A mix of good and bad. That’s how I’d best describe this legislative session.
Going into the year with only 19 Senate Republican members, we knew it was going to be a challenge to have a voice and impact on policy decisions. However, by standing our ground and providing strong voices during key negotiations, we were able to make a difference in some of the outcomes.
With that being said, there were some items on the supermajority’s agenda that were pushed through without addressing or considering some real concerns.
So let’s begin: the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Bad: Minimum Wage
Increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour was one of the very first items the Democrat-majority pushed through this legislative session.
The measure, which passed strictly along party-lines and was signed immediately by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, increases the state’s minimum wage by 82 percent over the next six years.
While I certainly support the effort to provide a livable wage to all workers in Illinois, this large and quick increase only adds to the burdens placed on Illinois’ employers and backs them into a corner. They will have to make a tough decision: raise costs on consumers, cut back on the number of employees, or move out of the state. None of these choices would be good for Illinois’ economy.
One item the supermajority was asked to consider was a regional approach, with different minimum wage levels for different regions of the state.
There is no question that $15 goes further in Peoria or Springfield than it does in Chicago. Our state is vastly different economically, and a minimum wage should reflect that.
Despite calls for compromise from Republican lawmakers and the business community, the supermajority chose to forge ahead and pass a bill that raises the cost of doing business in Illinois while disproportionately harming downstate Illinois and small businesses throughout the state.
Bad: Recreational Marijuana
While I appreciated the sponsor’s willingness to address concerns raised by members of the Senate Republican Caucus, the final product still leaves me worried.
The public expects that if Illinois is going to generate new money from this proposal that it’ll go toward our current fiscal distress. Instead, this proposal only allocates ten percent of its revenues to unpaid bills.
Furthermore, the lack of law enforcement tools available to test whether an individual is driving under the influence of marijuana has been a concern of mine since the beginning of this discussion. I think allowing for the use of recreational marijuana, without an accurate tool that could be used during traffic stops, is a dangerous path to go down and places the public at risk.
UGLY: Reproductive Health Act
What was possibly the most unsettling proposal to pass through the General Assembly was the “Reproductive Health Act.”
This measure was sold as necessary to preserve abortion access if Roe v. Wade were ever to be overturned at the federal level. In reality, it wasn’t necessary. House Bill 40, already state law, ensured abortion would remain legal.
I found it appalling that this legislation was brought forward under the pretense that it would not change the way in which abortions are currently performed in Illinois when in fact, under careful review of the language, the bill would actually expand abortions way past what most people in this state are comfortable with. It repeals sanitation and health protections on abortion clinics that other health facilities must follow to keep women safe.
This legislation makes Illinois the “abortion capital of the nation,” and that’s just not something that sits well with me.
Anyone who drives our roads knows that they are in need of desperate repair. In fact, Illinois ranks 47th in the nation in overall quality of its roads. This is unacceptable.
The bipartisan capital/infrastructure plan that passed the General Assembly is a significant and much-needed investment in our state’s deteriorating infrastructure.
As Minority Spokesperson on the Senate’s Transportation Committee, I spent months of countless hours on this topic. It quickly became evident that Illinois was at a critical point of no return, and it was important that we acted now.
Even though some aspects of the final capital package required a bit of give-and-take, the reality is that Illinois couldn’t afford not to make this investment.
Sadly, Illinois was put in this position for a couple reasons. First, years of funds being swept from the Road Fund put a damper on the amount of repairs and projects able to get done. Second, the Road Fund just isn’t seeing the kind of revenue stream it once was due to better fuel economy in cars and the increasing costs of labor and materials.
One aspect I hope constituents can have some sort of peace of mind knowing is that when they fill up their gas tanks, their money is going straight back into transportation projects thanks to the “lockbox amendment” that Illinois voters approved several years ago. Springfield can no longer sweep those funds to divert to other spending.
While certainly not an easy vote by any means, it was one that was necessary for the people of my district, and I think that will become evident as we start to see some of these projects come to fruition.
Mark my words, the product of this plan will bring about momentous change to Illinois and its economy, and it is one that will be lasting for future generations.
• State Sen. Don DeWitte is a Republican who represents Illinois' 33rd District.