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Visiting a Southern Illinois coal mine. Jason will fight for quality Southern Illinois jobs

Week-in-Review: March 2-6

Illinois lawmakers received an update March 5 on the status of Coronavirus (COVID-19) from state Public Health officials who are encouraging the public to help prevent the spread of the virus.

In other action, residents across Illinois will soon begin receiving invitations to fill out the 2020 census forms. This count of our nation’s population provides critical data that is used to provide resources to communities and determine the number of seats each state will have in Congress.

Also during the week, the Senate approved legislation to let teachers buy back lost retirement benefits, and legislation has been introduced to reduce costs for volunteer firefighters and Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTS).

And March is Severe Weather Preparedness Month.

Officials encourage public to help prevent spread of COVID-19

The Illinois Department of Public Health briefed lawmakers on COVID-19 on March 5, providing an update about what the department is doing to monitor the situation in Illinois.

So far, only four patients in Illinois have tested positive for COVID -19. The Illinois Department of Public Health, CDC and the Cook County Health Department are proactively reaching out to anyone who may have had contact with these individuals to test for the virus.

Symptoms of COVID-19 include mild to severe respiratory illness with fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Currently, the virus has not been found to be spreading widely in the U.S., and the risk to the general public remains low. Residents are encouraged not to alter their daily routines.

However, public health officials are encouraging the public to remain vigilant about keeping germs from spreading. The CDC has some useful tips to help prevent the spread of respiratory diseases like COVID-19:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • Stay home when you are sick, except to get medical care.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

For more information visit the Illinois Department of Public Health or CDC website.

Census starting soon

With less than a week to go until homes across Illinois begin receiving invitations to fill out the 2020 census, Sen. Jason Plummer (R-Vandalia) is reminding constituents what the census is, and why it is essential. Residents will receive an invitation to respond online to the 2020 census between March 12 and 20.

Mandated by the United States Constitution, the census is a count of the United States population that takes place every ten years. The 2020 Census will be the 24th census conducted since 1790.

Billions of dollars in federal funding goes to schools, hospitals, roads, public safety, and other vital programs each year. Not only is participating in the census required by law, but a complete count is important to ensuring your community has funding for these resources.

This year, for the first time, you can take the census online! Links to census resources, including how to respond and a sample questionnaire, are available at this link.

Let teachers buy back lost retirement benefits

The Senate has approved legislation that would help teachers who have made the jump from teaching in a private school to teaching in a public school buy back their pension time.

Under current law, when teachers move from private schools to public schools, their years of private teaching don’t count toward their pension benefits. Under Senate Bill 3027, teachers would have the option of paying into the system to cover both the employee and employer pension contributions for their years of private teaching.

Proponents of the legislation say that with public schools struggling to recruit teachers, this bill provides an incentive for private school teachers to consider taking these positions, helping to reduce teacher shortages at little to no cost to the taxpayers.

Senate Bill 3027 passed by a 55-0 vote, the bill now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Sen. Plummer welcomes FFA students to the Capitol

FFA  students and agricultural advocates from throughout Illinois descended on the Capitol for Illinois Agriculture Legislative Day (IALD) on March 3.  

As part of the day’s activities, FFA students reached out to their local elected officials to discuss issues important to the agriculture industry. State Senator Jason Plummer (R-Vandalia) welcomed FFA students from across the 54th District. Sen. Plummer met with Highland FFA, South Central FFA and Edwardsville FFA.  

IALD brings together farm, agricultural commodity organizations and agriculture interest groups to advocate to lawmakers about the importance of agriculture and agricultural education.

Reduce costs for volunteer firefighters and EMTs

New legislation has been introduced in the Senate that aims to support volunteer firefighters and EMTS with expenses they incur as part of the public service they provide their communities.

Senate Bill 3224 creates a $500 tax credit that qualifying volunteer firefighters and EMTs can claim when they file their Illinois income taxes. Because it is a credit and not a deduction, it will provide a direct reduction in the amount of taxes owed, and could potentially increase their tax refunds.

Supporters of the measure note that volunteer firefighters and EMTs put their lives on the line to serve their communities. However, as volunteers, they often have to pay out of pocket for training costs and some equipment.

