million Broadband Expansion fund to help cover costs of fiber upgrades for school districts. There is also provision for free technical assistance.

“We commend Gov. Rauner for working toward closing the digital divide in Illinois classrooms,” said Evan Marwell, CEO of EducationSuperHighway. “I am pleased that leaders in Illinois have demonstrated their continued commitment to connecting students to vital digital learning opportunities through high-speed internet access.”
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), established in 1961, is an international non-profit whose mission is to promote policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world. The OECD’s most recent study estimates that only 43% of citizens around the world trust their government.

The Pew Research Center’s most recent study indicates less than 30% of Americans trust our government. According to a poll conducted by Gallup in the same year says that only 25% of Illinois residents trust their state government, and that we have the “nation’s lowest confidence in (our) state economy.”

It’s easy to understand why Illinois families are skeptical of our state government. Take for example, Senate Bill 2892. This bill created a statewide threshold for paying teachers, including mandatory raises. Sounds good right? School superintendents in the 89th District called my office in an uproar because the bill did not include state funds or a method to pay the salary increases and corresponding benefit costs.

The only way to cover these additional costs would be for the local school districts to raise your property taxes. The Chicago machine was hoping Illinois families would blame school board members for the tax hikes.

I support fairly compensating our teachers. I think most of us do. I voted against SB2892 because increasing property taxes would hurt hard working families and senior citizens in our district. Some people may not care if you have to pay more property taxes. I do.

Another example why people in Illinois deserve to be skeptical of their government is Medicaid. Illinois accepted the Medicaid expansion in July 2013 and it went into effect in 2014. According to healthinsurance.org, the increase in number of people covered by Medicaid between the start of the expansion and June 2016 was 461,505, bringing the total number of persons covered by Illinois Medicaid to 3,088,448. Healthinsurance.org estimated an additional 782,000 patients would become newly eligible for coverage after June 2016.

The costs for the Medicaid expansion are significantly higher than the projections. In 2013, former Governor Quinn told us that the expansion would cost $4.6 billion during the first three years. It turns out, he was off target. The expansion cost Illinois families $9.2 billion.

It would make sense, given the enormous unanticipated costs to cover the additional patients that we should try to audit patient eligibility and make sure our tax dollars are being used to cover patients who actually qualify and are eligible for Medicaid. After all, the US Department of Health and Human Services estimated that nearly 10% of Medicaid spending was improper and state law requires the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services (HFS) to conduct annual eligibility checks.

The same year Illinois approved the Medicaid expansion, the legislature voted to allow HFS to contract with independent experts to audit the eligibility for all Medicaid participants. Of the first 195,000 Medicaid patients reviewed by the vendor, 64% had eligibility errors. 101,000 patients did not qualify, and an additional 23,000 were eligible for some benefits but weren’t enrolled in the right program. This was before the Medicaid expansion even started!

The audit was stopped after union bosses went to arbitration. They said the state shouldn’t contract an outside auditor to do union jobs. The bosses wanted public union employees to conduct the audit. So the Quinn administration halted the audit.

In the 1980’s I had the honor and privilege of being elected the union president of the Stephenson County public employees, UAW Local 2261. I would never have suggested that only our union employees were qualified to audit ourselves, and would have encouraged our members to welcome any independent investigation of our job performance.

The Chicago machine did nothing to try and reduce the burden on taxpayers and make sure that Medicaid benefits are going to people who truly need the help. This is the kind of thing we need to overcome if we are going to get Illinois back on track doing the right things for hard working families.

I agree with Elvis Presley. “Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain’t goin’ away.” I believe we need to restore confidence in Illinois. We deserve a state government that you can trust. It has been my mission as your State Representative to support, sponsor, and vote for common sense solutions that provide for balanced budgets, to resist tax increases without a commitment to responsible spending, and to secure jobs for working families. I believe doing so will help you have more faith in our state government.
I’m sure some of you may find it hard to think about the upcoming veto session with the election season upon us. For me, it is invigorating to serve as your State Representative, and I look forward to addressing hard problems with common sense solutions in November. I believe it will be important for us to come together and work to pave a smooth road for families in Illinois.

We have an opportunity to expand beyond the same tired approach that has been dictated in Springfield for almost four decades. As we have discussed in previous columns, Illinois has lagged behind the nation throughout the economic recovery. For such a large and diverse state, the Chicago machine’s strategy has not made our state an economic powerhouse.

When I say Chicago machine, I’m not being critical of the city, or its hard working families. To paraphrase President Kennedy, we share common links with families in Chicago. We all share this state. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future.

So when I reference the Chicago machine, I am talking about a network of politicians and special interests whose mission is not to help families get ahead. Their mission is to advance their own power and privilege.

I agree with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who said, “True individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence.” We need to alter our direction, and make decisions that help working families. We can do this by pursuing policies that will result in balanced budgets, resist tax increases especially on the middle class, and by securing jobs for Illinois families.

I voted an enthusiastic “No” on the last budget. Why? I voted no because years ago, when I was a poor small businessman starting my first business at my kitchen table, I learned to focus on the numbers. When it came time to vote on this year’s budget, the numbers didn’t add up to me. It turns out the budget wasn’t balanced to the tune of at least $1.2 billion.

Deficit spending and unpaid bills hurt us. They increase our interest rates, push more debt on our kids and grandkids, and stretch tax dollars more thinly than ever before. We need to make smarter spending decisions with the goal of helping families move forward. Treading water is not enough.

The Chicago machine’s answer is the same as it’s always been. Raise taxes. Some of you remember the first time they played this game. It was during the dead of night in the winter of 2011 when a “temporary” tax hike was passed. At the time, Illinois’ bill backlog was $8.5 billion and our pension liability was $83 billion. We were promised the new taxes would pay off our debts.

