Tarver 2021

State Rep. Curtis J. Tarver II (D-25th) in January in Springfield

State Rep. Curtis J. Tarver II (D-25th) looked backward and forward during a Jan. 27 constituents' meeting, discussing the General Assembly's lame duck session work and outlining his legislative priorities around appropriations, cannabis and other issues in the coming session.

The early January lame duck session focused largely on the Black Caucus' agenda, with sweeping reform in criminal justice, education and economic opportunity. The House, for its part, also elected a new speaker, west suburban Emanuel "Chris" Welch (D-7th), the first African American to hold the job, replacing longtime Speaker Michael Madigan (D-22nd).

"I'll just say I know people have all kinds of different feelings about former Speaker Madigan. I will say for my part, he always treated me fairly," Tarver said. "I had no problem pushing bills that I thought were important for my district, and so I hope to have the same relationship with the new Speaker Welch, and the same open-door policy."

Tarver expects that the next session's biggest issue is going to be the budget deficit, after the proposed constitutional amendment to enact a graduated progressive income tax in Illinois, the "Fair Tax," failed last year. Now, Tarver said, the state has projected $4 billion deficit.

"As you may have heard, there's been conversations about increasing the flat tax on everybody across the board. Nothing has been presented to us yet," he said. "Let me put it to you this way: we won't be able to cut ourselves out of this deficit, so anybody who's thinking, 'Oh, we'll just lay a few people off' — that's not realistic. There's not $4 billion in layoffs. That's just not realistic if you think we should provide services to those who need services the most."

Tarver anticipates "a robust conversation about some kind of income tax increase," and said he knows it will be unpopular. "I do want to give you that heads-up that that is a conversation that will end up happening," he said.

The House plans to reconvene on Feb. 10 to vote on rules for the session ahead. Tarver said he hopes that they will change to allow remote subject matter hearings, as the Senate had over last summer and fall, though he said representatives may have to come to Springfield for votes. He also expects to see an ethics bill included in the next set of rules, covering lobbying, relationship disclosure and leadership term limits.

Tarver said the 118 representatives are not simply assembling in Springfield because they, for social distancing's sake, cannot meet in the Illinois State Capitol. Legislators have met in a Springfield arena with plenty of room, but Tarver said it costs close to $200,000 to rent for even a truncated session, and there is no money in the budget to rent it for a full-length spring session of 50 to 60 days.

But in the meantime, he wants to be on the Public Safety Appropriations Committee, stressing the importance, "as we've passed these criminal justice bills, to have a voice in how these funds get spent throughout the state." He said he will push for more resources within the Department of Corrections, saying it has been underfunded in many ways, "not the least of which has been dealing with mental health issues."

He plans to introduce legislation to boost funding from cannabis revenue to mental health services. "I know that people want to pat ourselves on the back that 20% is supposed to go to that space. I don't think it's enough," he said. "I think coming out of a pandemic it's very, very obvious that we need more money to go into mental health services across the board."

Law enforcement agencies getting 8% of tax revenue from marijuana sales, and Tarver wants to ensure that the money is used in a meaningful way that benefits the community.

"My position is very simple," he said. "If we pass a bill that says you need to wear body cameras and your response is, 'We don't have the money for body cameras,' problem and solution: take the funds that are earmarked for law enforcement and require that they spend them on body cameras."

Tarver also plans to introduce a bill that would allow for officers convicted of certain types of crimes like first- or second-degree murder to have their pensions stripped.

Tarver said he wants to join the Environmental Committee in large part because his entire district borders the lakefront. He wants to have a subject matter hearing on the issue with representatives from city, state and federal agencies, both in terms of resources available and to better coordinate responses to constituent issues. He said he is looking over the Illinois Department of Natural Resource's budget to ensure fairness in funding between the north and south lakefronts as well.

"Who's responsible for what," as he put it, "so that when constituents call, they're not getting different answers, and they're not getting punted to the next legislators or the next aldermanic offices." 

