Working for Illinois Caucus

House Downstate Democrats work for the good people of Illinois



All ESL students approved for free bus rides to school

Some 1,800 students in the East St. Louis School District will receive free bus rides to school beginning with the 2020-2021 school year thanks to state legislation passed at the instigation of district parents.

Illinois House Bill 5195, adopted in late 2018, allows qualifying schools to provide free bus transportation to students who reside in an area with high incidence of criminal gang activity. Previously, free school transportation was only provided to students who live more than 1.5 miles from school or for those who live less than 1.5 miles but who walked through hazardous areas as identified by the Illinois Department of Transportation.

Data from the Illinois State Police, as well as the City of East St. Louis, City of Washington Park, City of Centreville and the Village of Alorton, were used as evidence for determining eligibility in the application to the Illinois State Board of Education.  

The East St. Louis School District was the first school district in Illinois to apply and receive a waiver for all of its students and the first to receive a transportation waiver from the Illinois State Board of Education. According to the school district, its transportation provider, Illinois Central, is in the process of adding new fleet and recruiting additional drivers to meet the increased service demand. 

The bill was championed by Rep. LaToya Greenwood, Rep. Jay Hoffman and Sen. James Clayborne Jr. to ensure approval in the House and Senate. East St. Louis School District Superintendent Arthur Culver noted that the district and concerned partners have been working for several years to get free transportation for students who reside in areas with high incidences of criminal gang activity.

“Our parents are the ones who raised this issue and worked tirelessly to advocate for free bus transportation for all students,” Culver stated in a release. “Their advocacy has led to this win for our students. We also want to thank our Board of Education and the Financial Oversight Panel for their support and steadfast concern for the safety of our students.”

The district also thanked local municipalities and police departments for their assistance with compiling the data reports needed for the waiver application.

“The chances of being murdered in East St. Louis are 19 times greater than the national average,” the Belleville News-Democrat reported last April. “The national homicide rate is around 5 murders for 100,000 people; in East St. Louis, it’s 96 murders per 100,000, topping cities like Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit and Washington, D.C. Yet only 25 percent of the murders are charged in criminal court, compared to a national average of 60 percent.”

The News-Democrat noted that there were 453 murders within the 14-square-mile border of East St. Louis from 2000 to 2018.

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via St. Louis American

February 5, 2020 at 06:48AM

Bristow Overrides Veto to Protect Local Jobs and Aviation Repair Industry in Illinois |

SPRINGFIELD – State Rep. Monica Bristow, D-Alton, released the following statement after the Illinois House overrode the governor’s veto of House Bill 3902 on Tuesday, which would protect local jobs and industries in the region and keep Illinois businesses competitive in the field of aviation repair:

“Today, the Illinois House sent a strong, bipartisan message that we value good-paying jobs in our state and will do what it takes to protect them. With major concerns about people and businesses leaving Illinois, it is our responsibility to protect industries and jobs, including the more than 3,400 jobs in aviation repair across our state.

“I came to Springfield to put local jobs, people and families over politics, even if it means standing up to a governor of my own party. While some party leaders may not have wanted me to do this, I overrode the veto of the governor because he chose to misrepresent this issue and play politics with legislation that directly impacted hundreds of local jobs in the Metro East that people depend on to support their families.

“As state representative, I will continue to work with Republicans and Democrats in a bipartisan fashion to keep industries in our state competitive and to keep those high paying jobs here in our communities, supporting our local economy and families.”

Bristow sponsored House Bill 3902 which reinstates a tax credit that will allow aviation repair stations across the state to remain competitive and continue providing high paying jobs and economic growth in their communities. By overriding the governor’s veto of the bill, Illinois will once again join 36 other states with similar legislation and keep Illinois from losing businesses and jobs to neighboring states. The legislation will directly impact local businesses such as West Star Aviation in East Alton, which provides maintenance and repair services for private aircraft and employs more than 500 Metro East residents.

The legislation originally passed the Illinois House of Representative and Illinois Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support before being vetoed by the governor.