Two years after that increase what happened? Our bill backlog was up $500 million. Our interest payments increased from $53 million to $186 million. Our credit rating was downgraded 5 times. And our pension debt increased by $17 billion.

That’s the Chicago machine’s legacy. These are the people who are spending your money. Last year’s 32% tax increase has not balanced our budgets. It hasn’t paid off our bills. It hasn’t improved our credit rating and it has certainly not addressed the pension deficit.

Of course, their answer is to raise taxes. But this time there is a new spin. This time, they’re telling us that the taxes will be on the ones who need to pay their “fair share.”

Ironically, the bill they filed in Springfield during the spring session goes a whole lot farther than their “spin.” Let me explain. The poverty level is roughly $24,000. Median household income in Illinois is roughly $77,000, in Freeport it’s about $35,500. The progressive tax bill – House Bill 3522 – raises taxes for people earning between $7,500 and $15,000 by 18%. It increases taxes for people earning between $15,000 and $225,000 by 27%. When they said “fair share,” I didn’t realize it included poor and middle class families.

I am also adamantly against a vehicle mileage tax. A mileage tax would hurt Northern Illinois families, farms, and small businesses.

Taxes are important. They’re the price we pay for a civilized society. What concerns me is the lack of responsibility in committing hard earned tax dollars to balance our budget and pay off our bills. Given the Chicago machine’s legacy, it feels like we’d only be throwing good money after bad.

In previous columns, we have also established that tax hikes are not the best way to increase revenue, balance our budget, pay off our debt, or secure jobs for working families. Resisting tax increases while finding ways to grow our economy is better at achieving all of those goals rather than forcing families to pay more taxes.

I think President Theodore Roosevelt was right when he said, “The best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” The primary purpose of growing our economy is to secure jobs. That is why we need common sense solutions to help expand small businesses, agriculture, and agribusiness in Illinois.

I look forward to working hard for Northern Illinois during the veto session pursuing common sense solutions to balance our budget, resist tax increases, and help secure jobs for Illinois families. It is work worth doing, and it is a privilege to do it.
The IEC released its 2018 Environmental Scorecard and Representative Brian Stewart (R-Freeport) has been honored for his perfect voting record. “Representative Brian Stewart demonstrated a commitment to environmental issues in Springfield this session,” said IEC Executive Director Jen Walling.

“It is an honor to support common sense legislation that is good for our environment,” said Rep. Stewart. “I am especially honored to see the passage of the Industrial Hemp Act, which was the mission of former Illinois State Representative Ron Lawfer.”

“Representative Brian Stewart voted 100% of the time with the environmental community on nine pieces of key legislation,” added Walling. “The IEC is honored by Representative Stewart’s dedication to Illinois’ environment and we look forward to working together in the future.”

The Illinois Environmental Council (IEC) is a non-partisan 43 year-old organization that promotes sound environmental laws and policies, provides a forum for environmentalists and facilitates a statewide activist network. IEC performs legislative advocacy and serves as the environmental community’s eyes, ears and voice in Springfield.

More information on the 2018 Environmental Scorecard can be found at ilenviro.org.
“Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life; define yourself.” Robert Frost 

I grew up in Northern Illinois. I attended Freeport High School. And after my service in the United States Army, I came back to Freeport, because it’s home, and began my law enforcement career.

I care about our families. I care about our teachers. And I care about our students. Our students are the future. Many of them don’t quite realize it, but the decisions they make matter. Making good choices isn’t just better for the world around us. It’s better for each of us too. That is why I worked to have Erika Harold return to share her story with students in Freeport and Lena.

It was a little over twenty years ago when, Erika Harold – then a college freshman, first came to visit Freeport and Lena. She came to tell our students about her experience being bullied in high school. She came to give them guidance, and to offer hope. Last Wednesday she returned to share the same message with the next generation of our students and to tell the students what she has done with her life to overcome challenges and to encourage them to do the same. After her high school experiences, Erika Harold went on to become Miss Illinois and was crowned Miss America 2003. She used the scholarship money from the pageant to attend Harvard Law School and graduated debt free. What she didn’t talk about was her candidacy to be the next Illinois Attorney General.

I want to thank Freeport High School Principal Beth Summers, Middle School Principal Renee Coleman, and their staff for helping arrange each of the assemblies with the high school and middle school girls in the Jeannette Lloyd Theatre. I would also like to thank Lena-Winslow District Superintendent Tom Chiles, Principal Mark Kuehl, District Counselor Leslie Price and their staff for organizing the assemblies first with the elementary students, and then with the middle school and high school students in the high school gym. 

I had never heard Erika share her story. At least, I hadn’t heard all of it. She grew up in Champaign-Urbana. Her mother is African American, and her father is Greek-German. She was one of the few minority students in her high school, and because of that, she was bullied.

She was called names, including racial epithets. She was subject to the “uncool game” where students would observe her during the class period and write down everything she did. Towards the end of the period, the teacher would allow students to come up to the front of the classroom and read all of the things the “uncool” Erika did.

She did not tell her parents. They only discovered what was happening to her when they found a note she was writing to a friend. When confronted, the administration and the teachers would not act to stop the bullying.

Then it escalated. Things were thrown at her home and through the windows. They lost power to a part of their house when some cables were cut outside. Eventually, her parents chose to enroll her in another school.

Erika challenged educators. She said, “When you see people in power standing by and allowing something negative to happen, it sends a message that what’s happening is ok.”

She left our students with three things. First, don’t accept what the crowd says about you. It’s easy to shrink when people put a spotlight on us in a negative way. It’s easy to retreat when others try to hurt us. She said, “You will always regret not stepping up to embrace the fullness of who you were created to be.”

Second, defend each other. She recalled another student whose family was not as well off as his classmates’ parents were. He was bullied for being poor. To this day, she regrets not standing up for him. She didn’t bully him, but she wishes she had said something. “It’s not only important to stand up for yourself. Stand up for each other,” she said.

