The Chicago Sun-Times sent the candidates seeking nominations for the Illinois House of Representatives a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the state of Illinois.
Before the March primary, Democrat Elizabeth “Lisa” Hernandez, running in the 24th district, submitted the following answers to our questionnaire. Hernandez is uncontested in the general election.
Please explain what your specific cause or causes will be. Please avoid a generic topic or issue in your answer.
Hernandez: Our families and our communities are under attack by Donald Trump and his extreme Republican allies. Now more than ever, the actions of Illinois’ leaders must be clear statements of our values; we must show Trump that his bigotry has no place in our communities, and make Illinois a firewall against his agenda that serves the ultra-wealthy at the expense of middle-class and struggling families.
As Trump is focused on further enriching himself, Bruce Rauner and their billionaire buddies, Illinois must remain focused on lifting up working families. We can start by reforming the regressive tax code in the state constitution to finally force millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share. A fair, progressive income tax can hold the ultra-wealthy accountable, while also providing relief to middle-class and struggling families.
This past year, I voted to fix our broken school funding system and invest hundreds of millions of dollars in new funding in our local schools. A fair tax will further ensure every student has access to a world-class education, and prepare them for good-paying jobs in the future. We need to make college more affordable, which is why I am fighting for a plan that would make college in Illinois debt-free, and also expand apprenticeship and job training opportunities.
I’ve stood up to Trump’s extreme health care plan by passing state-level protections that will ensure no person is denied care because of a pre-existing condition regardless of what Trump and his allies in Washington do. But we need to go further. I support a state-level public health care option that would ensure everyone has access to quality, affordable health care, while providing an alternative to the greedy insurance companies that deny care and raise our premiums to pad their profits.
We can and should do more to create jobs. While Trump and Rauner think the only way to create jobs is to cut middle-class wages and strip away workplace protections, I’m focused on growing our economy while also lifting up hard-working families. We need to make the minimum wage into a living wage, which is why I voted for a $15 minimum wage. We need to make smart investments in businesses that invest in Illinois, which is why I support a plan that will provide tax credits for employers who create jobs in our community while banning any taxpayer-funded deals for businesses that pad their profits by shipping jobs overseas.
We need to stand up to Trump and his extreme allies in the National Rifle Association and enact common sense gun safety laws that will keep our families safer. I voted to ban deadly ‘bump stock’ modifications like those used by the Las Vegas shooter to turn an arsenal of military-style assault rifles into even deadlier fully automatic machine guns. I’m fighting to ban on military-style assault rifles, require universal background checks, and enact common sense licensing requirements on gun dealers.
We must meet the failed Trump-Rauner agenda with progressive reform. For as long as I have the opportunity to represent my community in the Capitol, I will be fighting for our jobs, our schools, our health, our safety and our families.
Who is Elizabeth “Lisa” Hernandez?
Her legislative District: 24
Her political/civic background: Democratic
Her occupation: Full Time Legislator
Please list three district-specific needs that will be your priorities. This could be a project that is needed in your district, or a rule that needs to be changed, or some federal matter that has been ignored.
- Passing the Access Bill and VOICES Act is critical for constituents in my district. These bills together will provide ease of mind to thousands of families and give an opportunity to all at achieving the American dream.
- The Paseo Trail being built in Little Village will provide much needed green space, traffic mitigation, and sense of community for an area that needs it. This trail will give families and children a place to enjoy while acting as an a shortcut for bikers and pedestrians.
- Being engaged and making sure that social service agencies continue to receive the critical funding they need to serve our residents.
In 2017, Illinois’ unfunded pension liability ballooned to at least $130 billion. Do you support re-amortizing this debt? Please explain your answer. And what is your position on a constitutional amendment that would reduce the liability of the pension debt?
Hernandez: These and so many of the financial issues facing the state don’t exist in a vacuum, and I believe they should be addressed comprehensively starting with a fair, progressive income tax system that makes the ultra-wealthy pay their fair share while providing relief for middle-class and struggling families. Unlike extreme Republicans who want a constitutional amendment to cut retirement benefits middle-class families have worked so hard to earn, I think we need a fair tax amendment that help Illinois meet its obligations to hardworking teachers, nurses, firefighters, and others who serve our communities, while also providing necessary funds for critical services people depend on.
I’m open to ways to refinance the state’s pension debt, but would need to see the final proposal to ensure it makes good fiscal sense and also evaluate the likely interest rates and market returns. I do not support the constitutional amendments being pushed by extreme Republicans that would cut retirement benefits middle-class families have worked so hard to earn.
Cook County and Chicago are on their way to paying a $13 hourly minimum wage. Many suburbs in the county, however, have opted out of the wage increase. Should Illinois raise its minimum wage from $8.25 an hour? Please explain. And if you favor an increase in the state minimum wage, what should it be?
