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New law prioritizes accessible playgrounds

manar museums 8 7 15SPRINGFIELD – One Bunker Hill student asked a question and a new law that goes into effect with the new year is answering it.

Maddie Heflin, a fifth-grader at Wolf Ridge Elementary School, wondered why there isn’t playground equipment that kids with disabilities can use.

Luckily one of the people she asked was State Senator Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill).

“Accessible playground equipment exists but she wanted to know why it isn’t in our parks and playgrounds. If we can provide equipment that lets them play freely with their classmates, it will promote acceptance and inclusion of students with disabilities,” Manar said.

Maddie’s question lead to House Bill 3457, which is now a new law directing the Illinois Department of Natural resources to prioritize park grants to purchase accessible playground equipment. Manar sponsored the proposal in the Senate.

The proposal was approved by the lawmakers this spring and signed by the governor. It goes into effect Jan. 1.

Grants from DNR’s outdoor recreation program are already prioritized based on the useful life of facilities, safety needs and other factors. This proposal adds universally accessible swings, ground-level play features, wheelchair-accessible tables and ramped equipment to that list of priorities.

“Maddie’s question and her concern for others is what led to the creation of this law. Thanks to her help every student will have a chance to participate, and it will teach children at a young age to ignore any stigma around disability,” Manar said.

New year, better way to prioritize needs of developmentally disabled

lightford 120715SPRINGFIELD – On Jan.1, 2016, students with developmental disabilities will find it easier to get the help they and their families need. Sponsored by Assistant Majority Leader Kimberly A. Lightford (D – Maywood), a new law that goes into effect the first of the year requires the state to train public school case workers to register disabled students with PUNS (Prioritization or Urgency of Need for Services) database.

The database records information about individuals with developmental disabilities who are potentially in need of services. Experts have argued that due to a lack of awareness, PUNS is under-utilized, and therefore, people with developmental disabilities across the state are not getting the services they need.

“Our education system should be optimized to serve and develop all students to reach their fullest potential,” said Sen. Lightford. “This law is protecting our children and families from being overlooked or neglected through the power of institutional and academic synergy.”

The law will ensure students in Illinois public schools and parents have the information they need to register with PUNS if they so choose.

DHS and ISBE would develop a program for and conduct the training of public school employees so they are as prepared as possible to provide these students and their families with the information and advice they need. The law also requires ISBE to inform parents and guardians about updates with the PUNS waiting list through the school districts.


  1. An effort to increase awareness of this valuable resource
  2. New training program for case workers to ensure students and parents in all public schools are well aware of the opportunities afforded to disabled students by signing up
  3. Yearly opportunities for individuals to sign up for the PUNS list to be provided in cases where training is not available
  4. Applies to all public school districts
  5. DHS choosing individuals based on need level and available funding
  6. Passed House unanimously, Senate concurred unanimously

In addition, the Illinois Senate Democratic Caucus has a list on its website of 16 pieces of the legislation that will become effective Jan 1.

Senator Harris seeks to protect student athletes’ rights

harris eqecopSPRINGFIELD – State Senator Napoleon Harris announced Wednesday he plans to pursue legislation to protect student athletes’ freedom of speech and make sure they aren’t punished academically or economically for taking a stand.

Harris’ interest in drafting Illinois protections follows news out of Missouri that Republican lawmakers want to crack down on African American football players who protested racial unrest on campus by refusing to play until the head of the university stepped down.

“I want to make sure our universities remain bastions of free speech and personal growth,” said Harris, a Harvey Democrat and former professional football player who starred at Northwestern University. “What was being discussed in Missouri is blatantly unconstitutional and treats students like they are property. I want to send a message that protects students’ rights before anyone gets any dumb ideas here.”

Last week, a Republican state representative in Missouri filed legislation that would strip student athletes of their scholarships if they refused to play for any reason other than health. Coaches could also be fined for supporting student protests.

Harris stressed that many student athletes come from disadvantaged backgrounds and their athletic scholarships allow them access to higher education. It would be legally, socially and morally wrong to use those scholarships to silence student concerns. 

“Athletes are not employees of the university,” Harris said. “In fact, in many programs they bring in substantial revenue to universities, yet they do not reap the benefits. Nonetheless, they are still members of a civic society who have rights to speak out against what they see as wrong. I believe these students and student athletes have the right to engage in these discussions without fear of unjust action.

Senator Haine fights to keep U.S. Steel open in Granite City

haine ussteelSPRINGFIELD – When US Steel announced last March it were going to temporarily idle its Granite City plant, Senator Bill Haine (D-Alton) reacted quickly by filing a Senate resolution urging the president and Congress to review the national tariff policy on steel goods.

While the Granite City plant was able to avoid a temporary idle in May, bad news was delivered to the families across the Metro East just in time for the holiday season. The plant announced the temporary layoff of 2,000 workers. Senator Haine released the following statement:

 “This is catastrophic,” Haine said. “I cannot emphasize enough how important the steel industry is to the Metro East, Illinois and the United States. The Granite City plant has been in the area for generations. If this plant closes I cannot imagine negative impact it would have. Congress must do something to stop the dumping of Chinese steel into the American market. I am yet again calling on Congress and the president to do something about this. These trade practices are unfair and they result in Americans losing out important, quality jobs.”

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