Lastly, she encouraged our students to find a cause to fight for and to make a difference in the world. She took her experience and used it to help other students understand they were not alone. She used it to challenge bullies. And she used it to change policies in schools across the country when it comes to making sure that classrooms are a safe environment for our children.

This was the story our students heard. At some point, between when students entered the auditorium, and when Erika finished sharing her story, our students became engaged. High school students asked deep and penetrating questions about what she went through, and the entire room was supportive and attentive. They applauded each other for asking questions. Our middle school students supported their friends who chose to share their own gifts and sing or dance on stage.

It’s hard to be a kid today. We know it’s hard. But for the hour almost 1,400 students spent with Erika Harold on Wednesday, we watched something extraordinary. Our students became united in a common cause to support each other. In that hour they became a community. It was awesome. It was inspiring. And my hope and prayer is that the community they discovered together on September 12th keeps on keeping on.

Farmers, crop haulers won’t have to wait to more successfully compete with neighboring states

Gov. Bruce Rauner today declared a harvest emergency to help level the playing field between Illinois farmers and crop haulers and those in neighboring states.

The action bridges the gap between the 2018 harvest season and a new law the governor signed Aug. 25 that takes effect next year. Going forward, that measure will allow for an annual harvest-season easing of gross vehicle and gross axle weight limits for agricultural commodities haulers with a free permit.

“We have heard from Illinois’ trucking industry and from farmers who are operating on thin profit margins in today’s agricultural climate,” Rauner said before making his announcement at the Ladage Farm in Auburn. “Today’s harvest emergency declaration recognizes that the weight-restriction structure in place in Illinois put our farmers and truckers at a disadvantage.

“They cannot and should not be forced to wait until the 2019 harvest season to reap the economic benefits of eased weight limits,” he said. “Now they won’t have to as they take their crops to market, processing or storage.”

The emergency declaration is in effect from Monday, Sept. 10, to Dec. 31, 2018, and enables crop haulers to seek free Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) permits to exceed legal maximum gross vehicle and gross axle weight limits or the vehicle’s registered gross weight, whichever is less, by no more than 10 percent on state and federal highways under IDOT’s jurisdiction, except interstates. (Federal requirements prohibit inclusion of interstates.)

“We appreciate Gov. Rauner declaring an emergency situation for the 2018 harvest season, especially in light of the declining incomes and market turmoil which farmers are currently facing,” said Richard Guebert Jr., president, Illinois Farm Bureau. “This declaration opens the door for increased efficiencies for farmers and truck drivers hauling agricultural commodities and will help offset any uncontrollable effects of weather and commodity markets, allowing farmers the freedom to move what is projected to be a record-breaking crop.”

Permits will once again be issued at no charge, but applicants must obtain a route authorization number every two weeks. The harvest emergency permit and other information on the permitting process can be obtained through IDOT’s automated permitting web application here.

Rauner said the declaration will speed the movement of crops to market, adding that the importance of an economically healthy agriculture community in Illinois cannot be overstated. Illinois is home to 71,000 farms on 26.6 million acres. Marketing of Illinois’ agricultural commodities generates more than $19 billion annually, and the state’s food and fiber industries employ nearly 1 million people. The state ranks third nationally in the export of agricultural commodities, with $8.2 billion worth of goods shipped to other countries, according to the Illinois Department of Agriculture.
It started like any other day.  Across America, we woke up to get ready for work.  We had a cup of coffee.  We fixed breakfast.  We kissed our loved ones goodbye.

And then we turned on the news.  When we heard an airplane hit the North Tower, many of us couldn’t believe it.  It had to be an accident.  We wondered how it could possibly happen, and as newscasters asked the same questions racing through our minds, we saw the second plane.

We watched in horror as it crashed into the South Tower.  And then we knew.  This was no accident.  And our lives would never be the same again.

2,996 people lost their lives on September 11, 2001.  6,000 more were injured.  We lost 343 firefighters, 72 law enforcement officers, and 55 military personnel.  The attack was the single deadliest terrorist attack in world history.  500 more people were killed on 9/11 than in the attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II.

Throughout our history, people have sold America short.  The British sold us short in the 1770’s until Yorktown.  The Confederacy sold us short until Appomattox.  The Spanish sold us short until Manila.  The Axis Powers sold us short until D-Day.  The Soviets sold us short until the Berlin Wall fell.

At every turn, Americans rise to the occasion.  President Ronald Reagan once said that, “One of the worst mistakes anybody can make is to bet against Americans.”

One of those occasions was in 1943.  The United States was in its second year fighting World War II.  Many of our nation’s nurses had gone overseas to serve in the military, leaving our civilian hospitals critically understaffed.  We needed nurses, and fast.

As a result of the crisis, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a law creating the United States Cadet Nurse Corps on July 1st, 1943.  The program, administered by the United States Public Health Service, truncated 36 months of training into 30 months.  It did not discriminate on the basis of race or ethnicity.  Students were eligible for a government subsidy to pay for tuition, textbooks, uniforms, and to cover a “cost of living” stipend.  In exchange, the students pledged to serve wherever needed in essential civilian or federal government services until the end of World War II.

The program ran from 1943 until 1948.  Over 179,000 nurses were enrolled in the program with a seventy percent graduation rate.  Eighty-seven percent of the nursing programs in the country participated in the program.  One such school was right here in Freeport at the old St. Francis Hospital.  St. Francis was the first hospital in Freeport, opening its doors on February 12th, 1890. It developed a nursing school that trained hundreds of nurses by 1923, and in 1943, began training nurses through the US Cadet Nurse Corps training program.

Dorothy Elaine Ellis (nee Ditzler) was one of the cadets trained at St. Francis.  She grew up on a farm in Winslow, Illinois and began her training on September 1st,1944 when she was 17 years old.

