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  • Bennett advances bill to protect Gifford homeowners

    bennett giffordSPRINGFIELD- Homeowners in Gifford, Washington and Brockport have made progress in rebuilding their homes after the Nov. 17 tornadoes in 2013.

    State Senator Scott Bennett (D-Champaign) moved legislation today to help those rebuilding and repairing their homes receive relief from an unknown technicality.

    “The devastation left by the Nov. 17 tornadoes created unplanned expenses for Gifford homeowners,” Bennett said. “The cost of rebuilding and repairing is high enough without the additional expenses of higher property taxes.”  

    Senate Bill 3314 changes the Natural Disaster Homestead Exemption. Under current law, to receive the exemption a home must be rebuilt within 110 percent of its original size following destruction due to a natural disaster.

    However, many homeowners did not know about this technicality and built larger homes. Now their applications for exemptions have been denied. Bennett advanced this initiative to allow those homeowners to receive the exemption.  

    “The residents of Gifford have already been through enough,” Bennett said. “We need to do what we can to allow them to ease through the recovery process.”

    On Nov. 17, 2013, tornadoes destroyed nearly 30 homes in the village of Gifford. More than 40 other homes suffered major damage, and about 125 had minor damage. Total damage was estimated at $60 million.

    The area was denied federal disaster relief because it was determined too small to qualify.

    Senate Bill 3314 passed the Senate’s Committee on Revenue and now moves to the full Senate for consideration.

     

  • Bennett advances measure to protect sexual assault victims’ rights

    bennett 040616SPRINGFIELD - State Senator Scott Bennett (D-Champaign) advanced legislation to improve responses to sexual assault and abuse cases in Illinois.

    Every 107 seconds, another American is sexually assaulted. Each year, there are approximately 293,000 victims of sexual assault.

    “Our number one goal is to end cases of sexual abuse and assault,” Bennett said. “However, if a case occurs, we must have clear and concise guidelines to give victims a comprehensive path to justice.”

    Senate Bill 3096 is the result of the work done by the Joint Sexual Assault Working Group. The goal is to improve responses to sexual assault and abuse cases with victim-centered policies and practices that have been demonstrated to minimize traumatization and encourage victim participation in the criminal justice process.

    Senate Bill 3096 does two things.

    First, it outlines the information that must be included in a police officer’s report, as well as what information needs to be made available to victims.

    Secondly, the initiative outlines procedures for collection of sexual assault kits from hospitals to ensure victims’ rights are protected.

    Senate Bill 3096 passed the Senate’s Committee on Criminal Justice with bipartisan support and now moves to the full Senate for consideration.

  • Bennett advances plan to invest in Illinois families

    mapgrant moneySPRINGFIELD- As college students begin to head back to campus, State Senator Scott Bennett (D-Champaign) passed legislation to fund state college assistance grants.

    Under Senate Bill 2043, the Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants will continue to make college an option for students across Illinois.  This state assistance provides need-based aid to help pay for tuition and fee costs to help eliminate excessive college loan debt.

    “Illinois students shouldn’t be discouraged from attending one of our public universities or community colleges due to financial need,” Bennett said. “The legislation we passed today will help more students obtain a college education without further jeopardizing their financial health.  

    The Illinois Student Assistance Commission estimates that under Senate Bill 2043, that 125,000 to 130,000 eligible students will be approved for MAP grant assistance.  

    “We need an educated workforce to continue to grow our economy,” said Bennett. “The investments we make in education will provide Illinois with a well-trained and competitive workforce.”

    Last year, 6,697 students, approximately 25 percent of undergraduates at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana received MAP grant assistance.

    Senate Bill 2043 passed the Senate 37-0-14 and now moves to the House for consideration.

  • Bennett ensures Senate budget includes funding for Lincoln's ChalleNGe Academy

    bennett 052517SPRINGFIELD – The budget passed by the Illinois Senate includes funding for a popular program managed by the Illinois National Guard, according to one Illinois state senator.

    The Lincoln's ChalleNGe Academy, funded through the Illinois Department of Military Affairs, is a youth intervention program based in Rantoul at the former Chanute Air Force Base. The academy seeks to help high school dropouts gain job and life skills that will lead to a better future.

    State Senator Scott Bennett (D-Champaign) represents Rantoul and voted for the budget in large part to keep programs like the ChalleNGe Academy open.

    “Some of the young people who go Lincoln's ChalleNGe Academy just need a second chance,” Bennett said. “The best way for the state to guarantee at-risk youth have a future chance at success is to invest in programs like the Academy that give them the necessary skills to do so.”

