As the spring planting season is getting underway, both farmers and drivers need to be aware of hazards in fields and on the roadways. Expect more large and slow moving agricultural equipment on rural highways and roads. For farmers, Country Financial has some tips to maintain a safe work environment this season.
1. Get plenty of rest and take frequent breaks. Drink water, and have some healthy snacks nearby to fend off fatigue.
2. Be familiar with how prescriptions and over the counter medications affect your reaction time. Consult your doctor with any questions.
3. Tell family and helping hands where you'll be working and when. Also, have a cell phone with you at all times in case of an emergency.
4. Avoid driving machinery on roads at dawn and dusk. These are the most accident-prone times of the day. There's an influx of drivers headed to work, and vision can be poor.
5. Maintain your equipment. Most farm accidents and deaths involve machinery. Keep up to date on the manufacturer's recommendations.
6. Know your limitations. It's tempting to immerse yourself in the work and to push yourself to accomplish the wide amount of tasks that need to be done, but be safe and don't push you mind or body past its healthy limits.
You can view these and more farm safety tips at - www.countryfinancial.com.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan along with the Federal Trade Commission and state regulators from across the country have announced a settlement with two sham cancer charities over allegations that the groups used donated funds for personal gain. The settlement concludes the largest joint charitable enforcement action by the combined parties. Cancer Fund of America Inc. and Cancer Support Services Inc. were both a part of a lawsuit that was filed back in May stating that the charities solicited donations under the guise that the money would go toward helping cancer patients, but in reality the majority of funds were used for personal purposes. Both of these groups will be immediately dissolving their organizations and the head of both charities, James Reynolds II, will be banned from future charitable work. Reynolds was the target of four law suits back in May, alleging that more than $187 Million was taken from donors. As of the settlement, CFA and CSS will be permanently closed and their assets liquidated. Reynolds will also surrender a number of high-end personal belongings, and if he is found to have misrepresented his financial condition, he will owe whatever remains on the $75 Million settlement. As Madigan detailed the terms of the settlement, she urged consumers to review her office's tips on being an informed donor, which you can find on her website.
Tomorrow evening (3/31/16), the Macomb Fraternal Order of Police will be holding a Soup Supper and Silent Auction to raise funds for their organization. Lt. Dave Burnham of the Macomb Police Department says that the Macomb FOP is very heavily involved in the local community.
"Shop with a cop is our biggest program that we do. We also donate to Macomb Area Softball Association, Scott Jennings Memorial Fishing Contest, Camp Chickagami, the YMCA, we've donated to United Way. Another big thing that we do is Special Olympics, we donate to them as well, and then we have the Sergeant Teddy program which is ran by Lieutenant Hammer's mother Charlene."
-Dave Burnham, Macomb Police Department
There will be seafood soup, chili, sandwiches, and drinks. The event will kick off at 5pm at the Wesley Community Center in Macomb, and go until 8pm. Tickets are only $15 and you can pick them up at the Macomb Police Department, or at the door.
Illinois' largest labor union is claiming a tentative victory after a split decision Tuesday from the U.S. Supreme Court. At issue was whether non-union workers have to pay what's known as "fair share" union dues for the wages and workplace protections the union negotiates for them. The nation's highest court voted four-to-four, leaving intact a nearly 40-year-old law which makes "fair share" dues legal for public-sector workers. Anders Lindall, with AFSCME Council 31, argues that while the case could still face challenges at the state level, for now it's a win for public workers, including teachers.
"Working people have been under assault, and it's a political assault by wealthy special interests that are trying to rig our economy in their own favor, and buy our democracy to benefit the few."
-Anders Lindall, AFSCME Council 31
The case was brought to the Supreme Count by a libertarian group, the Center for Individual Rights, which argues that First Amendment rights are violated by having to pay union fees if the worker doesn't want to join the union. This specific group represented 10 California public school teachers who said that they were unfairly charged union fees to pay for collective bargaining and other services. But Randi Weingarten, who heads the American Federation of Teachers, sees it as a political maneuver from groups that want to strip public unions of their bargaining rights.
"The issue here was much less about fee-payers, and much more about the right wing simply using this device as a vehicle to try and distract people from doing everything we need to do to raise wages, recreate a middle class."
-Randi Weingarten, American Federation of Teachers
More than 20 states, including Illinois, can now continue requiring public-sector workers to help fund the unions that represent them. According to the 1977 case the suit was challenging - Abood VS Detroit Board of Education - union fees are not used for political purposes, but for negotiating contracts and improving working conditions. Governor Bruce Rauner has promised to pursue a legal challenge against the union dues the state collects from non-union government workers to pay for benefits.
A lot of attention is put on who donates to political campaigns, especially now in election season, but good government groups say that more needs to be done to keep an eye on how politicians spend their campaign funds. A state senator and a former state representative turned auditor general are both facing hearings about campaign expenditures next month before the Illinois State Board of Elections. Illinois Campaign for Political Reform Executive Director Sarah Brune says that her group is always concerned about campaign spending.
"We just hope that legislators are really open to clarification to this policy, that make the process more understandable for both legislators and the public."
-Sarah Brune, Illinois Campaign for Political Reform
Investigators have found that some legislators have used campaign funds to pay for overseas travel. Brune argues that, while this may or may not have been properly justified, expensing travel like that should be limited. Bob Reed with the Better Government Association says that questionable spending is certainly a problem that needs to be addressed.
"You have to really wonder if this isn't supplementing somebody's lifestyle as opposed to helping the political process."
-Bob Reed, Better Government Association
Reed does concede that making any changes or further regulation could prove incredibly difficult, as they'd have to go through the very legislators who are spending the money.
With the March Madness basketball tournament underway, social justice advocates are releasing their own version of the Elite Eight: the eight most-quoted sources in news articles about extremism. To create their list, the American Friends Service Committee looked through more than 600 media articles about violent extremism. Beth Hallowell is a communications research director with the group. She says they found that White House officials and the U.S. Military were among the top-quoted sources in the coverage, which, more of than not, portrays a link between extremism and the Islamic religion.