This legislation would help volunteer firefighters and EMTs pay for expenses that often includes things such as medical and fire equipment, training, licensure, and even insurance. Supporters hope that by reducing the financial burden of volunteering, the legislation can help local fire departments to recruit new volunteers to bolster their efforts at protecting the public.

Be prepared! March is Severe Weather Preparedness Month

With spring just round the corner, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) is highlighting the importance of being properly prepared for severe weather during Severe Weather Preparedness Month.

In partnership with the National Weather Service, IEMA is underscoring the importance of having more than one way to receive emergency alerts and notifications. Illinois residents are encouraged to have a radio that can be programmed to receive alerts for specified counties, like a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration All Hazards Weather Radio with a battery backup. If an alert is issued for your area, the radio will sound the alarm and provide critical safety information.

Another resource to be aware of during Severe Weather Preparedness Month is a free app offered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency that provides notifications and updated information about severe weather when you’re on the go. The app can also help you locate resources near you in the event of an emergency.

For more information about what to do before, during and after a storm, please visit www.Ready.Illinois.gov.  


Sen. Plummer welcomes FFA students to the Capitol

FFA students and agricultural advocates from throughout Illinois descended on the Capitol for Illinois Agriculture Legislative Day (IALD) on March 3.  

As part of the day’s activities, FFA students reached out to their local elected officials to discuss issues important to the agriculture industry. State Senator Jason Plummer (R-Vandalia) welcomed FFA students from across the 54th District. Sen. Plummer met with Highland FFA, South Central FFA and Edwardsville FFA.  

IALD brings together farm, agricultural commodity organizations and agriculture interest groups to advocate to lawmakers about the importance of agriculture and agricultural education.

Edwardsville FFA

 

South Central FFA

Highland FFA


Sen. Plummer’s Week-in-Review: Feb. 24-28

State Senator Jason Plummer (R-Vandalia) continued his calls for a balanced budget during the week, seeking to ensure that K-12 education funding is not held hostage by a costly income tax.  

In other news, Senate Republicans are asking questions following concerns raised this week by the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association about a recent policy change within the Illinois Department of Corrections.

Meanwhile, Sen. Plummer was recognized for his pro-manufacturing voting record, and new legislation to regionalize the minimum wage was introduced.

Education funding held hostage

During the week, Sen. Plummer continued to raise concerns about a component of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed Fiscal Year 2021 budget that puts K-12 funding at risk unless the Governor’s tax hike is approved.

Since the new school-funding formula was enacted in 2018, Illinois has increased school funding by at least $350 million every year – as required by state law. However, if Gov. Pritzker’s costly tax increase is not approved by voters this fall, the formula will be underfunded by $150 million.

Sen. Plummer echoes calls from his Republican colleagues, arguing that lawmakers should be working toward a balanced budget that funds the state’s priorities, such as K-12 funding, without this priority being tied to a costly tax increase.  

DOC policy change comes under scrutiny

During the week, members of the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association sounded the alarm about a recent policy change in which non-citizen felons are being released from prison back into Illinois communities following their prison sentences without federal immigration authorities being notified. 

Previously, policy required the Department of Corrections to coordinate with ICE to transfer felons with this designation to Pontiac where they would begin the deportation process instead of releasing them into our communities.

In light of the Sheriffs’ Association’s concerns and noting the potential dangers to public safety, Senate Republicans are calling upon the Illinois Department of Corrections to answer the following questions:

  • Why was this policy changed?
  • Whose decision was it to change this policy?
  • Why weren’t lawmakers informed?

Republicans lawmakers have called upon the Senate President and the Chairman of the Senate Criminal Law Committee to call a special hearing on this matter. 

Senate Republican support for manufacturing gets high marks

Several Senate Republican lawmakers have been recognized for their support of Illinois job creators in the 2019 Legislative Scorecard released by the Technology and Manufacturing Association (TMA).

The annual scorecard recognizes how lawmakers in the General Assembly voted on bills important to the state’s manufacturers.

Sen. Plummer was proud to be one of only 15 state legislators with an 80 percent voting record or higher on the 2019 Legislative Scorecard.

