It’s just two days to Christmas. The tree is up, the Nativity scenes and decorations are out, and the shopping is (mostly) finished.

Now, we wait.

In an ancient and wonderful Christian tradition, this is the season of “Advent”: a planned four weeks of waiting for the birth of Christ. The passage of time is marked in various ways, most often by daily Advent calendars or by weekly candles in an Advent wreath. As the weeks proceed, the light recedes and the days grow shorter and shorter.

Then, during the darkest week, the light emerges: the Christ child is born.

Whatever your religious tradition, the themes are familiar. The story is one of hope, redemption, and peace. All wrapped up in the image of a little baby, born into humble circumstances.

Our modern world is full of instant stimuli, where everything is presented “your way, right away,” and folks cannot disconnect from devices and technology. Advent provides an antidote to the vagaries of modern life—a small way to reclaim some of our peace and be reminded of our shared humanity. For me, this is a time of year to find a quiet corner and a warm cup of coffee and read, write, or just think.

We live in the greatest country ever conceived of by humankind. While there are many problems in our state, life is better here than in most of the world. And even in Illinois, the decades of corruption and decay have been laid bare for the people. The seeds of reform and renewal are slowly germinating, despite the fits and starts. (The General Assembly even came together to release funds so that local governments will have enough road salt on hand for the snowy and icy weather to come.) Next year will bring great political fights, from a wide-open presidential contest to numerous state and local elections, along with continued struggle in the Illinois legislature.

But for now, we wait.

As we proceed through this holiday time, please know of my deepest wishes for health, happiness, and blessing for you and yours. I’m thankful and honored to represent you.
Governor Rauner and the four legislative leaders will meet for the third time in as many weeks when they sit down on Thursday, December 17 to discuss the budget impasse. While I am encouraged that the leaders are continuing to meet, I was disappointed when House Speaker Michael Madigan declared last week that the state income tax rate should be raised back to at least 5 percent. Following a speech he gave at the City Club of Chicago, Speaker Madigan was asked how high taxes should go. “Let me avoid creating a headline for tomorrow’s newspaper and say that a good place to begin… would be the level we were at before the income tax expired,” the Speaker said. “Starting there, you can go in whatever direction you want to go.”

Raising Illinois’ income tax rate back to the previous 5 percent level would equate to a 33 percent tax hike. It is important to note that Speaker Madigan clearly stated that the 5 percent level would be “a good place to begin…” which suggests the Speaker would like to raise taxes even higher than the record level set by the Democrats’ 2011 temporary income tax hike.

$3.1 Billion Appropriation Bill Signed by Governor
The enactment of SB 2039 appropriated $3.1 billion in what are called “other state funds,” which are funds that flow into Illinois from taxes and fees other than sales, income, and other general-revenue taxes. An example of this cash flow is the hundreds of millions of dollars paid annually by motorists who buy diesel fuel and gasoline for their cars and light trucks in Illinois. Release of this money has been “frozen” so far this year due to the lack of an approved balanced budget.

Passage of SB 2039 into law unblocked these program lines and allowed the money to flow. The move released funds for streets, roads, and highways; 9-1-1 call centers; firefighter training; lottery payouts; and other moneys for local first-responders and local governments. The bipartisan House vote of 107-1-1 was one of the key moves sending this bill to the Governor for his signature. Governor Bruce Rauner signed SB 2039 on Monday, December 7.

IDOT Considers Adding Toll Lanes on Stevenson Expressway (I-55)
The freeway that serves much of the city of Chicago, as well as the Chicago area’s southwest suburbs, has become increasingly clogged in recent years. Owners of greater-Chicago commercial and warehouse space have concentrated much of their operations along Interstate 55. Many additional employees use I-55 to commute to and from work. The “Stevenson Expressway” includes all of I-55 that stretches between the north-south Interstate 355 and the Dan Ryan Expressway.

With current motor fuel tax revenues completely inadequate to construct additional free lanes on the existing expressway, the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) is now formally studying an alternative strategy: the grafting of Express Toll Lanes onto the Stevenson. Toll lanes such as these, which are carefully marked, have been built in many other cities in the U.S. and abroad. Motorists that wish to use these lanes are often required to purchase transponders and to deposit electronic payments into accounts with the local toll highway authority. IDOT has created a webpage to describe the proposed study. Interested persons may submit comments here.

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As your voice in Springfield, I’m working to make our state and our communities the best they can be. If you have any questions or concerns or would like to invite me to speak to a group in the 48th District, please contact my office at (630) 403-8135, or visit reppeterbreen.org and click the Contact button.
A little over two weeks ago, the nation watched the video of a police officer firing 16 shots at Laquan McDonald, a young black man, armed with only a small knife and walking away from police. Two of those shots were fired at McDonald while he was standing, with the remainder ripping through his body after he fell to the pavement.

None of the at least five other officers on the scene attempted medical assistance for the young man as he lay on the ground. Witnesses were “shooed away” from the scene, without their contact information even being taken. Numerous other police vehicles were on scene, but none of their dashboard video or audio has been released—and may have been destroyed. Even the security video from the local Burger King, which officers demanded password access to in the aftermath of the shooting, has a void in its footage during the critical time of the shooting.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel was in the midst of a tough re-election campaign in October 2014, desperately needing the support of the City Council’s Black Caucus to defeat his Latino challenger. As details slowly emerged from whistleblowers about the shooting, the City steadfastly refused to release the video. Once the Mayor—and those who supported him—were clear of the April 2015 election, the City Council agreed to pay the family of the young man $5 million, with the further caveat that the video not be released. But an independent reporter sued and, over a year after the shooting, finally forced the City to release the footage.

