Newly-minted state Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch visited the Forest Park Public Library on April 4, to give constituents a summary of what’s happening in Springfield, his new legislative home.

Guns and the pension crisis took up much of the legislators’ time during their session, which ended for spring break last week.

A handful of audience members were present to ask Welch questions. He also mentioned legislation he’s proposing and working on, including mandatory full-day kindergarten throughout the state.

Welch is also asking the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District to pay for flood damage to private property in Proviso. Welch’s agenda includes a statewide witness protection program for those who testify in gang trials, as well as a reciprocal gang-activity agreement between schools and local police departments.

He also hopes to bring two job fairs to Proviso, one specifically for ex-offenders.


Welch said the new state reps have been immersed in the pension crisis, with pension reform eating most of the time the legislators spend in session — “two out of four days a week.”

For every dollar in taxes paid by Illinois corporations, individual income tax payers pay $7.50. Still, Welch thinks the state will change the way Illinois taxes are paid. He predicts a graduated income tax by May 2014, since Illinois is one of seven states with a flat tax. Welch warned that if pension reform doesn’t take place in the next legislative session, the state will end up spending more on pensions than K-12 education for the entire state.


Conceal-carry gun legislation


Guns are also a hot topic in Springfield since the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a ban on concealed carry laws in Illinois. “We will have concealed carry by May 31, so we have to decide how it will look,” Welch said. More than 50 amendments have already been made to the gun bill, Welch said. Some of those include forbidding guns in libraries, hospitals, schools, restaurants and bars and on mass transit. Welch said he was supporting a movement to “title guns, like you have for car titles” and requirements to report a lost or stolen gun within 72 hours.


All-day kindergarten statewide


Welch said he was working on legislation (House Bill 2405) to make all-day kindergarten mandatory throughout the state.

“Just because I’m no longer on the board doesn’t mean I’ve lost my passion for education,” said Welch, a former school board president for Proviso Township High School District 209. He acknowledged that River Forest, which is now in his district, had rejected plans for full-day kindergarten because of space and cost.

“We are trying to have a funding mechanism for it so it won’t be an unfunded mandate,” Welch said.


Water Reclamation District to pay for Proviso flooding?


Welch told the town hall audience that he was sponsoring a bill (HB1049) to have the water reclamation district of Chicago pay for flood damage to homes in Proviso. Welch said an official with the district had asked him for a meeting with public works directors from Proviso Township to understand the scope of the flooding. “Every other year we have a 100-year flood,” Welch said. “It’s time to put them on the hook.”

Forest Park Public Works Director John Doss will meet representatives from the district, along with other Proviso directors, at Welch’s office on April 22.

“I’m interested to see what [MWRD reps] have to say,” Doss said. “Anything that helps [with flooding] is welcome.”

Witness protection and gang reporting

Two gang and crime-related pieces of legislation are being sponsored by Welch. HB1139 will propose an Illinois state witness protection program for people who testify in gang crimes. Welch called it “an extra tool to help people tell us what they know about criminal activity.”

Welch also proposed HB 2768, which will help police and school districts engage in voluntary two-way communication regarding gang events.


Jobs in Proviso, ex-offender help


When asked about job creation in Proviso, Welch announced that a jobs fair for Proviso residents will take place June 5 at the Broadview Park District. An event for ex-offenders, sponsored by Summit of Hope, will take place June 13 at Proviso West High School Field House. According to Welch, the event will help ex-offenders find “gainful employment if they have a background.” The event, he added, helps people with criminal records to line up services, including job training and job opportunities. Welch estimated the fair could draw between 1,500 and 2,000 people. “I know my constituents,” he said.


Gay marriage


Finally, Welch said he is interested in constituent views on gay marriage.

“My office gets lots of phone calls every day overwhelmingly against gay marriage, and I get lots of long emails in favor of gay marriage,” Welch said, adding that he thinks the calls were related to a phone campaign led by Rev. James Meeks of Salem Baptist Church in Chicago. Meeks is also a former state senator. Welch said really wants to know what constituents think about the issue.

Jean Lotus loves community journalism. She covers news, features, two school boards, village council, crime, park district and writes obits for Forest Park Review. She also covers the police beat for...

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