Rep. Luft’s Capitol Report for April 26

The House and Senate adjourned after an all-night session that ended in the early morning hours of Saturday April 9. In spite of the long hours, we didn’t have much to show for it, as Democrats blocked needed reforms to ethics and criminal justice, and instead focused on a budget filled with election-year gimmicks and even more pork spending. A few good bills passed, but overall the people of Illinois were not well served by the spring session.

Budget bill spends $46.5 billion, relies on federal bailout

Illinois’ fiscal troubles are well known and have lasted for many years. We got into the mess we are in by overspending and not being realistic about our resources. The budget could have been a chance to get back on the right path, but instead Democrats took billions in one-time federal funds and used them for new spending which will make tax increases more likely in the future.

The budget bill was over 3000 pages long and was introduced in its final form sometime after 3 a.m. It passed on a party line vote around dawn. (I co-sponsored a bill to require 72 hours for the public to review a spending bill before voting on it). Even though our revenues will shrink by 5.5%, they somehow found a way to increase spending by 10%. You don’t have to be a math whiz to know that this is not sustainable.

I voted No.

Illinois received $12 billion in federal COVID relief funds, which could have been used to shore up the state’s shaky finances. But instead those federal dollars went to fund pork projects in Democrat districts. We did not pay down our giant pension debt, make any structural changes or pass permanent property tax relief or reform. This week a study came out which showed Illinois has the highest property taxes in the nation.

One of my fellow Republicans compared the spending spree to a sugar high – the crash is coming.

Criminal justice bills make small improvements, not nearly enough

Just hours before I took office last January the House passed a criminal justice bill called the SAFE-T Act which prioritized the rights of criminals instead of victims and tied the hands of the police. Crime has been going up ever since, and with the scheduled end of cash bail on January 1, we can expect that trend to continue.

The responsible thing to do would have been to throw out the existing failed law and take strong action against crime, like the bills I sponsored to support our police and lock up violent offenders. Instead we got a series of very small improvements which don’t address the elephant in the room, the disastrous 2021 SAFE-T Act. I voted for some of these bills because we definitely need the improvement, but much more needed to be done.

Luft-sponsored bill to improve accountability of state veterans’ programs passes

Legislation I sponsored to better monitor the effectiveness of programs to help Illinois veterans passed the House on the next-to-last day of session.

Illinois has many great programs to help our veterans in different aspects of their lives. But we need to know how effectively these programs are working and if there are ways they can be made to function better. The first step toward that goal is to do a better job of collecting data on how many veterans are being served by these programs.

House Bill 4998 directs the Department of Human Services (DHS) to review and collect data on the number of veterans receiving services or benefits under its programs for emergency food and housing. DHS would then be required to report these figures to the General Assembly at the end of each year. The bill passed both the House and Senate unanimously.

It now goes to the Governor for his signature.

Legislation guarantees family visitation rights to loved ones in nursing homes

I was proud to support Senate Bill 1405 which guarantees family members the right to visit a loved one in a nursing home if we ever again have quarantines and lockdowns. We heard too many stories of seniors dying alone in nursing homes during the 2020 lockdowns because family members were prohibited from entering during the quarantine. The bill, which I co-sponsored, would ensure that at least one family member could still visit a loved one. It is a change in the law which is long overdue.

Emergency medical dispatchers to be considered as first responders

The first first-responder in most emergencies is the 9-1-1 operator who answers a call for help, dispatching police, fire or medical crews to assist. These individuals perform a vital task and suffer mental trauma and anguish as they talk callers through terrifying and sometimes heartbreaking situations. Under legislation sponsored in the House by my colleague Rep. Dan Swanson which I was proud to support, these hard-working men and women will now receive the same recognition as the emergency responders they send to the scene.

Senate Bill 3127 designates emergency dispatchers as first responders. This change makes it possible for dispatchers to be included in the kinds of programs which offer help to other first responders, such as care for the PTSD they can suffer from being involved in an emergency response. The bill passed both houses unanimously and is now on its way to the Governor for his signature.

Prescription drug drop-off event this Saturday

Many people have old, expired prescription medications which need to be disposed of, but aren’t sure how to go about doing it. You should not just throw them in the garbage can because of the chemicals they contain. This weekend I am partnering with the Pekin Police Department to lend a helping hand.

If you have old medications which need to be disposed of, please stop by the Pekin Police Department at 111 S. Capitol Street between 10 a.m. and noon on Saturday to safely dispose of them. We will collect your unwanted or expired prescription drugs and safely dispose of them for free. You don’t even have to leave your vehicle.

Accepted medications include prescriptions, ointments, patches, vitamins and even pet medications. We cannot accept needles or any liquids.

Keep in touch!

If you have any thoughts, questions, or ideas about legislation do not hesitate to reach out to me. My office can assist you if you need help with a state agency or a state program.

Please contact my office at (309) 620-9191, or stop by and say hello at 2964 Court Street in Pekin. You can find news and information from state government or share your thoughts with me by visiting my website at RepLuft.com.