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Rep. Tom Bennett slams assault weapons ban and pay raise as his move to the Senate awaits

Rep. Tom Bennett will be sworn in Wednesday to the Illinois Senate representing the 53rd district in central Illinois.
State Rep. Tom Bennett will be sworn in Wednesday to the Illinois Senate representing the 53rd district in central Illinois.

McLean County’s newest legislator is not new to Springfield.

Republican party leaders chose Tom Bennett on Saturday from among five candidates to serve in the Illinois Senate. Bennett lies in Gibson City and has served in the Illinois House since 2015. He replaces Jason Barickman, who resigned shortly after winning reelection in November.

Bennett will be sworn in on Wednesday when the spring legislative session begins.

Bennett touts his conservative voting record, saying, “I’m a strong conservative, pro-life, Second Amendment (supporter), small government and lower taxes.”

Lame Duck session

Bennett said he does not support an assault-style weapons ban that lawmakers are considering. The Illinois Senate approved a ban on Monday during the lame duck session. Bennett doesn’t like that the plan would require current assault weapon owners to report the serial numbers from those weapons to state police.

“These are law-abiding citizens that have been involved with their weapons or guns for shooting ranges and these sorts of things,” Bennett said. “I think they are being impacted, but what have they done wrong?”

When asked about the proposed gun ban, Bennett said he wants greater emphasis on mental health treatment, particularly after the COVID pandemic forced many people to live in isolation.

State legislators recently voted to give themselves a near 20% pay raise. It was part of a wide-ranging spending bill Bennett voted against.

Lawmakers don't deserve higher pay, given all of the state’s problems in a number of areas, including pension debt, unemployment insurance and the Department of Children and Family Services, Bennett said.

“We have a lot to do to help fix our state before we can do much more than this,” he said.

Supporters of the measure say the pay raise to a base of $85,000 will offer greater incentive for people to pursue public service.

Bennett said he will give some of his pay raise to charity.

Constituent services

Bennett said constituent services will remain a key part of his office, even as his constituency doubles in size. He currently holds district offices in Pontiac and Watseka and said he’s considering locations for additional offices, now that his new district spans parts of 13 counties from east of Peoria to the Indiana border.

“We’re trying to work through that and identity staff and those sorts of things,” said Bennett, noting the Senate district has about 215,000 residents.

Remembering Scott Bennett

Bennett will join the legislative chamber his nephew Scott served in from 2015 until his death in December. Scott Bennett, 45, was a Democrat from Champaign. He died unexpectedly from an undetected brain tumor.

“He had a sense of humor, a way to tell a story to bring people together,” Bennett said of his nephew, noting Scott was an avid farmer who drove his grain to the elevator and while waiting for the grain to be processed, would call constituents, legislators and lobbyists.

“We have just a very talented individual. It was a shock. We love him and we miss him,” Bennett said.

Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.