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McLean County Republicans Focus On Legislation's Local Business Impact At Chamber Of Commerce Event

Jason Barickman
Jeffrey Smudde
Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, called for lawmakers to "seek balance" at an event held by the McLean County Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday. He and other area lawmakers discussed the effects action taken in Springfield could have on local businesses.

McLean County area lawmakers addressed the concerns of local business owners on topics from clean energy to unemployment benefits at a State of the State event Tuesday morning.

The McLean County Chamber of Commerce was behind the event, which took place at Illinois State University's Hancock Stadium club with an option for remote participation.

The lawmakers at the event, all Republicans, said they still don't know what will be in a clean energy bill expected to be brought before the General Assembly later this year.

State Sen. Sally Turner, R-Beason, said she wants to see help go toward communities that could face job losses in the transition toward clean energy.

"I have coal in my district, which is at the Elkhart coal mine," said Turner. "Just two days ago, they laid off another 39 people, and they laid off 51 people prior to that. So that's a difficulty on those communities."

Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, said the state is still funding research into coal energy.

"We have one hand saying let's do away with coal in this state, you have another hand saying, well, let's give the university $8 million for further research into coal," said Brady. "It gets to insanity."

The clean energy legislation is expected to foster a goal to move Illinois toward carbon-free energy. That would likely mean deadlines for the shutdown of power plants that rely on coal.

Negotiations on the details of the package continued into the final hours of the General Assembly's session. State legislators are expected to return to Springfield in the coming weeks to take action on the anticipated energy bill.

Legislators at the event also said they want to see an end to additional unemployment benefits as Illinois approaches a full reopening on Friday.

"At least you'll give business a level playing field that they can try and get people back to work and get their businesses back up and going," said Brady.

Unemployed people in Illinois are still receiving an additional $300 a week in pandemic benefits. Brady said because of that, businesses in the county are "starving for help."

"I was talking to one of the hotel managers the other day said, 'Look, I'm not saying this is beneath me, I'm making beds. I'm cleaning rooms, I can't find help,'" said Brady.

But dining workers in Bloomington-Normal have said the unemployment process is difficult to go through, and that many restaurants have not been paying livable wages, especially at the height of the pandemic, when worker safety was most at risk.

Brady also called for state unemployment offices to reopen. Before the end of the spring session of the Illinois House, lawmakers unanimously passed a resolution demanding the reopening of those offices.

"There needs to be a way that businesses can connect directly," said Brady.

The additional unemployment benefits are set to expire in early September. Gov. JB Pritzker has said the state will keep providing those benefits for the time being.

Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, said overall, the area has moved beyond the "doom and gloom" its economy experienced in the past.

"I think there's a comfort in our largest employer (State Farm Insurance) and their long-term vision for the community," said Barickman. "There's awesome things happening in our community with Rivian and elsewhere."

Barickman encouraged balance and moderation in the work elected officials do.

"If we see more of that, people going to Springfield with more of a problem-solving attitude, I think we take huge steps forward in all areas of governance," he said.

Republicans also reiterated talking points on pensions and the budget and redistricting processes during the event. Pritzker signed new legislative maps into law last week.

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Christine Hatfield, a graduate student in University of Illinois Springfield's Public Affairs Reporting program, is WGLT and WCBU's PAR intern for the first half of 2021.