Running for: State Representative - 38th District
Political party affiliation: Democratic
Political/civic background: Olympia Fields Village Trustee 2001-2010; Olympia Fields Village President 2010 to 2017; Community Relations Committees-Country Club Hills, Hazel Crest and Olympia Fields; Homewood League of Women Voters; United Way, South/Southwest; CEDA-Bloom Board member; Lions Club; Prairie State College President’s Advisory Board; Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, Environmental Justice Committee and Rich Township Democratic Organization
Occupation: Formerly Community Affairs Marketing Specialist for the Illinois State Treasurer’s Office; Housing Coordinator for the South Suburban Housing Center; Community Relations Director for the Village of Hazel Crest: and Congressional Coordinator for the NAACP Voter Fund.
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. Debbie Meyers-Martin submitted the following responses:
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.
I believe that the State has embarked on what was a feasible and allowable option, in light of the COVID-19 Pandemic Health Crisis to address the 2021 state Budget. During this unprecedented time, the General Assembly, in an effort to diminish the suffering in the State of Illinois and its citizens, chose to approve a $42.8 billion General Funds budget built on authorization to borrow $5 billion, allowable under the Federal Reserve Bank .That amount could be less, but will be based on the Federal Government’s approval of additional stimulus funding to the states. Also incorporated into the budget is the revenue generated from the passage of the Fair Tax Referendum. Additionally, included in the budget, is the $3,5 billion in federal funds Illinois anticipates receiving as a result of previously approved funds. Under these unprecedented circumstances this was the most reasonable option. Had it not been for COVID-19 health crisis, the state was right on target,according to the Department of Revenue, related to the projected revenues from the previous budget, to be in a fiscally sound position. I believe the General Assembly and the Governor chose the correct course, in light of all the circumstances.
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?
I give Governor Pritzker an “A-” for his handling of the Coronavirus Pandemic. I believe his attention, and adherence to the science and medical communities’ advice have prevented the State of Illinois from encountering the same type of spike in cases that other states are experiencing at this point. I have received many supportive calls and emails in support of the Governor’s approach. If I had to express one point that may have been overlooked in the current strategy, I would have given more flexibility to the Counties that were not experiencing the same positivity rates as Cook or Will County, and would have allowed some small businesses the flexibility to remain open with safeguards such as the requirement of masks and the enforcement of social distancing.
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?
I believe that Illinois does need to take up the issue of some manner of police reform.
I have spoken with many of my Police Chiefs and they are reviewing their Use of Force Policies. I believe those are key to any effective police reform. Many of the reforms that are being considered, and I agree with, are already in place by statute. There just needs to be better accountability when it comes to implementation. According to the current statute, there is a ban on chokeholds, the requirement for expansion of police training, and I would recommend that training to include Implicit Bias Training, all police involved shootings require an independent investigation, and finally there shall be a database created which identifies all officers who have been fired or resigned due to misconduct. Additional reforms should include some amendments to the officer’s ability to turn off their Body Cams in certain situations. I believe these reforms, that are already state law, would greatly address police reform, but implementation is key. That State Law is 50 ILC706, and it was signed into law by Governor Rauner and became effective on January 1, 2016.
Should the Legislature pass a law requiring all law enforcement officers to wear body cameras? Why or why not?
Yes, I believe that the Legislature should amend the current law which requires law Enforcement Officers to wear Body Cams(ILC706) to require ALL Law Enforcement Officers to wear Body Cams. The current law, in effect, does not require all police departments to comply. I believe this amendment would truly create a balance between transparency and oversight of law enforcement.
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?
I believe that a few ways to avoid corruption is to stop killing bills in committee. Every bill filed by a Representative is immediately sent to the House Rules Committee where it is assigned to a substantive committee. These committees then vote to send bills to the House Floor. If bills were able to freely move to the chamber floor where a bi-partisan vote would take place, there would be less chance for undue influence. Additionally, giving lawmakes a reliable schedule for voting on bills would also assist in the ethics reform that is needed in the Illinois General Assembly.
As a Pre-Law and Criminal Justice student, and a freshman legislator in my first term, I believe in the Justice System that says a person is innocent until proven guilty. Therefore, I would like to wait until the investigation is concluded and/or the courts decide the innocence or guilt of Michael Madigan.
