SPRINGFIELD, IL – Lawmakers from both parties tour a prison tasked with housing “the worst of the worst,” Governor Bruce Rauner restores funding for several programs, and attention turns to the victims of human trafficking. Meanwhile, legislators commemorate the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s death, and the Pontiac community comes together to remember one of their own.
Sen. Barickman leads state lawmakers on tour of Pontiac prison
State Sen. Jason Barickman welcomed colleagues from the Senate and House of Representatives who joined him on a tour of the Pontiac Correctional Center on April 27.
“This facility is very important to the residents of the Pontiac area, and is an important component of the entire Illinois correctional system,” said Sen. Barickman. “I hope the tour provided a deeper understanding for our newest legislators of how a facility like this functions.”
Sen. Barickman was joined on the tour by State Representatives Tom Bennett (R-Watseka), Randy Frese (R-Quincy), Margo McDermed (R-Mokena), Keith Wheeler (R-Oswego) and Senator Scott Bennett (D-Champaign), along with Pontiac Warden Randy Pfister and Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) officials.
“It was a very eye-opening experience. I did not know what to expect though I had driven by many times over the years,” said Rep. Bennett. “Bottom line, it’s a different world to work and live in. It’s a no-nonsense environment, but the staff and administration look at each inmate as a person, and they obviously take great pride in what they do. This is an important asset to the district and to the state.”
The tour included visits to several areas of the prison, including the segregation, mental health, and protective custody housing areas. Lawmakers were also able to ask questions of corrections officials.
The Pontiac facility works to rehabilitate the “worst of the worst” offenders – inmates who cause problems at other facilities, or commit crimes while incarcerated –so they can return to the general population at another prison.
According to the IDOC, the Pontiac Correctional Center has an average daily population of 2,040 inmates, including 652 in the highest security segregation area. The average annual cost per offender is $31,274, and the facility employs 771, mostly from the Pontiac area.
Fighting Back Against Human Trafficking
Every year, as many as 25,000 people in Illinois are trapped in the modern-day slavery of human trafficking, exploited for sex, drugs, violence, forced labor, or worse. Law enforcement, state and federal authorities, and independent groups are fighting back. This week at the state Capitol, Republicans and Democrats joined together to host an event to honor the heroes combatting human trafficking in Illinois, and to raise awareness of this horrible crime.
The event featured more than 20 organizations that fight human trafficking. Among the featured speakers was Brenda Myers-Powell, Executive Director of the Dreamcatcher Foundation and a former victim herself. “I couldn’t stand being a girl who nobody was looking for,” said Myers-Powell. “My story is beautiful now, because I fight for girls like me.”
The event was the first in a series of awareness and advocacy events throughout Illinois, to shine a light on a crime that happens too often in the shadows. Attendees also discussed House Bill 2822, a bill that creates a Human Trafficking Task Force in Illinois to promote and improve coordination and communication between trafficking fighters. The bill unanimously passed the House earlier this month and is currently working its way through the Senate.
The National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline is 888-373-7888, and the Illinois DCFS Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline is 800-252-2873.
Governor Rauner restores $26 million “Good Friday Cuts”
Gov. Rauner took executive action to restore $26 million in funding to programs including autism, Alzheimer’s and epilepsy support. The move comes after preliminary sales tax revenue projections show an additional $300 to $500 million coming in to state coffers.
The Governor’s office had previously announced the $26 million in program cuts. Lawmakers and the Governor had passed legislation to patch the state budget with the goal of sparing the programs. Unfortunately, many agencies had already burned through their funding, meaning the further cuts were still necessary at that time.
According to Sen. Barickman, due to Illinois’ current backlog of bills, as well as uncertainty about whether the increase in revenue will continue, the Governor won’t be able to restore any other additional cuts.
Lincoln memorial resolution passes
President Abraham Lincoln will be memorialized during the 150th anniversary of his funeral and the General Assembly joined in the commemoration by passing a Joint Resolution.
Abraham Lincoln was slain by an assassin’s bullet in April 1865. Upon his death, Lincoln’s body traversed from Washington, D.C. to his resting place in Springfield on a more than two-week journey. Millions viewed the Commander-in-Chief’s remains as the Lincoln funeral train made 13 stops along Lincoln’s last ride.
House Joint Resolution 34 calls for the flags at all state institutions to be placed at half-mast from May 2 to 4. To find out more about this weekend’s festivities, please visit the Lincoln Funeral Coalition’s Website at www.lincolnfuneraltrain.org.
Former Pontiac Police Officer honored
On May 1, Sen. Barickman joined with and friends and family of former Pontiac Police Officer Casey Kohlmeier, local officials and representatives from the Illinois Department of Transportation to dedicate Interstate 55, between exits 197 and 202, as Casey J. Kohlmeier Memorial Highway.
Officer Kohlmeier, along with his K-9 partner Draco, was killed Oct. 30, 2014, when a drunk driver struck his vehicle, which was stopped on the median turn-around on I-55.
Officer Kohlmeier was a six-year veteran of the Pontiac Police Department. He received his Training Certificate as Detective and was also part of the Livingston County Proactive Unit. He was a member of the Pontiac Police Department K9 Unit since 2007 and was a Board Member of the Boys and Girls Club of Livingston County.
He served in the United States Air Force from 2002 to 2006. While in the service, he was awarded the Air Force Commendation Medal, Air Force Training Ribbon, National Defense Service Medal, Air Force BMT Honor Graduate Ribbon, Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon with device, NCO Professional Military Education Ribbon, Air Force Good Conduct Medal, Meritorious Unit Award, and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal. He was Airman of the Year in 2005.
A 2002 graduate of Pontiac High School, he received his Bachelor’s Degree from DeVry University in the Technical Management Program.
Lawmakers welcomed members of the crew and support group of the soon-to-be christened USS Illinois, a Virginia-Class submarine that is the first commissioned U.S. Navy vessel to bear the state's name in nearly 120 years. The last ship to carry the name of Illinois was a battleship put in service in 1897. That ship saw only brief action during the early 1900’s. Another USS Illinois battleship was to be constructed during the World War II-era, but the Navy decided against it as the war was winding down.
Gov. Dan Walker: 1923 - 2015
This week also marked the passing of former Illinois Governor Dan Walker. Walker served as governor from 1973 to 1977. He was known as ‘Walkin’ Dan’ Walker,’ having walked more than 1,000 miles traversing the state during his campaign for governor. He was 92.
Senator Barickman is joined on the Senate floor by his mother Judy and family friend Pam Mortland.