By DASCHELL M. PHILLIPS
State Reps. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-25) and Kimberly du Buclet (D-26) along with state Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-13) hosted a town hall meeting Monday evening at Kenwood Academy, 5015 S. Blackstone Ave. The three legislators spoke about issues they expected to come up during the veto session, which starts Nov. 27, and answered questions from concerned citizens in the audience.
The state budget, insurance, gun control and education were some of the main issues that were discussed during the meeting.
Currie began the session by giving an update on the state budget.
“This is the greatest recession since the Great Depression but we are beginning to come out from under it,” Currie said. “It looks like it bottomed out so state revenue, income taxes, sales taxes are coming in but it’s not robust. It will be some time before they can be called robust.”
She said the state is looking at big fiscal problems such as the inability to pay old bills. She said the state has been treating its social service vendors as if they are bankers by not paying them and telling them to go to the bank and borrow.
“That’s not a good way to run business,” she said.
She said the state also has pension obligations and owes about $93 billion.
“The reality is that we are looking at the inability to meet other needs if we pay the pension bill,” Currie said. “If we pay the bill we don’t know how we will fund public education, how we would build roads or how we make sure children who are abused and neglected get the services they need.”
Hyde Park resident Gary Ossewaarde asked the legislators if they thought insurance exchange would work in Illinois.
Currie said she’d be in support of good quality care that consumers would have the power to exchange.
“We hope to have an exchange organized by the state that is very responsive to consumer interests,” she said.
Raoul said he sponsored a bill to try to facilitate small businesses to be able to pool together purchasing cooperatives in order to purchase health insurance for employees.
Du Buclet said she is currently working against a conceal and carry law that may come up for vote in this month’s veto session or in January.
“I feel we don’t need citizens to carry concealed weapons in Chicago,” du Buclet said. “Especially here on the South Side.”
Hyde Park resident Rod Sawyer said his views on gun control are starting to change since a dispute with a neighbor four years ago.
“We spent a year and a half calling police and in some cases the police were hostile because they don’t want to be involved with [a] neighbor-to-neighbor dispute,” said Sawyer, who said he was told there was very little he could do to get protection because it was not a case of domestic violence. “At that point I was closer to supporting second amendment rights because I didn’t know what to do and couldn’t get help.”
Du Buclet said that since Illinois is the only state in the union that does not have a conceal and carry law that one would probably pass soon but the state should work on imposing as many restrictions as it can.
Raoul reminded Sawyer that he does have second amendment rights in his home. He also said he thinks there needs to be a full comprehensive discussion about what gun carrying laws should be.
“The real issue is those who are breaking [the] law by concealing handguns not those who follow the law,” Raoul said. “We need to be in negotiation we need to have something that gets to the root of the problem, which is gun tracking. If we can pass legislation that limits the number of guns a person can have that would be the type of public policy that will address the violence.”
Kimberly Walls, a teacher and parent of a student at Fulton Elementary School, said the number of Chicago Public Schools that have closed since 2001 scares her and she wanted to know if the assembly could do something to stop Mayor Rahm Emanuel from “continuing the vicious cycle.”
Although the state doesn’t deal directly with issues of school reform, Currie and Raoul said school actions should be handled on a case-by-case basis and community engagement should be a part of the process.
Walls asked the legislators what they thought about Chicago having an elected school board.
Chicago is the only school district in the state that does not have an elected school board.
During the election in November, an overwhelming number of voters voted in support of a non-binding referendum on whether the Chicago Public School Board (CPS) should change from a mayor — appointed school board to an elected school board. In the 327 precincts that voted, the final tally amounted to 65,763 people voting yes and 10,174 voting no.
The votes can now be used in petition to change the law.
“I think that’s going to be an interesting thing for Springfield to consider,” Flynn Currie said. “I don’t know exactly how you would decide the size of the board, whether people would be elected from districts, whether you end up with people spending quite a lot of money campaigning. I think you have to tread pretty carefully but I am open to looking at it.”