    Lincoln's ChalleNGe Academy was started as a pilot program after the passage of the 1993 National Defense Reauthorization Act. Currently, 29 states have ChalleNGe Academies.

    The Rantoul-based facility will also receive funding to prevent another shutdown of their facility upgrade, saving taxpayers the expensive costs of restarting the project. The academy employs a number of people in Rantoul.

  • Bennett joins Attorney General in fight for victims’ rights

    Senator Scott Bennett, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Scott CrossSPRINGFIELD — Victims of sexual abuse and assault as minors will no longer have to worry about their abuser walking free due to the statute of limitations under a plan being pushed in the Illinois State Senate.

    State Senator Scott Bennett (D-Champaign), who introduced Senate Bill 189, said it would remove the statute of limitations for sex crimes committed against minors.

    “Victims of sexual assault and abuse deserve a pledge that justice does not have an expiration date,” Bennett said. “With this legislation, we can deliver a message of hope to victims everywhere by guaranteeing their abusers won’t get away because time ran out.”

    In previous hearings Bennett held on this legislation, the Attorney General was joined by one of former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s victims, Scott Cross, who called for a review of the existing laws.

    The crimes included in the legislation are criminal sexual assault, aggravated criminal sexual assault, predatory criminal sexual assault of a child and aggravated criminal sexual abuse and criminal sexual abuse.

  • Bennett passes compromise to give locals' money back to the locals

    bennett careertechSoon local municipalities across Vermilion and Champaign counties will receive their overdue gas tax money to help prepare for winter storms and patch pot holes.

    State Senator Scott Bennett (Champaign) passed Senate Bill 2039, which would free up gas money for local municipalities. State transportation officials haven’t provided exact numbers on how much these communities are owed, but last year, Champaign, for example, received more than $2 million in gas tax money.

    “This is local money that needs to be in the hands of local people,” said Bennett. “This compromise is an important step in bridging our current budget stalemate. We need to continue to work together to pass a responsible budget that fulfills our responsibility to the people of Illinois.”

    Other Champaign and Vermilion County communities received the following amounts in 2014: Urbana, more than $1 million in funds; and Danville, $817,647.

    Additional information about how much local communities are owed in gas tax money is available at www.IllinoisSenateDemocrats.com.

    Bennett says while Governor Rauner has said he supports this compromise, the budget impasse began when he vetoed similar proposals back in June.

    SB 2039 passed the Senate and House with bipartisan support and now moves on to the governor’s desk.

  • Bennett passes measure keeping memory of Air Force base alive

    Tuskegee Airmen - Circa May 1942 to Aug 1943SPRINGFIELD – Rantoul-area museums displaying exhibits from the closed Octave Chanute Aerospace Museum will have access to funds purposed for the exhibits under a law passed by the Illinois Senate today.

    Champaign County was previously home to Chanute Air Force Base until 1993. Originally opened in 1917, the base was one of the Army Air Corps’ original training schools for pilots. The site was chosen due to its close proximity to the Illinois Central Railroad and the University of Illinois.

    During World War II the base, then called Chanute Field, was home to the first training classes for the officers of the 99th Pursuit Squadron. The squadron was an all-black unit that would eventually be known as the Tuskegee Airmen.

  • Bennett plan to protect sexual assault victims’ rights signed into law

    bennett cmteSPRINGFIELD- Every 107 seconds, another American is sexually assaulted. Each year, there are approximately 293,000 victims of sexual assault.

    To prevent this, State Senator Scott Bennett (D-Champaign) passed a measure that was signed into law today that will improve responses to sexual assault and abuse cases in Illinois.

    “Our number one goal is to end cases of sexual abuse and assault,” Bennett said. “However, if an assault occurs, we must have clear and concise guidelines to give victims a comprehensive path to justice.”

    Senate Bill 3096 is the result of the work done by the Joint Sexual Assault Working Group. The goal is to improve responses to sexual assault and abuse cases with victim-centered policies and practices demonstrated to minimize trauma and encourage victim participation in the criminal justice process.

    Senate Bill 3096 does two things.

    First, it outlines the information that must be included in a police officer’s report, as well as what information needs to be made available to victims.

    The initiative also outlines procedures for collecting sexual assault kits from hospitals to ensure victims’ rights are protected.

    “Sexual assault is a devastating crime that is rarely reported to law enforcement. Our Working Group spent more than a year taking a comprehensive look at why and how our criminal justice system can better respond, investigate and support survivors,” Attorney General Lisa Madigan said. “Illinois will now require police to undergo specialized training and follow specific protocols for incidents of sexual assault that should encourage more survivors to come forward and receive justice. These are significant changes to improve our response to sexual assault crimes.”