"Our national discourse is at an all-time low when it comes to violence, race, religion, and so forth. And so, we really want to encourage journalists and advocates to work together to change that narrative."
-Beth Hallowell, American Friends Service Committee
The committee's research also shows that Islam is mentioned in context with extremist violence about 90% of the time in media coverage, even if religion was not a relevant factor in the event being covered. Hallowell argues that sometimes media coverage can unintentionally create the false impressions that Muslim terrorism, especially in the U.S., is more prevalent than it actually is. To help curb that trend, Hallowell says journalists should try to avoid sensationalism.
"We encourage journalists to try to cover Muslim communities and Muslims as complex individuals, just like everybody else. And try to avoid some of the stereotypical linkages between Islam and violence."
-Beth Hallowell, American Friends Service Committee
Additionally, Hallowell suggests that advocacy groups could work with media outlets to get more balanced coverage of Muslim communities into the mainstream.
There's good and bad news for Illinois' labor force. Throughout the month of February, Illinois gained thousands of new jobs, but the unemployment rate continues to rise in the state. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has just released a report that shows a growth of over 18,000 jobs for Illinois last month. This gain was the strongest in the region, and has put the state back on par with its jobs count from January 2008, before the Great Recession began. However, the data also shows an uptick in the state's unemployment rate for the seventh month in a row. While this may seem counterintuitive, the numbers show that while the labor force has been expanding, the state's economy has just not been producing enough work opportunities for those entering the workforce, causing the unemployment rate to go up. It has risen from a low of 5.8% in July of 2015 to a high of 6.4% as of February. This gives Illinois the highest unemployment rate in the Midwest, and compares poorly to a 4.9% national unemployment rate.
Conservation groups say that Illinois could be using controlled fires more often and more effectively to help protect wildlife habitat and clean up areas that need it. Groups such as the Nature Conservancy cite a new report that shows the state should be burning at least 213,000 acres of land a year, to help protect more than a million acres of natural areas. But as of right now, controlled burns are only being used on about 6% of that land. John McCabe with the Forest Preserve of Cook County says prescribed fires help remove the underbrush that causes more severe wildfires, and destroy invasive plants.
"So, it allows these areas to stay in the best ecological health, which then will support the habitat for some of these rare and endangered species that, you know, are only found in some of these particular places on our properties."
-John McCabe, Forest Preserve
He describes controlled fire as the most important land management tool available, but McCabe also acknowledges that public perception of the practice is often unfavorable. He says that could be because of the media coverage of deadly wildfires in the western states.
"They see these huge flames and then, the next morning we're knocking on their door, letting them know we're going to be doing a prescribed burn behind their house. And so, if they hadn't been exposed to what burning means in our area and why it's important, all they're thinking about is that 'out west' situation."
-John McCabe, Forest Preserve
The report is one of the first to put into context Illinois' need for more controlled fires. It shows that about 20% of conservation lands are too far gone in terms of weeds and underbrush to support even a supervised burn. McCabe says that if the state does nothing, more protected lands will degrade. Both him and the Nature Conservancy say the state should consider expanding existing fire programs and training more staff and volunteers to keep pace with suggestions from the Illinois Prescribed Fire Council.
The City of Bushnell has issued a "Boil Order" for the following blocks until further notice: The 1000, 1100 and 1200 blocks of N.Crofford Street. Residents are asked to bring water to a boil and let cool before consuming. Stay tuned to Regional Media and MacombNewsNow.com for further updates or notice when the boil order has been lifted.
The Illinois Department of Public Health is observing World TB Day today, March 24th, to raise awareness that tuberculosis is still present in the world, and that it can be fatal. This is not a third-world problem, either. In 2015, 344 cases of tuberculosis were reported in Illinois, and one of those cases was extensively drug resistant. Up until now, the trend over the past decade has been that local cases of TB were declining. This is the first year since 2005 that the state has since an increase in the number of TB cases. IDPH is looking to raise awareness for the disease so that people recognize and know the importance of completing treatment in order to prevent additional cases, and especially to prevent the spread of drug-resistant TB. Tuberculosis is a contagious and potentially life-threatening disease that is transmitted from person-to-person through the air, mainly through things like coughs or sneezes. While TB can affect any part of the body, it's usually does the most damage to the lungs. The pharmaceutical treatment for TB is a drug regimen that can last anywhere from 6 to 12 months, and it is very important that people diagnosed with the disease finish the medicine and take it exactly as prescribed. You can find more information about Tuberculosis Click Here.
Bills are going through both the state House and Senate right now that would allow private donations to fund Illinois' two state-owned fairgrounds in Springfield and DuQuoin. As of right now, the two fairgrounds have a combined total of about $180 Million in deferred maintenance costs. Republican Representative Sara Wojcicki Jimenez says she's been going to the fairgrounds her entire life, and she hasn't seen much upkeep in all of those years. Illinois Department of Agriculture Acting Director Raymond Poe echoed her thoughts.
"Sara said some of these buildings haven't been worked on since she was a kid. I think some of them haven't been since I was a kid, and that adds a lot more years to it."
-Raymond Poe, Illinois Department of Agriculture
Governor Rauner is currently backing this reformative legislation, and is urging lawmakers to push House Bill 4990 and Senate Bill 2903 through Congress. Rauner says that having a foundation that's able to solicit private donations would help cover the maintenance costs, and alleviate the burden off of taxpayers, freeing funds up for areas like education and social services.
"Free up money to put into human services, free up money to put into our schools, and we can rely, to a greater degree, on the business community that would like to step up and be generous."
-Bruce Rauner, Governor of Illinois
While the passing of these bills would see some pretty quick turnaround with regards to covering maintenance costs, the reallocation of funds to other areas of Government can only do so much with the state still lacking a budget.
