Memorial Day Op Ed and Veterans Affairs Legislative Update

This weekend, while many Illinoisans will enjoy time off relaxing, cleaning up the yard, hosting barbecues, swimming, fishing, going to ball games, and hitting the road to visit loved ones, many others will be taking time to commemorate Memorial Day, a day that means so much to Gold Star families and our entire nation and her free citizens.

As you enjoy time with loved ones, I hope you will also join with countless others and pause to dedicate your thoughts and prayers to the men and women of the US Armed Services that have given the last full measure of devotion in defense of this free and great nation.

We are an exceptional nation because we are free, and we are free because of these sacrifices. American heroes died in defense of the wonderful foundational principle of freedom granted by God our creator. They died in defense of self-governance and personal responsibility so that you and I and generations before us and after us could live in a free and prosperous land.

In Springfield, it is not always easy to find policy victories. The makeup of the General Assembly is such that I am not always given an up or down vote on my bills. Many of my colleagues experience this same kind of frustration. Partisan politics gets in the way of the passage of good bills far too often. But, there are some areas where we find agreement, and thankfully one of those areas is veteran’s affairs.

I was proud to both sponsor and support legislation during the spring 2022 Session that will improve life for active and retired military members and their families. Here’s a quick rundown of what was accomplished.

House Bill 4680 (now Public Act 102-0780), eases the fishing, hunting licensing, and camping permitting process for active-duty service members and veterans. Previous law required military service members and retired veterans to apply in-person at an Illinois Department of Natural Resources regional office to verify their military service to get discounted fishing, hunting, and sportsmen’s combination licenses, as well as camping permits. During the COVID-19 pandemic, those offices were closed. Thanks to HB 4680’s passage, these folks will no longer have to apply in person. I was the chief sponsor of this measure and am proud to report unanimous passage in the House and Senate. This bill was signed into law on May 13, 2022.

HB 5184 is aimed at helping counties and Veterans Assistance Commissions (VACs) that have been sued over funding. Oftentimes, counties believe that VACs are essentially a line item under their budget, rather than an independent unit of local government that requires funding. As such, VACs often go underfunded year after year. VACs are unable to levy their own taxes because state law requires that the county must levy the tax on behalf of the VAC. To create financial stability for VACs, this new law clarifies that the minimum amount a VAC may be funded is .02% of the last known assessed value of the taxable property within a county. There are 53 counties in the State that have VACs.

HB 557 (Public Act 102-0126) allows dependent students of active-duty military personnel to enroll in school sooner than previous state law allowed when the family relocates per military orders. The new law requires school districts to allow a dependent of U.S. military personnel to enroll free of tuition, if, at the time of enrollment, the dependent is in temporary housing outside of the school district, but will be living within the district within 6 months. These dependent children can now enroll in school early if their parent is transferring to a new area per military orders. Children of military members have to move quite often, and in Illinois they were not always able to access the classes they needed to graduate on time and stay on track for college. Thanks to the unanimous passage of HB 557, now they can.

We must never forget the dedication, service, and sacrifice of those members of the military that are active, retired, or no longer with us. Memorial Day is a time when we as a nation give our prayers, our love, and our thanks to all who have given their lives in defense of the United States of America and our Constitution and its Bill of Rights. God Bless the departed and their families, and May God Bless you and yours this Memorial Day 2022.