Legislative News from Rep. Grant Wehrli

Wehrli Joins House Republican Leaders to Outline GOP Agenda for 2020

On January 28, the first day of the 2020 legislative session, I joined House Republican Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) and Deputy Leaders Tom Demmer (R-Dixon) and Dan Brady (R-Bloomington) to outline the House Republican Caucus’ legislative goals for the year. At a Capitol press conference held after adjournment last Tuesday, we announced that ethics reform, property tax relief and the need for fair maps will highlight the House Republican agenda for 2020.

As the ranking Republican on the Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform, during my remarks I stressed that meaningful, substantive change is needed to address widespread corruption in state government. Common sense measures that directly address the issues that came to light as a result of the federal investigation already have broad, bipartisan support. We should act on them now.

We must take steps to restore Illinoisans’ faith in its government. We need to get serious about ethics reform and hold ourselves to a higher standard. Click here to watch my remarks.

House Republicans want Investigation of Automatic Voter Registration program

A glitch-filled program operated by the office of the Secretary of State is supposed to make it easier to register to vote. The program works by automatically registering people who have certain types of defined official contacts with the State office, such as getting a driver’s license. However, the troubled program has not been successful at clearly distinguishing between people who have the right to drive a car, but not register to vote, and people who have the right to do both. In at least one case, the program appears to have signed someone up to vote who had specifically asked not to register. 

Officials now admit that the Illinois Automatic Voter Registration program has allowed more than 4,500 pre-voting-age teenagers, young adults age 16 and 17, to improperly begin the voter registration process. In addition, the troubled program has given more than 540 registered-voter cards to people who should not have had the right to sign up. Persons to whom voting cards have been handed out have included persons with noncitizen residency status – persons with a legal right to live in Illinois, for purposes such as work or study, who are citizens of other countries. An unknown number of these non-citizens have used their voting cards to cast ballots in Illinois. 

I recently joined several of my House Republican colleagues in calling for a full investigation of these events, and an immediate suspension of the glitch-filled program while this investigation is taking place. The March 2020 primary and November 2020 election are both getting closer.  Despite these calls, Gov. Pritzker has so far refused to take steps to suspend the program.

Veterans Assistance Team to Host Naperville Event

The Hines Community Outreach Team will be at Naperville’s Judd Kendall VFW Post 3873 at 908 W. Jackson Street from 9:00 AM until 1:30 PM on Tuesday, February 4 in the upstairs hall. The team will help veterans get signed up for VA Healthcare, help schedule appointments and answer questions. There will also be a Veteran Service Officer on site to help with the filing of claims and to answer questions about VA benefits and compensation.

Those who attend should bring a copy of their DD-214 or discharge papers, and those wanting to enroll in VA healthcare need to have an idea of out of pocket medical expenses, including all insurance premiums. A nurse will be at the event and will give flu shots to anyone enrolled in VA healthcare.

Large Crowd Attends Wehrli Town Hall on Corruption

Thank you to the over 50 people that came out to my town hall meeting on corruption in Illinois on January 22. We had a wonderful discussion about reforming government so elected officials work for you and not their personal enrichment. Ethics laws in Illinois are amazingly weak because of the power structure set up over decades to favor a select few.

I’m working hard to change the culture of corruption in Springfield, and have filed or co-sponsored several pieces of legislation that would address the very issues we’re reading about that have been brought to light from the federal corruption investigation. Bills I have sponsored or co-sponsored include measures that would:

  • Ban the use of red-light cameras statewide
  • Ban legislators from also serving as paid lobbyists
  • Increase criminal penalties for those who violate ethics laws
  • Significantly strengthen reporting requirements on the statements of economic interest that lawmakers must file
  • Allow any bill with more than five co-sponsors from each political party to be heard and voted on in a substantive committee
  • Prohibit a lawmaker who resigns due to an ethics-related arrest from having a role in choosing his/her successor
  • End the gerrymandering of political maps
  • Put term limits in place for legislative leaders

Sadly, Democrats who control the flow of bills in Springfield blocked every one of these bills.

