Capitol Report from Senator Craig Wilcox

Senate Republicans Push for Extension of Invest in Kids Act; Democrats Refuse to Call the Bill

Democrats refused to take action during the fall Veto Session to extend the Invest in Kids Tax Credit Scholarship program, so thousands of low-income Illinois families will be left scrambling when the program ends on December 31. For most, that means their children, who benefitted from full tuition scholarships that allowed them to leave struggling public schools, will have to return to the school setting that failed them. Lifting the sunset deadline for this vital program was the Senate Republicans’ top priority for the fall Veto Session this year.

On November 7, our caucus held a press conference and called on Governor Pritzker and his legislative allies to help save Invest in Kids. We noted that instead of being focused on Illinois, the Governor was out of state in Florida trying to increase his national profile.

Since the inception of the Invest in Kids program in 2017, more than $308 million in private donations have been made to a tax credit scholarship fund that has provided more than 38,000 scholarships that helped low-income K-12 students in struggling schools optimize their chances for academic success by attending a school of their choice. 

Upon adjournment, I issued the following statement about the Democrats’ choice to allow the program to expire:

“We came to Springfield this fall to save Invest in Kids so the program could become permanent. Democrats who speak a great deal about equality in this state had an opportunity to ensure low-income students had equal access to a quality education, yet failed to do so. Many of these same legislators send their own kids to private schools, yet had no problem robbing their own constituents of that same opportunity. It’s shameful.

“Parents are now going to have to make some very difficult decisions regarding school placement for their kids for the second half of the school year. For many, the choice is already made. Their kids will have no option other than to return to the school that was failing them prior to their receipt of an Invest in Kids tuition scholarship. Every Republican, Senate and House, wanted to lift the sunset date and make Invest in Kids permanent. The Democrats own this disaster.”

Despite the setback, I will continue their fight for the return of the program during next year’s spring session.

Senate Extends Law to Hold Repeat Gun Offenders: House Refuses to Take Action

On November 8, I voted to extend a criminal penalty enhancement designed to keep more repeat felons convicted of gun crimes behind bars and off the streets. House Bill 1440 passed overwhelmingly in the Senate, but Republicans learned later that day that the House of Representatives never had any intention of calling the bill, deeming it “dead on arrival” in the House.

This political gamesmanship allowed most Senate Democrats to claim they were “tough on crime,” while it appears they knew all along the bill would stall in the House and die. Through this stunt, the criminal penalty enhancement for repeat felons convicted of gun crimes will sunset at the end of this year.

The statute was originally passed at the request of law enforcement to help them keep violent repeat offenders and gang members behind bars. The partisan games used to kill the statute will make the state less safe, by allowing violent gun criminals to be back on the streets sooner.

Wilcox Honors Veterans in Senate Floor Speech

Over the weekend, we honored veterans for their service. We paid tribute to moms and dads, sons and daughters, sisters, brothers, aunts and uncles, friends, co-workers, and neighbors, who all bravely answered the call to serve.

For more than 200 years, America’s Armed Forces have been our surest guarantee that freedom will continue to be abundant in the United States. On the battlefield and in their assurance of readiness, they allow all of us to rest peacefully, knowing with certainty that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are protected gifts for all Americans.

On Thursday, Senators allocated some time on the Senate floor to recognize and honor veterans. As one of five Senators who served in the U.S. Armed Forces, I was proud to give a floor speech in advance of Veterans Day. Click here to hear my speech.

Lawmakers Pass Bill Paving Way for Next Generation of Nuclear Reactors 

State lawmakers took an important step toward creating a stronger and more reliable power supply for Illinois by passing legislation to end the moratorium on new nuclear reactor construction.  

House Bill 2473 lifts the ban on next generation nuclear reactors less than 300 MW beginning January 1, 2026, allowing for the construction and development of next-generation Small Modular Reactors (SMRs). The Illinois Emergency Management Agency Office of Homeland Security will be directed to establish rules for reactor decommissioning, environmental monitoring, and emergency preparedness by January 1, 2026. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency will provide consultation.  

House Bill 2473 also authorizes the Governor to commission a brand-new study to research the state’s role in guiding the development of new nuclear technology and makes conforming statutory changes, including updating references to IEMA-OHS in preexisting Illinois law. 

Passed by the Senate with a 44-7 vote and by the House of Representatives with a 98-8 vote, House Bill 2473 will be sent to the Governor’s desk for consideration.  

Craig Wilcox

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