Though there's still no budget for the current fiscal year, the Secretary of State's office continues to spend money, albeit sparingly. Before the end of 2015, lawmakers passed a bill that allotted $10 Million for the Illinois Secretary of State's office to continue operations. Deputy Press Secretary Henry Haupt says some of that money was used to pay rent and utilities for drivers service facilities and vendors who maintain the office's cyber security operations. Outside of the highly publicized suspension of mailing out license plate renewal notices, Haupt says the office is taking other belt-tightening steps to save money during the ongoing impasse.
"A lot of other areas that the public may not see, anything that would require overtime, we've pretty much scrapped that. We've greatly limited travel."
-Henry Haupt, Illinois Secretary of State's Office
Meanwhile, Haupt says that the security company Garda has resumed services with the Secretary of State's Office as of last month. Garda picks up and delivers cash from drivers services facilities, and they had previously ended their working relationship with the office due to lack of payment. As for the rest of the money that was allotted to the Secretary of State's Office, Haupt says that they're holding about $4 Million in reserves for emergency needs.
"All of these things we do with an eye on our facilities and our ability to keep them open."
-Henry Haupt, Illinois Secretary of State's Office
Despite that being of significant priority, Haupt says that one landlord in Wheaton did make the decision to discontinue a lease, and that facility will be closing on March 24th. No further facility closures are expected in the near future.
The Fulton County Sheriff's Department is reminding all cattle and livestock owners to update their information with the department as it changes. The Sheriff's Department routinely gets reports of animals having got out, and without accurate contact information, locating a proper owner can be difficult. If you have recently moved animals to a different location, or if there have been other changes in your livestock situation, take a few minutes to update your information in the Fulton County Sheriff's Department's database by calling them at 309-547-2277
Another woman has been arrested in connection with the recent damage and burglary to an unoccupied trailer at 8180 E. 750th Street in Colchester. Rebecca Root of Colchester was taken into custody on March 21st and charged with criminal damage and two counts of burglary. Root is being lodged in the McDonough County Jail in lieu of bond, and is considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
On March 18th, the McDonough County Sheriffs Department investigated a burglary and criminal damage at an unoccupied trailer at 8180 E. 750th street in Colchester. Multiple windows were broken and evidence indicated that the trailer had been entered. Deputies have arrested Samantha McLeish of Macomb in connection with the damage. She has also been charged with burglary because she entered with intent to steal from within. McLeish has been lodged in the McDonough County Jail in lieu of bond. All suspects are considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
Spoon River College has begun class registration for the summer session and the fall 2016 semester. Returning students can begin registering online now, and advisor registration will be opening up on Friday, April 1st. All first-time students must fill out an application and take a COMPASS assessment test, or submit their official ACT scores before registering for classes. COMPASS tests will be offered at the Canton and Macomb campuses on Monday through Friday between 8am and 3pm, and at the Rushville and Havana centers by appointment. To view the course catalog, and get more information about the registration process, visit www.src.edu
Yesterday, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan sent a letter to Peabody Energy Corporation and Peabody Investments Corporation calling for them to publicly disclose the company's financial information with state legislators and community residents. Peabody operated a number of coal mines in Southern Illinois, and when building these mines committed to covering all costs related to reclamation down the road. You see, in order to run mines in the state of Illinois, mining companies must make a commitment to the state to have the necessary funds available to clean up and reclaim the land if and when the mine is closed. Many companies will buy surety bonds to ensure that funds will be available, but Peabody has relied on a process called "self-bonding," where the company commits that it has enough assets to cover the cost of reclamation; in this case, $92 Million. This self-bonding practice allowed Peabody to avoid the cost of involving a third party, but Madigan says that she has concerns about the company's financial solvency. With the state in the financial situation that it's in, Madigan says that there's no way the Government can handle the $92 Million bill, and is calling for Peabody's financial disclosure to make sure that they are good for the funds. She also says that reclaiming these mine sites are crucial to protect the public water supply and avoid any future risk of contamination. The Attorney General is not the only one looking toward Peabody. In fact, the Environmental Law and Policy Center has issued a similar demand for the release of financial information. The state and environmental interest groups are acting fast, as Peabody is currently involved in a potential bankruptcy. As of yet, there's been no statement released by the company on this issue.
Thousands of Illinois residents are taking care of loved ones while also working at jobs, and state senior advocates are backing a move to give these caregivers more flexibility to use their sick leave. State lawmakers are currently considering the "Eligible Leave for Employee Caregiving Time" or ELECT Act. Gerardo Cardenas with AARP Illinois says that this legislation would allow working caregivers to use their existing personal sick leave to care for an aging spouse or family member.
"The needs of caregiving imposes a tremendous pressure on them, in terms of figuring out how to take care of a loved one, while taking care of their responsibilities at the workplace."
-Gerardo Cardenas, AARP Illinois
According to a recent AARP poll, a majority of caregivers reported having to change jobs to stay employed while juggling the demands of family care. Currently, most Illinois employers allow workers to take sick days only for their own illnesses. More than half of Illinois' one-and-a-half million caregivers also work full-time. Cardenas says by allowing more flexibility in using sick leave, House Bill 6162 could help businesses retain good employees.
"Also, it makes business sense. This is something that can improver employee morale and reduce turnover of quality workers. A lot of caregivers have to cut hours because they need to take care of a loved one."
-Gerardo Cardenas, AARP Illinois
Democratic State Representative Andrew Skoog introduced the bill last month. So far, the idea has earned the support of 11 other House Democrats and Republican Representative John Anthony.
It's Sunshine Week, when civic groups focus on the need for open government and celebrate the Freedom of Information laws, including those in place in Illinois. This week, state Attorney General Lisa Madigan released a report showing that in 2015, her office helped resolve a majority of more than four-thousand disputes over the state's FOIA and Open Meetings Act laws. Sarah Brune with the government watchdog group the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, says one of the biggest wins came when Madigan's office found that Chicago Police improperly withheld information about the fatal police shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.
