State Sen. Jason Barickman says 2021 “has been a tough year” in Springfield.

He was in Watseka just before Christmas and talked with some business people at that time. He noted that while there are some concerns there are also some positive things going on in the state.

He first addressed some of his concerns.

“We’ve seen significant changes to some very controversial laws dating back to almost a year ago when Gov. (JB) Pritzker really led an effort to change the laws regarding how police interact with criminals. I thought that was a very significant change that unfortunately will result in communities becoming less safe. It’s resulted in it being more difficult to recruit people into law enforcement. My point being it’s a very significant shift in public policy.

“We saw that more recently regarding changes to the abortion laws and whether a minor needs to provide notice to her parents before she would obtain an abortion. We saw changes to the Healthcare Right of Conscious Act as a result of the governor’s executive orders. I think it’s been a tough year. I think we’ve seen some big shifts in policies and I’m concerned about a number of those.”

He said people all over Illinois “are very concerned about where Illinois has situated itself. I think there’s ongoing concerns about the manner in which the governor is making these decisions in response to COVID. When COVID started I don’t envy anyone who would be in position of being governor of a state. But Gov. Pritzker has really chosen to make decisions in his own vacuum. He’s not embraced the Legislature. Those of us who represent our constituents are expected to vote on measures and work across the aisle to bring solutions together. As we’ve come through COVID those opportunities haven’t existed. The Legislature hasn’t considered items related to COVID. It’s just been the governor’s show. He’s making the decisions. Some people agree with his decisions, some don’t. To me, the entire process is fatally flawed when the Legislature doesn’t even have a vote on those things. “ Barickman said this has been the case since COVID really started.

He cited an example decisions affecting school districts.

“I think school districts working with their local health departments are very well-equipped to make the best choices for their community, how their teachers and their students interact and attend classes. Instead you’ve seen this quite contrary approach where the governor says ‘here’s the rules, they apply to all 850 some school districts. It doesn’t matter whether you are in Chicago, the suburbs, Kankakee, Watseka or elsewhere. It’s the same rules. I think that has been received with considerable amount of frustration from the people on the ground.”

Barickman said there are number of things that have been set aside to help in response to COVID. “Schools have been facing challenges of teacher shortages, lack of technology, to the extent the state can help with funds to address those things. That’s positive. People locally who are navigating COVID at home or through an employer can contact me and I’m glad to help them with whatever resources we might find available for them. We want to be an easy resource for them. They don’t need to know all the answers, just call me and we’ll try to help them sort it out.”

Looking ahead to 2022, Barickman said there are positive notes. “Illinois finances are in a much better position today than they have been in previous years. That’s much to do with the federal stimulus dollars coming to the state and rescuing us from our own historical decisions. But it is good news in that it helps plug the budget holes that existed. I think next year should be a good budget year and that’s a positive for schools and local health providers and others who rely on the state for dollars.

“I think next year will be a better budget year. I think the out years two an three years from now we’re going to see again some of the budget issues we have in the past, but I think the immediate is more positive. Next year is an election year. I think there’s going to be a ton of attention on that. That’s usually not good.

“I think the national swings are going to impact Illinois. Republicans are anticipated to have a really big year across the country. I think that will play out in Illinois. I’m hopeful that I’ll have more allies in the Legislature as a result of next year’s election but it remains to be seen.”

Barickman and the other legislators are all up for election in 2022 due to redistricting that happens every 10 years. He said his 53rd District did change but not in the Iroquois County area. “It’s already a very large district and it becomes even larger. As you head west of Iroquois, the district stretches further to the north including into Grundy and Will counties.”

Other issues of note, Barickman said, “I hope that we can see less divisiveness soon. I think not only me personally, but people all around the country, would appreciate a country that is less polarized and less divisive. That’s on all of us who are both in office and the people who are casting ballots to advocate for that.

“Not everything is doom and gloom in Illinois. I hope that people will recognize that. There have been instances that we have demonstrated that we can work together and those are positives. There’s a giant success story coming out of Bloomington which is the Rivian Auto manufacturer. Rivian is a competitor of Telsa, it’s an electric vehicle manufacturer. We helped to bring them to Illinois under the (former Gov. Bruce) Rauner administration. A bit of a Hail Mary. They were a startup and we kind of see how it goes. They are becoming very successful and employing lost of people throughout Central Illinois. They are bringing people to Illinois. We recently came together in bipartisan manner to pass legislation to bring other types of manufacturers to Illinois. That’s positive stuff and I hope we can see more of that. Bringing companies to Illinois to put people to work I think we can’t do enough of that.”

Barickman said that agriculture is also very important to the economy. “Hopefully everyone had a good year and a safe year. I think ag continues to be the backbone of our state. I think the ag industry is filled with lots of small business owners. The goal, like with other small business owners, is to provide a stable and predictive environment for which they can do their job without government overreach. I think we’ve done an OK job at that. I think we could do a better job with estate taxes which really harm farm families and small business owners. We haven’t been able to as make much progress there as I’d like but the desire continues to exist there. Overall I think the ag industry is a wildly important component to the state. I think for all the accusations I make of some of my colleagues of being harmful to business I’m hopeful they recognize that the ag industry is one they ought to leave alone as best they can and let those farmers and others just do what they are doing, which is providing an important resource for all of us.”

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