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.
It has been a busy 2 years, but I am proud of the work that I have been able to accomplish. Some of the legislation that I have either been the Chief House Sponsor or co-sponsor are: SB1332, The Illinois Bank On Initiative which creates the mechanism to increase the use of Certified Financial Products and reduce the reliance on alternative financial products like payday loans or the use of Currency Exchanges which charge high fees.; HB 3904 Tobacco 21 which raised the age of teenagers to 21 who want to purchase tobacco products; HB 834 which is the Equal Pay Act; HB3493, creates the Prescription Drug Affordability Act; I Chief Sponsored HB 4245 which will create a Senior Tax Deferral Loans, and over dozens of other bills. I n the Capital Bill, I Lobbied for over $15 million for my District in Capital projects and close to $40 million in IDOT road projects. Those funds were all re-appropriated for the 2021 budget years. Specifically, In my District, I have hosted Health Fairs, Co-Hosted PPE Giveaways, Food Giveaways; Community Shredd Days, I’ve done many PSA’s regarding the Census, have co-hosted workshops on the Census, and provided Springfield updates via radio spots regarding COVID-19 resources for small businesses, Mortgage and Rental Assistance, and finally helped countless constituents connect with IDES. I’ve also hosted Resource workshops for small businesses in my district.
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.
The three concerns that are specific to my District are The South Suburban Airport Project, The closure of Rich East.High School, and Unemployment.
1)The South Suburban Airport has been a topic of discussion for many years, and for many of those years, I have been involved in the lobbying of this economic development. I’m happy to report that Governor Pritzker has put into the 2020 budget over $162 million dollars if the state budget for improvements to I-57, the final purchase of land, and infrastructure improvements. The monies have been re-appropriated in the 2021 budget. The Southland region needs to move to the next level in this much overdo project. We need IDOT to place this project on their Aviation Project list and move forward with this project.
2) The closure of the Rich East High School was quite a blow to the community of Park Forest. It has been the topic of discussion in terms of how the students of Rich East will integrate into one of the other Rich Township High Schools, and what will become of the existing structure, and the vetting of the plans and budget for the Rich Township High School District. I am working with the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus to explore some possible legislation.
3) My Office has worked continuously to address the unemployment issue caused by the COVID-19 Crisis. The system was understandably overwhelmed initially; however we must provide leadership to begin to address the thousands of people that have been affected by the IDES meltdown.
What are your other top legislative priorities?
My top legislative priorities are to address the challenged Economic Development in the 38th District . We know that we are moving forward on many economic fronts with the location of several Amazon Fulfillment Centers, logistical and manufacturing companies that are locating in the south suburbs, but there are still food deserts, small business decline, and retail redlining. These issues are constantly on my radar screen.
Secondly, Property Tax Relief. It has been consistently documented that the South Suburbs pay some of the highest property taxes in the state. In the General Assembly, we began to examine some of the core issues affecting the rate of high property taxes through the Governor’s Property Tax Relief Task Force. We have reached out to the Cook County Assessor’s Office to investigate what can be done to address these outrageous property taxes, legislation has been unsuccessfully proposed, recommendations have been made, so this is a battle that rages on, but I and my south suburban colleagues am committed to finding and implementing a solution. Lastly, Healthcare is an issue that needs to be addressed. We knew all along that there were disparities in healthcare in the minority communities. COVID-19 just revealed what many knew all along. I am working with my colleagues to make sure that those disparities are addressed first through the CARES Act, but also with the way Managed Care Organizations are operating in the healthcare industry of Illinois.
What is your position on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed graduated income tax? Please explain.
I support the Governor’s proposed graduated income tax. I believe, as well as other experts, that this will create a fairer tax system, but more importantly, the General Assembly has voted to give citizens the opportunity to vote whether they believe that the Graduated Income Tax will be a more equitable taxation system. The Center for Taxation and Accountability believes it to be true as well as most other states in the US.
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?