"Not only was a FOIA request denied in that case, they actually had to go to court to get the video in that shooting released. FOIA is important because it provides a point of access, but at the same time it can be problematic, because there's always someone on the other end who can approve or deny your request."
-Sarah Brune, Illinois Campaign for Political Reform
The national FOIA law was passed 50 years ago, giving citizens the right to access government information that might not have otherwise been made public. In addition to helping journalists and residents keep tabs on police, Brune says open access to government data can also help voters make more informed decisions. Her group recently unveiled the Illinois Sunshine database, which tracks how much money is flowing in and out of state politicians' campaigns.
"Understanding who is donating to your elected official is a really important piece of information for any resident to know. It just helps you put into context who may be influencing them, who has access to them."
-Sarah Brune, Illinois Campaign for Political Reform
The database tracks this information coming out of the Illinois State Board of Elections. While Illinois' FOIA law has been effective, Brune argues that there's still more work to be done. She points to a stipulation in the law that allows state legislators to be exempt from FOIA requests.
"Any kind of policy that excludes a certain class from FOIA requirements breeds a certain sense with the public that there must be something that they don't want the public to know."
-Sarah Brune, Illinois Campaign for Political Reform
Brune says that removing that exemption could help shed even more light on state government operations.
The Illinois State Police is reporting a 2-vehicle traffic accident early yesterday morning on US Rt. 34 near CR 800E in Henderson County. A little before 3:30 in the morning, a white Buick sedan driven by Chad Forrester of Oquawka, IL was traveling west on US Rt 34 near CR 800E when he drifted across the center lane and struck a Volvo tractor trailer driven by Eric Higdon of Mediapolis, IA. Forrester's car came to rest in the middle of the road, and Higdon's continued east, running off the road and coming to rest in a farm field on the south side of Rt 34. Forrester, who was not wearing his seat belt, was air lifted to OSF St. Francis in Peoria with serious injuries and Higdon was taken via ambulance to Great River Medical Center in Burlington for evaluation. Higdon is uninjured, and the condition of Chad Forrester in currently unknown. Charges have been filed for Improper lane usage, failure to reduce speed, operating an uninsured vehicle, failure to wear a seat belt, and possession of drug paraphernalia. All subjects are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate blocked a bill that opponents call the DARK Act, or Deny Americans the Right to Know. The bill would have reversed some strict genetically modified food laws that some states have already passed. It also would have prohibited other states from applying their own GMO labeling laws in the future. Abe Scarr with the watchdog group Illinois PIRG is praising Illinois Democratic Senator Dick Durbin for voting against the bill. Scarr says the move is a big win for consumers.
"We certainly appreciate Senator Durbin's vote to keep this bill from moving forward. I know he's representing Illinois; there's Big Ag in the state, who has come out strongly against GMO labeling. So, we appreciate that he did the right thing in our view, protecting consumer's right to know what's in their food."
-Abe Scarr, Illinois PIRG
Supporters of this bill argued that it would have established a national voluntary-labeling standard for foods made with GMOs, instead of food producers having to navigate a patchwork of individual state standards. Scarr says that labeling supporters are not trying to make food producers jump through hoops. Rather, he argues that most states considering labeling laws are following similar guidelines.
"We want something that works. We want something that informs consumers. We'd love to have a national standard. We don't see Congress taking action in the right direction, so that's why we're in the states, getting the states to do the right thing."
-Abe Scarr, Illinois PIRG
A recent Associated Press poll found that about two-thirds of U.S. consumers support GMO labeling. Currently, Vermont is set to have the first-in-the-nation mandatory GMO labeling law, which will take effect on July 1st.
The budget impasse continues to affect Illinois' daily proceedings, this time in the form of auto accident claims. According to Central Management Services, there are about 200 traffic accidents in the current fiscal year where the state has not paid out claims that its liable for. CMS says that without a budget, there is no appropriation for the state's self-insurance fund, used to pay out claims in traffic accidents. Jim Ackerman, a personal injury attorney out of Springfield says that this situation is pathetic.
"If a state employee runs in to your car and damages your bumper, fender, or whatever, the state isn't paying that now. And, if they run over your mother and kill her, the state isn't going to pay for quite some time."
-Jim Ackerman, Personal Injury Attorney
CMS projects the 200 claims total up to about $560,000 including the costs for appraisals and other related services.
Illinois' presidential primary happened yesterday, as part of what the media is calling "Super Tuesday 3." On the Republican side of the coin, Donald Trump won the state with 38% of the vote, and took 24 delegates. Ted Cruz trailed behind with 30%, and John Kasich came in third with about 19%. 4th place Marco Rubio took 8% of the state's votes, but has suspended his campaign after losing his home state of Florida to Donald Trump yesterday. In Illinois, the Democratic primary was much closer. Hillary Clinton secured another win, coming in with 50% of the total vote, but Bernie Sanders did not come far behind, trailing at less than 2%. A political map shows that Sanders actually won the vast majority of counties in the state, but Clinton secured a number of large and important ones, including Cook County. Clinton takes 66 delegates, and Sanders takes 64.
Looking at some local election data -
McDonough County -
40.67% of Registered Voters Reported
DONALD TRUMP - 36.61%
TED CRUZ - 33.17%
JOHN KASICH - 18.84%
BERNIE SANDERS - 57.68%
HILLARY CLINTON - 41.3%
Fulton County -
37.1% of Registered Voters Reported
BERNIE SANDERS - 53.05%
HILLARY CLINTON - 44.96%
DONALD TRUMP - 40.66%
TED CRUZ - 36.86%
JOHN KASICH - 14.2%
Schuyler County -
41.67% of Registered Voters Reported
HILLARY CLINTON - 54.36%
BERNIE SANDERS - 43.28%
DONALD TRUMP - 44.42%
TED CRUZ - 30.98%
JOHN KASICH - 13.51%
Warren County -
41.48% of Registered Voters Reported
DONALD TRUMP - 33.29%
TED CRUZ - 32.21%
JOHN KASICH - 22.63%
BERNIE SANDERS - 49.97%
HILLARY CLINTON - 48.95%
No data was found for Henderson or Hancock county at this time.