Hernandez: It is entirely unacceptable that anyone could work 40 hours a week for starvation wages. We need to make the minimum wage a living wage, which is why I voted to raise the state’s minimum wage every year until it reaches $15 per hour. This package also contained tax credits that will help small employers provide their employees with a living wage.
Ultimately, a fair minimum wage should keep up with the cost of living, otherwise working families’ wages will continue to stagnate while CEOs continue to give themselves more and more lucrative pay. I would support a minimum wage indexed to inflation, provided it contained assurances that wages could not fall during a recession or economic downturn.
Should recreational marijuana be legalized in Illinois? Please explain.
Hernandez: I believe a smarter approach to marijuana policy could provide additional funding for critical health, education and public safety programs, while saving taxpayers millions of dollars we currently spend imprisoning non-violent offenders. Moreover, legalizing and regulating marijuana will cut into the influence and reach of gangs, ultimately keeping our communities safer.
Would you support more casinos in Illinois, including in Chicago. What about racinos? Please explain.
Hernandez: While I would have to see the final details on any plan, I support reasonable expansions of gambling that create jobs and generate new revenue that can be used to improve our schools and expand access to health care. Hawthorn Racecourse is a significant employer in the southwest suburbs, so I would support measures that would help them protect jobs and potentially expand.
A property tax freeze in Illinois has been proposed frequently since Gov. Bruce Rauner took office. What’s your position? If you favor a freeze, how many years should it last? Should the freeze exclude property tax increases to service the debt, make pension payments or cover the cost of public safety? Again, please explain.
Hernandez: I strongly support property tax relief for middle-class families, and I’ve repeatedly voted to freeze property taxes and go even further by cutting property taxes for middle-class homeowners, seniors and veterans. Unfortunately, the governor has been unwilling to support real property tax relief that doesn’t include additional provisions intended to undermine the middle class and make it harder for local police and fire fighters to negotiate for fair, safe working conditions. I’m going to continue fighting for property tax relief that provides real relief for middle-class and elderly homeowners. Ideally, such a plan should include protections that will ensure at-risk school districts are not adversely affected, and ensure all pension and debt obligations are met.
A revised school funding formula was approved this year by the Legislature and the governor, but a bipartisan commission has concluded that billions more dollars are needed to achieve sufficient and equitable funding. Should Illinois spend more on schools, and where would the money come from?
Hernandez: Every student in Illinois deserves a world-class public education. That’s why in addition to voting to fix Illinois’ broken education funding formula and provide hundreds of millions of dollars in new education funding for our schools, I voted in 2016 to pass a millionaire tax to better fund education. This small surcharge on annual income over $1 million would have provided close to $1 billion every year for our schools. I believe we need to continue to push for a tax system that makes the ultra-wealthy pay their fair share in order to provide funding for our schools, for early childhood education and other programs proven to prepare young people for success.
How can the Legislature best address the problem of opioid abuse and addiction? Please cite specific laws you have supported or would support.
Hernandez: I’ve supported a number of measures that address the heroin and opioid epidemic: I helped pass the Heroin Crisis Act, one of the nation’s most comprehensive responses to the opioid crisis. This measure takes a number of critical steps to expand access to the lifesaving overdose prevention medication Naloxone, train first responders in dealing with an overdose, and expand access to treatment. Other steps I have supported including enacting a “Good Samaritan” law that ensures those who are overdosing or are trying to help someone from overdosing can receive medical treatment without fear of arrest, and requiring prescriptions for the most powerfully addictive drugs come in locked bottles.
While these are critical steps, there is more work to be done. Tragically, as opioid abuse has skyrocketed in Illinois, Governor Rauner chose to hold critical funding for addition treatment hostage. I worked with Republicans and Democrats to end the governor’s budget crisis, and provide critical funding for addition treatment. We need to continue to expand access to treatment and reduce the stigma associated with addition.
A comprehensive approach to heroin and opioid addition will also require Illinois to reinvest in communities desperately in need of new jobs and educational opportunities. Making the minimum wage into a living wage, expanding access to job training and apprenticeship programs, and ensuring everyone has access to a world-class education need to be part of this discussion as well.
Do you support a state ban on gun silencers? Please explain.
Hernandez: Yes. The daily sound of gunfire is already an all-to-common part of life for so many. The idea that a gunman could be shooting near our children and we’d have no warning is even more terrifying. It’s unacceptable that the extreme NRA and Republican politicians’ response to the thousands of shootings in the Chicagoland area over the past year is to push legislation that will make it easier for dangerous criminals to have guns in our community without us knowing it. That’s why I voted against an effort to legalize silencers (Senate Bill 206) in 2016.
Should all gun dealers in Illinois be licensed by the state? Please explain.
