Rep. Brian Stewart Weekly Column: The Rest of the Story

Some of you remember Paul Harvey. For those who dont know, he was a radio broadcaster on ABCs radio networks from 1952 until 2008. He was most famously known for his segment called, The Rest of the Story.

Everyone has opinions. In todays world, full of posts and tweets and grams, forming an opinion is easy. With the inception of the internet, we have more information at our fingertips than any generation ever had before. More often than not, what we need is perspective. More information isnt always better. We need to get the right information to help us make the right decisions. We need the rest of the story.

It was famous author and management consultant Peter Drucker who said, Making good decisions is a crucial skill at every level. He is absolutely right. This especially holds true for our public officials. We pay taxes for public officials, elected and unelected, to make decisions that will impact our lives. Our expectation is that they will make good decisions.

I remember making the decision to start my first business. I remember each choice I had to make, and how much I was asking, of my family, my future employees, and myself. While my businesses have grown, I continue to approach every decision with the same care and precision.

That is how I make decisions as your State Representative as well. I am responsible for approximately 108,000 people in the 89th District. When I make a decision to vote for or against legislation, its with you in mind.

An example is Senate Bill 607, which was legislation filed by State Senator Tim Bivins. It was approved by both houses and signed into law last year. 

A common misconception is that SB607 legalized switchblades, making life more dangerous for families in Illinois. I do not agree with that characterization.

A small business, RAT Worx USA, in Mount Morris, IL, manufactures high quality automatic knives the average retail price for one of their knives is $300. Allowing the sale of the automatic knives that they manufacture right here in the 89th District would help their business. As you know, I believe the best way for Illinois to overcome our financial challenges is through economic growth, and that was an important consideration in supporting SB607.

Another important consideration was the benefit an automatic knife or spring assisted device has for society. As a retired Stephenson County Sheriffs Deputy, I turned to law enforcement and the first responder community for guidance. I learned that these devices are very popular with first responders (police, fire, EMTs and even the Military). Imagine if you were in a car accident and your car was on fire. Using an automatic knife, an EMT could cut your seatbelt and begin removing you from the vehicle in less time than it would take to open a standard pocket knife with two hands. Automatic knives save time, and for first responders, saving time means saving lives.

The most important consideration was how much a bill legalizing automatic knives would hurt Illinois families. Ultimately, the process narrowed the bill to only allow the sale of automatic knives to Illinois residents who have been issued a Firearm Owners Identification (FOID) Card by the Illinois State Police. Illinois has strict eligibility rules to obtain a FOID Card. Felony convictions, mental health issues, or a history of domestic violence are among the many disqualifying factors.

It is my belief that the FOID Card requirement to purchase an automatic knife helps protect Illinois families. After that, I also considered the endorsement from first responders and the benefits to a local manufacturer, I then supported the legislation. I would also note that these automatic knives were already being sold for years in your big box and sporting goods stores even though they were technically illegal.

Another example of the process I use in making decisions in Springfield is Senate Bill 2298, the Industrial Hemp Act. When many people hear the word hemp, they think marijuana. Before I supported SB2298, I wanted to make sure what I was endorsing, and whether the benefits outweighed potential risks.

What I learned is that special interests fought to make hemp illegal in 1937 because of a government report suggesting hemp could replace wood pulp to produce paper, and other products. Hemp was also later included in the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.

It turns out that the plants farmers grow to produce industrial hemp are different from the plants that are grown to produce the marijuana drug. Industrial hemp plants dont produce enough of the psychoactive chemical THC for drug users to get high and produce more cannabidiol (CBD) which also prevents a user from getting high.

Former State Representative I. Ron Lawfer made a compelling argument for the benefit cultivating industrial hemp would have for Illinois farmers. Industrial hemp is a crop that can be used to manufacture paper, textiles, paints, insulation, biofuels, animal feed, and biodegradable plastics. I think we can all agree that this crop would help Illinois farmers and rural communities throughout our state.

I hope these examples provide insight into the process I use to make decisions as your State Representative. I will continue to use the same level of discretion and scrutiny in the decisions I make for the 89th District during the veto session this November.

Brian Stewart

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