Running for: State Representative, 31st District
Political/civic background: State Representative since 1984; received 1993 “Legislator of the Year” award from Illinois Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Association
Occupation: Full time legislator
Education: Kennedy King Community College
The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board sent candidates 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 and their districts. Mary Flowers submitted the following responses:
Please tell us about your civic work in the last two years, whether it’s legislation you have sponsored or work you have done in other ways to improve your community.
This past year one of my main priorities was to move legislation forward on an issue that rarely seems to be talked about in our country, Maternal Mortality. Pregnant women and mothers whom have just given birth are dying at an alarming rate throughout the birthing process. The statistics are even worse for mothers of color who are six times more likely to die due to material mortality than white mothers. This crisis is especially concerning given that US has one of the best healthcare systems in the world.
To begin the conversation on material mortality, last year I introduced a legislative package of which some of the bills are now law. For example, HB 1 & 3, both are now law, will allow information to be gathered and require hospitals to give quarterly reports on material mortality statistics to further help identify areas of concern. But we can also implement solutions right now to begin addressing the problem such as HB 7. This legislation would expand access to Doulas and midwives for lower income and single mothers. The fact of the matter is a Doula or Midwife can not only assist in the birthing process. But can also act as patient advocate when is care of a hospital.
Another thing that I have worked on very recently has been looking into reforms for our property tax system. As the Co-Chair Property Tax Relief Task Force, I spent parts of the summer and fall traveling the state listening to residents on the issue of property taxes. What I witness first hand is that didn’t matter if I was the only Democrat in the room in Coles County or at a quarterly Ward meeting in the 17th Ward. You could close your eyes and people said the same things as to the unfairness in the way we assess our local property taxes.
As a result, I plan on supporting many recommendations issued in the report from the Task Force, including consolidating school districts and duplicative forms of government, as well as changing rules so TIF money is spent in the community it’s leveed from and doesn’t just go to benefit wealthy resident’s downtown.
Please list three concerns that are specific to your district, such as a project that should be undertaken or a state policy related to an important local issue that should be revised.
Many of the concerns I hear about come from residents that I talk to when attending block clubs, public meetings like CAPS, and or local town halls. And while I’ve heard are many more than just three important concerns from constituents, I would state that addressing following issues would do the most good to help the people of the 31st district.
There is an absolute need to make health care and prescription drugs more affordable and accessible. Parts of my district is severely undeserved in many ways; affordable healthcare is one of them.
We need a fairer tax system for middle- and lower-income residents, including reducing the burden on property taxes for said families. In cases such as the assessment of property taxes, Chicago residents living in lower income areas like my district are being over assessed to subsidize other more affluent communities. These wealthier neighborhoods see more stability in the local housing market compared to minority neighborhoods and thus are assessed at a lower rate. While vice versa the instability of our neighborhoods get over assessed.
Finally, we need to continue investing in local public schools and expanding opportunity for students by increasing funding for elementary and secondary education. Expanding access to college financial aid, and improving access to vocation and technical educations will help cover all the bases for those graduating High school. These are a must if we want to see long term growth not just for our state but for our children.
What are your other top legislative priorities?
Given the concerns I have heard from constituents whom I’ve spoken to, many of my additional priorities this past and coming year revolve around issues I’ve heard first hand from constituents.
I have received many complaints from seniors and parents about costs of healthcare and prescription drugs. So I’ve introduced or supported a number of bills that control these costs and prevent artificial inflation of prices due to corporate greed. For instance, I introduced HB 156 that puts stronger oversight on prescription drug prices. I also sponsored and supported SB 667 that caps the price of insulin. And I’m a chief sponsor and supporter of HB 471, which stops insurance companies from surprising families with double-digit premium increases.
I support the Fair Tax Amendment that will make millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share, while providing relief for middle-class and struggling families. I also supported SB 39 which creates the new Property Tax Relief Fund that will provide rebates to homeowners. There is also the establishment of the Property Tax Relief Task Force of which I supported in SB 1932 and became a Co-Chair on. The recommendations and reforms that will be coming from the Task Force will help fix our broken assessment system and provide short-time and long-term relief for homeowners
As to the concerns I get about the children and their education, I have spoken to many teachers, parents, and administrators on how best to strengthen our schools. My support and sponsorship of HB 2267 would give parents and teachers more say with an elected Chicago School Board. I supported a budget last year that added $350 million in new funding for local public schools while also increasing funding for MAP grant to help make higher education more affordable.
