All this talk of bipartisanship in the Illinois legislature is a bit overblown, according to a veteran state lawmaker who opposed much of the legislation that Gov. J.B Pritzker and Democratic leaders pushed through in what some political observers have called an historic legislative session.
Republican state Rep. Keith Sommer of Morton is now starting his third decade in the state legislature. He said Democrats used their supermajorities in the House and Senate to get much of the freshman governor's policy agenda enacted.
One of the few consolation prizes for Republicans, according to Sommer, were some pro-business reforms.
“The majority was looking to get Republican voters on some of these bills where they agreed to some concerns that some of our larger businesses had,” he said.
The reforms are intended to attract jobs construction, manufacturing and IT among others.
Sommer said the 19-cent gas tax increase that will help pay for a new capital bill is regressive because he says people need to drive.
“People I talk to and run into are frustrated,” Sommer said. “They say, ‘Yes, I can see a capital program. My university benefits, my social service providers benefit, but I don’t feel that I benefit individually and that I am paying these hundreds and hundreds of extra dollars a year.’”
Sommer did offer words of encouragement about the freshman governor, saying Pritzker was affable and willing to meet with lawmakers, something previous governors haven't done.
Sommer serves as the Republican spokesman on the House committee that handles child welfare issues. He said the governor was instrumental in pushing reforms at the Department of Children and Family Services after a report revealed widespread abuse and neglect.
“We’ve tried to address that issue and I give Governor Pritzker credit, his following through on that and having a conversation with me on that,” Sommer said.
DCFS got an $89 million funding boost in the new budget which takes effect on July 1, in part to hire more investigators. The state is also expanding training for those who must report child abuse and mandating clergy to report child abuse. Previously, clergy were only required to report sexual abuse.
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