Senate Week in Review: Feb. 22-26

SPRINGFIELD – A controversial criminal justice reform bill that poses a risk to community safety was signed into law by Gov. J.B. Pritzker this week, despite heavy pushback by many residents, elected officials and law enforcement agencies, according to State Sen. Brian Stewart (R-Freeport). 

In other news, the Secretary of State is reminding drivers that Scott’s Law requires they change lanes or slow down to protect law enforcement and emergency responders who are stopped along roadways.

The federal Paycheck Protection Program is now open to businesses with fewer than 20 employees to receive loan assistance amid the COVID-19 pandemic. And small communities hard hit by natural gas rate spikes will soon be able to receive assistance through a $15 million low-interest loan program by the Illinois Finance Authority.

Gov. Pritzker signs controversial criminal justice bill

Despite being opposed by many Illinoisans, elected officials and nearly every law enforcement organization in the state, House Bill 3653, the controversial criminal justice reform bill, was passed in the early morning hours of the lame-duck session in January.

Signed by the Governor Feb. 22, the new law empowers criminals by making it harder to arrest violent offenders and keep them off the streets. It also increases both costs and requirements on police departments, meaning that many communities would likely see cuts to their local police departments, higher property taxes, or a combination of the two.

“After all the controversy and the tremendous public outcry against this terrible legislation, it’s really hard to believe it is now law. It is hard to figure out who this Governor is listening to. It’s definitely a new low for Illinois,” Stewart said. “Pritzker’s action transcends public policy differences. His action supersedes the rights and safety of law-abiding men and women in favor of criminals who have no regard for right and wrong, and who ignore society’s laws and do what they want, thus threatening the safety of our families, our friends, and our communities.”

Stewart says he is willing to work with his General Assembly colleagues in a bipartisan manner to pass a “trailer bill” or follow-up legislation that would fix many of the controversial issues with the new law.

Motorists reminded of Scott’s Law amid recent violations

Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White is urging drivers to slow down and move over for stopped emergency vehicles. This latest Scott’s Law campaign comes after 10 Illinois State Police troopers have been victims of violations so far this year.

Scott’s Law, known as the state’s Move Over Law, is designed to protect law enforcement and emergency responders who are stopped along the side of roadways.

Motorists convicted of violating Scott’s Law face a minimum fine of $250 up to $10,000, and the offense goes on their driving record. Driving privileges can be suspended for 24 months in the event of a fatality, and six months for a crash causing personal injury.

Smallest businesses prioritized for PPP loans

Prioritizing those hit hardest throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Small Business Administration began accepting applications on Feb. 24 from businesses with fewer than 20 employees for the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Those who meet the criteria have until March 10 to apply.

The PPP provides loans to help businesses keep their workforce employed during the COVID-19 crisis.

For more details, visit the SBA website at https://www.sba.gov/.

Help for communities hurt by natural gas rate spikes

Following last week’s freezing temperatures, many communities across Illinois are grappling with massive spikes in natural gas prices, with some being forced to pay 100 times their normal costs. For some of the affected communities, this will likely mean monthly natural gas bills that are substantially higher than what they would normally pay for an entire year. 

To help alleviate the immediate financial crisis, the Illinois Finance Authority (IFA) is launching a $15 million low-interest loan program. Loans will be made available to affected municipalities with an annual interest rate of 1 percent. The IFA met Feb. 25 to approve the creation of the program, and officials are still finalizing details, including the application and documentation for applicants.