State Sen. Gillespie, Rep. Walker debrief Arlington Heights area constituents on the recently-ended legislative session

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About a week after the General Assembly legislative session ended in Springfield, state elected officials from Arlington Heights – who represent parts of the surrounding region – met with constituents to give an update and answer questions.

Dozens of district residents filled seats at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library April 18 as state Sen. Ann Gillespie, D-Arlington Heights, and state Rep. Mark Walker, D-Arlington Heights, talked about statewide plans for health care reform, public safety, the fiscal year 2023 state budget, an inflation relief plan and property tax reforms.

“It was so great to be back in person, I really enjoyed that, we got a lot of good questions and I always appreciate the dialogue,” Gillespie said after the event, adding a participant gave her an idea to research regarding property taxes.

Gillespie and Walker, who are both up for reelection this year, presented updates on bills they supported that were passed by both the state House and Senate and now await the governor’s signature.

“It wasn’t our biggest turnout, but I was pleased with it given this was the first in-person event in more than two years,” said Gillespie.

People in attendance at the April 18 evening forum inquired about what legislators were doing to address gun violence and equity in mental health access statewide, among other questions.

Gillespie opened the session mentioning House Bill 246, a nursing home reform initiative. The legislation increases the amount of money for staffing levels at nursing homes throughout the state and offers additional incentive payments for certified nursing assistants – who are in demand at many senior care facilities. In addition, the legislation will drive payments based on patient levels of rehabilitation which Gillespie said she hopes will result in improved care and more accountability.

Public safety initiatives in the state legislature include increasing the charge of burglary for individuals who use an electronic signal from a key fob to access and steal vehicles. The rise in theft of catalytic converters also led legislators to try to curtail the market, she said, by putting more restrictions on metal buyers and requiring the seller to share a photo, name and address of the owner of the catalytic converter before the sale can process.

Gillespie also shared details of HB1091, which targets offenders involved in organized retail crimes by including provisions to disrupt the marketplace since most of the goods are sold online. The bill requires verification of any high-volume seller using an online platform, she said, “to crack down on smash and grab kingpins.”

Walker talked about legislation that bans the sale and possession of ghost guns – weapons often made on 3D printers and don’t have a traceable serial number. The bill requires owners of these guns to have them serialized within 180 days of purchase. It goes into effect Jan. 1, 2023.

Walker explained the state is getting “smart on crime investments” by investing $250 million for community-level interventions, trying to prevent gang activity and encouraging job training for teens who drop out of high school.

Walker also offered an overview on the state’s FY23 budget, which would be effective as of July 1.

“I never thought I’d see this,” Walker said. “We produced a balanced budget with a surplus.”

State Sen. Ann Gillespie, D-Arlington Heights, and state Rep. Mark Walker, D-Arlington Heights, took questions from two dozen constituents at the elected leaders’ spring legislative update forum held at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library April 18, 2022 in Arlington Heights. (Elizabeth Owens-Schiele / Pioneer Press)

“We invested $1 billion in a rainy-day fund,” Walker said. “We know after the federal support goes away, we’ll need discipline and extra funding depending on how the economy goes.”

Walker shared details on education allocations, including $350 million for the evidence-based funding model; $598.1 million for early childhood education and $601 million for monetary award program grants for college students, a 20% increase.

“We’re in terrific financial shape right now,” Walker said. “We’ll have tougher years in the future.”

Walker also pointed to other aspects of the state budget – which passed the General Assembly.

The plan, he said, addresses concerns over inflation by suspending the state’s portion of the grocery tax for one year; suspending the state’s portion of the gas tax for six months and offering property tax relief for homeowners.

Also, Walker explained, municipalities and school districts will have to publicly disclose their cash reserves before setting their tax levies.

“People [some municipalities and school districts] were taking the max and they were taking the most they could take without a referendum, so the next year, it wouldn’t affect their calculations. It led to all kinds of bad practices. Municipalities built up big reserves. It’s Illinois’ biggest fiscal problem.”

One participant asked what the state was doing to prevent wage and hour theft and damaging labor practices, particularly at some big box retailers.

“It is an issue we’re looking at and an issue we’ll continue to look at where it’s the most egregious and where we need to focus the effort,” Gillespie said.

Walker said unfair labor practices need to be addressed.

“Let’s talk about it, we’ll do the bill,” Walker said. “We did it for waitresses. There are a lot of industries where this occurs.”

Another participant asked what the General Assembly can do to create equity for mental health access in all 102 counties in the state.

Gillespie explained that a law exists to provide these resources and for practitioners to treat mental health as a physical impairment. She said there aren’t a lot of mental health practitioners outside of the Chicago area but there is now money available for telemedicine visits to improve access statewide.

Another attendee asked why the legislators didn’t ban critical race theory.

“We didn’t ban critical race theory because it’s not being taught,” Gillespie said.

The same attendee asked why the state is funding abortions.

“Illinois is a state that believes in women’s reproductive health, that is why we are paying for those services,” Gillespie responded.

There was a question on what can be done to stem gun violence in the state.

“This is a hard problem for sure,” Walker said. “We’re investing in things that interrupt the movement of youth into gang culture with school programs, outside school programs, mentoring, training for jobs to divert people from getting involved in that culture.”

Walker and Gillespie each have a Republican challenger on the ballot in the June 28 primary. Gillespie said at the forum that most legislation in the state gets done with bipartisan support. Walker agreed.

“The truth is when we’re behind closed doors,” Walker said, “Republicans and Democrats work remarkably well together, they just don’t want it to be known.”

Elizabeth Owens-Schiele is a freelancer.

via Chicago Tribune

April 26, 2022 at 06:03PM

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