First, I would like to thank those who attended our Town Hall Meetings.  A myriad of issues were discussed including fracking, drones, pensions, voting rights, the state budget and guns. For those of you who were unable to attend, I would like to update you on a number of important initiatives considered by the Illinois House this year. Much of the debate has been on two critical issues – gun control and pensions. 

Gun Control   

The U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals hearing ruled Illinois’ ban on concealed carry unconstitutional. Most opinions agree that the legislature has until June 9, 2013 to approve a constitutional conceal and carry law or the issue will continue in the court. The legislature has voted on areas where concealed guns would not be allowed but fell short on votes to pass a bill that would allow for local municipalities’ discretion in granting a license, as some interest groups are adamantly opposed to any bill with this provision. I was very dismayed by the ruling and am dedicated to allowing our municipalities to have the final say on granting these licenses. 

Pensions

During my three years in the legislature, it has become clear that we must stabilize the public pension system. The annual pension payment, as it is scheduled to grow, will consume half the state budget.  While state employees have made their contributions, the unfunded liability is primarily due to the state’s past history of not making its pension payment.  In order to ensure that the pension system will be viable in the future, proposals have been made to re- amortize it for 30 years or 50 years. The 30 year plan calls for some benefit changes. A number of pension bills were debated in the House with three provisions passing: requiring employees to pay an additional amount, a cap on the salary on which an employee could receive a pension, and a reduction in the cost of living increase. Some progress is being made and I am hopeful that a fair pension stabilization bill will be presented this year.   

Legislation that passed the House last week

 A Medical Marijuana bill passed the House last week that establishes a restrictive pilot program that allows medical cannabis to be prescribed to people who have severe debilitating pain and other listed conditions. This will be used as an alternative to commonly used narcotic pain medications that have severe side effects. Illinois would be joining 18 states and the District of Columbia if the Senate passes the bill.     

Comprehensive Sex Education was approved by the House to require schools that offer sex education to ensure that it includes medically accurate information covering contraception, prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, as well as abstinence.

Marriage Equality, a bill to grant same sex couples the right to marry has passed the Senate and is waiting for a vote in the House.  

Community Care Program reforms and funding passed the House. This program provides home care assistance to seniors if they prefer staying in their home instead of living in a nursing home. 

The Governor has signed into law a property tax relief bill that increases the property tax exemption amount for seniors, lowering individual’s property taxes. 

Budget:

This year, Illinois’ revenue is expected to be $35 billion, about $1.3 billion more than last year. However, the public pension payment is $6 billion, almost a billion dollars more than last year. Additionally, group insurance and Medicaid expenses have increased as well. It will be another difficult budget year. House Appropriation committees have begun working on a budget that is expected to be voted on by May 31, 2013.

Please let me know if you have budget priorities.     

My bills

I have sponsored and passed six bills out of the House that are now working their way through the Senate. These bills protect the heath and well being of our children and the environment.  

HB 188 prohibits the use of tanning beds in a tanning salon for youth under the age of 18. A World Health Organization review found a link between early use of tanning beds and melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer. 

 HB2753, Lake Michigan Wind Energy Act, recognizes the importance of the development of renewable energy resources and requires the Department of Natural Resources to determine if there are locations in Lake Michigan that are conducive to offshore wind development and to promulgate rules. 

HB2335 provides for rule changes to facilitate composting at urban/suburban farms. A surge in locally grown foods in both urban and suburban areas led to the proposal of this legislation, which allows for reasonable composting on site. The soil at these locations benefits greatly from composting.   

HB2661 includes a new test for critical congenital heart defects to be included in the newborn screenings that occur in hospitals for all newborns. This test can identify serious health problems that can be treated sooner.   

HB1288 protects the legal rights of children with special needs in school by allowing mediation in disputes, rather than a more costly court injunction.   

HB2262 allows low income families to participate in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families work program and be able to save funds for emergencies and other needs.    

It is an honor and privilege to serve you as the State Representative from the 18th district. Our services are always available to you, so please do not hesitate to contact me if you have an idea, opinion or need assistance. I appreciate all the emails from constituents regarding legislation, both in support and opposition.