    Senate Bill 3096 passed the Senate and House with bipartisan support and was signed this afternoon.

  • Bennett praises measure to clean up state’s pension rolls

    bennett 040616CHAMPAIGN – Illinois taxpayers will benefit from a new law that encourages state pension funds to regularly review their rolls for deceased recipients.
    The measure, an initiative of Senator Scott Bennett (D-Champaign), gives the funds until Jan. 1, 2017, to implement a process to identify deceased annuitants at least once a month.

    “We need to do whatever we can to end the waste of taxpayer dollars,” Bennett said. “This is one simple way for the state to save money and promote the responsible use of funds.”

    It is unclear how many state pension payments are made to deceased annuitants in Illinois because each pension fund tracks death-related overpayments differently. 

    Under the new law (House Bill 6030), the review process can include using a third-party company, Social Security Administration data or other available data, as well as any other method that is commonly used by other state retirement systems.

    In 2015, Better Government Association published a report that alleged various Illinois public retirement systems were paying annuities to deceased people.

  • Bennett pushes for MAP grant appropriations

    map grant mrCHAMPAIGN- As college students begin to head back to campus, State Senator Scott Bennett (D-Champaign) is circulating a petition to urge Illinois lawmakers to pass funding for an important state aid program.

    “I urge legislators to put politics aside. These students are real people with real lives. We cannot afford to jeopardize their futures,” said Bennett.

    Monetary Award Program (MAP grants) cannot be given to students until there is a state budget. More than 100,000 students across Illinois rely on MAP grants to afford higher education.

    Some schools are unable to absorb the tuition cost while the budget impasse continues and are asking students to pay partial fees upfront as they wait for the budget impasse to end. Bennett doesn’t want students discouraged from returning to campus due the lack of promised financial aid.

    “If these students could afford to absorb tuition costs and fees, they wouldn’t have qualified for state assistance in the first place,” said Bennett. “College affordability is a defining component in our state’s policies. We need to be working toward giving our young people the tools to graduate with success, not forcing them to miss out on valuable opportunities.”

    Lawmakers will return to Springfield to take up legislative action on Wed., Aug. 19. Bennett will work with lawmakers to authorize funding for MAP grants.

  • Bennett urges local farmers to seek damage assistance

    flood aidCHAMPAIGN- The U.S. Department of Agriculture has designated 87 counties in Illinois, including Champaign and Vermilion counties, as primary natural disaster areas due to damages and losses by the unprecedented rain and flooding over this summer.

    “Agriculture is the backbone of our economy,” said State Senator Scott Bennett (D-Champaign). “It is important for us to work together to help farmers through these difficult times. Local farmers keep the state’s economy going and growing.”

    Farmers who believe they may be eligible for assistance should contact their county Farm Service Agency (FSA) office.  

    Here is the contact information for Champaign and Vermilion County residents:

    Champaign County Farm Service Agency:

    2110 West Park Ct., Suite A
    Champaign, IL 61821-2986
    (217) 352-3536 ext 2
    (855) 240-6623 Fax

    Vermilion County Farm Service Agency:

    1905A US Route 150
    Danville, IL 61832-5396
    (217) 442-8511 ext 2
    (855) 688-3986 Fax

    Loan applications are considered on a case-by-case basis. The extent of losses, security available and applicant's repayment ability will determine eligibility. Farmers who have questions can contact their county service agency or the state FSA at (217) 241-6600.

    If residents need further assistance, please contact Senator Scott Bennett’s constituent office at (217) 355-5252 or visit www.SenatorBennett.com.

  • Bennett works to protect college graduates' licenses

    bennett license debtSPRINGFIELD- Student loans are the largest source for consumer debt in the United States, surpassing mortgages and credit cards debt.

    More than 20 states including Illinois currently have laws in place that suspend professional licenses and certificates in the event a consumer must default on their student loans.

    State Senator Scott Bennett (D-Champaign) advanced an initiative to prevent licensing boards from denying, revoking or suspending individual professional licenses due to student loan default in Illinois.

    “Taking away someone’s ability to work is counterproductive,” Bennett said. “The fact is if you aren’t able to work, you won’t be able to pay back your loans and will sink further into debt.”

    Senate Bill 2236 will put provisions in place to prevent individuals with student loan default from experiencing licenses being denied, revoked, or suspended in 39 professions such as occupational therapists, roofers, teachers, structural engineers, home inspectors and real estate agents.

