Let me first begin by wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! I hope the holidays are a great and relaxing time and you have a wonderful 2018!
Looking back on 2017, it’s disappointing to say that I am still frustrated with the direction of the state. Our fiscal and economic policies are still not where they should be and a lack of reforms are hurting the state when it comes to job creation, outmigration, and how credit agencies view Illinois.
That said, there were plenty of accomplishments I am proud of from 2017. These may not have grabbed the headlines, but they are certainly wins for our district. The issues on this list I couldn’t have done without the support of you and the constituents of the 38th Senate District. So, thank you for your support, helping me craft legislation, and educating me on issues that make our area a better place to live, work, and raise a family.
· Education: An historic, fair, and equitable bi-partisan education funding reform package was signed into law in 2017. Schools gained critical resources to provide more opportunities and mandate relief will provide for more flexibility for school districts. Countless other students will be able to attend schools of their dreams with a new scholarship initiative. This truly was a win for every student now and future generations.
· Flooding: The Illinois Valley Flood Resiliency Alliance (IVFRA) continued to grow and improve our chances of preventing flood losses in the area. We saw firsthand in July the havoc flooding creates for people in northern Illinois. Four counties were declared disaster areas as the Fox River, Des Plaines River, Chain of Lakes, and other waterways wiped out property and infrastructure. Seeing all that flooding this summer reminded me when back in April, our area saw rising rivers and streams after heavy rainfall. However, after coordinating with members of our Illinois Valley Flood Resiliency Alliance, the impact was minimal. How governments respond upstream and downstream impacts other communities along the waterway. So, being on the same page as a region has made a big difference. The IVFRA is truly a model other regions of the state and the country should adopt. It has given our communities a better chance at staying dry.
· Flooding: Speaking of the IVFRA, Certified Floodplain Managers throughout the Illinois Valley can now receive their mandatory continuing education class credits by attending IVFRA workshops.
· Jobs: The Illinois Valley is now more competitive in bringing new jobs and new investment to the area thanks to an economic tool myself, along with countless others, helped activate for the region in May. The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity certified the enterprise zone for LaSalle County and surrounding counties, which allowed the Upper Illinois River Valley Development Authority (UIRVDA) to officially activate the enterprise zone for the region. I had been working with local, regional, and state officials for months to activate this enterprise zone. This is a big deal and a game changer for the future of jobs and investment in the Illinois River Valley. An enterprise zone is at the heart of economic development. The first thing site developers ask when they visit communities is if an enterprise zone is active. If a community isn’t in an active enterprise zone, all too often, that new investment and new business go elsewhere. The Illinois Valley can now compete much better for these jobs and investment. I am confident job expansion, job creation, and investment will come to our region as a direct result of activating this enterprise zone.
· Future Leaders: In November, I hosted dozens of high school students from across the 38th Senate District in a unique, hands-on experience in public policy, state government, and leadership as part of my Youth Advisory Council. This is one of my favorite experiences of the year because I get to meet so many incredible, hardworking, and enthusiastic young people. The next time I hear someone say that young people are not interested in public policy and are not engaged in the issues, I will tell them about this group of students. My belief that there are plenty of talented and smart people to be tomorrow’s leaders is always reinforced by this Youth Advisory Council. If any one of these students wants to pursue a career in public policy, I hope this experience energizes them even more.
· Keeping Local Talent Local: The Grundy County Summer Internship Program set a record in 2017: 39 students were selected for the program, interning at 14 area companies. In 2013, I teamed up with the Grundy Economic Development Council and the Grundy Area Vocational Center and several area businesses to provide students from the area a hands on experience in their desired field. The goal of the internship program is to give students amazing, real world work experience and provide a pipeline for these students to gain employment and start a career within Grundy County after completing their education. We already have one young man from the first internship program in 2013 now working full-time at LyondellBasell!
· Heroin Epidemic: In May, I hosted a live tele-forum about the growing use of heroin by young people. Our expert panel explained the tricks and signs of a user so parents, teachers, and coaches can intervene, what resources are available, how people can get help, and what law enforcement is doing now to help curb the problem. This was a great opportunity for all of us in our area to educate ourselves on this issue so we can make our communities safer and most importantly, save lives. We received great feedback on this first of its kind endeavor, and I hope to do something similar this year.
· Honoring Local Veterans: In November, I sponsored and passed legislation that would make Route 6 from Mary Street in Spring Valley to Harrison Street in Peru the "Kaszynski Brothers Memorial Highway.” To have six brothers all serve our country in World War II is not only a unique story, but it’s one that deserves special recognition. I hope this legislation passes in the House so we can officially make this happen, but I have to be honest, with Speaker Madigan in charge in that chamber, it’s unlikely, which is beyond frustrating.
· Honoring All Veterans: In October, nearly 100 veterans and constituents from across the district showed their gratitude to our brave men and women, in joining me in a tribute memorial at the Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial in Marseilles, honoring our veterans’ sacrifice. I was inspired to host the event in response to football players around the country choosing to kneel for the National Anthem, something I believe is disrespectful to our country and to the brave men and women who gave their lives and paid the ultimate sacrifice, so that we may enjoy the freedoms we have today. The response was wonderful, and I am thankful to everyone who attended and for all our veterans who served our country.
· Protecting Landowners: In August, it was announced that the application for the Great Lakes Basin Railroad project was rejected by the Surface Transportation Board. I have been adamantly opposed to this project over the years, so I am happy to see the Board took into account the multitude of concerns we all had for the project. Landowner’s rights must be respected!
These are just a handful of legislative and district oriented accomplishments I am proud of from 2017.
Again, thank you for your continued support. I look forward to working with you in 2018, hearing your suggestions for how we can make Illinois and our area better, and working with you to improve our communities.
All the best to you in 2018!