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Camille Y. Lilly, Illinois House 78th District Democratic nominee profile

Her top priorities include job training and retraining programs, vocational and technical education and prescription drug costs.

Camille Y. Lilly, Illinois House 78th District Democratic nominee and incumbent, 2020 election candidate questionnaire
Camille Y. Lilly, Illinois House 78th District Democratic nominee and incumbent.
Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Camille Y. Lilly

Running for: 78th District

The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board sent nominees 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. Camille Y. Lilly submitted the following responses:

1. The COVID-19 pandemic has hammered the finances of Illinois. The state is staring at a $6.2 billion budget shortfall in this fiscal year. What should be done? Please be specific.

The COVID-19 crisis has had a profound impact on not only our state’s finances but also the financial and physical health of every family I represent. Over 8,000 Illinoisans have lost their lives to this virus, and stopping the spread and ensuring no more lives are lost has to be our top priority.

The COVID-19 crisis continues to highlight the disparities between communities that have and that have not. People of color and underserved communities have borne the brunt of the crisis from health and financial perspectives. As we look to address budget shortfalls and reevaluate our state’s priorities, it is essential to use this opportunity to support the communities in need of help the most. These decisions are not easy; however, we must focus on the following priorities: fund testing and treatment, housing for persons who lost their housing, employment resources for displaced workers, and support for our small businesses. Services for seniors, especially those living alone; education; and a healthcare system that works for all Illinoisans, must be included in our state’s priorities. COVID-19 related expenses remain a high priority. We also have our usual priorities like education that we cannot lose sight of in light of other pressure points.

I support creating a new task force to provide added state spending oversight powers to ensure that we are funding priorities while not overspending.

2. What grade — “A” to “F” — would you give Gov. J.B. Pritzker for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic? Please explain. What, if anything, should he have done differently?

Overall, I think the governor has done a good job (B) with the knowledge he had available to him at the time – and certainly, hindsight is always 20/20. The governor faces life and death decisions that I do not envy. I appreciate his reliance on the advice of scientists, doctors, medical professionals, and public health experts in making those decisions. While our federal leaders and other state leaders throughout the country seemed to rely on political convenience over science, Illinois avoided that path, and our results show. We now have some experience and data to incorporate into the decision-making process. Moving forward, I would expect the governor to seek the legislature’s input as we craft longer-term plans to cope with this pandemic.

3. In the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, legislatures in some states have taken up the issue of police reform. Should Illinois do the same? If so, what would that look like?

Absolutely. As the Chair of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus-House, police reform will be one of my top priorities as we enter a new legislative session. Brutality against people of color, especially blacks, is not a new issue. Recent events only further highlight the need for immediate action to dismantle systemic racism and an unacceptable lack of accountability that has allowed these atrocities to continue.

Our efforts must be a multi-pronged approach. Every incident involving police misconduct should be independently and thoroughly investigated. In addition to better hiring measures, police officers must receive ongoing training and education on de-escalation, mental health, and nonlethal force use. We have too many bad actors policing citizens in an inequitable way in police departments across the country. We must hold all police officers accountable for their actions because no one is above the law.

4. Should the Legislature pass a law requiring all law enforcement officers to wear body cameras? Why or Why not?

Yes. There is no reason why law enforcement should not be required to not only wear body cameras but also actually turn on. As we look to reform policing, we must look at sanctions that hold every officer accountable for their actions.

5. Federal prosecutors have revealed a comprehensive scheme of bribery, ghost jobs and favoritism in subcontracting by ComEd to influence the actions of House Speaker Michael Madigan. Who’s to blame? What ethics reforms should follow? Should Madigan resign?

The need for ethics reform in Springfield is more extensive than any one person and, as such, should be addressed. Comprehensive reform should include transparency in lobbying, stripping politicians convicted of crimes of their taxpayer-funded benefits, and a greater financial interest disclosure requirement for legislators.

6. 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.

I am the proud Chief Sponsor of HB2265, a Civic Engagement piece of legislation, enacted January 2020. HB2265 puts civic education and engagement back into the schools beginning in the 6th grade. This legislation empowers young and old to engage in their civic responsibility with informed understanding that creates opportunities to engage in change at all government levels, starting in their own communities.

I’m proud to have worked on several important pieces of legislation in the last two years. Notably, I passed the Tobacco 21 law to raise the legal smoking age in Illinois to 21 years old. I spent several years working on this bill, with healthcare advocates, medical professionals, and businesses to negotiate and pass legislation to make Illinois the 7th state to increase the smoking age from 18 to 21. When 4,800 Illinois teens start smoking each year, the impact on public health and particularly the health of our youth cannot be understated.

