Legislative Update: January 23, 2019

Rep. Wehrli to Host BNSF Service Reliability Town Hall Meeting on January 26

I hope you’re planning to join me this weekend on Saturday, January 26, when I host a Town Hall Meeting with experts who will provide information and answer questions about service disruptions along Metra’s BNSF Line.   I hear almost daily from constituents who are displeased with the quality of Metra rail service along the BNSF line. Delays have become the norm rather than the exception, and for those who live in the 41st District and rely on Metra to get them to and from work every day, frustration is extremely high. On Saturday, I’m bringing together a panel of experts from BNFS Railway and Metra. A short presentation will be followed by a Q & A session.  

Please mark your calendar for this informational session, which will be held from 8:00 AM until 10:00 AM on January 26 at the Naperville Municipal Building (Council Chambers). The municipal building is located at 400 S. Eagle Street in Naperville.

J.B. Pritzker Sworn In as Illinois’ 43rd Governor

Last week, J.B. Pritzker and the other Illinois constitutional officers were sworn into office at an inaugural ceremony held in Springfield. Pritzker, the billionaire businessman, and Hyatt hotel heir, became the 43rd Governor of the State of Illinois, and Juliana Stratton, a former member of the Illinois House of Representatives, was sworn in as Lt. Governor. After being sworn in, Governor Pritzker spoke about the challenges facing Illinois and his progressive agenda for the state. A lavish inaugural ball was held Monday night at the Illinois State Fairgrounds, headlined by Super Bowl halftime act Maroon 5. I did not attend the inaugural ceremony or the ball.

Durkin appoints Leadership Team for 101st General Assembly

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin has announced the appointment of his Leadership team for the 101st General Assembly, and it is an honor to be chosen to serve as Assistant Republican Leader. I look forward to working alongside this dynamic group of leaders as we set the agenda for the House Republican Caucus:  Deputy Republican Leaders Rep. Dan Brady
Rep. Tom Demmer

Assistant Republican Leaders

Rep. Avery Bourne
Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer
Rep. Norine Hammond
Rep. Michael McAuliffe
Rep. Grant Wehrli
Rep. Keith Wheeler
Rep. Tim Butler will serve as Conference Chair
Rep. Mark Batinick will serve as Floor Leader

Rep. Wehrli Seeks to End Gerrymandered Political Maps Today’s partisan map-drawing process allows the majority party in Springfield to draw legislative districts that protect their members so their seats can be retained. This stifles democracy because lawmakers are essentially choosing their voters rather than allowing voters to choose their representatives. Regardless of the party in control, gerrymandered maps undermine our representative form of government.  I am championing legislation this year that seeks to end the gerrymandering of political maps once and for all. As the Chief Co-Sponsor of HJRCA10, I’m hoping to end decades of political influence over how legislative district boundaries are determined.

HJRCA10 is modeled after prior Independent Map citizen initiatives. The measure would amend the Legislature Article of the Illinois Constitution and remove the mapping process from the hands of politicians. The Amendment would establish an independent, non-partisan commission to draw fair maps for legislators after each 10-year Census. The Commission would be comprised of 11 randomly selected members and would hold public hearings throughout the state before and after releasing a proposed district boundary plan.

Our new Governor, J.B. Pritzker, promised to veto any partisan map that lands on his desk and I intend to hold him accountable to that pledge. I’m also hoping members from his party will join the 44 Republicans already on this bill so we can end gerrymandering for good. If successful, the provisions of HJRCA10 would take effect beginning with the redistricting in 2021 following the 2020 U.S. Census. Candidates running for election in 2022 would be subject to the new fair map. HJRCA10 requires 71 votes to pass in the House.

Unemployment Rises Slightly in December

The Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) numbers for December 2018 show a slight increase in the state’s unemployment rate from 4.2% to 4.3%. However, Illinois’ unemployment numbers continue to be better than they were at the same time one year ago. Economists look to year-over-figures as a way of smoothing out random statistical noise and seeing long-term trends. The Illinois unemployment rate was 4.9% in December 2017 and was 4.3%, down 0.6%, one year later. The total nonfarm payroll increased during the same period from 6.08 million jobs to 6.15 million, up 71,000 positions. During the past twelve months, the gap between the Illinois jobless rate and the U.S. nationwide unemployment rate has shrunk from 0.8% to 0.4%, indicating that Illinois is partially catching up with the national economy.

