Joining lawmakers from all over the Midwest, State Senator Dale Fowler (R-Harrisburg) spent the week taking part in the Bowhay Institute for Legislative Leadership Development program (BILLD).
Senator fowler was among 36 selected lawmakers to take part in the program dedicated to assisting, educating and empowering newer legislations, offering leadership training and educational seminars for legislators. The leadership initiative was established in 1995 to address a shortage of training available for newer legislators and is the only leadership training program designed exclusively for Midwestern legislators.
“As a lawmaker, there is always room to continue to grow, become more responsive and learn how to be a better voice for the people I represent,” said Senator Fowler. “This leadership program was a great learning opportunity, and I was honored to have been selected to take part in this year’s BILLD fellowship class.”
Lawmakers spent five days in Minneapolis, participating in the 24th annual BILLD program.
After returning to the District, Senator Fowler was honored by the Franklin County Farm Bureau. Underscoring his continued advocacy for Southern Illinois’ agricultural industry, Senator Fowler was awarded the Friend of Agricultural award.
“Illinois’ agricultural industry is the cornerstone of our economy, and I will always strive to be a strong voice for their needs in state government,” said Senator Fowler. “It is a privilege to serve the 59th District and I’m honored to receive this award.”
In other news, legislation commemorating the 1944 landmark legislation that provided benefits to World War II veterans was signed into law on August 12. Senator Fowler was the chief-sponsor for the measure in the Senate, supporting the measure to not only underscore the importance of the GI Bill of Rights but also highlight the need for future legislation that protects and cares for our servicemen and women.
Education package to reduce teacher shortage in Illinois
In response to the state’s ongoing teacher shortage, new laws intended to cut red tape for teachers and offer more teaching opportunities for military spouses, were recently signed into law.
Senate Bill 1829 seeks to increase the number of eligible childcare professionals without lowering certification standards, while Senate Bill 3536 makes it easier for willing educators to expand their skills. Gateways Level 5 teachers in a community-based PFA program will now be able to earn a PEL through an alternative licensure program while staying at their current jobs.
Additionally, Senate Bill 2658 extends the validity of a Professional Educator License, with stipulations, from two years to three years for service members and their spouses. The measure has the dual benefit of making it easier for military spouses to secure work as an educator in Illinois, while also helping address the state’s ongoing teacher shortage.
House Bill 4742 allows school districts experiencing severe teacher shortages to contract with a third-party recruiting firm to supplement their substitute teaching search, empowering local school districts to address their teacher shortage, while also protecting existing school staff.
House Bill 5196 will decrease the fees teacher’s aides must pay to become licensed from $50 to $25, removing financial obstacles that have prevented individuals from maintaining and obtaining employment in Illinois.
Seventy-eight percent of the districts surveyed as part of a 2017 Teacher Shortage Survey by the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools identified either a minor or serious problem with teacher shortages. More than half indicated a serious problem with substitute teacher shortages.
The new laws are a product of consultation and discussion between the Illinois Early Learning Council, the Illinois State Board of Education, the Governor’s Cabinet on Children and Youth, and a broad array of education experts and stakeholders.
New law targets increased broadband access for Illinois seniors
A new law seeks to increase Illinois seniors’ access to high-speed Internet and provide more convenience with permanent identification cards.
The Broadband Advisory Council was created by House Bill 5752, and is charged with exploring new ways to expand broadband access, commonly known as “high-speed internet,” throughout the state, targeting unserved and underserved areas. Proponents say senior citizens would benefit from the resources and support offered on online platforms, such as telehealth, “smart home” system and home-based smart medical services.
Just under four-in-10 people aged 65 and older have high-speed internet access in their homes, compared to 77 percent of the 30- to 49-year-old demographic, according to AARP Illinois’ most recent data.
Governor takes action on agriculture legislation
A package of legislation was signed this week to benefit Illinois farmers and ag businesses. With more than 72,000 farmers and 2,400 food manufacturers in the state, Illinois leads the nation in food processing, and ag commodities businesses produce $19 billion annually—and billions more is stimulated by ag-related industry.
Senate Bill 3072 was signed to streamline and reduce some of the bureaucracy associated with the State Fair Advisory Board, which deals with operational matters impacting the Springfield and DuQuoin State Fairs.
House Bill 4999 reduces the number of meetings and other administrative requirements for the Advisory Board of Livestock Commissioners, which approves the rules and regulations of the department on prevention, elimination and control of diseases in our livestock. The changes were sought to achieve cost and staff time savings for administrative support.
Seeking to ensure the humane treatment of dogs and cats, House Bill 5029 makes certain breeders live up to legal standards for health. The new law clears up any confusion for licenses and consumers relating to the definition of a dog and cat breeder, establishing that breeders are anyone who intentionally breeds cats and dogs to sell, offer to sell, exchange or offer for adoption.
The Governor also signed House Bill 5459, amending the Horse Racing Act to allow more foals to qualify for Illinois races. Proponents say this will help the racing and horse breeding industries in the state.
Additionally, the signing of Senate Bill 2752 will change the definitions of “adulterated” meats and poultry to further protect consumers against food-borne illnesses. The new law ensures Illinois law conforms with federal guidelines, and that the state is adhering to best practices when it comes to food safety.
Also signed into law was Senate Bill 2875, giving authority to the Department of Agriculture to develop and implement a value-added certification process and programs, which will guarantee Illinois certified products have traits and qualities that warrant higher prices. The legislation also repeals some programs within the Department of Agriculture that have not functioned in years but still exist on paper.
MAP grant change helps colleges keep Illinois students in the state
New laws seek to give Illinois’ colleges and universities the necessary tools to attract in-state students, advancing improved financial aid plans, a more liberal application of credit transfers, and increased student counseling support.
While the state’s Monetary Award Program (MAP) renewals are awarded annually throughout a student’s post-secondary education, under House Bill 5020 priority consideration will now be given to existing recipients. Nearly 130,000 students received MAP grants in Fiscal Year 2018 and all but graduating students may be eligible for priority status in Fiscal Year 2019.
Senate Bill 2354 was also signed, a product of the General Assembly’s bipartisan, bicameral Higher Education Working Group organized with the goal of making Illinois’ colleges and universities more attractive and affordable for students across the state. The new law makes it easier for thousands of students to “reverse transfer” credits from one Illinois school to another, offering a low-cost alternative to award degrees to individuals who have accrued a significant number of college credits, but are left without a postsecondary credential despite having earned enough credits to be eligible for an associate degree.
In order to help prevent students from spending time and money on needless credits, the measure also encourages institutions to counsel students who expect to transfer to a public university on how best to apply credits toward degrees. This legislation seeks to help more students finish their degrees and prevent students from spending time and money on needless credits.