This video would’ve made national news, whenever it was released. But for the people of Chicago and of Illinois, it’s not merely the killing but the cover-up that has shaken us. This incident has laid bare how far our elected officials will go to protect the established political power structure in our state.

State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez was informed of the relevant facts and had the video much earlier, but decided to charge the officer involved 13 months later, only after she knew that the video would be released. Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office dragged its feet on enforcing the Freedom of Information Act against the City of Chicago to release of the video, even allowing the City to violate Illinois law in thwarting the legal review process under the Act. And when Madigan’s office did finally issue a decision, it was issued as “non-binding,” which against the City of Chicago, meant the decision was not worth the paper it was printed on.

Mayor Emanuel has now fired the police superintendent and is trying to focus the attention on State’s Attorney Alvarez, who is up for re-election in March 2016. However, it’s reported that Speaker Mike Madigan will support Alvarez in the next election, so as to shore up his Latino and suburban Cook County vote.

In any other structure, whether public or private, you’d fire every single person involved and start over. But not in Illinois. At least not up to this point in Illinois.

Fortunately, the people are outraged. The press is on the attack. Some have urged “calm” in the wake of this video, but that’s not quite right. Peaceful, yes, but we should not be “calm.” Any person with a conscience and a sense of right and wrong should be furious about this entire situation: both the tragic unnecessary killing of a human being, and the deep corruption of a political system to the point that people will do anything to protect their power and elective offices.

Moreover, this outrage isn’t—and shouldn’t be—limited to folks in the City of Chicago. The same people who covered up the killing of Laquan McDonald hold vast influence over our entire state and its politics. The way forward from here will not be driven by calm, but by that special sort of righteous anger that drives positive change: the type of feeling and thought which throughout history has inspired political movements and revivals.

We have a long road ahead to turn Illinois around, but it starts with a people who are disgusted by the status quo and ready for a new way.
Here in the 48th Legislative House District, we are fortunate to have some very successful sports programs at our public and private high schools. Last week two of our football teams posted perfect seasons which culminated with State Championships in football. Glenbard West High School topped Libertyville in a 34-28 victory in the Class 7A Championship game held at Northern Illinois University on Saturday, November 28. The Hilltoppers, coached by Sam Brodner finished their impressive season 14-0, and the championship on the 28th marked the school’s third State Football Championship.

Montini Catholic High School also finished a dream season this year with a 14-0 record, claiming the Class 6A Title in a convincing 38-15 victory over Crete-Monee. It was the football team’s first perfect season in the program’s 48-year history. The team is coached by Chris Andriano.
Congratulations to all of the athletes and coaches from both of these special teams!

Last week, I had the pleasure of presenting Montini President James Segredo with a House Resolution congratulating the staff, faculty, alumni, parents and students of Montini Catholic High School on the 50th anniversary of the high school.

Breen Participates in Nativity Scene Dedication Ceremony at State Capitol
On Tuesday, my wife and I attended the dedication ceremony for the State Capitol’s Nativity Scene, which can be found in the first floor rotunda. The nativity scene, depicting the newborn Christ Child lying in a manger, and a Christmas Tree that stands two stories tall,
provide perspective during difficult days for Illinois. It was my honor to speak at the dedication event. The display is open to the public during normal business hours throughout December. If your holiday travels bring you near Springfield, please try to find time to see the display in the rotunda. My thanks go out to the Springfield Nativity Scene Committee for bringing this symbol of this sacred season to the Illinois Capitol.

Unemployment Insurance Reforms Receive Bipartisan House Support
In a rare showing of bipartisanship in Springfield, lawmakers in the house gave final approval on Wednesday to sweeping reforms to the Illinois Unemployment Insurance Act. The reforms, agreed to jointly by the Governor, the business community, and labor organizations, represent a significant step forward to strengthen the backbone of our economy, innovators and entrepreneurs. HB 1285 received unanimous support by the 110 legislators in attendance. Specifically, HB 1285 prevents a $470 million tax increase on employers by eliminating a scheduled increase in employer contributions that would have taken effect in 2016. The legislation also eliminates the Social Security Offset to provide greater security to elderly and disabled workers, and strengthens the misconduct provisions to ensure greater protections to employers.

On Wednesday the House also sent over to the Senate a bill that would allow Motor Fuel Tax receipts and funding for 9-1-1 service to flow to municipalities and townships. The language, which was presented as an amendment to SB 2039, also included funding for lottery winners and for programs that serve veterans and battered women, for low income energy assistance programs, and for mental health services for vulnerable citizens. The bill now awaits “concurrence” by the Senate, and I’m told they will convene early next week to approve the bill. Governor Rauner has already said he will sign it when it lands on his desk. These two successes in Springfield this week show us all what is possible when lawmakers work in a bipartisan manner. Hopefully it is a sign of things to come.

Breen Reminds Citizens to Sign Up For Email Renewal Notices
In October, Secretary of State Jesse White announced that his office was suspending the mailing out of vehicle registration renewal reminders to the public due to the lack of a state budget. By using this link you can register for email reminder notices that will provide an alert when your vehicle registration sticker is about to expire.

I have filed legislation that would prohibit the Secretary of State’s office from issuing late fees during this time, because I do not believe Illinois residents should be penalized for lawmakers’ inability to approve a budget. In the meantime, I strongly encourage you to sign up for the email notifications right away. You will need to locate and have handy your annual vehicle registration document, which contains your "Registration ID" and "PIN," usually located in the top right corner of the registration document. If you receive an email reminder, that will also include the PIN number for on-line renewal of vehicle registration stickers. Click here to view an FAQ about to this issue.