State Roundup: Schock resignation poses more questions

From Illinois News Network
ilnews.org

It’s a bit of a shock for residents of Illinois’ 18th Congressional District.

Embattled Congressman Aaron Schock is resigning amidst growing controversy surrounding use of taxpayer and donor dollars.

Aaron_Schock,_official_photo_portrait,_111th_CongressIn a statement from Schock’s office the congressman says “the constant questions over the last six weeks have proven a great distraction.” The Republican has been under intense national scrutiny for travel costs to how he paid for the decor in his congressional office. Politics professor Kent Redfield says Schock’s forthcoming resignation is another black eye for Illinois.

“Here’s kind of the best and the brightest, a rising star, and all of a sudden it’s just one more in a line of Illinois politicians … go to jail, and we all know about the governors and the state legislators and the local officials.”

Though Schock isn’t facing criminal charges, Redfield says it still sours Illinois’ reputation.

Redfield: Shocking resignation, opens new legal questions

Schock’s sudden resignation leaves open questions as to the severity of the ongoing ethics investigation. Redfield says the resignation is a surprise because Schock’s district is heavily republican and he could have survived a congressional ethics investigation.

“His resignation all the more shocking because you assume that if we’re just talking about some areas of gray and even an ethics investigation in front of the House of Representatives, that the sort of thing congressmen from safe districts often survive.”

But Redfield says the sudden resignation leaves one to wonder what else may have been discovered in the ongoing inquiry. A special election will be decided to fill the vacancy.

Schock’s resignation will take effect at the end of the month. Redfield expects there to be a primary before a general election.

Rauner: Tax talk after structural reforms

Illinois’ governor says he’s willing to discuss increased revenue, but only if there are structural reforms enacted first. After Monday’s town hall meeting in Normal, Governor Bruce Rauner discussed the ongoing call for more revenue in light of over six-billion dollars in reductions for the coming fiscal year. Rauner says taxes are an issue that needs to be addressed but only after major reforms in state and local governments.

“And I’ve always said that one of the things we can consider is a tax reform that might include a broadening of the sales tax. We don’t have a modern sales tax in Illinois.”

Rauner says there’s already a committee investigating modernization of the sales tax but the Governor says local voters need to be empowered before any conversation of new revenues.

“Local voters control collective bargaining in local governments. Local voters control collective bargaining in their schools. Local voters decide whether in their communities they can compete with Texas and Indiana and other states that are right to work. If we get that local control that will free up the money so we can have an easily balanced budget”

Rauner says after that he’s willing to talk with the legislature quote “about anything”. The governor continues his tour of the state to promote his Turnaround agenda.

Bill increases time and distance for funeral protests

It will be more difficult for protesters to disrupt funerals if a House bill makes it through both chambers. The House passed a measure that would limit protests at funerals, but there are still some changes the sponsor is looking to pass. Democratic State Representative Jerry Costello’s House Bill 1404 would limit protest disruptions at funeral sites to one hour before and after the funeral. The measure would also increase the prohibited area from three-hundred to one-thousand feet of the funeral site. Costello says there are still some tweaks to his bill he’s pushed for several years.

“I ran it, as I told you right now, where it’s a Class 4 felony. I’m gonna work with the Senate to make the second offense a Class A misdemeanor and then bring it back to the House”

The measure passed the House with zero no votes and now advances to the Senate.

Bill puts reimbursement onus on public defenders

Meanwhile people who take advantage of a public defender but still get convicted of a crime are on the hook for attorneys fees, but only one-percent pressed for the payment can actually pay and a House bill is aimed at changing that percentage. Representative Christian Mitchell says House Bill 1417 makes sense and would take the onus away from the State’s Attorney and instead leave it up to the public defender who has a better understanding of whether a defendant has the ability to pay.

“Let’s put it in the hands of the people who are most going to know what a client’s ability to pay is, if they have any, and in many cases they won’t. But let’s make sure it’s not the person who was just in an adversarial relationship just prosecuting this person, but the person whom they just defended. This is exactly as it gets done if a person doesn’t have court appointed counsel and has a private attorney.”

Mitchell says only one percent of the more than sixty-thousand filings have been fulfilled and the bill would merely lower the number of filings. The measure now heads to the Senate.

Franks on DCEO: I hope they die

A state representative doesn’t like the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and he’s making his very passionate feelings known on the House floor. House Bill 2495 tasks DCEO to find a nationally recognized logo for recyclable consumer products and to conduct a public awareness campaign for those marked products. But, Democratic Representative Jack Franks questions having DCEO involved at all.

“Maybe you ought to have an amendment that would say ‘in case of their hopefully imminent demise that somebody else might be able to pick up the slack’. So maybe what you can have like, ah, an alternative just in case they die. And I hope they do.”

Fanks eventually voted for the bill which now moves on to the Senate. But that wasn’t the only time Franks questioned the existence of DCEO. When evaluating possible cost savings for the state, Franks told Illinois News Network November of last year he has his sights on DCEO.

“So, I think there’s plenty of money in the state of Illinois, it depends on how we spend it. For instance, another thing that I would do is get rid of the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity”

Franks says that could save hundreds of millions of dollars. Franks also talked about bringing changes to the Illinois Lottery and combining the Illinois Toll Highway Authority with the Illinois Department of Transportation as ways to save the state money.

Other House bills advance

In other House floor action, Democratic Representative Arthur Turners’ House Bill 1361 changes the distribution amounts of the Rental Housing Support Program Fund to allow money for areas of the state not covered by the fund’s act. Meanwhile House Bill 2515 from Representative Katherine Cloonen and others changes some of the definitions in the Illinois Vehicle Code for commercial freight and farm vehicles. Representative Elaine Nekritz’s House Bill 2814 amends the Residential Mortgage License Act to allow for mortgages generated by unlicensed brokers to still stand. Nekritz’s measure would not do away with possible penalties for unlicensed brokers. The passed bills now head to the Senate.

Right-to-try act to get hearing

A measure to allow terminally ill patients the ability to try experimental drugs will get committee hearings in both chambers. House Bill 207 and Senate Bill 29 would establish the Right to Try Act and both are scheduled for hearings Wednesday in Springfield. Representative Mary Flowers, a co-sponsor of the House bill, says to deny a dying person one last chance at fulfilling their life, liberty and pursuit of happiness is unjustifiable.

“So if a person wants to try something that he or she may have heard that just might save their life, that just might give them another year, another month, another second, so be it. Who are we to say what they can and cannot do. So they should have the right to try.”

The law, if passed and signed by the Governor, would allow terminally ill patients to access medicines that have passed Phase 1 of the FDA’s approval process but are not yet on pharmacy shelves. The House Judiciary-Civil Committee hearing is Wednesday morning. The Senate Insurance Committee is Wednesday afternoon. Eight states currently have Right to Try laws and twenty-five other states are considering similar legislation this year, according to the Goldwater Institute.

State’s metropolitan areas see unemployment decline

Every metropolitan area in Illinois saw their unemployment rate drop from the year before, but some sectors are still struggling. Thats according to the latest numbers from the Illinois Department of Employment Security. Decatur saw the greatest unemployment decline dropping to eight percent January this year from eleven-point-four in January 2014. Davenport-Moline-Rock Island saw the slowest decline in unemployment to six-point-five percent January this year from seven-point-six the year before. The unemployment rate for the Chicago area dropped two percentage points to six-point-eight percent for January. Overall, the state’s unemployment rate in January was six-point-one percent which is above the national average. The IDES report indicates manufacturing and wholesale trade sectors lost a combined five-thousand jobs compared to last year.

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