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Sen. Bennett likes some things in the new state budget, but says it was not transparent

 Tom Bennett standing at ISU Quad
Eric Stock
State Sen. Tom Bennett, a Republican, represents much of northeastern McLean County, portions of Peoria, Woodford and Tazewell counties and much of east central Illinois.

State Sen. Tom Bennett said there are a number of things he likes in the state budget lawmakers approved, but there's a lot more he doesn't like.

Bennett, a first-term Republican senator from Gibson City, voted against the $50.6 billion budget as did all of his Republican colleagues.

Bennett said he supports the investment in higher education, tax credits for volunteer firefighters and changes in teacher licensing, but he doesn't like how Republicans were largely shut out of negotiations.

“Things seem to happen every time to where we get down to the last day, last hours, we’re finding that cooperation stops,” Bennett said in interview on WGLT’s Sound Ideas.

Bennett served eight years in the Illinois House before the Republican party chose him in January to replace retiring Sen. Jason Barickman. Bennett represents much of northeastern McLean County, portions of Peoria, Woodford and Tazewell counties and much of east central Illinois.

Bennett said the 3,000-page budget was rushed through before lawmakers could see everything that was in it.

“We’re still trying to work through what’s all in there,” Bennett said. “That whole lack of transparency, I would think, would really concern every person in the state of Illinois.”

Health care for undocumented immigrants

Illinois Republican lawmakers pushed back against the increased health care costs for undocumented immigrants in the budget. Bennett said he opposed what he described as a "Cadillac" Medicaid-style plan and said the money should instead go to support workers for the developmentally disabled.

“When these workers can make more money working in an Amazon warehouse, facilities go understaffed or they close and residents suffer," Bennett said.

Those workers were given a funding increase in the state budget, but Bennett said they should have gotten more.

Gun insurance

State lawmakers failed to get a new gun-control measure passed during the recent spring session.

A bill that passed the Illinois House would strengthen laws to allow judges to approve gun confiscation against those facing orders of protection. It also would set up a task force to study whether there should be insurance policies for gun ownership.

Bennett said he believes the intent of creating an insurance framework for guns is to restrict ownership.

“This seems like a real potential from keeping people from being able to have that, depending on the cost and those sorts of things,” he said. “It’s another restriction, another limitation that’s impacting the Second Amendment.”

Bennett said the bill does not address carjackings, armed robberies and gang-related shootings that he said are plaguing the state.

Advocates for domestic violence victims support the bill. It did not get a vote in the Senate after passing in the House. The measure could be brought back during the fall veto session.

Teacher shortage

State lawmakers approved several bills during the spring session aimed at addressing the teacher shortage.

Bennett sponsored one bill that waives a licensing requirement called the Teacher Performance Assessment (edTPA). Bennett said many educators told him the test was costly and cumbersome.

“I hear it over and over again — this is really not doing what we want it to do. It’s taking more time. They are more concerned about focusing on addressing the needs of edTPA versus really learning how to teach,” Bennett said.

The measure also creates a task force to study teacher evaluation systems. Another bill lawmakers approved increases the number of hours retired teachers are allowed to work.

Airport bill

Bennett said he voted against the bill to allow the Bloomington-Normal Airport Authority to expand its tax base to include all of McLean County.

The measure passed along party lines.

Bennett doesn't think the airport board did enough to engage the public on the issue.

"The last thing I want to have happen is for anybody to open their tax letters and finding out all of the sudden they are paying some more taxes on something they really weren't aware of," Bennett said.

Alan Sender, chair of the Bloomington-Normal Airport Authority, has said airport officials presented their plans to rural mayors, and also addressed a McLean County Board committee regarding the proposal.

Sender said the plan, which would lower property taxes for Bloomington-Normal and increase it for rural residents, would better protect the airport against potential federal budget cuts.

Volunteer firefighters

Bennett said he backed a measure included in the new state budget that would enable volunteer firefighters to earn a $500 annual tax credit.

Bennett said he hopes the incentive will help volunteer departments recruit and retain more firefighters.

“They are involved in monthly meetings, weekly meetings, tons of training they are involved with, making sure everything works and providing continual training to their folks in all kinds of ways,” Bennett said.

Many fire departments, volunteer and professional have struggled to maintain staffing levels.

Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.