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This week I had the pleasure of speaking with approximately 30 business leaders at a Rantoul Area Chamber of Commerce and Champaign County Chamber of Commerce breakfast event. I provided an update on the IL budget stalemate, and discussed other legislative issues of importance to the business community. It was a wonderful event and I enjoyed connecting with the business leaders from this area.
On September 22 I had the distinct privilege of visiting with Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient Drew Dix. Dix, one of only 78 living Medal of Honor recipients, was honored at the UNITED-Honoring Our Veterans event at Turtle Run. He is a decorated United States military veteran and retired Major in the United States Army.

Drew Dennis Dix received the Medal of Honor for his actions in the Vietnam War, and he was the first enlisted Special Forces soldier to receive the medal. An author and founder of the Center for American Values, Drew is a true American hero. His remarkable story of returning again and again on his own volition to save American lives under heavy fire and extraordinary circumstances is truly awe-inspiring.

State Observes Anniversary of 9-11, Honors Victims and First Responders
In Illinois by order of Governor Rauner, flags flew at half-mast throughout Patriot Day on September 11 in honor of the victims and heroes of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and rural Pennsylvania.

Leading the way towards observance of the somber day of remembrance were Republican members of the University of Illinois student and teaching community, who successfully advocated for permission to set up a memorial installation on the U of I Quad. After a facet of the university administration temporarily attempted to block organization of the installation, the Illini Republicans led the way in a successful push to reverse the prohibition and allow the placement of 2,977 flags on the Quad. Each U.S. flag represented one victim of the atrocity. Other remembrance ceremonies were held throughout the state.

Rauner, AFSCME Agree to Continue Negotiations
An agreement signed this week by AFSCME leadership and representatives from the Governor’s office extends a tolling agreement that was set to expire at the end of this month. Specifically, the agreement calls for good faith negotiations and prevents either side from unilaterally declaring an impasse. That means that in order for an impasse to be declared, both sides of the negation must agree that an impasse exists. The agreement also prohibits a strike, work stoppage, work slowdown, or lockout as long as good faith negotiations continue.

A successful contract was recently negotiated with the Teamsters Union, which represents 4,600 State workers, and a ratification vote for this contract is being held. The Illinois/Teamsters contract will cover four years of work, pay and benefits for affected State workers. Regarding the AFSCME contract, I am extremely pleased to see everyone back at the negotiation table, and have hopes that an agreement that is fair to all can be inked very soon.

Comptroller Munger Says Illinois’ Bill Backlog Could Top $8.5 Billion Without a State Budget
Munger’s concerns follow moves throughout the summer of 2015 by advocates of various spending and policy programs to place various Illinois big-budget spending programs, such as Medicaid payments to residential care facilities, on “automatic spending” status pending the enactment of a budget. These statuses have, in many cases, been backed up by the judicial branch in the form of court orders and references to various consent decrees previously signed by the State.

With money being spent at FY15 rates and State revenues coming in at FY16 rates, cash outflow is exceeding cash inflow. The Office of the Comptroller, the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget, and other State agencies are responding to this asymmetry by prioritizing the speed with which bills are paid; many bills are going unpaid at this time. The $8.5 billion figure is a cumulative figure representing the Office of the Comptroller’s estimate of where the unpaid-bill total will be on December 31, at the end of the 2015 calendar year.

2015 Fall Semester Sees the Second-Largest Freshman Class in University of Illinois (UIUC) History
The 7,565 incoming students that have signed up to begin their class work this fall have created a headcount that is second only to the 7,583 students of 2005. The overall 2015-16 enrollment of 44,087 – a number that includes both undergraduate and graduate students – is up more than 1 percent from the 43,602 students who signed up in fall 2014. The University of Illinois reported that the percentage of students who are Illinois residents is up from last year.

Fall enrollment at the University of Illinois’ Springfield campus is also close to a record this year, with an enrollment count of 5,402 students – down slightly from the 2014 record total of 5,431. The former Springfield-based Sangamon State University was added to the University of Illinois system in 1995 to create the University of Illinois at Springfield (UIS), now in its 20th year of operation.
Today in Springfield, an attempt to override Governor Bruce Rauner’s veto of SB 1229 failed to garner the required 71 votes. In response to the vote, State Representative Chad Hays (R-Catlin) has issued the following statement:

“While many union members were led to believe that the provisions of SB 1229 were beneficial to them, in actuality this was a very detrimental bill that would have had unionized workers trade away the right to strike, which is one of the most sacred and sacrosanct rights that was secured for them over the last century.”