Hernandez: Yes. Illinois licenses businesses that sell alcohol and tobacco, car dealerships, real estate agents, and even beauty salons, but the extreme National Rifle Association and their Republican allies oppose even the simplest regulation on stores selling deadly firearms. Gun dealers should be held to the same standards we hold other businesses to, and more. Illinois can, and should, enact stronger restrictions that ban the sale of deadly, military-style assault rifles and keep those who are a threat to themselves and others from obtaining guns, but above all we also need to ensure that gun sellers are following the law to the letter, conducting all required background checks, cracking down on straw purchasers, and keeping their stores secure to prevent guns from being stolen. I am a sponsor of the gun dealer-licensing bill currently in the House (Senate Bill 1657) and will continue to demand stricter gun safety laws.
Should family members be empowered to petition courts for the temporary removal of guns from emotionally or mentally disturbed people who may be a danger to themselves or others? Please explain.
Hernandez: Yes. Family members are often the first to see the warning signs of crime and self-harm before a tragedy occurs. They need to be empowered to take action on behalf of their loved ones and our communities. I am a sponsor of House Bill 2354, which would allow family members to ask a court to temporarily seize guns from individuals who can be proven in court to be a threat to themselves or others.
What would you do to ensure the long-term viability of the state’s Medicaid program? Do you support continued Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act? Should the state continue on a path toward managed care for Medicaid beneficiaries? Should everyone be permitted to buy into Medicaid?
Hernandez: Health care is a fundamental human right, and a strong Medicaid system is absolutely necessary to ensuring everyone in our communities has access to high-quality, affordable medical care. Illinois needs to be a firewall against Donald Trump’s extreme cuts to our health care, but Bruce Rauner is trying to force the Trump agenda on our communities and our families by refusing to stand up to Trump’s extreme health care plan, and pushing his own destructive Medicaid privatization scheme. I oppose the governor’s privatization plan, which is nothing more than a handout to greedy insurance companies at a cost to taxpayers that the administration cannot even accurately estimate. Handing Medicaid over to private insurers could mean less access to care and higher premiums for all insurance consumers.
In addition to supporting the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, I believe we should go further by enacting a public option that will allow individuals to buy into Medicaid should be a priority; a state-level public option would ensure all residents have access to affordable, lifesaving care while also strengthening the state’s Medicaid system and provide much-needed competition and alternatives to greedy, for-profit insurance companies that make billions every year by raising our premiums and denying care.
Illinois is one of the largest exporters of college students in the country. What would you do to encourage the best and brightest young people in Illinois to attend college here at home? Does Illinois have too many state universities, as some have argued?
Hernandez: The first and most critical step is to properly invest in our colleges, universities and financial aid system. Bruce Rauner’s budget crisis slashed funding for higher education by billions of dollars. He also blocked funding for need-based financial aid for more than 700 days, forcing some of our most promising young people to relocate to states whose governors recognize that today’s students are tomorrow’s job creators and innovators, and take steps to make college more affordable. I stood with a bipartisan group of lawmakers who stood up to the governor and ended his budget crisis by voting to properly fund higher education and financial aid.
To make Illinois truly competitive for students, we must also address the student debt crisis that makes college unaffordable for so many and locks many into a lifetime of debt. I voted for a plan that would make college in Illinois debt-free for any student who earns a B-average of better. There is more work to be done, and I’ll continue fighting to make college affordable in Illinois, and encourage future economic development in Illinois.
Please list three of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s principles, or decisions he has made, with which you agree. Also please list three of the governor’s principles, or decisions he has made, with which you disagree.
Hernandez: Although I don’t approve of some of the extreme partisan groups the governor has chosen to support more recently, I appreciate the instances in which Bruce and Diana Rauner have chosen to use part of their wealth to support groups within our communities that are doing good work to provide educational opportunities to young people and provide health care to those in need. But this is also what I, like so many others, have found profoundly disappointing about his leadership: Governor Rauner held these same critical services hostage to enact an extreme anti-middle class agenda.
I’ve been very clear that I will always be ready to work with anyone who is willing to work in good faith to address the issues that matter most to the people of my community, and on the instances in which the governor has been willing to set aside his extreme agenda we have found success. I was pleased when Governor Rauner chose to stand with me and sign the TRUST Act, which bars Donald Trump’s deportation officers from targeting Latino families in schools, hospitals, churches and other places where all families should feel safe. The governor also stood with us to protect women’s most personal medical decisions from Donald Trump’s extreme agenda.
But the governor has notably refused to lead when leadership would require him to stand up to Trump’s plans to benefit the ultra-wealthy at the expense of Illinois’ middle-class families. Rauner applauded Trump’s plan to strip health care coverage from millions of Illinois families, and Trump’s tax scheme, which is nothing more than a bailout for billionaires like Trump and Rauner at the expense of the middle class.
This refusal to lead demonstrates why legislators must continue to push for progressive reforms that protect our families from the Trump-Rauner agenda.
Ahead of the historic 2018 elections, the Sun-Times is teaming up weekly with the Better Government Association, in print and online, to fact-check the truthfulness of the candidates. You can find all of the PolitiFact Illinois stories we’ve reported together here.