Governor Pritzker Delivers State of the State Address

On January 29 Governor JB Pritzker presented his annual State of the State Address. During the 45-minute speech, I was pleased to hear him include negotiated pro-business incentives in his list of accomplishments for 2019. Republicans were opposed to many of the items Pritzker considered as achievements for the year, but several key business reforms that will grow jobs and boost the economy were definite bipartisan highlights from the Governor’s first year. Business-friendly reforms negotiated by Republicans and signed into law in 2019 include:

  • Creation of the Blue Collar Jobs Act- to attract large-scale construction projects
  • Creation of a Data Center Tax Incentive- to enhance the state’s ability to locate data centers in Illinois by providing tax incentives
  • Reinstatement of the Manufacturer’s Purchase Credit- to encourage further investments in manufacturing in Illinois
  • Elimination of the antiquated Illinois Franchise Tax
  • Elimination of the cap on the Retailer’s Discount

During the speech, I was even more pleased to hear the Governor call for swift action on ethics reform to end the culture of corruption. Pritzker’s words need to be followed by decisive action, because the dark cloud hanging over State government will only dissipate if the legislature takes bold action. I was disappointed that the Governor was silent on the issue of fair maps. Make no mistake- there is a direct correlation between how political insiders draw legislative maps to protect themselves, and the deep-rooted corruption that has undermined our entire system of state government.

The Governor returns to the House podium on February 19 for his annual budget address. It is at this time that the Governor outlines his recommended spending plan for the state’s next fiscal year. I’ll be looking for a balanced spending proposal that includes a full pension payment and no new taxes. With all of the new taxes that Democrats approved in 2019, there is simply no appetite for any additional taxes. To the contrary, the constituents in the 41st District are desperate for tax relief. I’ll be listening intently for his plan to reduce the tax burden.

Joint Commission on Ethics & Lobbying Reform Meets in Springfield

On Thursday, January 31, the Joint Commission on Ethics & Lobbying met in Springfield for nearly five hours to discuss an important area of transparency- the statement of economic interest that lawmakers must file annually. In theory, this document provides for the full disclosure of where elected officials receive outside income not tied to their job as a member of the House or Senate. Unfortunately, the forms utilized for the General Assembly are vague and outdated, and provide very little real information about legislators’ outside financial interests.

The bipartisan commission will meet again on February 5. At this meeting we will dive into the Illinois Ethics Act, and look for loopholes and areas where language can be strengthened.

Illinois State Police Offers Testimony to General Assembly on DNA Testing Backlog

In action taken in 2019 by the Illinois General Assembly, the State Police was instructed to look at its storage shelves containing months of untested genetic material. This is material that is of potential value in bringing cases to trial and even solving unsolved criminal cases, including cases of criminal sexual abuse and criminal sexual assault. Representative Margo McDermed took the lead in the House in demanding that the State Police take action. McDermed was the lead House sponsor of SB 1411, a measure to push forward the chains of evidence in Illinois cases involving sexual assault evidence tracking. The Illinois General Assembly appropriated new funds in the Fiscal Year 2020 budget to the State Police to implement the new law.

Some movement is taking place at the State Police to deal with their untested inventory. In testimony offered to a state Senate committee last week, State Police Director Brendan Kelly and forensics division leader Col. Sean Cormier offered disclosures on the current state of the backlog. Kelly and Cormier told the panel on Tuesday, January 28 that the State Police’s moves to increase the priority of moving its testing chain forward has reduced the backlog by 16% since last year. The State Police now has the resources to hire chemists and technicians to conduct testing work at a pace that is reducing the backlog.

The State Police also indicated that the current revolutionary changes taking place in DNA testing technology are increasing the burdens on their crime-lab chemists and technicians. New ability to match minimal crime-scene evidence to an individual criminal’s DNA is highly valued by courts of law, turning this evidence into gold-standard evidence and increasing demand for the trained personnel whose services are necessary for the work. Popular video entertainment plotlines, which show “impossible” law enforcement triumphs achieved by DNA forensic technology, further increase this burden by placing high expectations upon the people who do this work.   

Coronavirus Outbreak Reaches Greater Chicago Area

The rapid spread of a highly contagious illness, Wuhan coronavirus, has created concerns in many parts of the world. Widespread illness and death has been reported from infected regions in central China which have now been placed under quarantine. Well more than 100 patients in China have died. The virus has jumped ahead of the quarantine, though, with cases diagnosed in several locations within the United States, including greater Chicago. Within Illinois, one person has transmitted the coronavirus to her spouse. Both Illinois residents with the virus were reported on Thursday, January 30, to be hospitalized in stable condition.

Public health authorities are responding to the appearance of Wuhan coronavirus in greater Chicago. Cases have been diagnosed, and field workers are using contact tracing to get in touch with people who have been in contact with these patients or who may have been exposed to them. Casework is moving forward in DuPage County and in northwest Indiana’s Porter County. As of Thursday, January 30, 21 persons were under investigation for coronavirus in Illinois.