Her son, Bob Ditzler, says that Dorothy served because she is “a patriot who answered the call of duty.  She has always had a caring, giving personality with compassion for mankind and sympathy for others, especially service members.”

Bob provided me with information about his mother’s service, hoping that she could be recognized for her service by the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs.  As it turns out, the US Cadet Nurse Corps is the only uniformed corps, commissioned during World War II, whose members have not been recognized as veterans.

In a message shortly before signing the Emancipation Proclamation, President Lincoln wrote, “The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present.  The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise – with the occasion.”  Americans have a history of rising with the occasion.  We saw it on 9/11 and in the days and months that followed.  We saw it during World War II, including the creation and development of the US Cadet Nurse Corps.

I would like Springfield to pass a resolution thanking nurses like Dorothy Ellis-Ditzler who were trained at St. Francis and throughout Illinois for their service to their country.  I would also like the resolution to call on Congress to pass HR1168, called the US Cadet Nurse Corps Equity Act. It would declare that US Cadet Nurse Corps members - who served between 1943 and 1948 -would be issued an honorable discharge from the Department of Defense and be qualified as veterans.

On Tuesday it will have been 17 years since the fateful morning of September 11th.  Much has happened over the years.  Many of us have loved.  Others have lost.  Children have been brought into the world as friends and family have passed on.

We've come so far and accomplished so much.  But there is one thing that should not, that must not, that will not change.  We will never forget.  Not ever.

And… we will always rise.

Representative Brian Stewart is helping spread the word about a new website launched this week linking employment and higher education data so users can compare the relative earnings value of college degrees.

The planning tool (http://ILCollege2Career.com) was unveiled by Governor Bruce Rauner at his quarterly Children’s Cabinet meeting on Thursday.

“ILCollege2Career.com is groundbreaking for our state,” Governor Rauner said while introducing the tool to cabinet members at the meeting at Springfield High School. “Education has been my top investment priority for many years. In order to grow our economy, we need to give our young people the best education system possible, so they will choose to live, learn and work here in Illinois.”

The data is broken down by schools and area of study, so that students may compare the earnings potential of degree programs from different public and private institutions in the state. ILCollege2Career.com is the product of collaboration between the Governor’s Office, Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE), the Illinois Community College Board (ICCB), the Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC) and the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES).

“Any tool that allows students in Illinois to make better educated decisions about the earning potential of degree programs they’re considering, is well worth the effort for students to explore,” said Rep. Brian Stewart (R-Freeport)

All 48 community colleges and 60+ four-year universities in Illinois participated in the project.

“As a state, we are moving away from just gathering data for compliance purposes to using data to transform decision-making at the local, regional and state level,” said Karen Hunter Anderson, executive director of the Illinois Community College Board. “The Illinois College2Career tool gives high school students and parents, as well as nontraditional students, more transparent and easily accessible information about their post-secondary choices and careers.”

Representative Brian Stewart (R-Freeport) will be honored by the Illinois Chamber of Commerce for his pro-jobs voting record over the past two years in the Illinois General Assembly.

“Many of us understand that we cannot tax our way out of this mess in Illinois, but with better policies towards business, we can grow our way out of the mess we’re in,” said Rep. Stewart. “I am proud to be one of those legislators fighting against job-killing policies and fighting in favor of smarter growth and development.”

The Illinois Chamber honored 34 members of the Illinois House, including Stewart, and 13 members of the Illinois Senate with its biennial “Champion of Free Enterprise” award given in recognition of legislators’ support for voting to further economic opportunities for Illinoisans.

“The Chamber’s Legislative Ratings lets Illinois families, small businesses, and taxpayers know if legislators voted in favor of private sector job creation and a stronger economy,” said Todd Maisch, president and CEO of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.

The Illinois Chamber’s Legislative Ratings tracks votes important to the state’s business community and grades legislators based on their support of pro-business issues during the two-year legislative session. Rep. Stewart has an average score of 90% over his past two terms. To be eligible for a “Champion of Free Enterprise” award, a lawmaker must have received an average of 85 percent or better voting record over the previous two General Assemblies with the Illinois Chamber.

To learn more about the ratings and bills included, please visit the Illinois Chamber’s website at http://ilchamber.org.

“Nothing in life is more liberating than to fight for a cause larger than yourself, something that encompasses you but is not defined by your existence alone.” – Senator John McCain

I agree with these words. And I think many of the 2 million members of the American Legion in over 13,000 posts across the United States and in Mexico, France, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines, agree too.

Many of you may have seen an American Legion booth at your local County Fair this summer. You may have even donated a couple bucks and received a small artificial red flower in return. That flower is a poppy. Poppies proliferated in Europe after the First World War because, as some scientists believe, of the lime from the remains of rubble that leached into soils in France and Belgium.

The poppy was perceived as a symbol of blood, and was popularized by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD in the poem, “In Flanders Fields.” The American Legion named the poppy as its official flower in 1920, and began to distribute them for donations in 1924.

On September 16th, 1919, the United States Congress chartered the American Legion. Its purpose is to uphold and defend our Constitution, promote peace and good will among people at home and abroad, preserve the memories and incidents “hostilities fought to uphold democracy”, to “cement the ties and comradeship born of service,” and “consecrate the efforts of its members to mutual helpfulness and service to their country.”

Last Tuesday, the American Legion held its 100th National Convention. The American Legion has also been instrumental in influencing our history since its creation. One of its first acts was to fight for the creation of the US Veterans Bureau (today called the Veterans Administration) on August 9th, 1921.

Next, the American Legion drafted its first “Flag Code,” in 1923. The code provided instructions on how to handle the American flag. This code was passed into law by Congress in 1942. The American Legion also remains a leader in the efforts to pass a constitutional amendment banning flag desecration.