Additionally, my office and I have been bustling over the last 5+ months to assist local residents and small businesses with COVID-19 relief efforts. Like most communities throughout the state, our district has been hit hard by food insecurity, housing insecurity, unemployment, accessing proper healthcare, and several other challenges relating to COVID-19. I feel humbled to be in a position where I can help people during their most extraordinary times of need. I am incredibly proud of the community I’ve watched come together in support of one another over the last few months.

7. 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.

Building an economy that works for everyone through job training and retraining programs is especially important. So many in our community face a loss of steady employment. We must invest not only in our schools but specifically in vocational and technical education programs in our high schools. Vocational and technical education will introduce students to a variety of lucrative, stable career paths. We also need to address the concerns and needs of the re-entry community. Our returning citizens need and deserve a second chance. They need help to be the productive individuals that so many of them wish to be. Instead of establishing barriers that prevent them from engaging in opportunities, we must think outside the box. If not, we create public health issues for all Illinoisans.

Too often, I hear from seniors struggling to get by. Rising prescription drug costs are a major added expense for many seniors in my district and throughout the state. Our legislative priorities need to include reining in prescription drug costs and capping out-of-pocket costs of lifesaving medications that seniors rely on for their health. We especially need to ensure that seniors have accessible, affordable healthcare options. We must also look at the potential displacement of seniors due to property taxes. We must remember our seniors are the backbone of our communities. We must address their concerns head-on.

In addition to investing in the infrastructure in under-resourced communities throughout the state, we must support small businesses in our communities that were struggling before COVID-19 and now face critical challenges. We need to leverage every federal and state dollar to help our locally owned businesses to succeed, stimulate the economy, and keep our local workers employed. Rebuild Illinois must include our local economy, where everyday people live and prosper.

8. What are your other top legislative priorities?

Investments in fundamental human rights are key to improving the quality of life for all Illinoisans. Healthcare, Education, Housing, Food, Jobs, and Behavioral Health is the infrastructure every Illinois community needs and deserves. Investing in under-resourced communities builds all kinds of capacity, including human, physical, financial, technological, and mental. When we use investments to address underserved communities’ needs, we provide opportunities for people to be active members in the solutions that change outcomes and improve lives.

Nearly every issue the legislature will take up this year will have the added angle of COVID-19. Before this pandemic, we had deficiencies in addressing Violence, HIV, and Divestment in communities of color, especially black communities. Job training and economic recovery are more critical in light of the unemployment and restrictions on businesses due to COVID-19. Our healthcare work must adequately address COVID-19 public health concerns, mainly since we’ve seen the pandemic disproportionately affect communities of color. We have ignored our Health Outcome for far too long. We are spending trillions of dollars on healthcare only to see thousands of Americans die due to COVID-19. The underlying health conditions derived from health disparities in under-resourced communities have gone unaddressed for decades; therefore, many citizens’ lives are at risk.

And our work to improve our schools is more complicated than ever as parents, students, and teachers adapt to remote learning. We cannot continue to negotiate away the education of our children. We must fund education equitably to give every child in Illinois a chance.

Property taxes in our communities continue to be a concern for many. We must provide additional relief to seniors and working families struggling to make their payments.

9. What is your position on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed graduated income tax? Please explain.

I support the graduated tax plan that will guarantee 97% of taxpayers in Illinois pay the same or less in income taxes.

10. Illinois continues to struggle financially, with a backlog of unpaid bills. 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?

A graduated tax structure that holds the line on tax increases on the middle class while generating additional revenue for essential services would be an important first step.

Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, the legislature was steadily paying down the backlog of old bills. While continuing this progress and given the financial uncertainty we now find ourselves, we will need to figure out how to meet our obligations while supporting struggling families, businesses, and communities. It’s hard to say how to address these issues adequately when the full extent of the pandemic’s financial fallout is still unknown. We know we have to maximize every dollar of revenue. In order to ensure that we are constitutionally sound, we will need to evaluate each line of the budget, re-prioritize our spending priorities, and find ways to fund essential services. In so doing, we will address the basic human rights that are referenced in our constitutions.

11. Should Illinois consider taxing the retirement incomes of its very wealthiest residents, as most states do? And your argument is?

I do not support taxing retirement income. Our seniors have worked their entire lives to save for their later years and are already struggling enough as it is.

12. What can Illinois do to improve its elementary and high schools?

The legislature’s passage of the evidence-based model and increased appropriations for public schools is a positive step to ensure that every child has access to quality education. I will continue to support budgets that increase the state’s investment in our schools.

The challenges facing schools have only increased as students, parents, and teachers adapt to remote learning. For some, remote learning is, at best, an adjustment to normal life. For others, school buildings provide a safe haven, a guaranteed meal, access to social workers, and shelter. Supporting all students, but especially students who need extra support, becomes more of a challenge and an even greater need. I intend to continue supporting funding to keep these services available to students and support their needs as a result of COVID-19. However, we have to ensure that students get after-school and at-home support to learn effectively remotely.