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February 4, 2020 at 03:36PM

St. Rep. Yednock says infrastructure program will be good in a number of ways

Ottawa Democratic St. Rep. Lance Yednock says not only will a statewide infrastructure program be valuable just as a public good, it’ll spur a lot of apprenticeships and new construction companies.

Yednock talked to WCMY about it after the governor’s State of the State Address last week.

On other issues, Yednock says everyone wants clean energy to protect the environment and for the jobs. He wants something done to help those who lose jobs because of the shift away from dirtier energy production such as coal mining. And he says working toward more state funding for schools will help relieve local property taxes.

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February 3, 2020 at 06:17AM

Illinois lawmaker seeks to change state’s window tint restrictions

An Illinois bill would allow drivers with certain medical conditions to tint all of their vehicle’s window surfaces.

Under existing law, it’s illegal to apply window tint to the driver side window or entire front windshield unless the primary operator of the vehicle has a condition such as albinism that makes sun exposure damaging to the skin. The law specifically prohibits issuing full surface window tint for “any condition, such as light sensitivity, for which protection from the direct rays of the sun can be adequately obtained by the use of sunglasses or other eye protective devices.”

State Rep. Maurice West’s legislation would allow for all window surfaces to be tinted if a driver has a medical condition, such light sensitivity due to brain trauma, that results in photophobia. 

“They will get a special license plate that will tell our law enforcement that they are approved through the Secretary of State’s office,” he said. 

If the measure is approved, the Rockford Democrat said it will benefit police as well because approaching a vehicle that they cannot see into presents a real danger. 

“It makes life easier for our law enforcement because they will know why his windows are tinted,” he said. 

West’s office said he plans to file an amendment to his bill to further specify the changes he wants to make to existing state law. 

The window tint could be a useful backstop of protection to someone with photosensitivity beyond protective glasses, something West said could become a safety measure for others around them if a light-triggered migraine hits when they’re driving. 

Michigan, Massachusetts, and North Carolina have window tinting exemptions for people with light sensitivity. West’s office said other states offer medical exemptions as well. 


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January 30, 2020 at 10:43AM

Local state lawmakers tout successful legislative session in 2019, set goals for 2020

GENEVA – Area state lawmakers took a victory lap for last year’s legislative achievements in Springfield, but said they recognize there is plenty more work to get done in the spring session of the General Assembly, during a forum before local municipal officials.

Property tax relief and solving the state’s ongoing pension crisis will be at the top of the list, state senators and representatives told a gathering of the Metro West Council of Government, a lobbying group representing cities and villages in Kane, Kendall and DeKalb counties.

At the breakfast session Friday morning at Geneva’s Eaglebrook Country Club, the lawmakers found Metro West acknowledging last year’s successful effort to approve the first transportation infrastructure funding bill in 10 years.

“The last thing we need is another 10 years between capital bills,” said Sen. Linda Holmes, D-Aurora.

“I know that in the interim local government has been picking up the slack,” said Rep. Anna Moeller, D-Elgin. “That capital bill was landmark legislation,” Moeller said

But what the local officials wanted to know was how the state is going to deal with the staffing shortage at the Illinois Department of Transportation that has led to a bottleneck for approval of shovel-ready projects.

While applauding efforts to outsource some of IDOT’s administrative work, representatives from Metro West called on the lawmakers to allow local permitting for the projects in order to get them moving.

Moeller said she supports “more direct permitting” to clear the backlog.

Sen. Don DeWitte, R-St. Charles, said he has talked with Gov. J.B. Pritzker about the problem and that the governor said an ombudsman will be designated to expedite the IDOT approval process.

DeWitte indicated support for the use of outside engineering firms to help IDOT get existing applications approved and construction underway.

“If they don’t get caught up they’ll be overwhelmed with new projects,” DeWitte said.

Approval of last year’s capital bill was dependent on a doubling the state’s gasoline tax to 38 cents per gallon and earmarking the money for transportation projects.

“The indexing of Motor Fuel Tax funds was the key to that bill,” DeWitte said. “We all had to take some tough votes to get it done.”

Last year also saw lawmakers legalize recreational marijuana.