The American Legion has also strongly influenced our favorite pastime. In 1925, it created the American Legion Baseball program. According to the Legion’s website, legion.org, “more than 50 percent of Major League Baseball players are graduates of the program. About 82,000 youths play on Legion-sponsored teams each year.”

The American Legion has taught young people about how government works and funded scholarships. It fought for the passage of the GI Bill and supported health organizations. It has worked to improve child welfare, and created a fund for national emergencies. It has been dedicated to a full account of any missing Prisoners of War (POW) and was the largest donor to the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington DC. It wrote the only national program to protect children on Halloween, and fought to publish the effects of Agent Orange. It supports families of military men and women who are deployed, and teaches firearm safety to young people.

The American Legion makes us proud. I want to congratulate the organization on its 100th National Convention. The work you do is important. Thank you.

It should come as no surprise that such a fine organization counted the late Senator John McCain as a member. The Senator passed away last weekend, succumbing to brain cancer. Senator McCain was a veteran, a decorated Naval aviator who served in the Vietnam War. He was shot down during Operation Thunder and captured by the Viet Cong in 1967. He was a prisoner of war, and he was tortured before his eventual release in 1973. His years in the “Hanoi Hilton” left him permanently disabled.

Captain McCain retired from the Navy and was elected to the US House of Representatives in 1981. When former presidential candidate and Senate legend Barry Goldwater announced his retirement, Congressman McCain ran and won his seat in the United States Senate. He eventually went on to run for President in 2000 and again in 2008.

I had the distinct honor of meeting and spending some time with Senator McCain a few years ago. I salute a true American hero, a fellow veteran. True, we did not always agree. Who does? In the end, I did agree with his final words to our country.

“We believe always in the promise and greatness of America because nothing is inevitable here. Americans never quit, we never surrender, we never hide from history. We make history.”

Godspeed, Captain McCain. Thank you for your service.

For all the sacrifices that Veterans have made and will make for our country we are able to celebrate Labor Day this weekend. To all the workers of America and especially all of those in Northwest Illinois thank you for your hard work that has contributed to the strength, prosperity and well-being of our state and country!
It was Atwood Townsend who said, “No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading.” I most definitely agree, and it is one of the reasons I chose to once again conduct my annual Summer Reading Program for our students in the 89th District.

This year we had fantastic participation, with over 132 students completing the program, representing 30 cities and villages from 5 counties in the District. Almost 100 students and their parents joined us at the Lincoln-Douglas Debate Square in Freeport on August 18th to receive their certificate for having completed the program, and afterwards enjoyed an ice cream party at Union Dairy. The ice cream party is a fun incentive to keep these students reading and excelling.

I would like to sincerely thank each student who participated as well as the families who supported them. Parent and family involvement is essential to helping our kids become better readers. The National Education Association (NEA) reports that:

"The substantial relationship between parent involvement for the school and reading comprehension levels of fourth-grade classrooms is obvious, according to the US Department of Education. Where parent involvement is low, the classroom mean average (reading score) is 46 points below the national average. Where involvement is high, classrooms score 28 points above the national average – a gap of 74 points. Even after controlling for other attributes of communities, schools, principals, classes, and students, that might confound this relationship, the gap is 44 points."

Parents make a difference when we read to our kids. And that difference helps set the course for their future success.

Programs like these encourage our students to read more. As the NEA has reported, we know that “having kids read a lot is one of the crucial components of becoming a good reader. Young readers need to become practiced at recognizing letters and sounds. The only way to get good at it is to practice.”

As I said to the kids and their parents in the Debate Square, students who read over the summer are better prepared for returning to school in the fall. We have known for a long time that reading well also helps prepare students for success as adults.

I heard a number recently that Stephenson County has 1100 jobs available right now and I’m sure it is a much larger number across the 89th District. Communities, government, and businesses all play a role in helping prepare people to fill those jobs. We can help ourselves too, and reading well is definitely important.

In January of 1989, Jump Start – The Federal Role in Adult Literacy and the final report of the project on Adult Literacy sponsored by the Southport Institute for Policy, was published. It said, “There is no way in which the United States can remain competitive in a global economy, maintain its standard of living, and shoulder the burden of the retirement of the baby boomer generation unless we mount a forceful national effort to help adults upgrade their basic skills in the very near future.” In 2015, Forbes magazine reported that 36 million Americans “lack the most basic skills in literacy, numeracy and problem-solving deemed minimally necessary for meaningful employment in a high-tech global economy.”

As we can see, being able to read well by adulthood is a national priority and a key component for our children’s success. That success will impact their families, their friends, their community and their country. In this age of game consoles, tablets and smart phones, I’m convinced that wanting to read is a desire that should be encouraged.

Yes, reading well is definitely important. And as our kids continue to grow, they will add other important skills, like critical thinking, to their arsenal. Critical thinking is important because it helps us apply objectivity when we’re reading.

Objectivity is difficult sometimes when reading on issues we care about. For example, people who think the Electoral College was definitely tied to slavery will say that facts contradicting their opinion are irrelevant. The truth is the reason we have an Electoral College is because our Founding Fathers were concerned about preventing tyranny and building a federal government. The purpose of our federal government was to create a more perfect union by providing a balance of powers, and according to the Washington Post article I cited last week, “secure the blessings of liberty.” I think Illinois could learn something from our Founding Fathers.

In the end, I believe we need more people reading and thinking critically about the challenges we face and the measures we need to overcome them. I am committed to serving you to the best of my ability, while pursuing common sense solutions to move all of Illinois forward.

State Representative Brian Stewart hosted a recognition ceremony for the 132 students who participated in his 2018 Summer Reading Club Program at Lincoln-Douglas Debate Square in Freeport on Saturday, August 18.

“I sincerely thank each student who participated as well as the families who supported them,” said Rep. Brian Stewart.  “Students who read over the summer are better prepared for returning to school in the Fall.  The ice cream party afterwards is a fun incentive to keep these students reading and excelling.”

