Tom Kacich | Faraci says he has ‘a mission’ as new legislator | Columns – News-Gazette

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State Sen. Paul Faraci, newly appointed to the 52nd District seat that includes Champaign and Vermilion counties, said he feels an obligation to carry out not just his interests but those of his friend, the late Sen. Scott Bennett.

Bennett died unexpectedly on Dec. 9. Faraci, formerly the City of Champaign Township assessor, was chosen about a month later to fill the remaining two years on Bennett’s term.

“I’ve got a mission now that is unique and that a lot of people may not be blessed to have, because now I’ve got to finish that work that Scott has started and so many people depended on — we called him the Benator — to do those things that the Benator wanted to do, but trying to do it with the same style and grace and humility and humanity that he did it,” Faraci said.

Faraci and Bennett had been longtime friends and political allies.

“Scott and I and Stacy (Bennett’s widow) and my wife, Stephanie, and the kids, we’ve been friends for years,” Faraci explained. “When Scott and Stacy were moving from one house in Urbana to the other house (in Champaign), the twins were just born, and Scott and Stacy and the twins lived in our first floor for several weeks. That’s how we really got to know them. And we all became very close.”

Bennett’s interests are now Faraci’s, he said.

“Scott’s passions were higher education, agriculture and one that of course is very critical — families who struggle with disabilities and disadvantages, that’s a huge focus,” said the Champaign Democrat. “The developmentally disabled families are something that I’m trying to get up to speed on because that’s where Scott had a substantive and substantial knowledge. I just wasn’t as aware.”

Faraci is the chief sponsor of 13 Senate bills, two of which deal with the developmentally disabled. One (SB 2247) makes a minor change to Illinois’ ABLE account program, allowing more than individuals to contribute to the funds that help the disabled and their families save tax-free and without losing federal aid for disability expenses. The legislation also says that the Illinois program may be referred to as “the Senator Scott Bennett ABLE program.”

“It’s a nice honor for Senator Bennett,” Faraci said. “He and Treasurer Mike Frerichs (also a Champaign Democrat) worked pretty closely on that program.”

The second one, more significant, aims to direct more resources to people with developmental disabilities. There are 14,806 individuals on the state’s Prioritization of Urgency of Need for Services database, Faraci said.

“This is something that the governor talked about in terms of prioritizing families with developmentally disabled family members,” he said. “The system provides resources but is woefully underfunded, one. And there is a need to meet the unfunded needs. And the list is not being properly updated.”

If approved, he said, the legislation would reduce the wait time for services like child group homes, at-home services and Community Integrated Living Arrangements homes.

“That’s probably been the biggest wakeup call for me,” Faraci said. “We’ve got to do a better job of funding resources for people with disabilities and for the marginalized communities who have been underrepresented. Those, I believe, were two of Scott’s priorities. I can’t say whether this is a bill that Scott would have been working on, but I know it’s something he was very interested in.”

Faraci’s other bills address a range of issues, from a lobbying ban on legislators and their family members, to providing a tax credit for materials and supplies purchased by public college and university instructors, to broadening of the use of multifunction school activity buses so they can be used to transport students to career-exploration programs.

He admitted some of his legislation needs work and likely won’t win approval this spring. Besides, he said, there is a mountain of legislation; more than 2,500 bills have been introduced in the Senate and more than 4,000 in the House. And officially, all Senate bills have to clear a committee by Friday.

Faraci, who worked for the Illinois Department of Commerce for 10 years and is familiar with the legislative process, said he hasn’t been too surprised with his brief time as a legislator.

“I’m not surprised about what’s going on in Springfield, but it may be a little more on steroids than I first thought,” he said.

Faraci has been busy outside of Springfield too, meeting with groups and individuals in his district.

“The other day I asked Stacy, ‘Did Scott have a twin? How did he do all of this?’” Faraci said. “I haven’t had this kind of a schedule since I owned the restaurant (the old City of New Orleans in downtown Champaign) — 12- to 14-hour days and Saturdays and Sundays. I’m not complaining. It’s exciting. But it’s nonstop.

“I’m a little older now. I was 28 when I opened the restaurant in 1994. That was a great age to do that because there’s lots of energy. So I have to have that push from Scott. There were a lot of people counting on Scott, and now they’re counting on me.”

Faraci said he has been warmly welcomed to the Senate by Republicans and Democrats alike, particularly Sen. Bennett’s uncle, state Sen. Tom Bennett, R-Gibson City.

And he said he’s confident he can work well with other area lawmakers, including state Rep. Carol Ammons, D-Urbana, who was passed over for appointment as Scott Bennett’s replacement and has indicated she’ll oppose Faraci for the 52nd District seat next year.

“During the State of the State, Representative Ammons and I spoke, and we sat together and talked about issues that are important to our district,” he said. “I’m very positive about us being able to work together and to collaborate.

“I think we’re all going to show — Senator (Chapin) Rose (of Mahomet), (state Representative) Mike Marron (of Fithian), Representative Ammons, myself — we’re all going to do what we can to really help fulfill Senator Bennett’s legacy. We all know it’s critically important that we work together. I don’t think it’s nearly as big an issue as some make it out to be.”

Ino Saves New

via rk2’s favorite articles on Inoreader

March 7, 2023 at 12:53PM

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