What is your position on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed graduated income tax? Please explain.
I supported the Fair Tax because voters in a previous referendum made it clear that millionaires and billionaires need to pay their fair share. Just like our broken property tax system the state’s current flat tax is extremely unfair to working families and places too much of the burden on them. The Fair Tax is a step toward correcting this so our state can balance budgets while provide tax relief for middle-class and struggling families.
That being said, more work still needs to be done to provide tax relief for those that need it most. We need to start moving on real property tax reform for Illinois families as well.
Illinois continues to struggle financially, with a backlog of unpaid bills that tops $6 billion. In addition to a progressive state income tax — or in lieu of such a tax — what should the state do to pay its bills, meet its pension obligations and fund core services such as higher education?
I supported a budget that commits more than $1 billion to paying down the state’s backlog of bills. We accomplished this through our budget working groups with members in both parties going line-by-line through the budget. We made sure to prioritized essential services like lifesaving breast cancer screenings, affordable child care, and health care, while controlling spending. These where not easy decisions but the process has helped reduce the backlog built up during the Rauner budget crisis by billions. We will need to continue making these tough decisions to balance the budget and pay down this backlog.
Should Illinois consider taxing the retirement incomes of its very wealthiest residents, as most states do? And your argument is?
I feel the enacting a Fair Tax is the most significant way of making millionaires and billionaires pay their fair share, while also providing relief to middle-class families.
What can Illinois do to improve its elementary and high schools?
Last year I voted to provide $350 million more to fund local public schools. This will meet and exceed the commitment under the state’s equitable funding formula for education.
Additionally, I am a sponsor of HB 2267, which would create an elected Chicago School Board. I also sponsored an HB 2275 that requires board members to justify any school closures to families. And finally, we can further improve our schools with smaller class sizes, and equitable access to nurses and social workers in our public schools.
Mass shootings and gun violence plague America. What can or should the Legislature do, if anything, to address this problem in Illinois?
We need to pass the Fix the FOID Act. Last year in Aurora, we saw how a criminal with a history of violent behavior was able to buy a gun.
That man should never have been able to own gun, yet he found a loophole and killed five people. Fix the FOID will prevent something like this from happening again by strengthening background checks, closing the ‘gun show’ loophole, and requiring police to confiscate guns from criminals as soon as their privileges are revoked.
With that being said, strong gun safety laws must also be supported by serious efforts to prevent violence in our city. That will come through reinvesting in undeserved communities. I supported a budget that funds community-based violence-prevention programs, of which had their funding cut by Governor Rauner. This led to a major surge in gun violence. Reestablishing the millions in funding to programs like CeaseFire are proven and effective ways to help reduce gun violence in Chicago.
Do you favor or oppose term limits for any elected official in Illinois? Please explain.
I feel that it is the voters who dictate term limits each and every election. That’s why I work hard to ensure people in the district are heard. In fact, a number of my bills are local requests from constituents and organizations. I introduced HB 7 at the request of a Doula who lives in the district. And I introduced HB 156 on behalf of a senior couple that was having issues paying for their prescriptions.
I also have many teachers in my district, that I why you will see me introduce or sponsor a number of bills that teachers are for, because they call me or my office on a daily basis.
Everybody says gerrymandering is bad, but the party in power in every state — Democrats in Illinois — resist doing anything about it. Or do we have that wrong? What should be done?
First and foremost, I would like to point out that in the 99th General Assembly I did support HJRCA 58, which established a completely independent process for redistricting. With that in mind I believe that minority voters must be protected and ensure that their voices aren’t silenced. Many Republican-led attempts to change the district drawing process did not include necessary protections to keep majority-minority districts from being diluted by unelected mapmakers.
Ultimately, “fair maps” must be done at the federal level. Every state must play by the same rules, including those Republican-led states that have committed some of the most egregious acts of gerrymandering in history – with the intent of disenfranchising African-American and Latino voters.