The participating students were from 30 cities and villages in the 89th District and each read at least eight books over their summer breaks to qualify as a participant.  After the certificate presentation all were rewarded with Union Dairy ice cream to help the students celebrate their success.

Rep. Stewart has hosted a Summer Reading Club each summer to help encourage students to read over their summer break.  The theme for the 2018 Summer Reading Club was “Camp Out with a Good Book”.

Legislation sponsored by State Representative Brian Stewart was signed into law on Monday, August 13 to require out-of-state vehicles operating on Illinois roadways carry liability insurance.  House Bill 4472 was signed into law by Governor Bruce Rauner on August 13, creating Public Act 100-828.

“Illinois courts have ruled that Illinois law does not require a defendant to provide proof of insurance if the vehicle is properly registered in another state,” said Rep. Stewart.  “This bill remedies that situation and requires the same of out-of-state drivers as is required by drivers of vehicles registered in Illinois.”

The Illinois State Police as well as the Illinois Sheriff’s Association supported HB 4472 to improve the safety of Illinois’ roadways and provide uniform enforcement of our laws.   Under the new law, no person shall operate a motor vehicle registered in another state upon Illinois highways without a liability insurance policy.
There has been a lot of talk recently about the pros and cons of the Electoral College. Here are a few more points to ponder. The only Founding Father to sign all four documents integral to the creation of our country was Roger Sherman. Sherman helped draft our Constitution and was an important figure in the debate on the Electoral College. He was also a former Congressman and United States Senator representing his home state of Connecticut. In 1787, he wrote, “The only real security that you can have for all your important rights must be in the nature of your government. If you suffer any man to govern you who is not strongly interested in supporting your privileges, you will certainly lose them.” 

I agree with my predecessor, former Representative and retired Special Agent of the FBI, Jim Sacia, about his opinion of the Electoral College. I also agree with Allen Guelzo and James Hulme, who wrote a column about the Electoral College in the Washington Post on November 15, 2016. In it they wrote, “There is hardly anything in the Constitution harder to explain, or easier to misunderstand, than the Electoral College.”

Guelzo and Hulme make some interesting points about the Electoral College. Did you know that our Constitution spends more time describing the Electoral College than it does any other specific issue?

They also point out two common mistakes that critics make in their analysis of the Electoral College. The first is that the founders were leery of direct democracy. Guelzo and Hulme refer to the constitutional debates in which there was significant vacillation between delegates on directly electing the President or having the President elected by Congress.

They point out the latter’s supporters were “not trying to undermine the popular will, but to keep it from being distorted by a president who mistook popular election as a mandate for dictatorship.”

That is why our Founding Fathers built our Constitution the way they did. They had only recently gained independence from a king and his empire. Federalism serves as a safeguard for individual states, and local control for local issues. The Electoral College is a key component of American federalism. Guelzo and Hulme suggest that abolishing the Electoral College would begin the process of “dismantling federalism,” including the Senate and even states themselves.

The second mistake that critics of the Electoral College make is arguing that it had anything to do with slavery. At no point in the record of the Constitutional Convention or from James Madison’s notes was slavery mentioned in the discussion about the Electoral College. Furthermore, the Electoral College was not mentioned at any point in the Convention’s debates over slavery.

Instead, Guelzo and Hulme assert that the Electoral College contributed to the end of slavery. They wrote, “Abraham Lincoln earned only 39 percent of the popular vote in the election of 1860, but won a crushing victory in the Electoral College. This, in large measure, was why Southern slaveholders stampeded to secession in 1860-61. They could do the numbers as well as anyone, and realized that the Electoral College would only produce more anti-slavery Northern Presidents.”

If we want an example of what our country would be under a direct democracy, we don’t have to look far. Illinois is a direct democracy. By the end of this term, one party will have controlled the Illinois House for 94% of the time since 1983. Over the same period, one party will have controlled the Illinois Senate for 72% of the time.

By comparison and over the same span, the United States Congress has changed leadership 4 times, and one party will have held control for 56% of the time. The real contrast is the United States Senate. Party leadership has changed in the US Senate 7 times over the same period, and the leadership distribution is even.

In Illinois, each House member’s district was drawn to contain 108,734 people. Many House districts to the east of us are geographically smaller than the city of Freeport. The 89th District is over 100 miles wide from corner to corner. 56% of Illinois House and Senate districts east of us are located in an area smaller than the 89th District.

Maybe it’s time for us to consider a little constitutional federalism right here in Illinois and bring some balance back to Springfield.

Our district’s geography is one of the reasons we conduct Mobile Office Hours. It’s harder for constituents to pop in to the district office in the 89th than it is in most of the other districts. We are almost finished with Mobile Office Hours this quarter, and have been to sixteen (16) cities and villages throughout the 89th District. Our last stop will be in Lena on August 23rd from 10am to 2pm.

Provide your feedback to Rep. Stewart on important state issues today:


State Representative Brian Stewart thanked Governor Bruce Rauner for signing food safety legislation Stewart sponsored on Tuesday, August 14 at Agriculture Day at the Illinois State Fair.

“Food safety is of critical importance to Illinois families,” said Rep. Stewart after Tuesday’s bill signing.  “Ensuring Illinois conforms with federal guidelines and is implementing best practices with everyone on the same page is important for not just Illinois’ agricultural community, but also for consumers.”

Stewart’s legislation, Senate Bill 2752, amends the Meat and Poultry Inspection Act to ensure Illinois’ statutes conform with federal food safety inspection statutes regarding what is considered “adulterated” meat or food.  The Illinois Department of Agriculture was a proponent of Stewart’s legislation and urged its passage during the Spring legislative session.

