I want to first want to wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve you in the Illinois Senate. I love this job, and I couldn’t serve better people in a better district.
I want to take this opportunity to highlight some of the good things we accomplished this year. Before I do that, I want to thank everyone who offered me their opinion on legislation, offered a suggestion on new legislation, or provided me valuable information on issues both in Springfield and in the district. So, I can’t stress this enough that the following accomplishments are because of all of us – working together.
Education:An historic, fair, and equitable bi-partisan education funding reform package was signed into law in 2017 which allowed schools in 2018 to rightfully gain more critical resources to provide for more opportunities for their students. The budget I supported and passed fully funds ($350 million) the new K-12 Education evidence-based funding formula, resulting in more financial support for schools across Illinois and reducing reliance on local property taxes this year.
Higher Education:For far too long, Illinois has rapidly lost students to colleges and universities outside of the state. I am proud the General Assembly took an aggressive approach with new laws that will help keep students here. That includes:
- Starting in 2019-2020, student advising will be enhanced to prevent duplicative or unnecessary course work that adds to tuition costs and the Illinois Board of Higher Education and Illinois Community College Board will develop policies to encourage reverse transfer credits for students at colleges and universities (this law is designed to help make college more affordable).
- MAP grant awards will change from being given annually to every four years. The problem before is that schools outside Illinois could guarantee four-year financial aid packages and students in Illinois had to apply again and again every year. Making this change canbe a game-changer, allowing Illinois to compete equally.
- K-12 and higher education will now have better coordination of information sharing between them to help families better understand the options available to students to further their education.
- The budget created the AIM HIGH Grant Pilot Program to encourage access and affordability for universities through this new merit-based scholarship. It’s funded by $25 million from the state and a matching $25 million from universities to help retain Illinois students. This helps middle class parents access affordable higher education in Illinois and targets the current “brain-drain” in Illinois.
Second Amendment Rights:I sponsored legislation that passed the Senate that would allow law abiding citizens who hold a FOID card to be able to display an electronic version of their FOID card (like on a phone). Law abiding citizens shouldn’t be charged with a crime if they forgot a piece of paper. While the legislation unanimously passed the Senate, it stalled in the House, but I am hopeful we can get this passed this upcoming session. Also, I sponsor a bill every session to repeal the FOID card, but Chicago Democrats never let it go anywhere.
Farming:A new law I co-sponsored this year increased haul weight by 10 percent for farm trucks during harvest season. Allowing the haul weight to increase during harvest season not only makes things easier for our farmers, but it allows Illinois to compete equally with other states that have higher weight limits on their roadways.
Hunting:I sponsored a new law that allows hunters to wear blaze pink. This color can be easier to see, making it a safer option when hunters are in fields or woods. At the same time, many believe deer can’t see the pink color.
Local jobs, local projects:Our district is seeingnearly $91 million in roads and bridges improvements this current fiscal year, as part of the Illinois Department of Transportation’s Improvement Program. It’s no secret, Illinois’ roads, bridges, and other infrastructure are in dire need of repair. These things are critical to the economy, commerce, and simply getting around safely. These projects will create hundreds of jobs for our area and ensure our roads and bridges are safe for everyone. The major project is the new I-74 Bridge over the Mississippi River. Whiteside and Henry Counties are also seeing several improvement projects.
Opioid Epidemic:In September, I hosted my Opioid Seminar in East Moline with panelists from the Illinois Department of Human Services, Illinois State Police, Trinity UnityPoint Health, Moline Fire Department, and the Moline Police Department. They discussed warning signs for opioid abuse, where to get help, and ways to combat the problem. I am also pleased several new laws were signed into law that could help curb this epidemic. For example, a new law that allowsindividuals who have been prescribed opioids the option to use medical marijuana to treat their pain.
Honoring Our Heroes:Veterans with disabilities will now have their Disabled Veterans’ Standard Homestead Exemption follow them to a new residence, even if they move during the middle of the year under a new law I co-sponsored.
Honoring a Local Hero: The Savanna-Sabula Bridge will be known as the "Dale Gardner Veterans Memorial Bridge" under legislation myself and State Rep. Tony McCombie passed this year. Dale Gardner played an important role in the history of the NASA program and our U.S. Navy.
Hero Street in Silvis:In June, I announced a community-wide effort to feature Hero Street in Silvis on a new U.S. postage stamp. While just a block and a half long, Second Street (Hero Street) in Silvis is the home of more than 100 men and women who served in the U.S. Military. There is no other street of similar size in the country that has contributed as many men and women in service to our country. I hope this effort will lead to a stamp so one day, all Americans know about the significance and the families of Hero Street.
Local Students, Future Leaders:In October, I again hosted dozens of high school students from across the 36th Senate District in Moline for my Youth Advisory Council, a unique, hands-on experience in public policy, state government, and leadership. It’s always so encouraging to see so many young people take an interest in public policy and see their passion when discussing issues important to them. We’ll meet again this spring at the Statehouse.
District Coffee and Conversations: This past year, I hosted about 20 Coffee and Conversation events across the district. These are casual events were constituents came to talk to me, ask questions, and offer their thoughts and suggestions.
We have a lot to be proud of in 2018. Thank you again for your support and helping make our area an even better place to live, work, and raise a family. I look forward to 2019 and hopefully, we can start to make progress on the other important issues facing our state.
Have a great Christmas season and a Happy New Year!