    “We should be empowering people to go to work, not taking away their ability to earn a living,” Bennett said.  

    Student loan debt is the only type of debt in the U.S. that is not eligible for bankruptcy except in severe instances.

    Senate Bill 2236 passed the Senate’s Committee on Licensed Activities and Pensions and will now move to the full Senate for consideration.

    Photo: Katharine Gricevich of ISAC with Sen. Bennett in today's hearing

  • Bennett, Bertino-Tarrant discuss plan to ensure justice for sex abuse victims

    crimlaw1

  • Bennett, Frerichs join advocates for awareness of financial independence for people living with disabilities (AUDIO)

    bennett frerichs092815CHAMPAIGN- Illinois families worried about the financial security of loved ones living with disabilities will soon have another resource to promote their independence.  

    State Senator Scott Bennett (D-Champaign) and Treasurer Michael Frerichs joined area advocates to raise awareness of a new law that will create a tax-exempt plan to help individuals and families save money to cover expenses for people living with disabilities. Senate Bill 1383 creates the Illinois Achieving a Better Life Expectancy Act (ABLE Act), which creates accounts similar to tax-advantaged college saving plans where income earned in the account is not taxable.

  • Bennett, Manar, Ammons, Local Superintendents Speak Out Against Rauner’s Veto of School Funding Reform

    Senators Manar and Bennett and Rep. Carol Ammons address local superintendents

    URBANA, Ill. – State Sen. Scott Bennett, D-Champaign, State Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, and state Rep. Carol Ammons, D-Urbana, joined local school superintendents and community leaders to discuss the devastating consequences that the governor’s veto of education funding reform would have on central Illinois schools.

    “Under the amendatory veto, it’s very clear that our schools lose in central Illinois,” said Ammons. “Senate Bill 1 would have ensured that our schools would receive the amount of money they need and deserve to serve our children. Gov. Rauner’s shameful veto would cut funding to over 550 school districts, including those here in Champaign-Urbana. We should be finding ways to invest more in schools, not cutting their already limited funding.”

    Senate Bill 1, which creates an equitable school funding plan, would have fixed the state’s broken education funding system, and ensured that every school in Illinois saw increased funding. Despite his agreement with 90 percent of the legislation, Gov. Rauner issued an amendatory veto of the legislation.

    “The governor’s veto was clearly intended to hurt Chicago but caused a great deal of collateral damage to the schools of downstate Illinois,” said Bennett. “We must ensure that the formula that becomes law guarantees fair funding for schools all over Illinois.”

    Manar noted that Rauner’s introduced changes to Senate Bill 1 would punish schools for enrollment declines, thwart local economic development efforts and bar school districts from claiming voter-approved tax cap adjustments. These provisions unfairly harm downstate Illinois’ least-funded schools the most, including many here in central Illinois.

    “Rather than roll up his sleeves and work with lawmakers to solve Illinois’ school funding crisis, Gov. Rauner is pitting region against region, children against children, and education against economic development. That’s not leadership,” Manar said.

    “The governor hasn’t put forth a roadmap for success. He needs to tell us how he wants to solve this problem. He vetoed the entire state budget, and he vetoed Senate Bill 1, inserting provisions that would result in higher property taxes in the most underfunded areas of the state. He needs to get serious. We have to solve this problem, and we have a limited amount of time to do it.”

  • Bennett: Let victims decide when they are ready to seek justice

    Senator Scott Bennett, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Scott Cross

    SPRINGFIELD – Legislation removing the statute of limitations for certain sex crimes against minors passed the Illinois Senate yesterday. By a vote of 54-0, members of the Senate sided with victims still struggling to come to terms with the crimes committed against them.

    State Senator Scott Bennett (D-Champaign) worked with Attorney General Lisa Madigan to pass the measure.

    “Survivors of these horrific crimes should not be forced to seek justice before they are ready to do so,” Bennett said. “This legislation is a beacon of hope to victims all over Illinois that an arbitrary deadline won’t stand between them and justice.”

    Attorney General Lisa Madigan has made protecting the victims of sex crimes a top priority of her office.

    “For a child survivor of sexual assault, reporting their crime can be unimaginable because these crimes are usually committed by an adult they know well,” Madigan said. “We must ensure that we can seek justice whenever a survivor comes forward to report the crime.”

    The measure now goes to the House of Representatives.

  • Bennett: Permanent property tax freeze would squeeze local schools

    bennett 053116SPRINGFIELD – 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.”