Illinois Taxpayers Continue to be on Hook for More Than $7 Billion in Current Debts

The mammoth number was published last week by the Office of the Illinois Comptroller, which is currently holding more than $6 billion in unpaid bills that have been presented to the State by legitimate creditors. In addition, the Comptroller’s office tries to monitor how many bills are sitting in state agency offices and not yet transmitted to the Comptroller for eventual payment. More than $1.0 billion in such bills are reported.  Illinois’s taxpayers are responsible not only for these bills but for heavy interest payments. The Prompt Payment Act requires Illinois to pay interest on unpaid bills. The Office of the Comptroller reported this week that their estimate of the Illinois general funds bill backlog was $7.467 billion.

This leaves out even larger quantities of off-the-books State debts, especially the unfunded liabilities borne by State-managed pension funds. These unfunded liabilities can be estimated at different amounts depending on projections of future interest rate returns on pension assets in these funds, but each liability estimate generates a figure well above $100 billion. Based on the ratio of debts to citizen incomes, Illinois’ public-sector debt burden is one of the highest among the 50 states of the U.S.

Wehrli Convenes First Meeting of Developmental Disabilities Task Force for 2019

On Monday I held the first quarterly meeting of my Developmental Disabilities Task Force. This group, which includes representatives from local non-profits, family members who care for disabled children and young adults, individuals who work with special needs populations in our local schools and some developmentally challenged individuals, met at my Naperville office for a discussion about issues affecting this important segment of our community. I do more listening than talking at these task force meetings, and their comments and suggestions are extremely beneficial in helping me determine how I can best represent the 41st District with regard to special needs populations.

The prior week, on January 14, I met with a few board members and the executive director of the Arc of Illinois, a non-profit providing disability assistance, programs and advocacy for families and individuals with disabilities. We discussed priorities and concerns, and also spoke about opportunities where I could supply legislative support in problem areas.

Teen Birth Rates Decline in Illinois

A statistical analysis of birth certificates filed in Illinois, which include the name and identification information for each mother, indicates a continuing and relatively significant decline in the number of babies born to teenage mothers. In 2016, the most recent year for which these numbers have been compiled, the rate of teenage childbearing was 18.7 births per 1,000 teenage girls and young women aged 15 to 19. This reflected a decline of 9.1% per year from the same numbers calculated two years earlier in 2014.

Much of the decline was attributed to falling teenage birth rates in the city of Chicago. The Chicago teen birth rate, although it remains significantly higher than the rate for the state as a whole, is falling much faster. The statistics are calculated, both for Illinois counties and on a statewide basis, by the Illinois Department of Public Health, which has access to the birth certificates filed in each county of the state.

Illinois Winter Road Conditions

The Illinois Department of Transportation portal page “Getting Around Illinois” contains links to webpages that describe Illinois winter road conditions, current travel information, and road construction notices and updates. As of mid-January 2019, wide sections of Illinois have already seen snowfalls of more than twelve inches. We had our share of heavy snow over the weekend and icy conditions have followed this week. Be careful out there, and check the Getting Around Illinois portal to check road conditions before you venture out. 

Veterans’ Hiring Preference to be Expanded under New Law

For decades, Illinois and the nation have worked to support those who served in our nation’s armed forces. As part of this effort, Illinois enacted the Veterans Preference Act, a state law designed to put in place a hiring preference for veterans applying for state jobs. However, the law contained a loophole which left some veterans out in the cold. HB4288 corrected that existing law by making all Illinois residents who are National Guard veterans eligible for the hiring preference, regardless of which state they may have served. I was proud to support this bill, which took effect on January 1 of this year. Information and tips for veterans from the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs on the state employment process can be found here.