With legal sales underway since the start of the year, the local officials wanted to know what lawmakers will be doing to correct any unintended consequences.

The legislators essentially said they will be counting on local government officials to help guide them and bring problems to their attention.

“Cannabis was a very big piece of policy,” said Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, noting that the legislature has already approved one clean-up bill and expects that another with eventually follow.

“We are all very intently watching if there are any issues we need to address,” said Sen. Cristina Castro, D-Elgin.

Another notable accomplishment last year was consolidating 650 downstate police and fire pension funds into just two funds, said Castro, chief sponsor of the legislation, creating better investment power and efficiencies.

Metro West is calling on the legislature to control the cost of local municipal public safety pensions.

A major concern to Metro West and local officials is the status of the Local Government Distributive Fund (LGDF), which is the municipal share of state income tax revenues, divvyed up to cities and villages on a per capital basis.

The state cut the local share by 10% several years ago but then restored 5%. The municipalities want the other 5% back.

“That reduction in the LGDF is what gets passed on to property owners in higher taxes,” said DeWitte, who served as mayor of St. Charles from 2005 to 2013.

“The distributive fund has been eroded,” St. Charles Mayor Ray Rogina said, adding that unfunded state mandates compound the problem.

“He dealt with that as mayor,” Rogina said, pointing to DeWitte. “He understands.”

Metro West Executive Director Lesli Melendy said full restoration of the local share of the LGDF is a major goal of the lobbying group.

Melendy also said that the state needs to fully fund public schools.

DeWitte put it more bluntly when he charged that the state government is not meeting is constitutional requirement to provide education funding.

Democrats contend that part of the solution is the proposed Fair Tax Amendment to the Illinois Constitution which is on the November ballot. The initiative would increase taxes on incomes of more than $250,000.

“We rely too heavily on the property tax to fund schools,” said Moeller, urging passage of the fair tax and arguing that 95% of income taxpayers would see no change.

“I was hoping we weren’t going to get into that,” said DeWitte, the next to speak.

While commending Castro for her pension reform efforts, DeWitte said much more needs to be done.

“Until we address the number one burden on taxpayers, we are all just wasting time,” DeWitte said.

After the forum, DeWitte explained his opposition to the Fair Tax Amendment.

“I am adamantly opposed to any scheme that gives a blank check to a simple majority of the legislature to change income brackets and rates,” DeWitte said.

The governor and Democratic leaders have refused to make any assurances that the brackets and rates will remain frozen, said DeWitte, who contends that if approved, tax increases could easily be extended to the middle class.

Rep. Dan Ugaste, R-Geneva, also opposes the plan, arguing that the increase on the higher earners will simply accelerate the exodus of businesses and residents from Illinois.

“There are other ways to grow revenues,” Ugaste said.

Prior to the forum, DeWitte predicted that property tax reform will need to be tied to a larger grand bargain involving taxes and revenues for both the state and local units of government.

Such a deal promises to be an all-or-nothing proposition, DeWitte said, because there will be so many interdependent components.

Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns welcomed the crowd, which included elected officials and top staffers from the three counties represented by Metro West.

For example, the Batavia contingent included Mayor Jeff Schielke, City Administrator Laura Newman, Assistant Administrator Anthony Isom and four aldermen.

“We are a team that is focused on results,” Burns told the lawmakers.

DeWitte is sponsoring legislation that he said would solve a technical problem for local government bodies, which often do not receive the exact property tax extension that they have levied, because of assessment fluctuations, tax appeal decisions or other factors.

When there is an over extension, local governments often are forced to go through a procedure to abate taxes. When there is an under extension, taxing bodies find themselves short of expected revenues.

DeWitte’s legislation would automatically adjust the extensions to guarantee that local governments receive the tax revenues they levied, and move the adjustments to the assessments for the following year.

The legislation, Senate Bill 1043, was approved in the Senate last year. Ugaste is sponsoring the bill in the House, but the legislation has been languishing in the Rules Committee.

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via Kane County Chronicle

January 20, 2020 at 05:44AM

Stuart appointed to infrastructure panel

To ensure needed local capital infrastructure projects come to fruition, state Rep. Katie Stuart (D-Edwardsville) was appointed to the Legislative Advisory Committee for the Southwestern Illinois Regional Planning Commission.