As of 12:00pm on March 15th, 2016, severe thunderstorms are expected in the later part of the afternoon going into this evening. No warnings or watches have been issued at this time, but we are currently under a hazardous weather outlook. According to the National Weather Service -
THE MAIN THREAT OF SEVERE WEATHER WILL BE BETWEEN 3 PM AND 10 PM
CDT. SOME SEVERE STORMS ARE POSSIBLE...WITH THE MAIN THREATS OF
VERY LARGE HAIL OF GOLFBALL SIZE OR BIGGER...AND ISOLATED WIND
GUSTS AROUND 60 MPH. THERE IS ALSO POTENTIAL FOR AN ISOLATED
TORNADO OR TWO...ESPECIALLY SOUTH OF INTERSTATE 80.
This outlook is currently in effect for north central Illinois, northwest Illinois, west central Illinois, east central Iowa, northeast Iowa, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri.
There's continuing discord in the Illinois houses of Congress, as many Republican legislators are calling out the House, specifically Speaker Michael Madigan and the Democratic leadership, for the month-long absence amidst the many problems currently plaguing our state. State Senator Jason Barickman said that the Speaker should call his chamber back into session.
"Demonstrate, to the people that we represent, that we're here, ready to work, and ready to work together, on a bipartisan solution."
-Jason Barickman, Illinois State Senator
With the budget impasse currently exceeding 8 months, Senator Barickman and many others believe that it's irresponsible for the House to be gone for so long. State Senator Dale Righter says that he's heard from people in his district that this break is "ridiculous."
"Who else, in the midst of difficult issues, and some would say crises, can simply walk away from their duties for a month, and not be fired."
-Dale Righter, Illinois State Senator
Steve Brown, a spokesman for Michael Madigan, said that nobody raised any concerns when the House schedule was posted months ago. Brown said that there's no point in raising concern. The House will return to session on April 4th, and the speaker will continue to work with the Governor in a "professional and cooperative manner" to solve the budget impasse.
Throughout the month of January, despite seeing an increase of 1,500 jobs in Illinois, the state's unemployment rate has increased from 6.1 to 6.3 percent. Politicians are split as to the cause of this, with many republicans, including Governor Rauner, saying that Illinois' bad business climate is what's killing off the jobs. Many democrats, on the other hand, are pointing to the ever-mounting budget impasse as the primary cause. Democratic State Senator Kimberly Lightford told administration officials last week that the missing budget is stretching things too thin, causing cuts, and adding to the unemployment rate.
"Yeah there's loss of jobs, because you're laying everybody off."
-Kimberly Lightford, Illinois State Senator
Tim Nuding, director of the Governor's Office of Management and Budget, said that the unemployment problem hasn't just been arising in the past year. In the last 15 years, Illinois lost a total of about 100,000 jobs, while the nation as a whole gained about 12 million in the same time.
"Until we reverse that, we will never fix our budget problem."
-Tim Nuding, Governor's Office
The Illinois Department of Employment Security says that more people are currently looking for work, but they're having ever-increasing difficulty finding jobs. A statement from Jim Shultz, the department's director, reads: "(It's) completely unacceptable that Illinois' unemployment rate rose. (The state) must take action to jumpstart growth and create jobs and economic opportunity." Illinois's unemployment rate continues to remain above the national average, which is currently below 5%.
One final reminder, the Illinois Primary for the Presidential Election will take place tomorrow (3/15/2016), all throughout the state. If you're registered to vote, make sure to do so! You can find information on where you're polling place is here.
Last Friday, the Western Illinois University Board of Trustees voted to keep the 2015-16 fees, room, and meal plan rates for the upcoming 2016-17 academic year. This will be in addition to the three percent tuition discount for new undergraduate students for the coming year that was approved back in December. Both tuition and all fees, room, and meal plan rates are locked in to Western's Cost Guarantee program, which will keep the rates the same for all undergraduate students who are continually enrolled, for up to four years.
As Illinois voters prepare to head to the polls in the state primary Tuesday, a coalition of business and conservation leaders is asking the presidential candidates to make restoring the Great Lakes a priority. According to the group, more than 40 million people rely on the lakes for clean drinking water, and over a million jobs depend on the waterways. David Ullrich with the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative is asking the candidates to pledge at least 300-million dollars in yearly funding to help protect areas along the Lake Michigan shoreline.
"There have been very significant investments out of the Great Lakes restoration initiative, which has tremendously enhances the migrating habitat for large numbers of migrating birds."
-David Ullrich, Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative
Ullrich also says the restoration project is helping to clean Waukegan Harbor, which the Environmental Protection Agency once declared one of the world's most chemical contamination sites. Jordan Lubetkin with the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition says the country has made progress cleaning the lakes in recent years. But he points to the water problems facing residents in Flint, Michigan, as a clear sign that more work needs to be done.
"It's a public health crisis, it's an infrastructure crisis, it's a drinking water crisis. So, we know how important clean water is, and that's why we need to see the nation continue to make Great Lakes restoration a national priority."
-Jordan Lubetkin, Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition
The coalition notes that, even with a sharply-divided Congress, Great Lakes restoration has eared strong bipartisan support from lawmakers. Ullrich says the group is now asking every presidential candidate to endorse the Great Lakes platform.
"To see Republicans and Democrats come together on an issue surrounding the Great Lakes is really quite encouraging. We want to see all of the candidates support this."
-David Ullrich, Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative
Last night, around 8:43pm, there was a fatal crash at IL Route 9 and County Road 2100 North in McDonough County. A driver was traveling northbound in a 2003 Pontiac Sedan, approaching a curve at CR 2100 North. The car failed to account for the curve, struck a curve indicator, a stop sign, and crashed into a tree. The man was killed as a result of the crash. The McDonough County Sheriff's Office, the Bushnell Police Department, the Prairie City Fire Department, the McDonough County Coroner's Office, and the Illinois Department of Transportation all assisted in handling the aftermath of the crash.
