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“There’s talk of cutting the budget for a department just weeks removed from an incident that illustrates what can go wrong when children are left in dangerous situations.” - State Senator Scott Bennett (D-Champaign)

SPRINGFIELD – The state’s child welfare director described to lawmakers his department’s “Herculean” task of trying to protect children amid soaring caseloads and dwindling resources, and Senator Scott Bennett says the state should be working to improve conditions, not blindly slash funding that could jeopardize more children.

“There’s talk of cutting the budget for a department just weeks removed from an incident that illustrates what can go wrong when children are left in dangerous situations,” said Bennett.

Bennett’s comments came in response to testimony Wednesday from Illinois Department of Children and Family Services Director George Sheldon to a Senate budget committee. Sheldon discussed the heartbreaking death of Semaj Crosby of Joliet, a one-year-old who was left in her parents’ custody despite filthy living conditions observed by a DCFS employee 33 hours before her death.

Sheldon told Senators the incident would be investigated in depth, but offered the dismal reality of his child service agency trying to cope with understaffing, growing caseloads and increases in youth detentions.

While some Republican lawmakers have suggested slashing funding across all agencies by 10 percent, Sheldon has requested an increase of $23.5 million. His agency is under court order to maintain services and predicted that if his budget is cut, the state would quickly find itself in federal court.

“Not having a state budget is problematic at best,” Sheldon said.

Bennett, a former prosecutor, said the tragedies from an overmatched DCFS are obvious and funding cuts won’t make the situation better. He expressed concerns regarding the ranks of DCFS investigators being cut in half in the Champaign office in recent years.

“We already know cutting funding is going to tie their hands at DCFS,” Bennett said. “Now are we going to shoot ourselves in the foot with a possible federal lawsuit as well?

“The Rauner administration simply needs to be better than this when dealing with vulnerable children,” Bennett said.

Category: Press Releases

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“Maintaining clean and safe drinking water for our citizens is vital to protecting the public health and future development of our communities.” - State Senator Scott Bennett (D-Champaign)

SPRINGFIELD – Legislation aimed at protecting the drinking water of the Mahomet Aquifer passed the Illinois Senate today. The measure, Senate Bill 611, creates the Mahomet Aquifer Protection Task Force to address the issue of maintaining the clean drinking water of the Mahomet Aquifer.

State Senator Scott Bennett (D-Champaign) sponsored the legislation to protect downstate Illinoisans who get their drinking water from the aquifer.

“We have to take steps to prevent disasters like the one in Flint from happening in our backyard,” Bennett said. “Maintaining clean and safe drinking water for our citizens is vital to protecting the public health and future development of our communities.”

The Mahomet Aquifer includes river basins and surface waters and supplies water to portions of 15 counties and over 800,000 people in east-central Illinois. The aquifer, which ranges from 50 to 200 feet thick, supplies more than 100 million gallons of water for public use per day.

SB 611 now moves on to the House of Representatives.

Category: Press Releases

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“Before the governor demanded a permanent property tax freeze, he never met with the Illinois State Board of Education to determine what it would do to local school districts.” - State Senator Scott Bennett (D-Champaign)

SPRINGFIELD – A permanent property tax freeze from Springfield will only squeeze local schools and park districts according to one Illinois State Senator.

State Senator Scott Bennett (D-Champaign) says that while the freeze may be a good talking point, in reality it squeezes school districts that have been shortchanged by Springfield for years.

“Before the governor demanded a permanent property tax freeze, he never met with the Illinois State Board of Education to determine what it would do to local school districts,” Bennett said. “I don’t know how you make a decision that consequential without talking to your own experts.”

In a hearing on Thursday at the Senate Appropriations Committee, Bennett challenged the assertion that Springfield’s freezing of property taxes permanently will amount to returning control to taxpayers.

“Springfield does not spend or collect a single dollar of property taxes,” said Bennett. “Property taxes are set locally by people we elect, that is the very essence of local control.”

Bennett later said that while he agrees that the property tax burden is large, he believes the Senate’s bipartisan plan to temporarily freeze property taxes will bring stability and predictability.

“What we have proposed in the Senate is to freeze property taxes for a few years so we can see the results,” Bennett said. “If there are no negative effects and the voters are happy with the freeze, they will be more than able to decide to extend it.”

Category: Press Releases

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“A victim should not be burdened with restarting their entire life from the ground up, and this legislation is just one of the many things that can help prevent that.” - State Senator Scott Bennett (D-Champaign)

SPRINGFIELD – Victims of domestic abuse will be able to keep their phone numbers while separating from a shared plan with their abuser under legislation that passed the Senate today.

The measure, sponsored by State Senator Steve Stadelman (D-Rockford), allows victims to petition the court for the right to continue using the same phone number when they file a petition for an order of protection.

State Senator Scott Bennett (D-Champaign) co-sponsored the legislation because of his experiences as an Assistant State’s Attorney in Champaign County.

“In today’s world, having a cell phone has gone from being a luxury to a necessity,” Bennett said. “A victim should not be burdened with restarting their entire life from the ground up, and this legislation is just one of the many things that can help prevent that.”

Senate Bill 57 now goes to the House of Representatives.

Category: Press Releases

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