Category: Legislative Update

Study: Area Residents Crushed By College Debt | Congressman and State Rep Seeking to Help Ease the Pain

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Sunday, February 26, 2017 || By Michael Romain & Igor Studenkov || @maywoodnews

According to a recent study by LendEDU, which describes itself as “a marketplace for student loans and student loan refinance,” 70 percent of college graduates who live in the 7th Congressional District — which covers all or parts of Maywood, Bellwood, Broadview and Melrose Park — leave school with debt. The average student debt per borrower in the district is almost $30,000.

“In 2017, more than 44 million Americans are working to repay student debt,” the LendEDU study notes. “And, the average borrower is working to repay more than $28,000 after graduation.”

Two lawmakers at the state and federal level, however, are working on plans to help ease that heavy financial burden.

U.S. Representative Danny Davis, who represents the 7th Congressional District, is working on legislation to could make it easier for first-generation college students to pay for their education and he wants his constituents’ input.

The details of the proposal are still being worked out, Davis said, but the goals are clear. The congressman wants to create something that would not only help cover tuition but things like room and board, transportation and supplies.

Davis’ Education Advisory Committee, which is working on the proposal, held a public hearing on Feb. 18 in Chicago. The congressman said that residents are welcome to call his office to share their ideas of what the bill should include.

As Davis explained during the Feb. 18 meeting, the committee is just one of the many committees he has set up to help him create legislation.

“We have advisory committees on almost everything we can think of,’ he said. “When we run for office we ask [voters] to give us the ability to represent them. The reality is, I don’t know what you think and how you feel, and what your priorities are, so I spent a great deal of time asking people how they feel.”

The idea from this particular bill, he said, came directly from conversations with constituents.

“Every year, I encounter students who went [to college] for the first semester, but couldn’t go the next semester because they were in debt to the school,” he said.

To give your input, contact Davis’s district office, located at 2746 West Madison St., at (773) 533-7520. Office hours are from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday. You can also visit his website at davis.house.gov.

At the state level, Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (7th), whose district spans all or parts of Maywood, Bellwood, Broadview and Melrose Park, has co-sponsored House Bill 3447,  which would establish the Tuition Reduction Act. The bill is currently in the House Higher Education Committee, which Welch chairs.

Rep. WelchThe bill provides individual grants to full-time undergraduates in Illinois who are enrolled at public universities in order to help offset tuition costs.

The bill also requires “each university to annually report updated estimates of the total amount in grants awarded in an academic year to the governor and the appropriate committees of the General Assembly,” according to a summary of the legislation.

“As Chair of the House Higher Education Committee, I see a lot of proposals that would affect a student’s ability to enroll into one of Illinois’ many public universities,” said Welch.

“Constant tuition increases can prevent students from applying to state universities and colleges,” he added. “It can also force them to look at colleges out of the state, and many times these students do not move back to Illinois after receiving their degree.” VFP

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Obama Could Get an IL Holiday and a Roadway Named in His Honor

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Saturday, February 25, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews

State Rep. La Shawn K. Ford (8th) has drafted legislation to name Interstate 55 the Barack Obama Expressway.

A portion of I-55, from Lakeshore Drive to the Tri-State Tollway, is named after former Illinois Governor and two-time Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson. The remaining 270-mile stretch of roadway from the Tri-State to East St. Louis would be named after Obama, Ford explained in a Feb. 22 statement.

“Barack Obama adopted Illinois as his home, becoming a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago and a professor of law at the University of Chicago,” Ford said.

“Twenty years ago, on January 8, 1997, Barack Obama was sworn in as an Illinois state senator, his first public office,” he said. “We can imagine that then state Senator Obama made many trips between Springfield and Chicago on Interstate 55, so it is very fitting that we rename Interstate 55 as the Barack Obama Expressway.”

If approved, the expressway naming would be just one of several significant roadways across the country that have been named after the 44th president.

Last December, state lawmakers in California and New Jersey introduced proposals to name portions of major roadways in those respective states after Obama. Some locales didn’t wait until the president left office.

In 2013, a city in Tanzania turned Ocean Road into Barack Obama Drive after the former president visited the country in 2013. Barack Obama Boulevard in West Park, Florida took effect in July 2009.

A separate proposal, introduced last month in the Illinois General Assembly by state Rep. Robert Martwick (19th) calls for designating all of I-294 along the Eisenhower Expressway as the President Barack Obama Tollway. That proposal currently sits in the House’s Tollway Oversight Committee.