Tarver voted for the legalization of cannabis in 2019 but has strongly criticized the way it has been done since then. He did so again with constituents, calling it a terrible bill and decrying that so many Illinoisans have not have their records expunged. He also criticized the lack of licenses to people of color — the lion's share have gone to private equity firms — and the state's "social equity" program.

"There are no licenses in the hands of anyone who is pretty much not a White male in private equity," he said. "That there are no real teeth to have people implement the social equity plans they provided to give points on the application is an issue. I think you'll see a really robust conversation around that."

Tarver thinks that everyone's cannabis records should be expunged, but barring that, he said juveniles' records especially should be expunged — the purpose of a bill he called his signature priority during the last General Assembly. He said he would file it again this year.

"If they were a juvenile and had a cannabis offense, we can start there. They should have their records expunged," he said. "It should not affect their ability to go to school, to get an education and to find jobs."

In the meeting, Tarver again stated his opposition to rent control in response to a question about his expressed support for the policy when he ran for his seat in 2018. Current proposals in Springfield would lift the ban on Illinois municipalities being able to enact rent control within their borders.

"I voted against rent control in 2019. I'd vote against it in 2021. I'll continue to vote against it every single time it comes up," Tarver said. "I think it's bad policy, I don't think it's effective, and I will continue to vote against it."

Tarver did, however, suggest that rent control advocates push the House to create a housing committee, saying that the reason pro-rent control legislation has not moved is because it is in the Civil Judiciary Committee, "which is a ton of lawyers, (where) it is going to get torn apart, and it's not going to pass."

"From a housing standpoint, where I find myself most often is we need to find ways to incentivize individuals to keep rent manageable," Tarver said in a subsequent interview. "I guess where the divergence comes with myself and others is that I don't think that rent control is the way we should do that. A lot of it has to do with the fact that everybody's not a big behemoth company."

Outside of a big players in the 25th District, Tarver said there are many landlords with four or six units. 

"If there's a way to help them improve their housing stock, i.e. capping their property taxes to some extent or providing those kinds of incentives for them to invest in their properties and/or keep their rent stable, then that's what I want to do as opposed to a top-down approach," he said.

"I think philosophically that's where I am, which is why I'm looking at opportunities to try to protect tenants and landlords, because if it's good for tenants and bad for landlords, it doesn't work. And if it's great for landlords and terrible for tenants, it doesn't work. We're all kind of in the same screwed-up boat right now."

Tarver said he would support a bill, designed in the last General Assembly for Cook County, to reduce the assessed value of new or rehabilitated rental property if the owner commits to keeping 15% of the units at or below maximum rents for 10 years, for income-eligible renters.

"It establishes a new property tax assessment policy for multi-family buildings. It keeps rent affordable in high-cost markets. It promotes investment in low-cost markets. Both market-rate and affordable developers can participate," he said. 

He also said he would support a bill introduced last year by West Side Rep. Delia Ramirez (D-4th) to protect against public housing discrimination on account of criminal records and to seal evictions due to the pandemic.

K-12 education remains an interest. In an interview, Tarver touted the Black Caucus' educational reform bill's expansion of scholarship access to minority teachers.

"Some people are the first in their families to go to college, and I think having access with this scholarship is helpful, because it may help to incentivize someone, if not for that scholarship, might have gone down a different road," he said. "To provide the scholarship on the front end specifically looking to assist minority teachers I think is incredibly helpful."

In large part because of his daughter's experience taking a standardized test to get into a selective-enrollment elementary school, Tarver plans to file a bill to ban the practice. He said he has no policy alternative to standardized-testing 4-year-olds, but he said he trusts educational administrators to figure it out. He said that there are "really bright" students missing out on advanced educational programs because of the existing qualification system.

"If you don't file those bills or you don't move anything, then it means there's no change, because there's no alternative," he said. "I'm not saying that I am an educational expert, but I do know that it's not sustainable just based on real-life experiences."

Tarver said he plans to have town hall-style meetings every month. Contact Tarver's office at office@repcurtisjtarverii.com

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