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Springfield, IL… State Representative Margo McDermed (R-Mokena) has advanced two bills to fine tune the legislation governing the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) and consequently save the state money. 

"Given the State's fiscal condition we should be taking a hard look at anywhere that we can save money, reduce redundancies, and operate more efficiently, no matter how small," Rep. McDermed said. "Legislation like House Bill 5206 is a no brainer. Why should we tie our agency's hands when it comes to making financially sound deals?"

HB 5206 allows IDOT to lease locomotives, passenger railcars, and other rolling stock equipment or accessions to any state or state agency, public or private entity, or quasi-public entity. Under current law, IDOT is limited to selling such assets to neighboring states only.

IDOT has several high speed rail locomotives purchased in 2009 through the American Recovery and Investment Act that are not currently in operation. IDOT has a tentative arrangement to lease these railcars to another state on the East Coast, but the agency lacks the authority to do so. The cost to store each unused locomotive is $400 dollars a day.  IDOT's proposed lease would earn approximately $1300 a day; $2.38 million dollars in potential annual revenue for the department to use for infrastructure investments. 

“Legislation pertaining to how state agencies and state government operate are filled with outdated practices and inefficiencies,” Rep. McDermed continued. “We owe it to the taxpayers and recipients of state services to identify where we can make positive, good government improvements.”

House Bill 4960 is an omnibus bill that codifies existing IDOT practices, eliminates outdated statutory requirements, and moves IDOT towards compliance with federal regulations. Such changes include eliminating the annual 10% appropriations increase for downstate transit, instead linking the annual increase to the rate of increase of revenue being raised by the existing formula. The passage of this bill will allow IDOT to operate more efficiently, save tax dollars, and allow the department to provide better service for Illinois residents. 

HB 5206 unanimously passed out of the House Transportation Committee and HB 4960 is awaiting a vote in the Executive Committee.

Springfield Lull
The Illinois House has adjourned for a month. We return on April 9th. Speaker Madigan sets the schedule and all told the House has met for just 12 days this year.

We’ve yet to hold a single committee hearing to address the pension deficit or the budget or any number of the crises bubbling at the state level. The General Assembly has also yet to adopt a revenue estimate, a critical component of the budgeting process. The revenue estimate informs us budget makers how much money we will have to spend. The House has failed to adopt a revenue estimate for years now and has consequently run significant budget deficits leading to a current bill backlog of $8.9 billion dollars.

The House is back in session this week and next before a three week break for the March primaries and Easter holiday. The deadline to introduce new bills was Friday February 16th. Committees have until April 13th to discuss and amend bills before deciding whether or not to forward them to the House floor for a full vote. Given the three week break, expect a flurry of legislative activity over the next two weeks. If you have any questions about particular legislation, visit ILGA.Gov or call my office.

Gun Legislation
Many of us are still reeling from the horrific school shooting that occurred in Parkland recently. I have heard from a number of constituents on the issue of gun control and want to share with you some legislative updates.

Current Illinois law provides that no person may acquire or possess any firearm or ammunition without a Firearm Owner’s Identification card. Any applicant for a FOID card must be at least 21 years old, submit a photo, and undergo a background check that includes screening for not just criminal activity, but mental health and other disabilities. Prohibited purchasers in Illinois include those with felony convictions, previous mental health facility patients, the developmentally or intellectually disabled and those addicted to narcotics, among many others.

Springfield, IL…. In the wake of scandals rocking the USA Gymnastics and Swimming programs, State Representative Margo McDermed (R-Mokena) has filed House Bill 5131 to strengthen the Illinois Child Abuse and Neglect Act. News investigations in to both organizations found that individuals within the programs failed to act when faced with accusations and evidence against coaches and others in power.
“In light of recent reports that shocked parents everywhere, but unfortunately were unsurprising to many involved in the sports world, this bill is vital to protect our children,” Rep. McDermed said. “It’s clear that there is a systemic problem in children’s athletic programs and a tendency towards covering it up instead of taking action.”
HB 5131 increases the criminal penalty for any person who knowingly violates reporting requirements of abuse or neglect from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class 4 felony. It further states that anyone who does so as part of a cover-up or to protect a person from prosecution commits a Class 3 felony. The bill also requires recreational or athletic program personnel who are required to report child abuse to complete mandated training on recognizing and reporting child abuse.
"We are hearing far too often that victims were ignored and abuses were swept under the rug to protect a program’s image. That is unacceptable.” Rep. McDermed continued. “In a perfect world, no child is abused or neglected. However, if and when any inappropriate behavior occurs, it is the responsibility of those we entrust with our children to listen to them and to take action immediately. Children who pursue their passions and hobbies should be able to do so safely and without fear.”
HB 5131 has been filed in the Illinois House and is awaiting committee assignment.

Governor’s Budget Address
You can watch my immediate reaction here.

One of the biggest takeaways from the Governor’s budget address was a proposal to gradually shift pension costs to schools. In his address, Governor Rauner said, “if you separate the payment from the accountability, there is no accountability.” The reasoning is that costs unnecessarily balloon when the responsibility for picking up the tab is disconnected from those spending the money. While I agree we should work to help schools lower costs, work to bring more accountability to our finances, and to question the necessity of certain expenses, this proposal is unlikely to gain much traction in Springfield.

That being said, leadership and legislators need to get realistic about the state budget and the status of Illinois’ finances. Despite forcing a 32% tax hike on citizens last year, tax receipts are significantly less than expected and Illinois spending continues to climb along with pension obligations and debt service. It’s clear that tax hikes are not the answer to our budget woes. Common sense budgeting practices with an established revenue estimate and clear spending priorities are a good place to start. Illinois cannot afford any more last minute backroom budget deals that force rank and file legislators to choose between a bad deal or no budget at all. I'm worried that will be the case yet again this year as Speaker Madigan has cancelled 3 session days already. The House won't be back in session until February 27th.

‘Illinois Tax Reform Plan’
I am the co-sponsor of a recent taxpayer relief plan put forth by State Representative Breen to capitalize on the new federal tax legislation. This package of bills includes: