Back in Illinois for the week, U.S. Rep. John Shimkus discussed in an interview issues ranging from the opioid crisis to a potential trade war with China that could harm Central Illinois farmers. He also applauded Effingham County’s declaration of itself as a “sanctuary” for guns.
The Collinsville Republican said he’s been working on more than 50 opioid-related bills designed to reduce the epidemic of addiction across the country.
One piece of legislation, for example, would give a hospice nurse the authority to destroy leftover opioid pills after the person they were caring for died. Another issue addressed is reimbursement for people switching from addictive opioids to less addictive, but more costly, medicines.
“We passed about 57 bills through the subcommittee last week,” Shimkus said. “So we’ll go back and try to get it through the full committee. … That’s consuming a lot of our time in Washington.”
When asked about proposed tariffs between the U.S. and China and the possibility of a trade war, the Republican was concerned. But soybean, corn, and pork producers in his district have remained calm, he said.
“I think my producers will only start screaming once it really happens,” Shimkus said. “If we go down to a trade war, it could really impact the commodity prices that we get for our major products. It’s a credible concern.”
In his home county, President Donald Trump’s tariffs on foreign steel have brought back 500 jobs at a steel mill. But a large-scale trade war isn’t what Shimkus wants.
“We’ve always tried to influence the executive branch – the president – that this should be targeted,” he said. “We should go after the bona fide bad actors. If you go after anyone but the bad actors, then the retaliation could be against people who are benefiting from the trade. The question is: how much is he listening or not?”
In addition to opioids, an agriculture bill has been getting Shimkus’ attention. The bill will decide the direction of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly referred to as food stamps. Shimkus, along with the Trump administration, would like to see further requirements for those who get food stamps.
“Should these individuals be looking for a job?” he said. “Or should they be at least in job training programs? Or taking classes at a community college? Should they be doing something? Volunteering? I think the vast majority in my district would say, ‘yes.’
“Once it gets politicized, we would say, ‘Helping people get on their feet and working is better for everybody.’ Our friends on the other side would say, ‘You’re being mean in taking food away from people who really need it.’ The truth is probably somewhere in between.”
The congressman also took time to address a few local developments.
He said the federal government couldn’t fund a comeback for the ailing Chautauqua Auditorium in Shelbyville’s Forest Park. Last week, Landmarks Illinois announced that the structure was on its 2018 list of Illinois’ most endangered historic places.
“It is a historic building and it’s pretty cool,” Shimkus said. “But it is going to be costly. The days of earmarks and our ability to help have gone away.”
Shimkus found Effingham County’s recent proclamation that it was a “gun sanctuary” a nice counterpoint to the many gun control advocates getting heard in the media — and a clever twist on the term “sanctuary city.”
“Since I’ve been so ardently involved in listening to the sanctuary issues for the immigration debate, I thought it was kind of neat,” he said.
Shelbyville resident Jennifer Miller has filed a federal lawsuit that challenges Illinois Department of Children and Family Services regulations that prevent her from having handguns in her home day care. Miller said it infringes on her Second Amendment rights.
“She’s a privately licensed day care,” Shimkus said. “But I don’t think legislatively we’ve worked this out – the legal authority. I could see where she would go to the federal court because she’s making a Second Amendment claim. It’ll be an interesting thing to follow.”
Stan Polanski can be reached at [email protected] or 217-774-2161 ext. 1.