Rep. Stephens August 2023 Legislative Update

We are in the middle of a beautiful summer in the 20th District! I hope you’re enjoying your summers, whether you’re with your kids on break or switching your coffee from hot to iced. As we look to a new school year in the next month or two, I wish all students returning to or beginning grade school, high school, college, trade school, or apprenticeship programs the best of luck!

Please feel free to reach out to my office at any time with questions about legislation or to voice your thoughts on issues in Illinois. Have a wonderful August!

Dive Into Reading: Oceans of Possibilities Summer Reading Program

There’s still time! This summer, you can join my Oceans of Possibilities Summer Reading Program! K-5th Graders are invited to receive a voucher for 2 tickets to the Chicago Wolves. The summer’s Grand Champion who reads the most books beyond 10 will receive 2 tickets to Disney on Ice. Submissions are due August 15th! Find more information online here.

NEXT WEEK: Summer Senior Fair

Next week, I’m hosting my annual senior fair on Wednesday, August 9th from 9 AM – 12 Noon. I will be hosting this at the Salvation Army Norridge Citadel (8354 W. Foster Ave.). Admission, refreshments, and screenings will all be free! Find more information online here.

Back to School Supply Drive

From August 7th to August 11th, I’m joining Chicago Public Schools to provide FREE backpacks with school supplies at my Chicago district office (5515 N. East River Rd.) between 10 AM – 3 PM. Find more information online here!

Illinois Supreme Court Upholds Elimination of Cash Bail

In July, the Illinois Supreme Court has announced its opinion on the Pretrial Fairness portion of the SAFE-T Act, and by a 5-2 decision, they have ruled it as constitutional. This strikes down a lower court ruling in December 2022 which found that the portions of the SAFE-T Act that abolished cash bail were unconstitutional. The elimination of cash bail is now set to go into effect on September 18, 2023. Illinois becomes the first state in the U.S. to totally eliminate cash bail, coming at a time when crime in the state remains at the top of the nation.

The Supreme Court’s opinion said that the Illinois Constitution does not mandate that monetary bail is the only means to ensure criminal defendants appear for trials or the only means to protect the public. The law eliminates the cash bail system currently used in court which let those who could afford it pay their way out of jail while others who could not make bond would remain in jail. The SAFE-T Act lets judges decide who gets pretrial release and who should be held in custody.

This decision is disappointing in so many ways. We need to work in the General Assembly to protect Illinois families and our courageous law enforcement.

Audit Finds Illinois Paid Out $5.2 Billion in Fraudulent or Excessive Unemployment “Overpayments” During COVID-19

An audit report released last week by the Illinois Auditor General revealed that the State of Illinois paid out more than $5.2 billion in fraudulent or excessive unemployment claims during the COVID-19 pandemic, including $46 million in payments to incarcerated or deceased persons. Of the $5.2 billion, the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) overpaid by about $2 billion for regular unemployment insurance and by $3.2 billion for federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) put in place following the outbreak of COVID.

Overall, $2.8 billion has been classified as identity theft – money not considered recoverable since it can’t be collected from the identity theft victim. According to the audit, only about a 10th of the total $5.2 billion has been recovered.

Illinois Democrats Continue to Shortchange Funding for Local Municipalities

Despite claims of a ‘balanced’ budget by the Democrats and Gov. Pritzker, the State is continuing to shortchange local communities and utilize revenue earmarked for municipalities to cover its own budget shortfalls. The budget is already loaded with gimmicks by the Democrats, with a Department of Revenue reallocation that shifts $700 million from the Personal Property Replacement Tax into the General Revenue Fund. And while the Democrats and Gov. Pritzker are playing games with every citizen’s tax dollars, local governments’ budgets continue to be stretched thin.

LGDF accounts for sizeable portions of a municipality’s operating budget, in some cases between 10% and 20%. This amounts to millions of dollars annually, and in addition to skyrocketing costs due to inflation and the continued residual effects of the pandemic, municipalities are faced with ever-rising pension costs, which account for substantial budget increases each year.

Six-Year Illinois Transportation Plan

The Illinois Department of Transportation’s Multi-Year Plan, largely funded by motor fuel taxes charged to purchasers at Illinois gas stations, will spend an estimated $41 billion on roads, bridges, and other transportation projects. With almost two-thirds of the six-year total slated for roads and bridge work, IDOT said its priorities are to repair and reconstruct 2,866 miles of roadway and 9.8 million square feet of bridge decking on the State-funded highway system. Non-highway transportation is slated to get $14 billion in capital spending, slightly more than one-third of the total.

This includes $10 billion for mass transit, almost $2.7 billion for freight and passenger rail, $1.25 billion for aviation, and $190 million for ports and waterways.

Image from July 12th NBC-5 News Report

Tornadoes Hit the 20th District

Last month, 11 tornadoes hit northeastern Illinois and the Chicago area. Extensive property damage was confirmed in many locations west and northwest of Chicago, including Rosemont. More than 300 passenger flights were canceled due to disruptions caused by the storm and its approach. I hope everyone is safe and want to remind you of steps you can take to keep your family safe before tornadoes available online here.

Image from Crain’s

Canadian wildfires blamed for widespread Illinois haze and particulate warnings

The air quality warnings were posted repeatedly in Illinois and surrounding U.S. states for many of the weeks of summer 2023. The warnings were repeated in mid-July for Illinois and Indiana.

The phenomenon is associated with hazy skies, brilliant red sunsets, and potential health concerns for persons with respiratory challenges. The appearance of this haze follows many outbreaks of wildfires in the forests and bush country of northern Canada. Usually well-watered, these woodlands have become tinderboxes as the result of a severe drought.

Illinois Flashback: History from the Prairie State