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Cunningham fights for making agriculture education a priority

cunningham ag edSPRINGFIELD—Senator Bill Cunningham passed legislation out of the Illinois Senate prioritizing agriculture education in the state.

Senate Bill 2975, subject to appropriation, would create a grant to fund up to 50 percent of the personnel costs for an agriculture education teacher. If a school district is creating a new agriculture education program they could receive a grant to fund 100 percent of personnel costs in their first two years and 80 percent in the third and fourth year.

“We need to prioritize agriculture in our schools. Our economy is driven by agriculture and yet so many students throughout the state have very little opportunity to learn about it,” Cunningham said. “This legislation would allow schools like the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences to easily maintain or create agriculture education programs.”

The legislation would also add agriculture education as an area of identified staff shortage which would make scholarship money available for those who want to go into agriculture education. Only 61 percent of agriculture jobs will be filled with qualified graduates in the coming years, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“We need to emphasize the careers agriculture offers, and one of those is teaching the next generation about those opportunities,” Cunningham said.

The legislation now moves to the House for further consideration.

Cunningham passes measure to bring justice for victims of sexual assault

cunningham rapednaSPRINGFIELD—Senator Bill Cunningham passed a measure that would help bring justice to victims of sexual assault by ensuring police departments follow-up on potential matches on DNA test kits.

Senate Bill 2221 would require that if a police department did not follow up with the state police on a positive match, then the state police would notify the proper state’s attorney. The legislation also requires that an annual inventory be taken by both the state police and local police of all DNA kits in their possession.

This legislation comes in response to a situation that occurred in the Village of Robbins, Illinois. The local police department was notified of a positive match on a DNA test kit. The department though did not follow up on the potential match.

“With an issue like sexual assault, we need to take every imaginable step to bring justice to all of these cases. The ramifications of not following up on these matches could be devastating to our criminal justice system,” Cunningham said.

The legislation now moves to the House for further consideration.

Senator Cunningham represents portions of Worth, Orland and Palos Townships in the southwest suburbs and the neighborhoods of Mt. Greenwood, Beverly, Morgan Park and Auburn-Gresham in Chicago.

Cunningham sends letter opposing fitness center closure

cunningham fitness ctrCHICAGO— Senator Cunningham recently sent a letter to an official at Palos Community Hospital urging the hospital to reconsider their current plans to close Palos Health and Fitness Center and attempt to protect the facility and the services it provides.

Members of the fitness center were recently notified that the facility would shut down May 1. The facility which is run by Palos Community Hospital was set for demolition to make space for a new office building.

The facility offers many opportunities for residents to continue on a path to recovery from an illness or injury. It also allows many to be able to continue on a path to living a healthy lifestyle by offering many services including medical programs and nutrition training.

Senator Bill Cunningham recently opposed the proposal to close the community health and fitness center over an approval to build a new office building instead.

“This facility provides unique services that many in the community utilize to leading a healthy lifestyle,” said Senator Cunningham. “I respectfully ask that Palos Community Hospital reconsider their decision or find a way to continue to provide this excellent service to their community.”

Senator Cunningham represents portions of Worth, Orland and Palos Townships in the southwest suburbs and the neighborhoods of Mt. Greenwood, Beverly, Morgan Park and Auburn-Gresham in Chicago.

Student-Teacher Background Checks go into effect January 1

cunningham bkgrd chksCHICAGO — On Jan. 1, prospective student-teachers in Illinois will be required to go through the same background check process as a regular teacher. Senate Bill 706, passed during the last session of the 99th General Assembly, improved the process of how to properly screen student-teacher candidates.

The legislation is the result of a multi-year discussion between Senator Bill Cunningham (D-18), the Illinois State Board of Education and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Currently in Illinois, student-teachers are required to get separate background checks for each school they teach at, which can create confusion for the student-teacher and the districts where they are placed to teach.

“Our first priority should be protecting our children while they are at school,” Cunningham said. “This law is a sustainable way to allow student teachers to get the on the job training they need while protecting our students.”

The legislation requires that student-teachers submit to a series of background checks, including a fingerprint-based criminal history check, a Statewide Sex Offender Database check along with a check of the Statewide Murderer and Violent Offender Databases. The Illinois State Police and FBI are also required to furnish any conviction records of prospective student teachers.

“This is about protecting our students from predators. If we want to keep excellent teachers in the classroom, we need a plan to both protect our future leaders and ensure our instructors are the best and safest,” Cunningham said.

The legislation passed both the Senate and the House and was signed by Gov. Rauner.

For other laws going into effect on Jan. 1, please visit the Illinois Senate Democrats’ website.

Senator Bill Cunningham

 Cunningham2014

18th Legislative District

Years served: 2013 - Present

Committee assignments: Criminal Law; Labor; Committee of the Whole; Higher Education (Vice-Chairperson); Appropriations II; Transportation.

Biography: Served in the House from 2011-13; full-time state legislator and lifelong resident of the southwest Chicago area; born July 21, 1967; graduate of Saint Barnabas Grammar School (1981), Mount Carmel High School (1985) and the University of Illinois Chicago (1990); former advisor to Cook CountySheriff Mike Sheahan and former chief of staff to Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart; youth soccer coach; parent representative on the Sutherland Local School Council; lives in Beverly with wife, Juliana, and two daughters, Madeline and Olivia.