What a difference an election makes, especially after four years of stagnant, tone-deaf, combative leadership at the hands of failed former Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner.
Newly elected Governor J.B. Pritzker is proving to be the antithesis of his predecessor, navigating a path aimed at making progressive and needed changes for Illinois residents.
He hit the ground running with reforms, initiatives and proposed legislation to position the state to be more competitive, while putting its past in the rearview mirror, in hopes of a horizon filled with opportunity and success.
Within days of being sworn in, Pritzker visited Southwestern Illinois College (SWIC) in Belleville to announce the signing of an executive order that will strengthen workforce training in growing industries. This will charge the state’s Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to evaluate labor practices and report its findings within 90 days.
“Our economy is changing, and it is critical that state resources are being used to meet the demands of the 21st century,” Pritzker said. The long-term goal will be to assist colleges, like SWIC, to better prepare students for jobs in growth industries with a high demand for workers.
And, in keeping with his campaign promise to increase the minimum wage, Pritzker is all set to sign into law a $15 hour minimum wage, which would gradually be increased from the current $8.25 per hour rate and phased in over the next six years. It has been passed by both legislative chambers and awaits his signature at press time. This is good news for low-income workers in the Land of Lincoln.
But it doesn’t stop there. Pritzker has established a new “Justice, Equity and Opportunity Initiative” or JEO and has named Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton to head his criminal justice reform initiative.
Here’s why. The state of Illinois spends approximately $1.3 billion a year for the Illinois Department of Corrections to house about 43,000 in a system designed to accommodate only 32,000. So fundamental reform is needed, Stratton said, “because our justice system is not working.”
Some justice reform initiatives will include “bias-free assessment tools” for judges to utilize in determining sentences, enhanced training within the Department of Corrections, as well as better educational programs within the state’s juvenile correctional system.
Beyond prison and juvenile corrections, there will be a thrust toward offering more economic development, while providing more access to professional licenses, state contracting opportunities, education and housing for poorer communities.
It will also call for initiatives to improve relations between law enforcement and communities served by reducing the use of excessive force, civil asset forfeiture and vehicle impoundments, in addition to a push toward the legalization of marijuana.
Pritzker even made up to $100 million in low-interest loans available for federal workers during the recent government shutdown by the Trump administration. Something that Trump didn’t even have the foresight or the empathy to implement.
All of these initiatives require the type of vision, problem-solving skills and leadership that Illinois and the nation have been lacking in recent years. And it’s about time.