Young people accused of crimes in Illinois could soon have new protections that their advocates believe will help cut down on false confessions. State lawmakers are discussing a bill that would extend the right to a lawyer to kids ages 13 to 17 who are in police custody for questioning. Senator Patricia Van Pelt is a lead sponsor on the bill. She says the state has been sued numerous times for extracting false confessions from young people who waived their Miranda rights without really understanding them.
"Ninety-six percent of the kids do not understand it, and they waive it. And then the police are able to also deceive them to get confessions out of them, and it ends up in adult court."
-Patricia Van Pelt, Illinois Senator
The bill would require any minor who is interrogated to have a lawyer present; otherwise, their statement cannot be used in court. Sheila Bedi is a juvenile justice lawyer who recently worked on a successful class-action suit in Saint Clair County. In that case, a 17-year old with the IQ of a 9-year old had no attorney when he was interrogated by police. The boy falsely confessed to an armed robbery and spent nine months in jail. Bedi says she's supporting the bill because of cases like this.
"The idea that a child cannot vote, cannot sign contracts, but can be subjected to an interrogation without the guidance of counsel just flies in the face of any notions of fairness and due process."
Sheila Bedi, Juvenile Justice Lawyer
Bedi says young people accused of serious crimes will many times tell police what they want to hear in an intense interrogation. Currently in Illinois, only children und the age of 12 have the right to an attorney during interrogation, and that's only for murder and sex offense charges.
A new poll from the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale shows that a majority of people in the state are in favor of instituting term limits on representatives and senators, and in a state with quite a bit of perceived government dysfunction, that's really no surprise. Overall, the poll shows support for 8 year term limits at 78% of the population, and that's pretty evenly split among Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. The poll also showed overwhelming support for various proposals to help combat gerrymandering when redistricting after the census every 10 years.
The 4th Annual McDonough County Crimestoppers Lasagna Dinner is coming up on March 23rd! Starting at 5pm at the Forum, there will be silent and live auctions, a 50/50 raffle, and a couple very popular events are going to return from previous years.
"People seem to enjoy the K-9 demo and taser demo and we're going to bring that back and do that again."
-Adam Cremer, McDonough County Sheriff's Department
That's Deputy Adam Cremer from the McDonough County Sheriff's Department, and he says that this has always been a very popular event, and it goes to support the local Crimestoppers division, a very important law enforcement tool in our area. Magnolias will be catering this event, and you can buy your tickets there, at the McDonough County Sheriff's Office, Ron Elbe Auto, or Minus Muffler.
The WIU Office of Public Safety (OPS) will hold a Public Safety Expo later this month. The Expo will be held on Wednesday, March 23rd at Western Hall - East Arena from 10am-2pm and is open/free to WIU students, faculty/staff & the general public. The list of activities include:
10am-2pm: Police Scenario Simulator - WIU OPS
10am-2pm: Driving Simulator - Illinois State Police
10:30am-11am: K-9 Demo - Macomb Police Dept.
11am-1pm: Lunch provided by HyVee
11:30am-Noon: K-9 Demo - Illinois State Police
12:30pm-1pm: Rescue Airbag Demo - Macomb Fire Dept.
1:30pm-2pm: K-9 Demo - McDonough County Sheriffs Dept.
Special thanks to HyVee for donations, WIU Campus Recreation for their assistance, and to the Illinois State Police, Macomb Fire Department, Macomb Police Department, McDonough County Sheriffs Office, McDonough District Hospital & the WIU Office of Public Safety (OPS).
The Illinois Department of Transportation announced that IL 95 at the BNSF railroad tracks, just east of IL 41 in McDonough County, will close to traffic the morning of Monday, March 14th. This closure will continue through September in order for bridge construction work to be completed. Detour routes will be posted, please use caution when driving through any and all work zones.
With the upcoming primary election, and still no budget from state government, county clerks across Illinois are doing what they can to mitigate additional taxpayer costs during the primary. State election mandates passed back in 2014 include same-day registration and early polling places, and many are saying that they're having to spend more to keep employees on during the extended hours.
"That's an expense to us. Double time for an employee, as well as security. So all those things add up over time."
-Don Gray, Sangamon County Clerk
That's Don Gray, the county clerk for Sangamon County, and he says that another major expense is printing ballot books. The Illinois State Board of Elections says the various new mandates do not come with any reimbursement for county government.
Governor Bruce Rauner called a media briefing yesterday to criticize House Democrats for closing their session when there's so much work to be done in Springfield. Rauner specifically called out Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, and said that it was embarrassing that they're choosing not to work.
"That's a dereliction of duty. That's a failure of Speaker Madigan and his caucus to do their jobs."
-Bruce Rauner, Governor of Illinois
While Rauner is criticizing this break, a representative for Michael Madigan is reminding him that the House schedule has been published for months, and he says that we should really be embarrassed with the Governor for not addressing spending from his political action committee before the primary.
Several Midwestern states, including Illinois, are getting millions of dollars to help protect fishing, hunting, and wildlife areas. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is setting aside $21 Million for conservation efforts in Illinois. Over the past 2 years, the Service's Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program has helped bring back the osprey population to the state. Jim Hodgson head's up the Midwestern division of the program. He says that this bird has been endangered in the state.
"Ospreys are an important component in our wildlife ecosystems. So, having a population of osprey also benefits other wildlife resources."
-Jim Hodgson, Fish and Wildlife Service
The money for the restoration program comes mainly from taxes on sporting equipment, such as guns, ammunition, and fishing gear. Hodgson says it's a "user-pay, user-benefit system." In total, the restoration program will distribute more than a billion dollars to all 50 states in 2016.