Four other proposals were introduced in the General Assembly to make Aug. 4, Obama’s birthday, an official state holiday. Gov. Bruce Rauner, who expressed support for the holiday, explained that it “shouldn’t be a formal holiday with paid, forced time off,” according to a Chicago Tribune report.  VFP

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Maywood Religious Leader Gives Statehouse Prayer | Welch Says IL Should Be Welcoming State, Passes ‘Zombie’ Bill | Lighford Minimum Wage Proposal Hits Snag

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Maywood Bishop Willie J. Chambliss opens the Illinois House of Representatives in prayer on Feb. 9.  Below, Chambliss with state Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (7th) | Photo courtesy: Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch/Facebook

16507859_10211008983047914_4467463062846390790_nThursday, February 9, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews

Bishop Willie J. Chambliss, the founder of Miracle Revival Center in Maywood, delivered the opening prayer for the Illinois House of Representatives on Feb. 9.

‘Zombie Preparedness Month’ will be in October 

A resolution filed by state Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (7th) last month proposing to designate October “Zombie Preparedness Month” unanimously passed the Illinois House of Representatives on Feb. 9.

The resolution (HR 0030) “urges all Illinoisans to educate themselves about natural disasters and take steps to create a stockpile of food, water, and other emergency supplies that can last up to 72 hours.”

The measure may provoke bouts of laughter when first heard, but what’s at stake is no laughing matter, Welch told the Chicago Tribune.

“I am told that if you are prepared for zombies, then you would be prepared to deal with a natural disaster like tornadoes, blizzards — natural disasters of any kind,” he said.

“Rep. Grant Wehrli, R-Naperville, said while zombies bring levity to the conversation, the measure calls attention to the importance of natural disaster planning.”

The Tribune report notes that the resolution wasn’t without its detractors, with some lawmakers saying that these are no times for laughs considering the state budget’s fiscal condition.

“This may sound like fun, but if you’re really concerned about disaster, the natural disaster that’s happening in Illinois is all economic,” Repulican Rep. Jeanne Ives told the Tribune.

“If we need to do something like Zombie Preparedness Month to get people’s attention to an important issue like preparing for a natural disaster, then so be it,” Welch countered.

To read the full Tribune article, click here.

Welch sponsors ‘Safe Zone’ bill

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Members of the Melrose Park-based nonprofit P.A.S.O. demonstrating against mass deportations. | Photo courtesy P.A.S.O.

On Feb. 8, Welch co-sponsored HB 0426, which would “establish protections for immigrants from Immigration & Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) or agencies working with I.C.E.”

“The goal of this legislation is to protect people’s rights from invasive actions by the government,” Welch said in a recent statement. “We must stand with those who feel that their government is not fighting for them. Illinois should be a welcoming place to those who are trying to make a better life for themselves.”

According to the proposal, safe zones are defined as elementary and high schools, places of worship, colleges and universities, and health care facilities. If the legislation passes, governments would be “prohibited from entering the safe zones without a court-ordered warrant,” the statement notes. Additionally, students and their families will only be required to share their immigration status with schools,

“Additionally, students and their families will only be required to share their immigration status with schools, colleges and universities in a few instances.”

At a pro-immigrant rally in Oak Park last Saturday, a few days before that village passed an ordinance declaring itself a “Sanctuary City,” Welch led a chant.

“No ban, no wall, sanctuary for all!”

“We are going to take this fight all the way to the state and make Illinois a safe zone,” Welch said. “We don’t believe your kid should go to school the day after the election, like they did last year, worried about getting deported. We don’t think you should go to the hospital and worry about those health officials reporting you to ICE … We believe that Illinois should be a welcoming state just like Oak Park is a welcoming city.”

In the statement, Welch said that, while the bill won’t require Illinois to become a sanctuary state, it would at least “acknowledges the fear of deportation many families face and provides them with somewhere they can go to feel safe.”

“While the bill does provide immigrant families with protections they need, it also puts in place policies that make our community stronger,” he said. “As we try to find ways to move the state forward, common-sense immigration policies like this need to be part of that conversation.”

HB 0426 is currently in the House’s Human Services Committee.

Lightford minimum wage bill hits snag

Screen Shot 2017-02-09 at 11.07.20 PM.pngAccording to a report in the Southern Illinoisian, state Sen. Kimberly Lightford’s (4th) proposal to increase the state’s minimum wage to $11 an hour by 2021 “will not be discussed as part of the Illinois Senate’s “grand bargain” until further negotiations are held.”