“Whenever we need to bring Illinois’ statutes in line with federal guidelines on food safety, we should leap at the opportunity to protect business from unequal application of the laws as well as protect consumers, who are increasingly in tune with what’s in the food their families consume.”

Senate Bill 2752 was signed on Tuesday at the Orr Building on the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield.

“The General ever desirous to cherish virtuous ambition in his soldiers, as well as to foster and encourage every species of Military merit, directs that whenever any singularly meritorious action is performed, the author of it shall be permitted to wear on his facings over the left breast, the figure of a heart in purple cloth… The road to glory in a patriot army and a free country is thus open to all.”

With these words, General George Washington of the Continental Army commissioned the Badge of Military Merit on August 7th 1782. The medal was awarded to three noncommissioned officers of the Continental Army, each receiving the award directly from General Washington himself.

In 1932, the United States War Department (precursor to the current Department of Defense), authorized a new medal, the Purple Heart Medal, to be issued to soldiers who had received either the Meritorious Service Citation Certificate, Wound Chevron or the Army Wound Ribbon on or after April 5th, 1917 – the day prior to the United States entering the First World War. After the creation of the Legion of Merit, the Purple Heart has only been awarded to those who have received wounds in military service.

The medal had been designed at the direction of Army Chief of Staff, General Douglas MacArthur, by Army heraldic specialist Elizabeth Will. Her design has withstood the test of time, and serves as a testament to General Washington’s orders concerning the Badge of Military Merit. The War Department designated the Purple Heart Medal as the official military decoration to succeed the Badge of Military Merit, making it the oldest award given to members of the United States Military.

This past week, we celebrated the Purple Heart’s 236th birthday. Over 5,000 Illinois veterans have been awarded the Purple Heart. These and others like them are the people General George S. Patton was talking about when he said, “The real hero is the man who fights even though he is scared.”

Thank you to the brave men and women who were wounded in their military service. You served the cause of freedom, and we are grateful for your example and sacrifice.

For those who don’t know, Saturday August 11th is Freeport Cruise Night. In the late 70’s, the Freeport Street Machines, a local car club, sought permission from the city to have a “cruise” through downtown to demonstrate the hard work their members put into their cars. This year marks Cruise Night’s 40th anniversary, and it is expected to be a huge event, with thousands of show vehicles and nearly 11,000 people. If you haven’t been to Cruise Night, this year is the year!

It’s hard to believe summer is almost over. Now is the time many of the bills passed during the Legislative General Session are signed by the Governor. I was pleased when Governor Rauner signed House Bill 4476, a bill I sponsored to remove the requirement that a person cited under the Illinois Vehicle Code sign a ticket for a petty offense. The bill also ensures that out of state traffic violators are subject to the same legal process as Illinois residents if they fail to appear for their assigned court date.

The Illinois State Police (ISP) and local departments spends thousands of dollars annually for the paper required for an alleged violator’s signature. To put this in perspective, the ISP issued 151,379 citations in 2016 alone. HB4476 is a common sense solution that will produce cost-savings for state and local governments while increasing officer safety.

Legislators are preparing for the Veto Session. Far too often, government emphasizes politics instead of people, power instead of principle. It is important for public officials at every level of government to remember - not all of us have the luxury of a multi-billion dollar family inheritance. Most of us have to work for a living and make our own way.

I believe that we need common sense solutions that reward our Midwestern values of hard work, dedication, creativity and entrepreneurship. We have talked about many area businesses and ventures that exhibit those very values in the past few weeks. I believe there are countless more people in Northern Illinois with the same values, starting businesses, or with ideas about a new business. And many of them could use a little help.

My ongoing commitment is to pursue common sense solutions to help create good jobs, increase opportunity, and strengthen people in Northern Illinois and through the rest of the state. I do not think small businesses should have to struggle while Springfield is focused on incentivizing a large city to the east of us. I think we can do better. I think we should do better because working families deserve it.

State Representative Brian Stewart announced today that Governor Bruce Rauner has signed a bill Rep. Stewart sponsored, House Bill 4476, which will remove the requirement that a person cited under the Illinois Vehicle Code must sign a ticket for a petty offense.  The bill further provides that when an out-of-state resident fails to appear for a court date, the procedure is the same as for an Illinois resident.

“The Illinois State Police spends thousands of dollars annually for the paper that is required for an alleged violator’s signature.  In 2016, the Illinois State Police issued 151,379 paper citations,” Rep. Stewart explained.  “Not only will this produce a cost-savings for the State and Local governments but will increase officer safety by not requiring they get a signature for petty offenses.”

Currently the Illinois Vehicle Code requires a person to sign a traffic citation when required by Supreme Court Rule.  House Bill 4476 amends this requirement out of the Vehicle Code.  The Illinois State Police and the State Police Command Officers Association were proponents of the legislation, which passed the House 109-2.  Governor Rauner signed the legislation into law on August 3, 2018.

In 1790, United States Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton founded the Revenue Marine which was renamed the Revenue Cutter Service in the 1860’s. In 1848 collaboration between private citizens and the US government created the United States Life Saving Service to save the lives of the victims of shipwrecks. In 1915, the two agencies were combined to form the United States Coast Guard. 

We honor the Coast Guard on August 4th, National Coast Guard Day. Take a moment this Saturday to think about the men and women in our Coast Guard and their brave service.

Northern Illinois County Fairs are in full swing. This weekend, folks can enjoy Fairs in Ogle County (Oregon, Illinois) and Jo Daviess County (Warren, Illinois). Next week is the Carroll County Fair in Milledgeville, Illinois.

If you have never been to a County Fair, they are definitely worth the price of admission. It is more than the pork chop sandwiches and elephant ears, though both are definitely delicious. At a County Fair we have the chance to learn about our friends and neighbors, to see the livestock they’ve raised, the vegetables they’ve grown, to watch them in tractor pulls and other events. I agree with the old saying, “There’s something that feels so all-American about a County Fair.”

