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Senator Harmon's budget presentation


General Assembly approves plan to streamline international adoptions

AdoptionFamilies who seek to adopt children from foreign countries face many challenges: They are subject to intense scrutiny by the federal government to determine if they are fit parents, they face substantial financial cost for travel and adoption fees, and they often turned to adoption because of stressful fertility issues.

In Illinois, they face another challenge: A state bureaucrat who must approve the adoption, even though they already have federal authorization.

A measure to get rid of this duplicative position passed the General Assembly today.

The proposed law also streamlines Illinois’ process for officially recording foreign adoptions, making adopted children U.S. citizens and giving parents the right to change their children’s names. To gain these benefits, children must be re-adopted in the U.S., and domestic adoption laws are governed by the states rather than the federal government.

“There are so many children in this world who need good homes,” said state Senator Don Harmon (D-Oak Park), the measure’s sponsor. “We can reduce families’ stress and save the state money by getting rid of unneeded bureaucrats.”

Read more: General Assembly approves plan to streamline international adoptions

Cook County Drug field testing plan could save millions, reduce jail time

Drug TestingA plan that could help Cook County cut costs and keep people out of jail has passed the General Assembly. It establishes a field drug testing program in the county, similar to those employed in all other counties in Illinois.

In 2010, Cook County released more than 5,000 defendants accused of drug-related crimes after determining there was no probable cause for their arrests. Each day these men and women sat in jail cost county taxpayers $143. It cost them and their families even more from lost time at work and the anguish of having a loved one in jail. Many of these offenders came from low-income families that could not afford to post bail.

“Field testing could save Cook County a ton of money and help keep people who don’t need to be in jail at their jobs and with their families,” said State Senator Don Harmon (D-Oak Park), the measure’s sponsor. “We owe it to the taxpayers to see if this program, which is already used in the rest of the state, can work here.”

Read more: Cook County Drug field testing plan could save millions, reduce jail time

Illinois General Assembly moves to address juvenile sentencing concerns

Harmon on youth sentencingThree years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that sentencing a minor to a mandatory life sentence with no possibility of parole was unconstitutional. Since then, the General Assembly has been working to update Illinois’ juvenile sentencing laws.

This week, it sent a plan to the governor that Senator Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) negotiated between state’s attorneys, criminal justice reform groups and other stakeholders. It essentially gives judges more discretion when they hand down sentences for minors accused of serious crimes like murder and rape.

“The simple fact is that we needed to bring Illinois’ law in line with the court’s decision,” said Harmon. “It’s also the right thing for us to do, to permit judges to tailor juvenile sentences to fit the crime.”

Read more: Illinois General Assembly moves to address juvenile sentencing concerns

Harmon sponsors legislation for Oak Park residents

LawnChemicalSignEvery year, state Senator Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) has dozens of residents from communities throughout the area come to him with ideas for legislation. This year, two of the measures he introduced on behalf of Oak Park residents cleared the Illinois Senate and are now up for debate in the House of Representatives.

One was inspired by senior citizen homeowners and Ali El Saffar, the Oak Park Township Assessor, who met with the Senator in his Oak Park office. The proposal establishes a floor, or minimum benefit, in the so-called “senior freeze” tax program. The senior freeze is designed to mitigate the impact of rising property taxes on low income seniors living on fixed incomes. However, in recent years and in the face of fluctuating real estate values, it has not worked as intended.

“Oak Park senior citizens came to my office, concerned that their taxes were increasing dramatically and that they were getting little or no savings from the senior freeze,” El Saffar explained. “This conversation gave rise to an idea that all seniors eligible for the freeze should receive some savings from the program. Working with Senator Harmon, we gathered support and put together data demonstrating the impact of our minimum freeze proposal on the tax base. I am pleased that the Illinois Senate has overwhelmingly passed this bill, and hope that the House will soon follow suit.”

The other legislation is meant to benefit Illinois residents who are concerned about pesticides. Many families try to keep their children and pets inside whenever their neighbors treat their lawns. Illinois law requires professional pesticide applicators to post notices on one front corner of their clients’ lawns. Neighbors whose properties meet along back boundaries have no way to know when lawn care services have put down dangerous substances.

Read more: Harmon sponsors legislation for Oak Park residents