|Bennett Hosts Agriculture Meeting|
This week Senator Bennett held the first meeting of his Agriculture Advisory panel. The goal is to keep a good conversation going with farmers and others in agribusiness, find out what issues they are facing, and to work together on solutions so that state government can help their industry thrive. At this week’s meeting, they were able to have Jerry Costello, the Illinois Director of Agriculture, take part and provide an update on what is happening with that agency. Senator Bennet said it was great getting a chance to talk to everyone and he looks forward to continuing to work with them.
|Illinois Supreme Court Hears No-Cash Bail Arguments|
On Tuesday, the Illinois Supreme Court heard arguments in the case challenging the “SAFE-T Act,” in which prosecutors argue the no-cash bail provision is unconstitutional. In late December, just days before the provision was set to take effect, a judge in Kankakee County ruled in favor of more than 60 State’s Attorneys and declared the controversial provision violated the Illinois Constitution. An appeal was promptly filed by Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul. During this week’s hearing, the lawyers’ arguments centered largely on whether legislators have the authority to make such a large change to pretrial procedures. Attorneys representing the State’s Attorneys argued the law is an overreach by the legislative branch. Additionally, the case was made that the Constitution requires judges to have the ability to set monetary bail. While the hearing of the case was expedited, the Illinois Supreme Court Justices gave no timeline as to when they will issue a ruling.
|“ComEd Four” Trial Begins|
On Wednesday in federal court, opening statements were heard in a high-profile trial in the case against four individuals with ties to ComEd. Prosecutors told jurors that the four ex-ComEd officials participated in a scheme to bribe former Illinois Speaker of the House Mike Madigan in exchange for political favors. The four accused are longtime allies of Madigan, and charges range from bribery to falsifying records. All four defendants have pleaded not guilty. According to the prosecutors, ComEd steered upwards of $1.3 million in payments, contracts, and perks to “subcontractors” who did little to no work and were actually Madigan’s close allies. In a separate lawsuit scheduled for 2024, Madigan faces more than 20 counts of corruption-related charges. Senate Republicans continue to advocate for ethics reforms and seek to end the decades-long corruption and abuse cloud that hangs over the State Capitol.
|March Madness Begins with Expected Record-Breaking Betting|
As March Madness begins, the American Gaming Association is predicting a large increase in betting revenue generated by the tournament. The Association is anticipating that 68 million Americans, or one in four adults, are expected to wager a record $15.5 billion. An increase from last year’s $3 billion, this projection includes everything from friendly wagers to workplace brackets to illegal betting through bookies. As one of the leading sports betting states, Illinois could account for a significant portion of the total. Last year, Illinois residents accounted for a record $278.4 million in legal bets during the March basketball tournament, surging back after the previous two years of the pandemic. In pre-pandemic 2019, sports betting was only legal in a few states, but now it is legal in 36 states, another factor that points to a large spike in betting revenue. In January, Illinois set a record of $1.07 billion in sports betting revenue, which generated approximately $14.4 million in tax revenue for the state. It is predicted the State will break that record again in February with the betting generated by the Super Bowl.
|How much do we owe?|
As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $2,042,155,383 to state vendors, including 20,598 pending vouchers. This figure represents the amount of bills submitted to the office of the Comptroller and still awaiting payment. It does not include debts that can only be estimated, such as our unfunded pension liability which is subject to a wide range of factors and has been estimated to be more than $139 billion. At the same point last year, the estimated amount owed was about $2.5 billion.
|Did You Know?|
While today is St. Patrick’s Day, celebrations have been happening across Illinois, starting last weekend and continuing throughout the week. The day honors St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. Some of the most popular traditions are parades, wearing green, dyeing things green (including beer and even the Chicago River), and eating corned beef and cabbage. While festivities are often viewed as being about all things Irish, most of those traditions we are familiar with were actually started here in America by communities of Irish immigrants. Historically in Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day was a solemn religious feast to honor the country’s patron saint. In direct contrast to American celebrations, until 1961, Irish laws prevented pubs from even being open on holy days, including St. Patrick’s Day. The traditional Irish meal for the day typically included ham, not corned beef, blue was also long viewed as a color of the holiday in Ireland, and St. Patrick’s parades were started here in the U.S. While Boston has long claimed to be the home of the first St. Patrick’s Day parade in 1737, historians now believe the first procession was held in St. Augustine, Florida, in 1601. Chicago, which hosts one of the largest parades, began their tradition in 1843. Dublin, Ireland, never held a parade for the holiday until 1931. Since the 1960’s, most, if not all, of the American traditions have however made their way to Ireland, where parades, corned beef, and revelry have now become commonplace there as well every March. In 1996, Dublin began holding a St. Patrick’s Day festival which attracts over 1 million visitors per year. So as you partake of the holiday today, remember that you enjoying traditions that are as American as they are Irish.
|This Week in the 53rd Senate District|