Pritzker cannabis plan generating controversy

Controversy surrounding Governor J.B. Pritzker’s plan to legalize recreational cannabis dominated the week, while a Monetary Award Program (MAP) grant expansion proposal that could cost current college students tuition assistance also generated headlines.

Also during the week, the state received a disaster declaration from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) for several northwestern Illinois counties affected by March 2019 flooding.

In other action, hunter safety classes could soon be available in Illinois high schools, and Southern Illinois University is celebrating its 150th anniversary.

Assistance for counties affected by flooding

On May 8, the Pritzker Administration announced that the SBA approved the state’s request for assistance to help people and businesses in northern Illinois recover from March 2019 flooding along the Rock and Pecatonica rivers.

The approved SBA disaster declaration makes low-interest loans available to homeowners, renters and businesses in Stephenson, Winnebago, Jo Daviess, Carroll and Ogle counties.

The filing deadline to return applications for physical property damage is July 8. The deadline to return economic injury applications is February 7, 2020. Any individual or business needing additional information, or wishing to apply for a loan, should contact the SBA Customer Service Center at 1-800-659-2955.

A Disaster Loan Outreach Center is set to open May 10 to provide additional information and loan assistance at Highland Community College, 2998 W. Pearl City Road in Freeport.  SBA representatives will be located in the Student Conference Center, Room H-209.

Controversial cannabis legalization

Governor Pritzker and Democrat sponsors of Senate Bill 7 unveiled their proposal to legalize cannabis for recreational use. The legislation would make it legal for adult residents 21 years of age and older to possess up to 30 grams of cannabis or 5 grams of concentrated cannabis. People would also be allowed to grow five plants in their homes if the plants are secured within their residences.

Non-residents would only be allowed to possess 15 grams of cannabis or 2.5 grams in concentrated form.

The plan also contains what supporters have referred to as a social justice component that is designed to reduce the negative impact that the national war on drugs has had on some communities and individuals. The first part would create an expungement process for people convicted of certain drug offenses. While this component had been discussed as a part of negotiations for quite some time, the actual bill that was filed takes the idea quite a bit further. The legislation would allow for the expungement of offenses that would remain illegal even if the bill passes. While individuals would be allowed to possess up to 30 grams of cannabis under the proposed rules, convictions for possession of up to 500 grams, a Class 4 felony, would be eligible for expungement. The Administration estimated it could lead to the expungement of up to 800,000 convictions. Critics noted that the bill would include expungements for things that would still be crimes even if the bill passes.

Another part of the social justice component would create a “Restoring Our Communities” (ROC) program that would send funding to areas affected by the war on drugs. The legalization bill would also focus on helping people from affected areas and underserved communities to be able to get business licenses to profit off of the new industry that it would create, including a $20 million low-interest loan program. Critics noted that the cost of the loans and the ROC grants could add up to hundreds of millions of dollars for new programs during tight budgetary times, and that a proper balance needs to be struck between new spending and paying old bills.

Controversial MAP grant bill

Controversial legislation expanding eligibility for the state’s MAP grants will mean fewer higher education dollars than ever for Illinois families and students looking for help to make college more affordable.

House Bill 2691 would expand eligibility for MAP grants to illegal or undocumented immigrants along with those who fail to register for selective service.

According to the Illinois Student Assistance Commission, expanding the pool of MAP grant recipients to include these groups could increase the cost of the program by $9 million per year. Because MAP grant recipients are determined both by need and available funding, increasing the number of eligible students could end up causing legal Illinois students to lose their funding.

Passed by a 35-15 vote of the Senate on May 8 and a 66-47 vote of the House of Representatives on April 11, House Bill 2691 now moves to the Governor’s desk for consideration.

Hunter safety courses proposed

Students could soon hit the books to learn about hunting safety, under a measure currently moving through the Senate. House Bill 3462 would give school districts the option to include hunting safety classes in their curriculum.

The plan would require the State Board of Education to prepare and distribute instructional materials that may be used as guidelines for development of classes teaching hunting education.

Current Illinois law requires anyone born on or after Jan. 1, 1980, to present a valid Hunter Education Certificate of Competency issued by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Safety Education Division or another state before being issued a hunting license.

Many states are now requiring adult hunters to furnish evidence of having completed a hunter education course prior to issuance of a non-resident license. An Illinois Hunter Safety Education certificate is accepted by all other states.

The plan, which was unanimously by passed the House of Representatives, is currently on second reading in the Senate after being advanced by a Senate committee earlier in the week.

Southern Illinois University celebrates 150 years

Southern Illinois University in Carbondale celebrates its 150th Anniversary this year.  The University opened in 1874 with just 54 students, with its first graduating class growing to 143 students.

In honor of the anniversary, the Senate adopted Senate Resolution 12 designating Southern Illinois University Day in Illinois.

SIU’s 150th anniversary celebration began earlier this spring with a Day of Giving, and will include events throughout the remainder of the year, including special exhibits, lecture series, and other campus events.