Over the past few weeks we have been discussing local economic engines and celebrating their unique achievements. Today, I will share the last two success stories we visited with Erika Harold.

Motivational author, Jamie Notter, wrote, “Innovation is change that unlocks new value.” In the mid-1990’s, Pearl City Elevator, a full service agricultural cooperative, and the Adkins Energy Cooperative understood the need to add value to corn for local producers. They decided to team up, forming Adkins Energy LLC, and began processing corn by 2002.
65 years ago this past Friday, the United States and South Korea signed an armistice with the People’s Republic of China and North Korea, ending the Korean War. Millions of Koreans and Chinese lost their lives alongside 50,000 Americans.

On Friday we remembered those war veterans, prisoners of war, and those killed in action by flying the flag at half-staff and continuing to share the stories that shaped our history. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Freedom isn’t free.

It is by the sacrifice of so many brave men and women that we enjoy the benefits of this great nation. We have an opportunity to take risks, improve our lives, and provide for our families. We can also count ourselves blessed by celebrating the successes of others.

Over the past few weeks I have been doing just that, celebrating the successes in Northern Illinois. It was Ghandi who said, “As human beings our greatness is not so much in being able to remake the world as in being able to remake ourselves.” I definitely agree, and it’s a trait common to many of the places I visited last week with Erika Harold. Here are some more of them.

Ron Lawfer was born on the Willow Valley Dairy Farm, a farm his father former Illinois State Representative I. Ron Lawfer started after returning home from his service in the Korean War. The younger Ron and his wife, Julie, have been married for 37 years. With their son John and his bride to be Elise, they have transformed what was a traditional dairy farm, where Ron remembers milking the cows right into the pail, into a state of the art robotic milking facility.

Oprah Winfrey once said, “The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.” I believe this is also true for our communities. It is so easy to focus on the challenges we must overcome that we often lose sight of the victories we have won.

I had the privilege of sharing many of the successes in our community with Erika Harold last Wednesday. Erika Harold is a candidate for Illinois Attorney General, a successful lawyer, and was crowned Miss America in 2003.

Erika visited Stephenson County twenty years ago, before she ever considered running for public office. She was bullied so badly when she was in high school that her parents had her switch schools. The following year she gave several speeches throughout Illinois on the importance of standing up to bullies. Two of those speeches were at Freeport and Le-Win High Schools.

Erika is on a “listening tour” of Illinois, visiting communities across the state to celebrate their achievements and understand their challenges. We made a total of 14 stops on our community tour and I would like to share some of the things we learned throughout the day.

Nestled along the Stephenson/Carroll County line is Hunter Haven Farms, owned by the Doug and Tom Block Family, a 1,000 head dairy farm in Pearl City, Illinois. Their father originally bought a small family farm in 1950, and they have turned it into a 1600 acre powerhouse dairy operation.

In 1997, they converted from a 90 cow farm to an 800 head dairy farm. That conversion has helped Hunter Haven Farms become a major milk supplier to dairies making Swiss cheese. Doug estimates their farm, “produces enough milk (on an annual basis) to make enough Swiss cheese to supply the population of the city of Chicago for a year.”

Between 2005 and 2008, the Blocks installed a 260 kW anaerobic digester (AD) gas-fired combined heat and power (CHP) system and a second 130 kW genset to comply with increased government regulatory issues, and rising energy costs. Doug said, “At the time, we never knew our energy costs would rise so much. We just wanted to make our operations more energy efficient.”

The machines produce natural gas from cow manure, cutting heating costs, while also creating solid “byproduct” that can be used as bedding for cows. Both products generate savings for the farm, with approximately 40% on the energy side, and 60% on the animal bedding side.

Congratulations to Doug and Tom, their families and staff for their hard work and innovation. You make Northern Illinois proud!

Later in the morning we visited Pearl Valley Eggs a couple of miles from Hunter Haven Farms. Owner Ben Thompson gave us a tour of the offices and packaging facility.

Pearl Valley’s genesis is similar to Hunter Haven’s. Ben’s dad, Dave, was a school teacher in Joliet, Illinois who began hatching eggs for his grade school classroom experiment. The chicks eventually retired from the classroom to the Thompson farmhouse, and eventually, Dave began selling the eggs to other teachers in his elementary school.

Dave’s love of eggs persisted, and in 1987, he bought the farm between Pearl City and Kent that would become Pearl Valley Eggs. Today, the Thompson’s employ about 230 people at the main plant, producing 1.7 million eggs a day.

The farm produces every sort of egg, from non GMO, organic, brown, white, and cage free. They also produce egg liquids like the egg whites some folks buy in the carton at the grocery store and dried egg powders.

The chicken manure is dried and screened before being packaged and sold as compost and fertilizer products.

Pearl Valley eggs are distributed from California to Florida, are sold in Mexico and even in Dubai. If you’ve bought an egg from WalMart, Costco, or Sam’s Club, chances are it came from Pearl Valley Eggs.

Both Hunter Haven and Pearl Valley Eggs have concerns about making sure people understand the challenges in agriculture today. Doug Block has said, “My concern is, 75 percent of the people are making rules for the 25 percent of us who work in production agriculture, and the 75 percent don’t have the knowledge of the care that goes into good production agriculture.”

Ben Thompson believes people need more information and hands on experience to understand egg production. He said, “We have an open door policy. Whether you’re USA Today or a grade school class, we welcome everyone who wants to learn about our eggs.”

I was honored to visit these farms, and I was proud to share them with Ms. Harold. Northwest Illinois is home to many success stories and I will continue to share more of the places we visited and the stories we heard in next week’s column.

Sally is back in the office this week. If you have any additional thoughts or ideas, you can reach me 815-232-0774, or visit my website at www.repbrianstewart.com and use the form to send me an e-mail.