PONTIAC — The day Gov. Bruce Rauner officially kicked off his re-election campaign, the Republican stopped in Central Illinois to praise two under-the-radar laws he signed this year.

Rauner, state Rep. Tom Bennett, R-Gibson City, and local law enforcement officials spoke Monday at Pontiac City Hall about changes they sought to help police departments hire officers and for first responders to better alert residents while they are on the road. Both laws take effect Jan. 1.

House Bill 0305 enables departments to hire officers who have 60 credit hours toward a bachelor's degree. Currently such candidates are hirable only if they hold an associate's degree or military experience.

"We felt it was important to have highly educated officers, but we also were losing candidates who were in four-year schools who had not yet graduated," said Pontiac Police Chief Jim Woolford of the change.

House Bill 3469 allows a wider variety of emergency officials to use a siren, whistle or bell while driving. Some officials are restricted to flashing lights rather than sounds under current law.

Rauner also addressed reporters about his re-election bid, which kicked off Monday morning with a video about his achievements as governor and goals for a second term, which would start in 2019.

He also touted new clean energy jobs, including in Clinton, where state action saved the Exelon nuclear plant; University of Illinois expansion; reduced Medicaid fraud; and criminal justice reform.

Rauner said his three highest priorities for a second term are reducing property taxes; rolling back an income tax hike passed in this year's state budget, over Rauner's veto; and imposing term limits on elected officials.

"(Democratic House) Speaker (Michael) Madigan so far has blocked those things, and we're asking the people of Illinois to ... hold our candidates for the General Assembly accountable," said Rauner. "Demand that those who are running for office will support term limits and put those on the ballot so the people of Illinois can vote those up or down. ... Give the people of Illinois the ability to raise or lower their property taxes through a simple referendum."

Several Democrats are vying to oppose Rauner, and some Republicans have expressed interest in challenging him in the primary election.

"What we need to do is focus on what we agree on, and what we can agree on is economic opportunity; more growth and jobs; and higher family incomes," he said of a primary challenge.

Democratic candidates include Daniel Biss, a state senator and math professor from Evanston; Chris Kennedy, a businessman and nephew of President John F. Kennedy; and J.B. Pritzker, an entrepreneur and heir to Hyatt hotels.

Follow Derek Beigh on Twitter: @pg_beigh

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Staff Writer

Reporter for The Pantagraph.

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