Manufacturing is one of Illinois’ leading industries and plays a critical role in the success of our state’s economy, employing ten percent of the workforce.

Senate Republicans argue that lawmakers should be working harder to advocate on behalf of Illinois’ job-creators, striving to not only retain current manufacturers but also do more to attract new businesses to the state.

New legislation filed to regionalize minimum wage

Recently-filed legislation to regionalize the minimum wage increase would provide some relief to Illinois’ job creators.

Senate Bill 3396 would provide for minimum wages based upon a percentage of the otherwise required minimum wage, depending upon the region of the State. The legislation establishes six regions for purposes of determining the minimum wage.

Under the legislation, specified units of local government would be allowed to opt-out of the state-mandated minimum wage rates and opt-into a regionally adjusted minimum wage, which will be statutorily-authorized and statutorily-approved. It provides a sliding scale type of rate – so areas with historically-low unemployment or higher costs of living must keep rates closer to the state-mandated hourly rate. 

The first wave of minimum wage increases took effect on Jan. 1, increasing the wage from $8.25 an hour to $9.25 an hour.


Sen. Plummer’s Week-in-Review: Feb. 17-21

State Senator Jason Plummer (R-Vandalia) voiced his concerns after Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker unveiled his budget proposal on Feb. 19. Sen. Plummer was highly critical of the budget plan which calls for $1.6 billion in new spending and holds funding for priorities, such as education, health care and public safety, contingent on the approval of his tax increase.   

As the spring legislative session gets underway in earnest, a number of new pieces of legislation have been filed including a bill that would change a process that too often leaves citizens waiting for treatment due to insurance coverage requirements. Other legislation recently filed includes a proposal to exempt overtime wages from the income tax and a bill that would recognize recipients of the Air Force Combat Action Medal.

Governor proposes $1.6 billion in new spending in budget address

Gov. J.B. Pritzker unveiled his budget proposal in an address before the General Assembly on Feb. 19, seeking $1.6 billion in new spending which relies on getting the Governor’s income tax increase approved.

“Governor Pritzker has proposed $1.6 billion in new spending predicated on a new tax increase that will harm those I represent in the 54th District,” said State Senator Jason Plummer (R-Vandalia). “The problem isn’t a lack of revenue. The problem is a lack of fiscal restraint.”

Lawmakers expressed concerns that in order to fund $1.4 billion for priorities like schools, health care and public safety, the Governor’s tax increase must be approved. Under the state’s revamped school funding formula from 2017, the state is statutorily required to increase school funding by $350 million a year. Under Pritzker’s proposal, only $200 million is guaranteed, leaving $150 million in school funding in jeopardy.

Sen. Plummer argued after the address that what Illinoisans need is more fiscal leadership and responsibility, not more reckless spending and unwarranted taxes.

New reforms would reduce medical care delays

New legislation has been filed that would change a healthcare process that currently leaves many Illinois residents waiting for medical treatment because of insurance coverage requirements.

Illinois patients often have medical care delayed or denied because of their health plans' use of a process called prior authorization.  Senate Bill 3822, also known as the Prior Authorization Reform Act, is a bipartisan solution that supporters say will bring much-needed transparency and streamlining to prior authorization requirements.

Health insurance companies and pharmacy benefit managers use prior authorization to cut costs, requiring health professionals to do extra paperwork before their recommended patient care is approved. Even when authorization is granted, too often insurance companies later deny payment for medical care they approved.

Prior authorization requirements are often not based on clinically valid criteria, and are administered by individuals who lack relevant qualifications. The Prior Authorization Reform Act would make sure prior authorization requirements are based on medical evidence and administered by qualified individuals.

Senate Bill 3822 has been introduced in the Senate and awaits assignment to a legislative committee where it will receive a public hearing.

Overtime wages not taxable under new bill

Illinois residents who work overtime would find some tax relief under recently filed legislation that would exempt overtime wages from the state income tax.

Senate Bill 3695 would create a deduction on any overtime wages earned in Illinois. Wages earned in excess to a taxpayer’s regular monthly or weekly salary would be exempt from the state income tax.