  • Champaign County schools win under plan supported by Scott Bennett

    bennett 040616CHAMPAIGN- Local schools will receive $5.9 million more under a new plan being assembled in the Illinois Senate. 

    State Senator Scott Bennett (D-Champaign) supports legislation to increase education funding for Champaign County students and allow schools to open their doors on time this fall.

    Champaign County schools would see the following increases in funding:

    Champaign Community Unit School District 4             $2,420,419

    Urbana School District 116                                        $1,761,301

    Rantoul City School District 137                                 $1,197,466

    “Education funding is my top priority,” Bennett said. “It’s important that we all work together to pass a plan to give our children the best opportunity to succeed. This is a clean school funding plan to keep our schools open.”

    This proposal also fully funds agriculture education.

    “It’s important for us to educate and train Illinois’ future farmers,” Bennett said. “Agribusiness is the backbone of Illinois’ economy. We need to continue to make investments in this essential industry.”  

    The Senate will convene on Wednesday at noon to take action on pending budget measures.

  • Final Senate higher education hearing warns of students lost in limbo

    Final Senate higher education hearing warns of students lost in limbo

    hi ed hrngs eiuCHARLESTON — As students prepare to register for their spring classes, they are unsure what the absence of a state higher education budget means for them.

    When Eastern Illinois University’ student government board assembled at the start of the school year, they didn’t think they would have to worry about the state’s budget. Their main concern was finding innovative ways to get other students involved in on-campus organizations.

    Senate Higher Education Committee Chairman Pat McGuire (D-Crest Hill) assembled the panel for its final scheduled hearing to hear from students like Jose Durbin, who are the future of higher education and our state government: He wants to be a state senator one day.

    Durbin has already started looking at private loans that will end up being more expensive for him in the long run.

    “Our public higher education institutions prepare our students to be the future leaders of Illinois,” said Senator Scott Bennett (D-Champaign). “It’s heartbreaking to hear students’ struggles as they work toward meeting their tuition costs and calculating budgets for their student organizations. We need to put a budget in place to guarantee students have the services and support they need to be successful.”

    Every year, thousands of Illinois students take advantage of this vital state funding to help pay for the opportunity to receive a higher education. The average student with a MAP grant receives about $2,700 to help pay for tuition. As college costs continue to skyrocket in Illinois, these grants are vital to the sustainability of many students’ college careers.

    Twenty percent — about 2,600 — of students at EIU rely on state assistance to cover their tuition expenses.

    "We tell students from kindergarten on to study hard and get good grades so they can go to college," McGuire said. "We're hypocrites if we then allow the governor to pull the financial aid rug out from under them."

    The Senate did pass funding for the state’s financial student assistance program, the Monetary Award Program (MAP). However, the House has yet to approve the funding.

  • Final Senate higher education hearing warns of students lost in limbo (VIDEO)

    Final Senate higher education hearing warns of students lost in limbo

    hi ed hrngs eiuCHARLESTON — As students prepare to register for their spring classes, they are unsure what the absence of a state higher education budget means for them.

    When Eastern Illinois University’ student government board assembled at the start of the school year, they didn’t think they would have to worry about the state’s budget. Their main concern was finding innovative ways to get other students involved in on-campus organizations.

    Senate Higher Education Committee Chairman Pat McGuire (D-Crest Hill) assembled the panel for its final scheduled hearing to hear from students like Jose Durbin, who are the future of higher education and our state government: He wants to be a state senator one day.

    Durbin has already started looking at private loans that will end up being more expensive for him in the long run.

    “Our public higher education institutions prepare our students to be the future leaders of Illinois,” said Senator Scott Bennett (D-Champaign). “It’s heartbreaking to hear students’ struggles as they work toward meeting their tuition costs and calculating budgets for their student organizations. We need to put a budget in place to guarantee students have the services and support they need to be successful.”

    Every year, thousands of Illinois students take advantage of this vital state funding to help pay for the opportunity to receive a higher education. The average student with a MAP grant receives about $2,700 to help pay for tuition. As college costs continue to skyrocket in Illinois, these grants are vital to the sustainability of many students’ college careers.

    Twenty percent — about 2,600 — of students at EIU rely on state assistance to cover their tuition expenses.

    "We tell students from kindergarten on to study hard and get good grades so they can go to college," McGuire said. "We're hypocrites if we then allow the governor to pull the financial aid rug out from under them."

    The Senate did pass funding for the state’s financial student assistance program, the Monetary Award Program (MAP). However, the House has yet to approve the funding.