Lightford, the bill’s sponsor, said that the “Senate is still working on establishing a minimum wage proposal that different supporting groups can agree on.”

“It’s still part of the package,” she said. “We are just not ready to call it.”

To read the specific reasons for why negotiations may have hit a wall (at least temporarily), click here. VFP 

Photo above right, Associated Press.

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Lightford Mental Health Bill Signed Into Law || Welch Named Chairman of House Education Committee

Kimberly Lightford Head ShotWednesday, February 1, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews

A bill that would require students to undergo social and emotional screenings as part of the process for enrolling in school was signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner on Jan. 20.

State Sen. Kimberly Lightford (4th), the bill’s primary sponsor, introduced the legislative proposal in 2015. State Rep. Camille Y. Lilly (78th) was the bill’s lead sponsor in the house. Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (7th) was also a co-sponsor of the legislation.

The new law (SB 0565), which takes effect this June, “requires the Department of Public Health to develop regulations to include age-appropriate social and emotional screening in the health examination that already includes other health and dental exams for all school children in the state,” according to a report published on the ACEs Connection Network.

“The rules will be developed in conjunction with statewide organizations representing school boards, pediatricians, and educators along with mental health experts, state education and healthcare officials, and others,” the report states.

“I want young people struggling with mental health to have the option to get help. I want families to know that if their child is battling a mental health issue, it is normal, they have treatment options, and it does not have to stand in the way of their greatness,” Lightford said in a recent statement.

Lightford added that the new law, while a good first step, needs to be reinforced with greater investment.

“Requiring screenings for our children is a good step forward, but we are going to have to invest more effort and resources to deal with these issues,” she said. “I will continue working with advocates and communities to bring more comprehensive solutions to mental health issues.”

Welch Named Chairman of House Education Committee

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State Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, left. | Photo: Rep. Welch

State Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (7th) was recently appointed chairman of the House Committee on Higher Education. Before this most recent appointment, Welch was the committee’s vice-chairman. He also serves on the House Appropriations Committees for Elementary and Secondary Education and Higher Education.

“Our colleges, universities and their students are facing challenges like never before,” Welch said in a recent statement. “I’m honored to lead this committee and be a part of the process that will oversee important legislation to increase access to higher education and make it affordable. We must protect institutions and put polices in place that help our state grow economically and foster tomorrow’s leaders.”

Welch noted that he also anticipates appointments to the House Committees on Cities & Villages, Judiciary – Civil and Labor & Commerce. VFP

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Lightford Proposes Minimum Wage Increase | Welch Wants Citizens’ Input on New Bill Proposals

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Illinois State House Capitol, Springfield | Getty/eyecrave

Friday, January 20, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews

Kimberly Lightford Head ShotState Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-4th), of Maywood, has proposed a bill that would raise the minimum wage in Illinois, “currently $8.25 an hour, by 50 cents each year until reaching $11 in 2021,” according to a report by the Herald and Review. The House has proposed a bill that “would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by October.”

A 2014 advisory referendum found that more than 60 percent of voters supported raising the adult minimum wage to $10 by Jan. 1, 2015.

Lightford’s bill, the Herald and Review reports, is part of a “bipartisan budget package,” or “grand bargain,” that would include spending cuts, tax increases and new casino licenses, among other features.

The package has the support, so far, of Senate President John Cullerton (D-6th) and Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno (R-41st).

“Democratic and Republican leaders in the Senate have said lawmakers from both parties will support all the pieces of the package,” the Herald and Review reports.

To read the full Herald and Review article, click here.

Welch Wants Citizens’ Input on New Bill Proposal

Chris Welch in DCState Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (7th), whose district includes all or parts of Maywood, Bellwood and Broadview, wants constituents to provide their ideas for new bill proposals during the new General Assembly that started on Jan. 11.

“Making government more accessible is a top priority of mine,” Welch said in a Jan. 20 statement. “We have the opportunity to work together to improve our community, and a great place to start is brainstorming concepts for new laws.

“Even if it is something that might seem small, such as putting a stop-sign in at an intersection, a lot of people might benefit. I go to Springfield to be your voice, so if you want the law changed, tell me.”

Residents who want to give their input can submit those ideas to Welch’s office by calling 708-450-1000 or emailing repwelch@emanuelchriswelch.com.