The state income tax on overtime wages would still be withheld from an individual’s paycheck; however, when that person goes to file their taxes for that year, they would receive a deduction equal to the amount of taxes paid on overtime wages.

Supporters of the measures say it’s the least that can be done for hard-working Illinoisans who already face high tax burdens.

Air Force Combat veterans would be honored under new bill

Recipients of the Air Force Combat Action Medal could be recognized on Illinois license plates under newly filed legislation.

Senate Bill 2518 creates the Air Force Combat Action Medal license plate and allows the Secretary of State to issue them to eligible drivers. The new plate would join numerous others created to recognize military service and awards, including the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and Navy Service Cross, among others. The existing Combat Action Badge plate is offered for Army recipients of that medal, which is very similar to the Air Force’s Combat Action Medal.


Sen. Plummer’s Week-in-Review: Feb. 10-14

This week, State Senator Jason Plummer (R-Vandalia) is continuing his push for independence in the legislative map-drawing process. Sen. Plummer has signed on as a co-sponsor of a new constitutional amendment, which would place a question on the ballot to allow for the creation of a new, independent commission, taking the process of drawing legislative districts out of the hands of sitting lawmakers.

In other news, a dozen historic sites in Illinois have been added to the National Register of Historic Places, including one in Alton, Illinois.

Additionally, nominations are now being accepted for the Senior Illinoisans Hall of Fame, and the Office of the State Fire Marshal is reminding older Illinoisans about the importance of fire safety.

Senate Republican lawmakers join bipartisan push to pass Fair Maps amendment

This week, it was announced that a bipartisan group of lawmakers are coming together to file a new constitutional amendment, Senate Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 18, which would take sitting legislators out of Illinois’ legislative map-drawing process and prevent them from drawing their own districts.

SJRCA 18 includes the following provisions:

  • Establishes an independent, 17-member commission appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court, who is charged with drawing the Congressional and General Assembly maps.
  • Seven commission members will be nominated from each political party and three commission members will not be affiliated with either political party.
  • Allows the public to provide comment and submit maps during the map drawing process for consideration by the Commission.

Senator Plummer, who is a proponent for changing the system for drawing legislative maps, contends that this proposal is the first step in rooting out government corruption and would send a strong message to Illinoisans that the status quo in Springfield is no longer acceptable.

In order for SJRCA 18 to be placed on the ballot this General Election, the full General Assembly must pass it no later than May 3, 2020.

Illinois sites added to National Register of Historic Places

A dozen sites in Illinois have been added to the National Register of Historic Places of 2019 based on recommendations from the State Historic Preservation Office.

The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of properties that merit special attention and preservation. Every Illinois county has at least one property or historic district listed in the National Register. To be eligible, properties must be more than 50 years old.

The 2019 additions are:

  • Chicago Municipal Tuberculosis Sanitarium District, Chicago, Cook County
  • Copley Hospital, Aurora, Kane County
  • First Congregational Church, Des Plaines, Des Plaines, Cook County
  • Louis Fredrick House Barrington Hills, Lake County
  • The Forum, Chicago, Cook County
  • Leaning Tower of Niles, Niles, Cook County
  • Lilacia Park Historic District, Lombard, Du Page County     
  • Alton Gas and Electric Powerhouse, Alton, Madison County
  • Downtown Urbana Historic District, Urbana, Champaign County  
  • Hunziker Winery Site, Warsaw, Hancock County   
  • Paris High School and Gymnasium, Paris, Edgar County  
  • Rollo Congregational United Church of Christ, Earlville vicinity, De Kalb County

Nominations open for Senior Illinoisans Hall of Fame

Nominations are now being accepted for the 2020 Senior Illinoisans Hall of Fame awards hosted by the Illinois Department on Aging.

The Senior Illinoisans Hall of Fame was created by the Illinois General Assembly in 1994 to honor Illinois residents ages 65 and older for their personal achievements in four separate categories; Community Service, Education, Labor Force and Performance & Graphic Arts.

The Illinois Department on Aging will be accepting nominations now through May 31.

For more information and to download a nomination form, click here.

OSFM stresses importance of fire safety for older Illinoisans

The Office of the State Fire Marshal (OSFM) is reminding older Illinoisans about the importance of fire safety.