“Illinois cannot wait any longer to address crumbling infrastructure throughout the Metro East and across the state,” Stuart said. “Our region has a lot of untapped potential with our close proximity to St. Louis. We have the opportunity to grow our regional economy, create jobs and attract visitors by investing into transportation infrastructure projects.”

Stuart supported the first capital infrastructure plan that Illinois has seen in a decade. Her plan will create 500,000 high-wage jobs while generating over $8 billion in economic activity.

The Southwestern Illinois Metropolitan and Regional Planning Commission provides planning, zoning, project development and technical assistance services for community and economic development, transportation and other areas. As a member of the Legislative Advisory Committee, Stuart will work with local leaders to develop plans to address and implement infrastructure improvement projects.

“Passing an infrastructure investment plan was a step toward making desperately needed improvements and repairs to infrastructure throughout our state, growing our economy and creating new, high-wage jobs,” she said. “I will be a strong voice for the Metro East on the Legislative Advisory Committee and work to ensure that this plan is executed for local projects.”

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October 8, 2019 at 10:06AM

State Rep. appointed to serve on Route 66 Centennial Commission

State Rep. Lawrence "Larry" Walsh, Jr., D-Elwood, has been appointed to serve on the Route 66 Centennial Commission, which will help organize official events celebrating the historic highway’s 100th anniversary.

"Route 66 is famous around the world and people visit from all over to travel it and see the sights," Walsh said. "I’m thankful for the opportunity to be part of this commission and celebrate the history of the Mother Road."

The Route 66 Centennial Commission is a bipartisan group of elected officials and appointees from the governor’s office and the various state agencies. They will meet quarterly to discuss the planning of official events, programs, and activities for the upcoming Route 66 centennial celebration in 2026. The commission will be overseen by the Illinois Office of Tourism and Walsh will serve on the commission. Walsh’s position on the commission is on a volunteer basis, which means he will not receive pay or reimbursements.

"Right now our state is the only one planning any sort of celebration for the Mother Road," Walsh said. "Route 66 cuts right through our community which means when people come to enjoy this once in a lifetime they will be supporting our local economy."

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September 17, 2019 at 07:05AM

State representative honored

State representative honored

Posted: / Updated:

DECATUR, Ill. (WCIA) — A state representative was honored for her work to repair the state’s roads and bridges. Democratic Representative Sue Scherer was awarded the “Friend of Infrastructure” award from the Transportation for Illinois Coalition.

Scherer helped pass the bipartisan Rebuild Illinois Plan, which invests $45 billion into new infrastructure projects. It’s also expected to create 5000,000 jobs statewide.

The Illinois Chamber of Commerce backed a study that found the state’s crumbling roads costs each Illinois driver $597 a year in wear and tear, fuel mileage and lost economic activity.

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August 9, 2019 at 03:09PM

Yednock: Funding for local roads to come from gas tax

A tax increase is a difficult thing to vote for, but the 19-cent gas tax hike will do good for roads and bridges, said state Rep. Lance Yednock (D-Ottawa).

Recently, Illinois legislators passed Capital Bill, HB62, to fund local infrastructure projects. The bill was sent to Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Friday but hadn’t been signed as of Wednesday morning.

GRANVILLE — Granville’s mayor was happy to report news this morning.

Yenock said the money for the projects will come from the 19-cent-per-gallon gas tax hike that starts July 1, and that collected money will continue to provide for road and bridge projects.

He anticipates some communities will start to see their funding this summer and said it’s important to help smaller communities with funding like this.

Local projects listed in the capital bill range from upgrading sewer plants to street reconstruction and replacing fire hydrants.

Yednock encourages municipalities and constituents to contact him if they are interested in receiving funding like this in the future. His Springfield office can be contacted at (217) 782-0140 and Ottawa office at (815) 324-5055. His email is

Ali Braboy can be reached at (815) 220-6931 and Follow her on Twitter @NT_PutnamCo.

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June 18, 2019 at 02:08PM

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