Although Illinois' Congress cannot agree on terms for a budget, there is something that seems to bring the parties together; Military intelligence. The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency will be relocating their western headquarters, and Illinois officials are hoping that they'll chose to move from St. Louis, Missouri, to East St. Louis in St. Claire County, Illinois. The county would provide land for the NGA, and $115 Million in tax investments have been approved for building infrastructure, but Governor Rauner says that the NGA would also benefit from Illinois' talent in the field of computer science; A claim that Senator Dick Durbin agrees with.
"The talent pool that we have here in Illinois, all across downstate, but particularly from our major college campus, that can benefit our government by making sure the best and brightest are part of the future of NGA."
-Dick Durbin, U.S. Senator
Durbin says that Illinois is making a compelling case to the federal government to move NGA operations into the state. As of right now, Illinois' leaders are competing with Missouri to decide the new location. The decision on where the headquarters will go is expected to be made some time this month.
The 2016 St. Baldrick's event happened in Tanner Hall at WIU over the weekend, and once again the event raised a lot of money for a great cause. On Sunday, 50 people came out and went "under the clippers" after pledging money to help cure children's cancer. Over $11,000 was raised from this year's event! St. Baldrick's happens every year at WIU, but it's not specific to this area. Nationwide, St. Baldrick's events have been going on since the year 2000. In total, over half a million heads have been shaved in support, and over $178 Million has been raised toward life-saving childhood cancer research. If you'd like to find out more about St. Baldrick's, visit www.stbaldricks.org
The Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has released her office's annual top 10 Consumer Complaints for 2015. Out of over 25,000 complaints received last year, these top 10 account for a good portion, and the issues that top the last are looking very similar to last year. Coming in at the top are complaints about consumer debt, followed fairly closely by identity theft concerns. These two items topped the list last year, so it seems safe to say that constituents aren't feeling any safer when it comes to these areas. We're also seeing a new addition to the list this year, and it comes in at number 7 of the list; Education. This topic includes everything from student loan debt to for-profit schools, and with the current state of affairs for many public and private schools, as well as colleges, it's really no surprise that people have been speaking out. If you'd like to see the full list, or get more information, you can contact the Attorney General's office, or go to her website - http://www.illinoisattorneygeneral.gov/
On Friday evening, a car crash was reported on County Road 1800E in Carthage. A black Chevrolet pickup, driven by Cody Twaddle of Carthage, was westbound on the road when it suddenly drove off the right side of the road and into the north ditch. Twaddle then drove the vehicle back onto the road, across both lanes of traffic, and into the south ditch and a wire fence. The reason for the crash has yet to be determined. ISP officers along with the Hancock County Sheriff's, EMS, and the Carthage Fire Department were on scene, and Twaddle was taken by ambulance after suffering major injuries. Twaddle has been charged with Improper lane use, failure to reduce speed to avoid a crash, seat belt not worn, illegal transportation of open alcoholic beverage container, and no proof of insurance. The investigation is ongoing, and additional charges may be filed at a later date. All suspects are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
With Illinois' March 15th primary about a week away, state voters have a new tool to help them become better informed on local and national candidates. The new Voter's Edge Illinois website hosts candidate profiles, ballot measure summaries, and even information on who is funding the campaigns. Daniel Newman is co-founder of MapLight, which helped bring the Voter's Edge project to Illinois. He says many times voters face a void of information, and this is one convenient way to help fill that gap.
"When it comes to local elections especially, it's not even clear who's running. Voter's Edge Illinois brings all the information together into one place about who's running and who's on your ballot."
-Daniel Newman, MapLight
Candidates are also able to upload information about themselves and their policy priorities. While much of the information available on the Voter's Edge site can also be found at the State Board of Elections, Newman says his nonpartisan group conducts original, neutral research to help voters make more informed decisions.
"So, it's a tool that's useful to everyone regardless of your political party, regardless of your opinion. It's really putting you the voter in charge. That's why we call it Voter's Edge."
-Daniel Newman, MapLight
Voter's Edge launched in California two years ago, and this year has expanded to both Illinois and New York. To use the site, voters enter their address to find their polling place and to get a full list of who is running for federal, state, and local offices. Voters can also fill out and print a sample ballot to bring to the polls. To view this new tool, go to www.votersedge.org
Yesterday, some warmer weather was in the air, but the waters of Spring Lake were still plenty chilly for the 2016 Law Enforcement Torch Run Polar Plunge. There was a huge turnout, and nearly 100 people plunged themselves into the Lake for this great cause. Individuals came out as well as groups like the Hancock County Sheriffs Department, the Macomb Police Department, Greek organizations from WIU, and some Special Olympics Athletes themselves. Anybody who participated in the plunge must have raised at least $100, and many of them went far above and beyond that. A total of over $15,000 was raised to support Special Olympics Illinois, and Macomb's inaugural Polar Plunge was ruled a resounding success!
March has been widely recognized as Red Cross Month, dating all the way back to 1943. During the entire month, the American Red Cross is taking extra steps to encourage blood donation. If you'd like to donate, look at the local donation opportunities below -
Hancock County -
3/16/16: 12pm - 5pm - First Christian Church, 701 Wabash Ave, Carthage IL
3/16/16: 12pm - 5pm - LaHarpe Community Center, 702 W. Main, LaHarpe IL
Adams County -
3/17/16: 1pm - 6pm - Quincy Blood Donation Center, 3000 N. 23rd Street, Quincy IL
3/24/16: 1pm - 6pm - Quincy Blood Donation Center, 3000 N. 23rd Street, Quincy IL
3/29/16: 10am - 2pm - Illinois Veterans Home, 1707 N. 12th Street, Quincy IL
3/31/16: 1pm - 6pm - Quincy Blood Donation Center, 3000 N. 23rd Street, Quincy IL
Cass County -
3/22/16: 12pm - 6pm - VFW Post 1239, 610 E. 4th Street, Beardstown IL
McDonough County -
3/30/16: 10am - 3pm - Western Illinois University Union, 1 University Circle, Macomb IL
Go to www.redcrossblood.org for more information
HyVee Incorporated has announced a voluntary recall of Maytag Raw Milk Blue Cheese due to possible contamination of Listeria Monocytogenes, an organism which can cause serious and potentially fatal infections in people with compromised immune systems, the elderly, and children. Listeria Monocytogenes can also cause fever, severe headache, nausea and abdominal pain in healthy individuals, though effects are usually short-term. The recalled cheese was sold in wheels, cuts and crumbles. To be safe, if you have any product labeled as "Maytag Blue Raw Milk," "Maytag Blue," or "Maytag Iowa Blue Cheese" that was purchased between November 20th of 2015 and March 2nd, 2016, discard it or return it to your local HyVee for a full refund. The possible contamination was discovered after routine testing, and to date no illnesses have been reported in connection with the product.
