High school students join Barickman in Capitol to vote on mock legislation
Approximately 40 students visited the Illinois State Capitol on April 10 to hold a mock committee hearing and vote on legislation that they had proposed earlier in the year. The event was part of Senator Barickman’s (R-Bloomington) Youth Advisory Council Program.
“People always say that young people aren’t engaged in what’s happening in government,” said Barickman. “This is an opportunity to not only engage them in the process, but to let them try their hands at being lawmakers, lobbyists, and even reporters.”
The Senators program gathers high school students from across the 53rd Senate District to meet in the fall to learn about government, propose new legislation, and vote to advance one mock bill. During the spring meeting, the students visited the Senate floor and met with lawmakers, legislative staff, lobbyists, and reporters before holding a mock committee hearing on their legislation.
“I think it’s kind of shaping the future generation of legislators who are going to come and do this when they grow up,” said Normal West High School Junior Jolie Pressburger. “It’s important that people can experience what it’s actually like instead of just learning about it, and decide if it is something they are interested in in the future.”
“Eventually someone is going to have to replace the incumbents that we have right now, we need people who are informed and know what is going on to take over for them when they step down,” said Hoopeston Area High School student Gage Kenner. “You’re missing a day of school to learn about the inner workings of the government, learn about the growth, and how people can go through this long process, and how long it takes and how worthwhile it is to get a bill you like or dislike where you want it to be.”
During the mock committee hearing, students filled the roles of lawmakers on the Senate Transportation Committee, lobbyists, concerned citizens, reporters, and even the governor. The students’ mock legislation would change the Illinois organ donor system into an automatic opt-in system where all drivers are assumed to be donors unless they opt out. They discussed, debated, lobbied, questioned, and negotiated their bill, ultimately passing it with 11 yes votes, 6 nays, and 2 voting present.
“I’m really interested in law and I wanted to see how everything works and how everyone interacted with each other,” said Pontiac Township High School student Franchesca Smith. “I think I take away how to interact with more people that have different views than me, and people that may not have the same ideas as I do, but we can still work together and be cohesive.”
Senator Barickman recommends that students who are interested in taking part in his Youth Advisory Program during the 2019-2020 school year should contact their school administrators or his district office.
“It’s a great opportunity for the students to get an inside look at careers in public service and see if it’s something they like,” said Barickman. “It’s also a great chance for me to get to know them and find out what issues are most important to them. This is easily one of my favorite parts of serving as a Senator.”
During the Week, Senator Barickman was joined by the hard-working interns from his district office who were at the Capitol helping with the Youth Advisory Council.
Also this week, Senator Barickman welcomed participants from the Lincoln Series to the Senate chambers.
The Senator also met with some students from Illinois State University who were in Springfield to discuss issues important to them.
Senators Voice Opposition Graduated Income Tax, Which Offers No Protections From Future Tax Increases
This week, the majority party in the Illinois Senate advanced out of committee a proposed graduated income tax that provides no protections for middle-income families and would give those lawmakers the ability to raise taxes in the future.
The measure, Senate Joint Constitutional Amendment (SJRCA) 1, would place a referendum on the 2020 General Election ballot asking voters if they support moving Illinois from a flat tax to a graduated tax structure.
Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady, who like his Senate Republican colleagues opposes a graduated income tax, noted that the crafters of Illinois’ current constitution chose a flat tax, which the people of Illinois embraced, because the flat tax provided middle-income families better protections from politicians.
And while the measure advancing in the Senate deals with putting the question on the ballot, there is no legislation showing what future tax rates would be if it’s adopted.
In March, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced his proposed rates; however, Pritzker’s rates are yet to be introduced in legislative form. Testifying before the Senate Executive Committee, when asked for a commitment the administration wouldn’t seek to raise income tax rates down the road, Deputy Gov. Dan Hynes was unable to give middle-income taxpayers any assurance that these rates would remain level in coming years.
In hopes of providing some protections for Illinois families, Senate Republican lawmakers have offered SJRCA 12 to require a two-thirds super-majority vote in both chambers of the Illinois General Assembly to increase any tax or fee. Currently, legislators only need a simple majority to pass a tax increase or to implement a new tax.
Despite having declared “let the people vote” on the graduated income tax, when asked during a press conference this week if he would support the Senate Republican’s amendment to protect middle-income families from future tax increases, Gov. Pritzker said “…the future is unknown, and so you want to make sure they have the options are available in this constitution.”
Senate Republicans are also calling on the Administration to let the people have their voice heard on other important issues, such as term limits, pension reform and fair maps.
Senate Approves Bill to Increase School Safety
The Senate passed legislation during the week aimed at letting Illinois schools utilize an affordable and easy-to-use option for locking classrooms to protect students in case of an intruder or other threat to students’ safety.
Senate Bill 1371 allows school districts to use door locking mechanisms that attach to the door and are lockable and unlockable from the inside of the classroom without a key. The mechanisms must be unlockable from the outside by a key or tool, and police and fire departments would be informed of the locations of the locks.
The legislation offers a way for teachers and students to lock their classroom securely from the inside in the event of an emergency.
Current regulations prevent schools from investing in such locking mechanisms. The legislation’s sponsor, State Sen. Chapin Rose, noted that his legislation corrects this “ridiculous” policy while increasing student and teacher safety.
This legislation was a suggestion of Rose’s constituent Tuscola School Superintendent Mike Smith. It’s a good example of what can be accomplished when concerned citizens actively participate in the legislative process.
Bill to Address Teacher Shortage Passes Senate
Legislation aimed at helping to relieve the current teacher shortage also passed out of the Senate during the week.
Senate Bill 1809, sponsored by State Sen. Don DeWitte aims to help students enter the teaching field, by expanding the eligibility of MAP grant recipients to include students who have already received bachelor degrees or have 135 credit hours, but are seeking to earn their teaching certificate through an educator preparation program.
The bill also requires that the recipients must teach in Illinois for three out of the next five years, and states that they can only be eligible to receive the grant for one academic year.
Senate Bill 1809 passed with a 56-1 vote and now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Worker-Protection Legislation Passes
The Illinois Attorney General’s office may soon have a dedicated team of lawyers working to combat wage theft and other unsafe conditions for employees.
Senate Bill 161, which passed the Senate unanimously on April 11, establishes the Worker Protection Unit and the Worker Protection Unit Task Force within the Illinois Attorney General’s Office. These new additions would be focused on ensuring that employees are properly paid and have safe workplaces. The ultimate goal is to eliminate unfair competition from businesses that aren’t following the rules.
The legislation, sponsored by State Sen. John Curran, was an initiative of Attorney General Kwame Raoul, who testified in committee on behalf of the proposal. The bill is now headed to the House for a vote in that chamber.
Legislation Exempts School Lunches from Sales Tax
Legislation to exempt school lunches also cleared the Senate during the week. Under current law, sales tax is only exempt if the school itself provides meals to the students. If a school has outside businesses provide food directly to students, however, those sales are subject to sales tax.
Under Senate Bill 1755, the lunches from outside providers would also be exempted from sales tax. The goal is to put schools on a more even ground, even if some school don’t have the ability provide meals to students.