“I view SB 1229 as a blatant attempt by Speaker Madigan to trade away 100 years of union progress for very short term gain. I can’t help but think that if this override had been successful, the union workers the Speaker claims to care about would be scratching their heads in the very near future while wondering ‘what happened to my right to strike?’”
State Representative Chad Hays (R-Catlin) was among a group of dignitaries on August 29 who officially dedicated the Sargent Myron G. Deckard Memorial Rest Areas on Interstate 72 near Decatur.

Deckard was shot and killed in the line of duty in June of 2001 while transporting a prisoner along I-72 from Macon County to Vermilion County. A valued member of the Vermilion County Sheriff’s Department for 32 years, the ceremony in his honor on Saturday was attended by a large crowd of both law enforcement and community members.

“Sargent Deckard’s dedication and devotion to law enforcement are the standard by which Illinois law enforcement is measured,” said Hays. “By honoring his memory through naming these rest areas after him, his heroic efforts will endure forever.”

According to Hays, Deckard was very involved in his community and was an active member of the Danville Rifle and Pistol Club. He was a 32nd degree Mason and past president of the Uncle Joe Cannon Toastmasters Club. In addition, he volunteered at local schools and gave law enforcement presentations to children.

Hays was the Chief House Sponsor of the House Resolution that declared the rest areas on I-72 east and west of mile post 152 between Champaign and Decatur as “Sargent Myron G. Deckard Memorial Rest Areas.”
Governor Signs “Federal Funds” Measure Pushed by House Republicans
The measure “holds harmless” essential State spending lines that are not burdens on taxpayers who pay income and sales taxes. SB 2042, as amended in the House on Wednesday, August 12, will “pass through” monies given to Illinois for programs mandated or strongly encouraged by Washington, D.C. Governor Rauner signed SB 2042 into law on Thursday, August 20.

Although SB 2042 was a Senate bill, the final language approved by the General Assembly and the Governor was developed in the Illinois House after pressure from House Republicans. Led by House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, the GOP caucus pointed out that the overall Fiscal Year 2016 budget impasse was holding federally funded programs “hostage.” Even though the underlying money to pay for these federally-funded programs had been paid by Illinois residents as part of their federal tax payments, Washington was not transferring funds for these programs to Springfield until the State’s government countersigned the transfer by assigning the money to legal appropriations line items. SB 2042, as urged and supported by House Republicans, created these line items and will enable this money to be transferred.

Before passing through the House, SB 2042 was carefully stripped of State taxpayer-funded items that will increase the State’s budget deficit. House Republicans continued to draw attention to the piecemeal FY16 Illinois budget taking shape, but noted that federal dollars should not be subject to the ongoing budget battle in Springfield. The House vote on SB 2042 was 98-0-0. Prior to the vote I expressed my opinion on the shenanigans that led to the ultimate vote to approve the federal-only money. You can watch a video of my remarks here.

Central IL House Republican is Lead Sponsor of New Law to Crack Down on Fly-By-Night Tire Dumps
SB 1590, sponsored by State Representative Reginald Phillips of nearby Coles County, directs the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) to study any application for a permit to operate a storage site for the disposal of discarded motor vehicle tires. The bill was signed into law on Tuesday, August 18.

SB 1590 will require the IEPA to look at the prospective owner or operator of a tire storage facility, and if this person has a history of repeated violations of sage tire storage law, to deny a permit. Consumers of tires are required to pay a $2.50-per-tire user fee when a tire is sold, and this fee is supposed to cover the cost to the IEPA of regulating the waste-tire disposal stream and cleaning up past accumulations of disposed tires. Unregulated tire dumps often catch fire and generate significant quantities of sulphur and airborne particulates. Allowing the opening up of new unregulated tire dumps raises the possibility that this $2.50 fee may have to be increased in some future budget year. Denying a permit to these fly-by-night dumps, by contrast, will straighten out and reduce the flow of unregulated discarded tires and maintain the stability of the tire disposal system.