Regardless of whether Illinois’ maps are drawn by a commission, by elected lawmakers, or by some combination of those two, the rights of voters of color must be paramount as we’ve seen in other parts of the country Republicans have proactively worked to suppress minority voters through more than just gerrymandering. And it should also be noted that our city also has an unfortunate past when it comes to disenfranchising voters of color.
That being said redistricting is one part of a bigger issue. When we talk about redistricting, we must also to talk about campaign financing reform and as well as increasing voter participation.
The U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago is investigating possible official corruption by state and local officials. This prompted the Legislature to pass an ethics reform measure to amend the Lobbyist Registration Act (SB 1639). It was signed into law in December. What’s your take on this and what more should be done?
SB 1639, of which I supported is a positive step, but more must be done. I also supported for HJR 93, which creates a Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform to conduct an in depth, bipartisan review of the laws governing lobbyists, elected officials and state employees, and make recommendations for comprehensive reforms reduce corruption in Illinois.
Already, this commission has noted glaring disparities in lobbying rules. While lobbyists working in Chicago, Cook County and Springfield are required to register and be up front about who is paying them. Lobbyists being paid to influence local government decisions across the state need to be accounted for and held to the same standard.
As bad actors will always try to exploit loopholes in the system to enrich themselves, Democrats and Republicans need to continue to work together to identify commonsense solutions like this.
When people use the internet and wireless devices, companies collect data about us. Oftentimes, the information is sold to other companies, which can use it to track our movements or invade our privacy in other ways. When companies share this data, we also face a greater risk of identity theft. What should the Legislature do, if anything?
There have been a number of data breaches that occurred in the last few years, which affect millions throughout the country. We must start putting consumer protections in place here at the state level that help put the middle-class first. There’s a need to regulate how corporations profit off of our personal information and how to hold businesses that collect that data accountable for data breaches.
I have no problems participating in these conversations and creating solutions such transparency requirements to help hold accountable companies collecting and selling personal data. Nor am I against establishing fines for those that do fail in protect said personal information.
The number of Illinois public high school graduates who enroll in out-of-state universities continues to climb. What can Illinois do to make its state universities more attractive to Illinois high school students?
The out-migration of students clearly coincided with Bruce Rauners move blocking billions of dollars for our colleges and universities and vetoing MAP Grant funding. We started to fix this issue in the 100th GA by letting students get access MAP Grants for all four years instead of just one year (HB 5020), and also create a new AIM HIGH merit-based grant (SB 2927) to expand even more opportunities for a higher education here in Illinois. During the 101st GA I supported a budget that increases funding for MAP Grants to ensure students that can’t afford college can still attend.
Research shows that the out-migration of all these students has costs Illinois up to an estimated $776 million in tax revenue, not to mention the lost opportunities when these talented individuals go on to create a business or service in another state. In order to continue to counteract what we have lost we need to find ways to make college education more affordable.
Another avenue that can help is to support expanding access to trade, vocation and technical educations such as my legislation, HB 52. Additionally, efforts must be maintained when it comes to investing in our children already attending elementary and secondary education. Encouraging these bright minds to take AP classes and go for dual credits so they are more prepared for college will go a long way to helping them graduate with a degree.
What is your top legislative priority with respect to the environment?
In Previous GA’s I’ve received high marks from the Illinois Environment Council and Sierra Club for my support of environment friendly legislation. The 101st GA is no different. I sponsored and supported SB 1862, that creates one of the most restrictive regulations of the cancer-causing chemical in ethylene oxide. Under this law facilities in the state of Illinois must capture 99.9% of the EtO they produce in order to operate.
However, the top priority for me and my colleagues at this time will be to pass the Clean Energy Jobs Act, HB 3624. This legislation is an effort to bring business and labor organizations together to help clean up our state and create tens of thousands of green jobs in the process. The fundamental goal of the bill is to power our state with 100% renewable energy by 2050.
What historical figure from Illinois, other than Abraham Lincoln (because everybody’s big on Abe), do you most admire or draw inspiration from? Please explain.
Harold Washington – A friend and the first African-American Mayor of Chicago.
What’s your favorite TV, streaming or web-based show of all time. Why?
When I’m not reading a book because my granddaughter is hogging the TV, I generally watch the evening reporting of MSNBC.