I know some people immediately think of cuts when they talk about strategies to pay your bills, and that certainly is part of a successful outcome; however you can not cut your way out of a fiscal crisis alone. There must be new revenue streams, which the state has certainly begun to enter into the equation. Additionally, we must address pension reform. There’s been a proposal for a few years now that suggests that the state re-amortize our pension debt. This re-amortization plan could save the state $45 billion and get the state pension system to 70% funded by 2045.
In the case of Higher Education funding, Illinois legislators must tie higher education finance strategies to our long and short term goals, and ensure that our tax strategies allow the state to adequately fund higher education.
Should Illinois consider taxing the retirement incomes of its very wealthiest residents, as most states do? And your argument is?
I’m not ready to commit to the taxing of any retirement income at this time. Even that of the wealthiest residents. At some point we may have to revisit that recommendation, but for the moment, I’m really trying to avoid that as a solution.
What can Illinois do to improve its elementary and high schools?
I believe that how we improve elementary and high schools is to give them the funding and the resources they need to provide the quality education that every student deserves, no matter what their zip code is. We certainly know that there are school districts that provide the highest level of education to their students while other districts don’t have the resources to even provide updated books or the technology that students need to compete in this global world that exists. That is why Evidence Based Funding is so crucial to our Educational Universe.
Mass shootings and gun violence plague America. What can or should the Legislature do, if anything, to address this problem in Illinois?
I am certainly dismayed and disheartened by the escalating gun violence we see on a daily basis. For most adults, I don’t believe we understand the root cause; however we must continue to explore all options available. I believe that along with the social services, community policing, and community engagement that must take place, there also has to be a focus on illegal guns that are infiltrating our neighborhoods and communities. My 24 year old nephew was killed by gun violence at a party where everyone started shooting. Why does everyone have a gun? We must begin to look at straw purchases and strengthen our witness protection laws so that victims and witnesses are not afraid to come forward. I Believe that we probably have enough gun laws on the books.We just need implementation.
Do you favor or oppose term limits for any elected official in Illinois? Please explain.
I understand why there has been a movement to push for term limits for elected officials. Sometimes it does feel like someone who has been in office for an extended period of time may have lost that enthusiasm and zest for the position, but that is when the people should vote them out of office. Elections are supposed to be your ability to enforce “term limits” In many cases, it takes more than one term for an elected official to accomplish all that he/she has set out to accomplish, and there is something to be said for experience and acquired knowledge over the course of more than one or two terms.
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?
I believe that we should always guard against gerrymandering. I don’t believe that there should ever be a manipulation of the electorate.
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 believe that corruption must be eliminated at all costs. Political corruption is the worst type of corruption. People place their trust in their elected officials and when that trust is violated, it affects all elected officials, who in fact, are doing the right thing and are dedicated public servants. Political Corruption gives a bad name to all of the public servants who are committed to their communities and their constituents. I’m not sure what else can be done, but I certainly welcome any other safeguards that are determined to be necessary to guard against the insidious threat of corruption.
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?
Identity theft is becoming a major threat to our financial security and peace of mind. I believe that we must attack the opportunities of identity theft on all levels and at every juncture. I will reach out to the Attorney General’s Office for leadership on any legislation that could enhance that Office, as well as any of our other law enforcement agencies’ ability to destroy the identity theft virus that is permeating our society.
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 answer to this question seems to be for Illinois Universities to incentivize our Illinois High School students. There should be enhanced incentives for Illinois residents when they choose an Illinois University.. Something similar to reduced residency rates as opposed to out of state rates.
What is your top legislative priority with respect to the environment?
I would like to see the Solar for All Program really take hold and become more visible and marketable to the communities in my District. The Solar for All Illinois Program promotes equitable access to the solar economy through program incentives that help make solar more affordable for low-income communities. Incentives are made available for residential properties, properties that house non-profit and public facilities, and community solar projects serving customers with low incomes.
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 is the historical figure from Illinois that I admire . He was a former Illinois Congressman that became, in 1983, the first African American Mayor of Chicago and thus far, that feat has not been repeated. He was an inspiration to so many young people to become politically active and pursue public office. He built an interracial and progressive regime that was only halted due to his death during his first term in 1987. There is no possible prediction on what could have been accomplished if the fates had allowed him to complete his first term..
What’s your favorite TV, streaming or web-based show of all time. Why?