State Fairground Street named after Comptroller Topinka
The pedestrian street was named “Judy Baar Topinka Lane” in honor of the high-spirited public official’s handshaking and cheerful outreach activities. The lane is close to the physical center of the Illinois State Fairgrounds. Noted for her love of the Downstate fair, the Chicago-area statewide official died in office in December 2014. Topinka Lane is lined, during the eleven days of Fair activities, with stands selling State Fair celebration food such as corn dogs and skewered pork chops. Topinka was honored on Tuesday, August 18.

The 2015 Illinois State Fair opened on August 13 in Springfield and  continued until Sunday, August 23. A separate DuQuoin State Fair will be held in Southern Illinois from August 28 through September 7. Fair activities include entertainments, rides, races and other competitions, and festival food. Fairs have been held to honor Illinois agriculture and culture since 1853.

First 2015 Illinois Transmission to Humans of West Nile Virus Reported
A case of the mosquito-borne disease, diagnosed in Downstate’s St. Clair County, was reported by the Illinois Department of Public Health (DPH) on Wednesday, August 19. West Nile virus is carried by mosquitoes as are malaria, yellow fever, and other dangerous illnesses. The mosquito type that carries these microorganisms is becoming acclimated to the Illinois climate, and mosquitoes can transmit West Nile in their bites. DPH recommends that Illinois residents and visitors use standard mosquito repellent and limit outdoor activities during mosquito-friendly dusk and nighttime hours.

West Nile has hit Illinois in previous summers. In 2014, state health officials reported 44 cases of West Nile virus in Illinois. In addition, other infections may have taken place that were not reported. In four of the 44 reported cases, the patient died.

John Baldwin Named as New Director of Department of Corrections
Governor Bruce Rauner has named John R. Baldwin as director of the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC). IDOC is the operational agency over more than 35 state prisons, work camps, boot camps, and transition centers, as well as office-based supervision of parolees in all 102 counties of the State.

Baldwin was named on Friday, August 14, and will serve as acting director pending confirmation by the state Senate. A former head of the Iowa Department of Corrections, he led our neighboring state’s 4,000-employee agency for eight years (2007-2015).
Several Illinois counties, including Champaign and Vermilion, are now eligible for low-interest emergency loans due to heavy rains and flooding that occurred in June and July.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, in response to a request made by Governor Bruce Rauner, has declared a disaster designation for 87 counties and an additional 14 contiguous counties that suffered losses due to rain and flooding earlier this spring and summer. As a result of the designation, farmers in the affected areas can take advantage of low-interest Farm Service Agency loans to cover part of the damages and losses that occurred in June and July. Farmers have eight months to apply for the loans.

Counties eligible for assistance include: Adams, Alexander, Bond, Brown, Calhoun, Carroll, Cass, Champaign, Clark, Clay, Clinton, Crawford, Cumberland, DeKalb, DeWitt, Douglas, DuPage, Edwards, Effingham, Fayette, Ford, Franklin, Fulton, Gallatin, Greene, Grundy, Hamilton, Hancock, Hardin, Henderson, Henry, Iroquois, Jackson, Jasper, Jefferson, Jersey, Johnson, Kane, Kankakee, Knox, LaSalle, Lawrence, Lee, Livingston, Logan, McDonogh, McLean, Macon, Macoupin, Madison, Marion, Marshall, Mason, Massac, Menard, mercer, Monroe, Montgomery, Morgan, Peoria, Perry, Piatt, Pike, Pope, Pulaski, Putnam, Randolph, Richland, Rock Island, St. Clair, Saline, Sangamon, Schuyler, Scott, Stark, Tazewell, Union, Vermilion, Wabash, Warren, Washington, Wayne, White, Whiteside, Will, Williamson and Woodford.

Counties named as contiguous disaster counties eligible for assistance include: Boone, Bureau, Christian, Coles, Cook, Edgar, Jo Daviess, Kendall, McHenry, Moultrie, Ogle, Shelby, Stephenson and Winnebago.

Farmers from these counties are encouraged to contact their local Farm Service Agency if they have questions. Loan applications are considered on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the extent of losses, security available and applicant’s repayment ability. Those with additional questions can also contact the state FSA office at (217) 241-6600. Additional information can be found at the USDA’s Farm Service Agency web site.