Springfield, IL. – Controversy surrounding Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s plan to legalize recreational cannabis dominated the news during the week, while a MAP grant expansion proposal that could cost current college students tuition assistance also generated headlines. In other news, kudos go out to the 5th Grade Class from Prairiewood Elementary for their technology exhibit at the Capitol.
Controversial Recreational Marijuana Bill Unveiled
Gov. Pritzker and Democrat sponsors of Senate Bill 7 unveiled their proposal making it legal for adult residents, 21 years of age and older, to possess up to 30 grams of cannabis or 5 grams of concentrated cannabis. People would also be allowed to grow five plants in their homes if the plants are secured within their residences.
The plan also contains a provision to expunge the criminal records for people convicted of certain drug offenses. While this particular idea has been discussed for some time, SB7 takes the idea further, allowing expungements for drug offenses that would still be crimes even if the bill becomes law.
While individuals would be allowed to possess up to 30 grams of cannabis under the proposed law, convictions for possession of up to 500 grams – currently a felony – would be eligible for expungement. The Administration admits the new law could lead to the expungement of up to 800,000 drug convictions.
There is also real concern over how marijuana legalization will impact the desire and necessity for drug-free workplaces at thousands of employers across the state. In addition to the multiple tens of millions of dollars tax revenue proponents say the state will gain from legalization, opponents have also raised concerns about the negative societal and health costs associated with legalization.
Fewer Dollars Maybe Available for College-bound Students
Legislation passed by the Senate May 8 expanding eligibility for the state’s Monetary Award Program – known as MAP – could mean fewer dollars than ever for families and students looking for help to make college more affordable. House Bill 2691 would allow non-citizen students and those who fail to register for Selective Service to be eligible for the college grant program.
According to the Illinois Student Assistance Commission, expanding the pool of MAP grant recipients to include these groups could increase the cost of the program by $9 million per year, leading to more than 3,000 fewer grant awards. In the last two fiscal years combined, nearly 174,000 students were denied grants because of a lack of funding.
Under current law, non-U.S. residents who live in Illinois and pay taxes in Illinois can attend an Illinois public university at lower, in-state tuition costs. Undocumented students are currently ineligible to receive federal student aid, Pell grants, and state-based financial aid. The Senate passed the bill on a vote of 35 to 15. House Bill 2691, already approved by the House, now heads to the Governor.
State Budget Work Proceeds
While much of the news coming out of Springfield these days is about legalizing recreational marijuana, pro-sports gambling or raising taxes, work quietly continues on a new state budget, scheduled to take effect on July 1 of this year.
One of the most important jobs legislators have is passing a balanced state budget. The budget is a basic function of state government. And, under Illinois’ Constitution, it’s required to be balanced.
I am a member of the Senate Appropriations I Committee, one of two legislative committees whose primary responsibility is providing assessment of state budget proposals. We hear budget requests from state agencies and departments, and constitutional offices.
We’ve been meeting weekly and likely will continue to meet several more times during the remaining three weeks of the spring session. Hopefully, the new budget will respect the taxpayers and meet constitutional requirements for government spending that equal government tax collections.
Local School Shines During Tech 2019
Prairiewood Elementary School, from Woodstock Community Unit School District 200 was among more than 100 schools showcasing classroom technology and how it’s used during Tech 2019.
I met and talked with teacher Jen Bigler and her fifth grade class on May 7 (photo above). They had a great exhibit: “Explore. Educate. Engineer!”
This annual event is a great way to show legislators how technology is integrated in the typical school day and its contributions to education. Today, technology is a key component in a quality education. In District 200, more than 4,000 students have access to school-issued devices in grades K – 8.
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