In today’s challenging times, we must consider our society’s future and make our children our #1 priority.

13. Mass shootings and gun violence plague America. What can or should the Legislature do, if anything, to address this problem in Illinois?

Gun violence is a public health crisis. While some communities are certainly impacted more than others, the reality is that no community and no family is safe from senseless gun violence.

I have supported numerous gun safety measures during my time in office. Fix the FOID Act, strengthening background checks, cracking down on illegal ownership, and licensing gun shops are just a few.

But the reality is that passing gun safety reform measures are only part of the solution. We need to invest in our communities – our schools, after school programs, restorative justice initiatives, job training programs, workforce development, domestic violence services, and public health. If we can’t properly invest in these programs, we will never truly solve the problem of gun violence.

14. Do you favor or oppose term limits for any elected official in Illinois? Please explain.

I believe term limits may be an easy solution for people dissatisfied with their government. Voters have the right to vote for or against their elected officials, which for State Representatives is every two years – that’s why we have elections. I work hard year-round to provide my constituents with constituent services. I bring services, resources, and programs to residents. Advocating for the needs of residents is the lens through which I address all facets of my job; I am proud to represent the constituents of the 78th district and the citizens of Illinois.

15. 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?

Empowering the people to elect representatives who will fight for them is crucial. I support initiatives that would bring greater transparency to any aspect of our government, including the redistricting process. That said, it is critically important that the redistricting process protects the voices of minority communities. In other states controlled by Republicans, we see too often that minority voices are silenced, hindering the opportunities to advocate for all of their state’s residents. I would not support any measure that would seek to reduce the influence of minority communities throughout our extremely diverse state.

16. 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?

I voted to pass SB 1639 as well as HJR 93 to create the Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform. I am eager to work together to strengthen our state’s ethics laws and consider the commission’s recommendations.

17. 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?

I support initiatives that would increase transparency and consumer protections over data usage. We see too often corporations take advantage of working and middle-class families—Profiting off of them and potentially compromising their personal information without them even knowing.

18. 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?

I want to start by building the trust of families in our state. We must believe we are here for them when they need the support of the government. We need to look at the importance of investing in our own by building on the investment foundation already established. Our students must first believe that we are concerned about their future. When they see the opportunities we have in store for them here in Illinois, they will want to share their gifts and talents throughout Illinois.

The higher education crisis in this state has been long in the making. The two-year budget impasse - which repeatedly included refusals to support budgets that included funding for higher education - only made this problem worse.

I strongly support investments in our local community colleges, which have historically served many first-generation students and students from underserved communities. Our local community college investments give students opportunities to build their skills and succeed in a future career or further higher education. A 4-year university program isn’t in the future of every student. The COVID-19 crisis and uncertainty around higher education have only increased the demand for quality community college programs. Furthermore, we need investments in job training programs and vocational programs to show students the many educational and career paths available to them.

MAP grant funding not only helps students in need of financial assistance to obtain a higher education but also gives them an added incentive to stay in Illinois. This funding is critical to students and families in my district. I have supported and will continue to advocate for Map grant funding.

Lastly, we need to continue to pass state budgets that make meaningful investments in higher education. Investing in higher education ensures that we keep students in Illinois, attract out-of-state talent, and train the next generation of Illinois’ workers. These investments should be significant enough to convince these students to continue to stay in the state after graduation.

19. What is your top legislative priority with respect to the environment?

The Clean Energy Jobs Act increases the state’s use of renewable energy while simultaneously creating thousands of new jobs in an innovative new field. We need to start looking at clean energy and green jobs as a critical environmental solution and an economic development opportunity. Green jobs and clean energy would provide our state much-needed opportunities to train new workers, re-train displaced workers, and put people in our communities back to work in well-paying careers. In doing so, we must define equity and write it into law in order to accomplish the diversity and inclusion we only talk about every day in far too many industries across the county.

20. 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.

The Obama’s inspire me: Barack for his stellar public service throughout his career and Michelle for her love of family, support of her man, pride in our country, and for her work in healthcare.

21. What’s your favorite TV, streaming or web-based show of all time. Why?

A Different World is my favorite show of all time. It’s a comedy/drama TV series, set in a collegiate HBCU type school in the USA. A Different World featured students’ lives as young African American Students living away from home for the first time and learning life in America. The show opens discussions among Black families and showcases the Black community’s uniqueness for the world to experience. I laughed, I cried, I had fun watching this series every season: Talking about students’ storylines from all walks of life gave me many different perspectives (young, old; black, white; urban, suburban; rich, poor; corporate, local; political and civic-minded) to consider—it was just good clean fun. P.S. Today, I enjoy the Hallmark Channel…it’s a welcomed change of pace in my world.