Chesney Guest Column: New laws for Illinois Veterans and Military Families

Memorial Day is first and foremost an occasion to honor those that gave their lives in defense of our freedoms while serving in the United States Armed Forces. It is also a call to action for us to better serve our veterans and military families here in Northwest Illinois and across the state. I am proud to report that we have passed several new laws toward that goal.  

I was a Co-Sponsor of House Bill 4680, which makes the fishing, hunting licensing, and camping permitting process easier for active-duty service members and veterans. Until now, state code required you to apply in-person at an Illinois Department of Natural Resources regional office to provide verification of military service in order to get fishing, hunting, and sportsmen’s combination licenses, as well as camping permits.  During the COVID-19 pandemic, those offices were closed. Thanks to our bill, you no longer have to apply in person.

An analysis of the availability and adequacy of veterans’ services throughout Illinois utilizing questionnaires, surveys, and town hall meetings to solicit input from veterans and their families will be conducted thanks to the passage of House Bill 2991. Once the analysis is completed, IDVA will submit a plan to improve veterans’ services, including the estimated cost. This news will help ensure that all veterans in Illinois have access to the services they need and deserve.

Funding for our local Veterans Assistance Commissions (VACs) as a result of House Bill 5184. Over the last several years, counties and VACs have faced litigation regarding VAC funding. Oftentimes, counties believe that VACs are essentially a line item under their budget, rather than an independent unit of local government that requires funding. As such, VACs often go underfunded year after year. VACs are unable to levy their own tax, however, state law provides that the county must levy the tax on behalf of the VAC. To create financial stability for VACs, this new law clarifies that the minimum amount a VAC may be funded is .02% of the last known assessed value of the taxable property within a county. There are 53 counties in the State that have VACs.   

Students who are a dependent of active-duty military personnel can now enroll in school sooner than previous state law allowed when the family relocates per military orders, due to House Bill 557. The new law requires school districts to allow a dependent of U.S. military personnel to enroll free of tuition if, at the time of enrollment, the child is in temporary housing outside of the school district but will be living within the district within 6 months.  These children can now enroll in school early if their parent is transferring to a new area per military orders. As often as some high school students have to move, they were not always able to get access to classes they need to graduate on time if those are full; and stay on track for college. Now they can.

More than a million American service members have made the ultimate sacrifice since the first colonial soldiers took up arms in 1775 to fight for independence. Every service member who died during subsequent wars and conflicts was a loved one cherished by family and friends. Each was a painful loss to their community and our nation. The freedoms we enjoy today are owed to their sacrifice.

May God Bless our fallen soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guard personnel as well as those they left behind; grieving families and a grateful nation.