“I look forward to reviewing the new proposals from residents as they come to my office,” Welch said. “I always appreciate constituent feedback and involvement in the democratic process. I hope that anyone with a great idea comes forward and talks to me.” VFP

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Lightford Leads Resurgence of Springfield’s Black Caucus

Illinois Legislative Black Caucus

The Illinois Legislative Black Caucus in 2015. Below, Sen. Kimberly Lightford, the Caucus’s chairman since last January, says the group is the strongest it’s been in recent memory. | Photos provided

Kimberly Lightford photo_Black lawmakers story.jpgWednesday, June 15, 2016 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews || @village_free

Illinois has gone without a FY 2016 budget for nearly a year. The legislative inaction has resulted in lost jobs, credit rating reductions for Chicago and the state, shuttered social service programs and general misery that’s disproportionately fallen on the state’s over 1.9 million African-Americans.

But as the budget standoff between the state’s Democratic supermajority and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner presses on into another, possibly budget-less, fiscal year, one group of lawmakers has found its voice and a much steadier footing than in years past, according to some of them who were recently interviewed.

The Illinois Legislative Black Caucus has never been stronger say some of its members and, because of that strength, the state’s ongoing fiscal crisis, particularly for the Caucus’s millions of low-income and minority constituents, isn’t nearly as bad as it could have been.

“I would say this is the strongest we’ve been in recent years,” said Sen. Kimberly Lightford (4th), a Maywood native and the Caucus’s chairman whose district spans a significant portion of Proviso Township.

“I think it’s more notable because we’re playing defense against Rauner,” said Lightford, a nearly 20-year veteran of the Senate who was elected Caucus chairman last January.

“In the past 10 to 15 years, we’ve had democratic governors, senate presidents and speakers and it was just one party, so you couldn’t see where the push and pull came in at,” Lightford said. “But now, you have a Republican governor who appears not to value the programs that are designed to assist those, like the elderly, the poor, the underemployed and college students, who aren’t as well off and who may need just a little support.”

State Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (7th), who’s also a Maywood native and a Black Caucus member since assuming office in 2013, attributed the Caucus’s newfound solidarity to hard math.

“At the end of the day, our numbers are significant,” said Welch, whose district spans a large portion of Proviso Township. “We have 10 senators and 20 representatives who are members of the Black Caucus. In the Senate, you need 30 votes to pass legislation and in the House you need 60 votes. We’re one-third of what’s needed to pass any legislation.”

Welch also said that a change in the Caucus’s leadership has been instrumental in allowing the body to leverage those numbers by showing a unified front.

“When I first joined the General Assembly, our chairman was Ken Dunkin,” Welch said, referencing the 5th District lawmaker who infamously broke with the Democratic supermajority during key budget battles. Despite heavy funding by Rauner, Dunkin lost in the March Democratic Primary race to attorney Juliana Stratton, who was heavily funded by the powerful Democratic Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.

“Ken was working with Rauner even before he became governor,” Welch said. “His interests weren’t aligned with ours. With him, you had division. Now, under Sen. Lightford, we’re coming back together. We meet now at least once a week to talk about issues that are important to us.”

“It’s great to see our members ban together,” said Larry Luster, the Black Caucus’s recently installed executive director. “They’re a tight-knit group and a family. They even go out to dinner with each other in the off-hours. It’s really excited to work with them.”

The Caucus’s fresh camaraderie and strength may have been the driving forces behind three key pieces of stopgap legislation that have passed within the last year to partially fund early childcare, higher education and social services payments that were held hostage in the budget negotiations.

“The higher education stopgap was the first piece of legislation we really stood together on,” Welch said, referencing the $600 million higher education emergency funding bill that was approved overwhelmingly by the General Assembly in April.

Twenty million dollars of that money went to the cash-strapped Chicago State University, which had sent lay-off notices to hundreds of employees because it couldn’t meet payroll.

“Chicago State is 90 percent African-American, so that university’s closing would have really impacted our communities,” Welch said.

Ironically, Chicago State University also happens to house nine boxes of Black Caucus archives, dating between 1979 and 2006. The Caucus was founded in 1969 “to ensure cooperation among black legislators and prevent the dilution of their voting strength through personal or ideological discord,” according to an administrative history on CSU’s library web page.

The Caucus evolved from a 1966 study group formed by then state Rep. Harold Washington (26th) and three other black lawmakers to “to discuss political issues and strategies of interest to the black community.”

According to Luster, Caucus members have hewed to that original mission during these recent budget negotiations, particularly in talks over the higher education funding bill.

