Springfield… In further service to Illinois’ veterans, State Representative Randy Frese (R-Quincy) presented House Bill 3213 to the Veterans Affairs committee, in which it received unanimous approval from committee members. The legislation is intended to increase accountability and clarify legal authority within the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Representative Frese stated, “House Bill 3213 does many things for veterans and the way we in Illinois ensure they are cared for. It adds that the Department of Veterans Affairs can now maintain a volunteer group force that may include representatives without limitation or constraints from any educational institution, labor organization employer, church, or farm organization. It adds that a veteran or spouse of a veteran, once admitted to an Illinois Veterans Home facility, is then considered a resident for inter-facility purposes should they require skilled care. It also allows the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to conduct fundraising to benefit a Veterans’ Home’s member’s benefits fund, and it adds that the Department may operate cemeteries at the Manteno Veterans Home and the Quincy Veterans Home. This official recognition by the State of Illinois will allow these two Homes the opportunity to seek Federal funds for cemetery upkeep. With the full support of the Department of Veterans Affairs, this legislation was drawn with the input of veterans to ensure that we do our best to serve those who served our country.”

House Bill 3213 will be heard on the House Floor once the legislative session reconvenes.
 

Springfield… With Illinois’ Fiscal Year 15 budget $1.6 billion out of balance, State Representative Randy Frese (R-Quincy) supported action taken by the Illinois House to ensure that vital funds were allocated to some of the state’s most significant services. Without immediate action, the State would be unable to make payroll at prisons, low-income families would lose their child care assistance and money for services for the mentally ill and developmentally disabled would run out.

Representative Frese stated, “House Bill 317 provides Governor Rauner the flexibility to bring balance to the unbalanced Fiscal Year 15 budget he inherited from former Governor Quinn. The support we have given to the Governor, by granting this emergency budget authority, reiterates this General Assembly’s faith in Governor Rauner and his commitment to maintaining our State’s finances while meeting our vital needs at this time.”

With the supplemental increases to address unfunded areas in former Governor Quinn’s final budget, a general 2.25% reduction to general funds throughout executive branch agencies will be executed.
Quincy...State Representative Randy Frese enjoyed meeting with residents of the Illinois Veterans Home on Friday, March 6, as he heard important concerns for them and their loved ones, for the Veterans Home's upkeep, and the State of Illinois. He stated, "My goal is to have the best homes that we can for our veterans. Certainly my focus is going to be on this Illinois Veterans Home."

 
Photo by the Herald-Whig/Steve Bohnstedt
Springfield…State Representative Randy Frese (R-Quincy) was pleased to welcome FFA members from District 94 during the 45th Illinois Agricultural Legislative Awareness Day at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield. During the legislative day FFA members met with legislators to discuss agricultural issues and toured the Capitol Building.

Representative Frese stated, “It was wonderful meeting with local Future Farmers of America members today, and discussing the issues important to them. The FFA is an organization with deep roots in Illinois’ past, present, and of course future ways of life, and I enjoyed hearing the ideas and concerns from such young bright minds located in my own District.”

The Agricultural Legislative Day has been a tradition bringing over 60 farm commodity organizations and other diverse agricultural interest groups to meet with state lawmakers. It strengthens and builds relationships among a multitude of entities affecting Illinois’ vital agriculture industry.
 
The FFA groups pictured below are from Southeastern - Augusta, Payson, and Camp Point.




General Assembly starts work on FY16 budget.  The budget reform work necessary to finish up Fiscal Year 2015 and start FY16 remained on the table this week as Illinois House committees began to hold hearings on Illinois spending plans.  The first hearings by the House appropriations committees began on Thursday, February 26.  

In the first committee hearing, the new heads of three of the State’s biggest-spending agencies – the Department of Public Health (DPH), the Department of Human Services (DHS), and the Department of Healthcare and Family Services (DHFS) – introduced themselves to the House of Representatives.  All three were appointed by Governor Bruce Rauner.  Major work will be necessary to develop a spending program that does not flow money out faster than it comes in.  DHFS (http://www2.illinois.gov/hfs/Pages/default.aspx), in particular, is a department of key interest to budget watchers.  It handles the multi-billion-dollar Illinois Medicaid program.  Controversial decisions and hard choices are expected to be made.   Representative Patti Bellock has taken the lead in working to push for Medicaid budget reforms.  A DHFS overview of the implementation of the reforms so far enacted, and the current budget status of Medicaid, can be found here (http://www2.illinois.gov/hfs/agency/Pages/Budget.aspx).

Further work remains to be done.  With a shortfall estimated at $1.6 billion, many key spending areas in the FY15 budget are scheduled to run out of available funds prior to the end of the fiscal year on June 30, 2015.   The FY16 budget is even further out of balance.   The “structural deficit,” the statutory commitments made by past Illinois administrations is a focus of attention by both Governor Rauner and the General Assembly at this time. 

Gov. Rauner appointee wins worldwide attention.  Widely-read newsweekly “The Economist” this week featured Illinois appointee George Sheldon.  The former Florida child welfare agency head was picked by Governor Rauner to perform a massive cleanup of Illinois’ troubled, 2,000-employee Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) (http://www.illinois.gov/dcfs/Pages/default.aspx).  The London-based newsmagazine published a feature on Rauner and Sheldon on Monday, February 23 (http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2015/02/social-services-illinois).

Illinois’ child-advocacy and child-oversight services came under severe scrutiny late in the last Springfield administration after an investigation by the “Chicago Tribune” uncovered criminal activity in and around Illinois residential treatment centers for juveniles.  The uncovered conduct included sexual assault and abuse (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/watchdog/rtc/chi-dcfs-director-resigning-following-harsh-treatment-investigation-20150107-story.html#page=1).  Illinois’ fifty-odd residential treatment centers for juveniles are charged with the task of being a “safe space” for challenged children and young people, including wards of the state and juveniles referred to residential care by a court.  Problems abound, however.  Runaway activity is reported to be common, and psychotropic drugs have been prescribed for 10.8% of the young Illinois residents.

Similar problems in Florida were alleviated by Sheldon’s leadership, from 2008 to 2011, at the Florida Department of Children and Families (http://www.myflfamilies.com/).  Prior to entering public service, Sheldon was associate dean of the St. Thomas University School of Law, located in greater Miami.      

Peoria continues to respond to news of new Caterpillar headquarters building.  The Caterpillar facility, announced on Friday, February 20, will enable the global machinery manufacturer to consolidate 3,200 employees who currently work in supervisory and executive positions throughout the Peoria area.  WEEK/Channel 19 describes the hopes of Caterpillar’s management: http://www.cinewsnow.com/news/local/CAT-hopes-new-HQ-will-attract-the-next-generation-of-employees-293766031.html.

Caterpillar told supporters this week that they plan to implement the construction of their new global headquarters in a manner that will minimize disruption of operations.  The new building complex, which will be clad in glass and Caterpillar yellow, will be constructed and operations transferred over what is preliminarily expected to be an eight-year period.

Supporters of the construction project were making plans this week for the development of a downtown neighborhood to surround the headquarters.  Amenities in the vicinity include historic buildings, the Illinois River, riverfront green space, and a museum/planetarium complex. 

 
To conclude, I’d like to say what an honor it was to recently be appointed to the Illinois Veterans Advisory Council. In this council I plan to give a strong voice to veterans within our state government, and also identify ways to better the lives of our state’s veterans by providing information on all available Veterans Benefits to those who need them.

I’d like to encourage all of my constituents within District 94, if any issue arises that I may be of assistance to, please do not hesitate to contact my office at (217) 223-0833, or use the Contact tool from my website.