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Harmon: Phil Rock was a devoted public servant and a giant in state politics

PhilRockSen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) issued the following statement today about former Illinois Senate President Phil Rock, who has died at age 78.

“Phil Rock is a giant in Illinois politics. His ability to get things done and his unerring sense of fairness should be the standard to which all of us in politics hold ourselves,” Harmon said. “I will always be grateful for his kindness, his decency and his sense of duty to encourage young people to engage in politics. He devoted his public life to make Illinois a better and more humane place for all of us, and he succeeded.”

Rock was an Illinois state senator representing Illinois' 8th District, including Oak Park and parts of Chicago's west side, from 1970 until his retirement in 1993. He was president of the Illinois Senate from 1979 to 1993.

Harmon: Important to continue reassessing juvenile justice guidelines

GavelIt is vital that government continues reassessing how it handles juvenile justice, Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) said Thursday in response to two high-profile developments on that front this week.

President Obama on Monday announced plans to reform the federal prison system by banning solitary confinement for juvenile inmates and expanding mental health treatment for them. Illinois abandoned solitary confinement for juveniles last year.
In addition, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling this week found that a 2012 decree barring automatic life terms for young offenders also applies to past crimes.

The ruling reinforces a 2014 Illinois Supreme Court decision that mandatory life sentences for juveniles are unconstitutional.

In 2015, Harmon negotiated and sponsored legislation last year that became law giving Illinois judges more discretion when they hand down sentences for minors accused of serious crimes.

“If we really care about fairness and second chances, we must be willing to regularly re-evaluate sentencing guidelines and other criminal justice policies, especially with regard to young offenders,” Harmon said. “Whenever it is sensible, prudent and possible to give people a chance to redeem themselves and become good neighbors, we should seize those opportunities.”

Harmon votes to fund college MAP grants

College ClassroomSen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) was among the lawmakers who voted Thursday to fund Illinois’ college tuition assistance program and ease the worries of thousands of low- and middle-income students who’ve been left to flounder because of the state budget stalemate.

Senate Bill 2043 would release more than $397 million for Illinois Monetary Assistance Program grants for students who can’t afford the cost of college on their own. The MAP grants have been held up for months because of the stalemate, leaving struggling students to seek financial help elsewhere or put their education on hold.

“Although this does little to advance a budget, it does ensure the state lives up to the promise it made to support young people who want to stay in college but can’t afford to do so on their own,” Harmon said. “I urge the governor to sign SB 2043 into law as soon as possible and then refocus his attention on negotiating a state budget in good faith with lawmakers.”

Senate Bill 2043 does the following:

• Authorizes $397.1 million for the MAP program, an increase of $32 million over the previous fiscal year. Last year MAP grants were provided to about 128,000 low-income college students. The increase this year would enable an additional 15,000 eligible students to attend college.
• Provides more than $260 million for operations at community colleges throughout the state.
• Provides nearly $14 million to support operations at the City Colleges of Chicago.
• Provides $49.8 million for statewide career and technical education, as well as GED programs.

The bill passed in both houses of the legislature. It now goes to Gov. Bruce Rauner for his signature.

Sen. Harmon: Governor ignores effect of budget impasse on business climate

Harmon SOTS 01272016Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) issued the following statement in response to the governor’s 2016 State of the State speech:

“Gov. Rauner’s focus on economic development in Illinois is odd given that the budget impasse under his leadership is harming businesses and stifling economic growth faster than anything or anyone else ever could. Passing a state budget must be the governor’s top priority. Without a budget, businesses will continue to view Illinois as a risky place to invest.”

Harmon: State budget crisis, not Chicago takeover, should be GOP's priority

Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) today called on Republican leaders in the General Assembly to focus on solutions to the state’s budget crisis rather than proposing such ill-conceived ideas as a state takeover of the finances of the City of Chicago and Chicago Public Schools.

“Illinois’ own well-documented fiscal problems deserve the full, undivided attention of GOP leaders and Gov. Bruce Rauner right now,” Harmon said. “If Illinois under Gov. Rauner’s leadership can’t find a way to fund basic human services and grants promised to needy college students, it’s certainly in no position to take over Chicago Public Schools.”

Harmon’s remarks are in response to a proposal backed by Republican leaders Sen. Christine Radogno and Rep. Jim Durkin that would allow an emergency takeover over the finances of the City of Chicago and Chicago Public Schools. The proposal also would give the city and the school district the ability to declare bankruptcy – a major component of Gov. Rauner’s controversial agenda for state and local governments.

Harmon noted the irony of Republican leaders who are defenders of local control touting a plan that would wrest local control from Chicago taxpayers.

“Notably, Republicans are the ones who put the control of Chicago’s public schools in the hands of the mayor back in 1995,” Harmon said. “The Republicans are strong proponents of local control except when they’re not.”