People over the age of 65 face the greatest risk of dying in a fire. In 2018, 44% out of the 118 fire deaths in Illinois were people over the age of 60. According to the United States Fire Administration (USFA), on average, over 1,000 Americans 65 and older die in home fires with the leading cause of these deaths is careless smoking. 

OSFM says to keep these tips in mind to create a fire safe home:

  • Know two ways out of every room. Practice using both ways.
  • Remove any items that may block your way out of the room or your home.
  • Discuss your fire escape plan with family and neighbors. Contact your building manager or fire department to discuss your plan if you need extra help escaping.
  • Keep eyeglasses, keys, hearing aids and a phone within reaching next to your bed.
  • Practice your home fire escape drill twice a year.

Legislation eliminates FOID card

Those wanting to purchase firearms would no longer need to possess a FOID card under legislation filed recently. Senate Bill 2535 would repeal the Firearm Owners Identification (FOID) Act, which supporters of the bill say is outdated and redundant.

“The reality is, the requirement of FOID cards was a bureaucratic push to make it harder for Illinois residents to exercise their Second Amendment rights,” said State Senator Jason Plummer (R-Edwardsville). “We should be seeking ways to prevent criminals from accessing firearms, not adding to the red tape, costs and hurdles placed on law-abiding gun owners.”

The FOID Act was created in 1968 as a way to identify people who were eligible to own firearms as part of a public-safety initiative in Illinois to meet the requirements of the federal Gun Control Act of 1968. However, with updated technology allowing for the use of instant background checks, the bill’s sponsors say the FOID card serves no real purpose.

While Senate Bill 2535 would eliminate the need for a person to own a FOID card, it would not change any of the other requirements for purchasing a firearm. Those who buy a firearm would still need to undergo strict federal background checks at the time of purchase.


Illinois reminds taxpayers to take advantage of Earned Income Tax Credit

Tax season has begun as federal and state W-2 forms arrive in the mail, but according to the Illinois Department of Revenue (IDOR), thousands of eligible taxpayers fail to claim both the Illinois Earned Income Credit (EIC) and the Federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).

IDOR acting Director David Harris says those taxpayers are missing out on thousands of dollars.

Anyone eligible for the federal EITC automatically qualifies for the Illinois EIC, which is a refundable tax credit worth up to 18 percent of a taxpayer's federal claim. However, IDOR says nearly 20,000 Illinoisans claimed a federal EITC credit without also claiming the state EIC, leaving more than $5 million unclaimed.

To be eligible for the tax credit programs, taxpayers must meet certain income and residency qualifications and file a tax return, even if they do not owe any tax or are not required to file. To find out if your family qualifies for the credit, visit the Internal Revenue Service's EITC Assistant.


Group wants you to pick coolest things made in Illinois

In addition to filling in college basketball brackets, Illinoisans can pick winners for another March tournament that will determine the "coolest thing made in Illinois."

IMA President and CEO Mark Denzler wants to showcase the wide range of items made in the state. He said most people don't realize what all is made in Illinois.

Manufacturing accounts for 12 percent of Illinois' gross domestic product and a $304 billion economic output — the largest of any industry in the state, according to the IMA. More than 592,000 people are employed in the industry.

"We have to attract the next generation of workers to Illinois," Denzler said. "By showing the products and companies that are here, hopefully we can also help provide that next pipeline of workers."


First round of funding in statewide broadband expansion announced

On Jan. 5, it was announced that $50 million in funding is being released for the first round of matching grants of Illinois’ $420 million statewide broadband expansion. Applicants for the grant are anticipated to include Internet service providers, rural cooperatives, nonprofits and local governments.

Grant responses for the first round of funding can be submitted through April 3, with up to $5 million available per project. Interested applicants can find more information about the Notice of Funding Opportunity at https://www2.illinois.gov/dceo/AboutDCEO/GATA/Pages/2366-1333.aspx.

The Rebuild Illinois capital plan has slotted $420 million toward broadband expansion — $400 million for the grant program and $20 million to strengthen the Illinois Century Network. The matching requirements in the grant program will leverage state funds to attract at least an additional $400 million from Internet service providers.  


