Senate Week in Review: Jan. 6 – 10, 2020

McHenry, IL. — During the week, a Senate committee considered a possible end to the controversial use of seclusion rooms in public schools, which in many cases are used as calming rooms and are student initiated at times. 

In other news, Illinois’ population decline continues to be a cause for concern as Illinois enters a new decade with nearly 160,000 fewer residents. Also this week, the state’s Comptroller announced that her office will no longer help cities collect fines for red-light camera violations, and the annual Chicago Boat Show highlights a significant part of our local economy. 

Seclusion rooms face public scrutiny
Following a public outcry about the investigation released by the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica detailing the use of isolation rooms throughout the state’s public schools, lawmakers held their first hearing about the controversial practice. 

To better understand the issue and the use of these rooms, I visited the Easter Seals Academy in Chicago on Dec. 16, and Sen. Dan McConchie and I visited Crystal Lake District 47. We learned they can be a valid tool when used appropriately and discovered that many times access to these rooms can be student-initiated to help them calm down and use de-stressing techniques. 

I don’t want to see the state overreact and ban a tool that can be productive, but we absolutely stand firm against the use of these rooms as punishment. 

The scathing media report described overuse of physical restraint and isolated timeouts, prompting state lawmakers to gather on Jan. 7 for a joint hearing in Chicago to discuss legislation to ban or alter the rules involved with the use of confinement rooms. 

According to the report, more than 20,000 incidents of isolation/calming rooms were used in schools in less than two years. Until the report, students could be isolated or restrained if they were deemed a safety threat to themselves or others, and this may remain as an option in future rule changes. 

After the report was released, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) took action to ban “isolated seclusion” in schools, meaning students could not be locked in a room. However, many schools have adopted procedures to remove electronic locks and still use the rooms under closer supervision, which may be a viable alternative that needs to be considered. 

Further investigation is being done by the ISBE to gather data on public schools’ seclusion practices and incidents. Meanwhile, two bills—Senate Bill 2315 and House Bill 3975—have been introduced to ban schools from placing a student in seclusion. 

New year, new address?
According to a report in the
Chicago Sun Times, Illinois ended 2019 with the largest population loss (160,000) in the country over the past decade (2010-2019). Citing U.S. Census data, the independent think tank, Illinois Policy Institute reports Illinois experienced the second-worst decline, among the 50 states, as a share of population during the just-ended decade. 

Going back to late 2017, the Chicago Tribune reported Illinois had fallen from the fifth to the sixth most populous states, leading many experts to predict we could very well lose one or two congressional seats based on 2020 Census data. 

As lawmakers turn to the start of a new spring session calendar, Illinois’ mass exodus highlights the need for change, and Senate Republicans are committed to working toward real reforms that will help boost Illinois’ economy and protect taxpayers. 

Comptroller puts brakes on red-light camera debt
In the midst of ethical probes into the Illinois Statehouse, the Illinois Comptroller’s office says it will no longer assist municipalities in collecting fines for violations caught by red-light cameras as of Feb. 6. The red-light camera industry and its contracts with local municipalities and political officials have recently come under scrutiny as federal investigations continue. 

The investigations have highlighted questionable practices, such as shorter yellow lights at intersections with red-light cameras and difficult processes for motorists to dispute a ticket. There are studies indicating signal-timing, such as longer yellow lights, can be more effective at accident prevention than red-light cameras acting as a deterrent to motorist behavior. 

In 2012, the General Assembly authorized municipalities and other local governments to use the Office of the Comptroller to help collect debts resulting from unpaid traffic tickets. Outstanding debts were collected from violators by withholding state income tax refunds or other payments. According to the Comptroller, this method of collection has been used to recover unpaid child support, overpayment of benefits, and other types of debt. 

Senate Republicans anticipate red-light cameras being a topic of discussion during the spring legislative session.  Legislation has been filed to analyze the use of the cameras and to ban red-light cameras.  

Fox Lake boat dealers and marinas: An economic engine at risk by floods
Our area’s marinas, boat and RV dealers took part in the annual Chicago Boat, RV and Sale Show held at McCormick Place from Jan. 8 – 12. Recreational boating and fishing is a major contributor to the economic well-being of the 32nd Senate District. 

The Chain of Lakes and Fox River are economic engines creating thousands of jobs and supporting dozens of businesses in the region. This is why I am very involved in the flooding issue. I’ve been working with marinas and residents who live along the waterways to address the impact of flooding from the boating community’s point of view and the life and safety of affected property owners. 

I’ve toured the Stratton Lock and Dam multiple times during the past year and a half and met with the Fox Waterway Agency working on identifying possible ways to minimize future flooding events. Solutions include additional funding for the Fox Waterway to increase dredging and combat the silt entering the lakes and rivers, to working with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to develop handbook and operating guidelines allowing a more predictive release of water before anticipated storms. 

As I have previously reported in my column, there are now new flood-control gates being built at the Stratton Lock and Dam, which had previously been held up because of budget impasses. Because we are so blessed with this great water resource, I also anticipate that efforts ensuring proper flood control measures will remain in place even after the new flood gates are operational. We’ve witnessed a loss of many weekends because of flooding, but there are many local people involved who are committed to protect this vital resource and economic engine. 

According to the National Marine Manufacturers Association, the annual economic impact of recreational boating in Illinois is $3.5 billion a year.

The industry accounts for more than 12,200 jobs and involves more than 640 businesses. There are more than 245,000 registered boats in Illinois. 


Craig Wilcox

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