“The Black Caucus really took the reins on that,” Luster said. “Sen. Donnie Trotter (17th) and Rep. Rita Mayfield (60th), both Caucus members, really took the lead on that. The legislation was about to be up for a vote and the Black Caucus pulled the bill back to make sure that it was a clean bill. The Caucus really stood their ground, which was really impressive to see.”

Lightford added that, logistically, her Caucus has leveraged its numbers to both pressure Rauner and to urge bipartisanship in certain areas. That has sometimes meant circumventing the conventional route to deal-making, which almost always entails meetings between legislators that are “sanctioned” by Speaker Madigan.

Lightford said she and other Caucus leaders, such as Trotter — an assistant majority leader and a leading budget expert among his peers — and Sen. Kwame Raoul (13th), met with the governor’s representatives to have unsanctioned conversations about “moving the ball” on the budget.

“That’s where all these ideas came from with respect to those funding bills that passed,” Lightford said. “We identified where the revenue could come from to pay for them. We had to move on. The [state’s legislative leaders] are fighting, but we’re on the grassroots fighting for our constituents. I think all rank-and-file members, both Republican and Democrat, feel that something has to change.”

For state Rep. La Shawn Ford (8th), however, the Black Caucus’s mission and organization hasn’t evolved much since he’s been in office.

“I’m under no allusion that the Caucus has the power to carry the social services and the budget on our own,” said Ford, a 10-year veteran of the House. “I think we continue to be on the right side of the fence on budget items, but we shouldn’t get sole credit for their having passed. I think we’ve always been unified. Rauner hasn’t done much to change that.”

Luster nonetheless said the Caucus’s recent maneuvering during the budget standoff has worked to help discredit the popular impression among African-Americans of their leaders as spineless and easily bought.

“I can truly say that we’ve stood strong on a lot of issues and have drawn a line in the sand on a lot of things,” he said. “That’s not just on budget issues, but it’s true of our dealings with interest groups and what we will or won’t accept as plausible and reasonable. It’s really impressive to see our black leaders tell people, ‘No, we won’t accept this.’” VFP

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Mental Health Screenings Pitched For School Entry Exams; Fair Tax Voting Started

Kimberly Lightford Head ShotThursday, May 5, 2016 || By Michael Romain 

A bill sponsored by state Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-4th), whose district includes Maywood and other western suburbs, would require students to receive more than vaccines and dental exams before entering school each year.

The proposal, SB 565, would require students to also undergo social and emotional screenings as part of school entry exams.

The bill, which passed the Senate last month, is now in the House, where it’s been referred to Rules Committee. In an April 22 written statement, Lightford noted that the legislation would allow children with mental health issues to be diagnosed and treated sooner.

Lightford’s bill would amend the School Code to mandate screenings that are age-appropriate and developmentally appropriate for students who would need to present proof that they were examined by a licensed physician before Oct. 15 of each school year.

Other specific rules, such as which grades of students would be required to get the screenings, must be “developed in conjunction with a statewide organization representing school boards, a statewide organization representing pediatricians, and a statewide organization representing children’s mental health experts and, at a minimum, recommend the use of a validated screening tool,” according to the bill’s language.

“We see the effects of mental illness and its stigma every day,” Lightford said in her statement. “Attacking these issues during a child’s developmental stages will foster a better educational environment and provide a clearer way of looking at mental health issues. Ignoring these issues only delays the child’s development and can have negative consequences throughout his or her life.” VFP

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Fair Tax Votes Started Tuesday! Tell Your State Legislators to Vote Yes!

Thanks to the Citizens for Tax Reform campaign, we are closer than we’ve ever been before to passing a Fair Tax!  Both the House and Senate will be voting on Fair Tax legislation this week, so we really need you to let your legislators know you support a Fair Tax TODAY.  The Fair Tax Constitutional Amendment must pass by May 5th in order to get on the ballot in November.

We must use this opportunity to get the Fair Tax referendum on the ballot and also ensure that 99% of hardworking Illinoisans receive a tax cut!

Please take a minute to contact your state legislators to ask them to support the Fair Tax by voting for House Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 59 to get the referendum on the November ballot and House Bill 689, which sets income tax rates for a Fair Tax in Illinois.

As you know, Illinois is only one of a handful of states that does not allow for a Fair Tax, one where those with lower incomes pay lower rates and those with higher incomes pay higher rates. It’s long past time to ensure that everyone pays their fair share here in Illinois. This is a common sense step that will help fund education, public safety and other vital services that we rely on in our state, such as creating affordable housing and ending homelessness.

It’s time to get this done. Click here to email your legislator today and demand that they support a tax cut for working families!