Yesterday, two new education bills went to the Illinois House floor, and were approved by the Democratic majority. The first, and most significant bill, was to approve $3.7 Billion in spending for higher education and social services. This bill would fund these schools and programs at the level approved by the initial Democrat-backed budget that Rauner vetoed a number of months back. Additionally, the second bill would cancel the requirement that the state repay $454 Million borrowed from special funds in last year's budget. The first bill passed by a margin of 70-43, and the second at 61-52. House Republicans were largely against both bills, seeing little compromise in their eyes. They argued that both of these measures will add to the state's ballooning backlog of unpaid bills. Following the vote, the Speaker moved to adjourn the session. The House will meet again on April 4th, a full month from today. Representative Don Moffit said that he was disappointed in the way the week ended.
"That's just wrong to let it go when things are getting worse by the day. To adjourn, leave town without completing the business, that's wrong, it's disappointing...not the way government should work."
-Don Moffit, Illinois Representative
Both SB 2990 and HB 648 will now go to the Senate to be voted on, potentially as early as next week. However, if the bills make it to the Governor's desk, Rauner is expected to veto them both. In a statement, Governor Rauner said that once again the General Assembly is attempting to pass measures that cannot be paid for, and he criticized Congress for leaving town instead of focusing on real bipartisan solutions.
Yesterday, an override vote for the vetoed Senate Bill 2043 made its way back to the house, and failed by a margin of two votes. The bill, which was vetoed by the Governor beforehand, would have allotted funding for MAP Grants and two-year colleges. This bill really split with parties, and very little bipartisan action was seen in reference to it. The Democrats in the House were largely in favor of the bill, and need 71 votes to override Rauner's veto, but came up with only 69. The Illinois Federation of Teachers has spoken out against the Governor and other opponents of the bill, and are calling this veto irresponsible. John Miller, a WIU professor and President of University Professionals of Illinois added that despite Governor Rauner's claims to prioritize education, he's shown with his veto of MAP funding and his 25% cut to higher education, what his true colors are. The Governor and House Republicans both cited a lack of funding as the reason for not supporting SB 2043. They say that without a clear stream of revenue to support the measure, that it will only dig Illinois into a deeper financial hole.
The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability has recently spoken out on the state's economy saying that a recently discovered slowdown in consumer spending could lead to negative effects down the road. When looking at tax rates, COGFA's Revenue Manager Jim Muschinski said that there is a slump in sales taxes reported; a good indication that consumer spending is starting to fade.
"And when the consumer starts to fade, bad things typically follow."
-Jim Muschinski, COGFA
Beyond tax rates, COGFA has also found that Illinois' labor force participation rate is the lowest that it's been since the 1970s. Chief Economist Ed Boss Jr. talks about these troubling numbers.
"They're not looking for jobs, they can't find them for economic reasons, they're working part time but they'd like to have full time. So I think what you've really got to look at is how much of the population is really in the labor force."
-Ed Boss Jr., COGFA
While certainly concerning, we shouldn't be too quick to jump the gun on this delicate issue. Boss says that if those people who have stopped looking for work were to suddenly reenter the labor force, the state's unemployment rate would once again begin to rise. At the moment, Illinois already has a higher unemployment rate than the rest of the Midwest, and the country as a whole. These numbers are very closely related to the state's struggling manufacturing sector and the state's incredibly slow growth, dating all the way back to World War II.
A new study from Avalere Health shows that nationally, the United States has a number of regions suffering from poor access to primary care physicians. Approximately 57 millions Americans currently live in an community where health care is understaffed. This translates down to the state level, and in Illinois specifically, 229 areas were found to be understaffed. That means that about 27% of Illinoisans live in an area without a sufficient number of doctors. With an ever-increasing population, the country's need for doctors is only growing. However, if things continue at the current rate, the U.S. health care system will have a deficit of roughly 52,000 doctors by 2025.
Congress is considering a bill than an Illinois consumer watchdog group says could prevent legitimate complaints about Internet access from being investigated. Supporters of the "No Rate Regulation of Broadband Internet Access Act," by Illinois Congressman Adam Kinzinger, say the bill is supposed to prevent the Federal Communications Commission from capping how much Internet Service Providers, or ISPs, can charge customers. While this seems like a good move for consumers, Jim Chilsen with the Citizens Utility Board is warning people that the one-paragraph bill could do a lot more than what its sponsors may intend.
"The initial language of the bill is so broad that it could effectively strip the Federal Communications Commission of its ability to protect consumers from price-gouging and threats to net neutrality."
-Jim Chilsen, Citizens Utility Board
The bill was introduced last summer by Kinzinger, who argues that allowing the FCC to regulate consumer broadband rates would be bad for business. The FCC, however, says it has no plans to do that. Chilsen's group says unless the bill is rewritten with a more narrow focus, it could turn out to be bad for Internet customers.
"Consumers deserve reasonable and just prices and business practices from their Internet companies, and the FCC should be able to investigate that."
-Jim Chilsen, Citizens Utility Board
Chilsen says the No Rate Regulation bill would also prevent the FCC from investigating complaints about billing errors. The legislation is currently awaiting a vote in the federal House Energy and Commerce Committee. As of right now, the bill has not earned any bipartisan support. Its 18 cosponsors are all Republicans.