2020 New Laws

As 2019 comes to a close and we prepare for a new year, several notable laws take effect January 1 that Illinois residents may want to know about.
The new laws kicking off 2020 cover everything from transportation safety and increased traffic penalties, to supporting our military personnel.

Strengthening Scott’s Law

2019 will be a year the Illinois State Police never forget. With three tragic deaths and numerous other incidents causing injuries, 2019 broke records early in the year for the number of accidents involving our State Troopers along Illinois roadways.
The drastic increase prompted the Illinois State Police to ramp up patrols to enforce Scott’s Law, more commonly known as the “move over law,” requiring drivers to reduce speed and switch lanes when approaching an emergency vehicle on the side of the road. As of November 3, 5,860 tickets had been issued for Scott’s Law violations. During the same period in 2018, 738 citations were given.
The General Assembly and the Governor also took the tragic incidents of 2019 seriously and passed several measures into law. Beginning January 1:
• The minimum fine for violating Scott's Law will increase from $100 to $250 for the first violation and $750 for the second violation.
• Those who violate Scott’s Law and cause an injury or death will be charged with a Class 4 felony.
• The Scott's Law Fund will be created to educate motorists on the importance of Scott's Law.
• The Secretary of State will be required to include at least one question about Scott’s Law on the written driving test.

Increased traffic fines

Illinois motorists may want to think twice about disobeying traffic laws next year. Starting January 1, drivers can expect to pay more for passing a stopped school bus and speeding through a construction zone.
House Bill 1873/PA 101-0055 increases the fine for passing a stopped school bus that has its stop arm displayed from $150 to $300 for the first offense and from $500 to $1,000 for the second or subsequent offense. Similarly, Senate Bill 1496/PA 101-0172 increases the fine from $10,000 to $25,000 for failing to reduce speed when approaching a construction zone.

New rules of the road

Some changes are coming about what is not allowed on Illinois' roadways. Beginning January 1, Senate Bill 87/PA 101-0189 will make it illegal for vehicles to have tinted or smoked lights. Law enforcement officials say these lights often make it difficult to see the vehicle.
Also, starting in the new year, Senate Bill 86/PA 101-0297 will add to the current ban on cell phone use while driving by prohibiting drivers from operating a vehicle while also watching or streaming video on a device.


New laws support military personnel, families

Laws supporting members of the military and their families are among those that will take effect January 1.
To make it easier for military spouses to find work in Illinois, House Bill 1652/PA 101-0240 will provide for expedited licensure reciprocity for service members and their spouses. The new law requires professional licenses to be processed within 60 days of the submitted application. Often when military members and their families relocate to Illinois, the process of obtaining a professional license is cumbersome and can take months. The goal of this new law is to help spouses quickly become licensed in their profession in Illinois.
Also starting January 1, veterans seeking to add the “Veteran” designation on their driver’s licenses have another option under the Secretary of State's acceptable forms of proof. In addition to providing a DD-214 or an NA-13038, veterans will now be able to submit a United States Department of Veterans Affairs summary of benefits letter instead.
Veterans will also be offered a wider variety of specialty license plates starting January 1. Senate Bill 944/PA 101-0536 makes the Disabled Veteran license plate and the ISERVE license plate available for motorcycles. Under House Bill 2618/PA 101-0262, veterans can receive one set of any military series license plate for free. Previously, only the Disabled Veterans and ISERVE license plates were offered for free.

New laws impacting the agriculture industry

Farmers will no longer have to pay for certain license plate registration fees beginning in 2020. House Bill 2669/PA 101-0481 removes the $250 fee and size restrictions for a single unit self-propelled agricultural fertilizer implement.
Also beginning January 1, those who sell agriculture products at farmers markets and retail stores have more flexibility in labeling their products as "local." House Bill 2505/PA 101-0258 modifies the term "local farm or food products" to include products processed and packaged in Illinois using at least one ingredient grown in Illinois. Before this law, all ingredients had to be grown in Illinois for it to be considered a “local product.”


There’s more to know before 2020 kicks off! To view a full list of laws taking effect January 1, visit: https://bit.ly/2qI1qGK