Macomb Local News Archives for 2018-01

Senator Jil Tracy reacts to State of the State speech

Illinois State Senator Jil Tracy reacted Wednesday to Governor Bruce Rauner's State of the State speech. Tracy, the state senator of Illinois' 47th district, gave her thoughts on what Rauner had to say. You can listen to her comments here.   

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Rauner delivers State of the State speech

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner says he’s planted the seeds of growth in Illinois but not everyone sees that.
 
During his State of the State address Wednesday in front of a joint session of the General Assembly, Rauner said other Democrat dominated states like Rhode Island and California have reformed pensions, lowered workers' compensation costs, and enacted other reforms he said are necessary for Illinois.
 
“We have the power to take similar steps,” Rauner said. “The question is whether we have the will to take them.”
 
“But there is no question about this, we have planted the seeds of growth in our economy,” he said.
 
“No, we haven’t,” Wirepoints Founder Mark Glennon said in reaction to Rauner’s speech. “Our job growth has been horribly underperforming compared to other states. There are no seeds planted. We haven’t even taken that first step.”
 
Illinois has had slow jobs growth and a higher unemployment rate than the national average. One example is manufacturing jobs. President Donald Trump touted 200,000 new manufacturing jobs added across the county in all of 2017 during Tuesday State of the Union address, but Illinois only snagged 7,700 of those manufacturing jobs while neighboring states’ gains outpace Illinois’.
 
Rauner also urged lawmakers to act on several issues he said will restore trust in state government.
 
Rauner said the state has to change the way property taxes are assessed and challenged, because taxpayers are being crushed and connected interests are profiting.
 
“It is a vicious form of oppression,” Rauner said. “The system traps people within in their homes, vaporizes their equity, drives mortgages underwater and in some cases pushes people out of our state. It is time to put a stop to this corruption.”
 
Drawing off the outrage evident in the #MeToo movement, Rauner also said he’s signing an executive order to tighten up ethics reforms in executive agencies, including for employees under collective bargaining agreements. He urged lawmakers to pass similar legislation.
 
Rauner delivers his Budget Address in two weeks.

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Illinois lawmaker files bill to block vehicle miles traveled tax

An Illinois state lawmaker wants to put an end to a vehicle miles traveled, or VMT, tax before the conversation starts to rev up.
 
Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, floated the idea in 2016 of putting a transponder on passenger vehicles to tax per mile as a way to find more revenue for infrastructure, but he abandoned the idea after immense public opposition. Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker recently floated the idea as a policy position.
 
State Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Raymond, said it’s not a workable solution and filed a resolution opposing a VMT. She said such a tax will be more punishing for rural drivers.
 
“A lot of us have to drive many, many miles to our workplace or to drop kids off at school or whatever the case may be,” Bourne said. “It’s very different than city life where they may not be driving many miles at all.”
 
Americans for Prosperity Director of Federal Policy Mary Kate Hopkins said a VMT tax, like other user fees, might sound like a good idea at first, but it hits the least fortunate the hardest.
 
“The problem is not a revenue problem, it’s a spending problem, and we’ve got to address out-of-control spending,” Hopkins said.
 
Others have said a VMT tax could lead to double, if not triple taxation, let alone the privacy concerns that would be raised.
 
Hopkins also said some in the federal government may be thinking of increasing the federal gas tax by 25 cents as a way to generate more revenue for the country’s infrastructure.
 
Raising the gas tax is a knee-jerk reaction, she said, and policy makers should instead ensure gas tax revenue goes toward what drivers actually use like roads and bridges, not bike trails. She also said the prevailing wage needs to be addressed for a couple of reasons.
 
“No. 1, increased costs,” Hopkins said, “and No. 2, it kind of creates these problems where you want to do a project, but you can’t afford the labor and people are willing to do the work for less but because of prevailing wage requirements, they can’t.”
 
Proponents of the VMT tax or increasing the gas tax say there’s a need because of more fuel efficient and electric cars paying little to no gas tax.

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Answers vary in gerrymandering poll of governor candidates

Not all of Illinois’ candidates for governor would like to take the political map drawing process out of the hands of politicians who have long benefitted from it.
 
Illinois’ next governor will have a say in how Illinois’ political boundaries are scattered across the state for 10 years. This process, known as redistricting, has been long-criticized for allowing the party in power to draw maps that allow them to maintain their majorities at the state and national level. It’s this reason the Illinois Redistricting Collaborative is demanding candidates answer some tough questions about their positions on the process.
 
Some candidates have yet to respond to their 18-question surveys. Of those who did, Democrat J.B. Pritzker simply answered “yes” to the majority of the questions and providing the same elaboration to multiple questions.
 
“Even if he didn’t give much in terms of details, he’s still answering yes,” said Brandon Lee, communications coordinator at Asian Americans Advancing Justice Chicago, a member of the Illinois Redistricting Collaborative. “We have this record as a starting point and would be interested in some additional detail.”
 
Of the five that answered, only Democrat Bob Daiber supported the current system, saying “a nonpartisan commission wouldn’t necessarily end gerrymandering.” He said Illinois’ current system could use further oversight.
 
The practice of gerrymandering districts to favor parties in power, Lee said, results in too many “safe districts” that are decided by small numbers of people.
 
“When politicians pick their voters, you’re going to get districts that are advantageous for the people who drew them,” he said. “We’re trying to make it so that voters are able to pick their politicians.”
 
Redistricting reform is popular on both sides of the political spectrum. An October poll by the Paul Simon Institute for Public Policy showed 72 percent of Illinoisans support an independent commission to draw Illinois' district lines.

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Legislators and business community address hopes for State of the State

Members of the legislature and the business community are giving their take on what they want Gov. Bruce Rauner to address in Wednesday’s State of the State speech.
 
The speech is at noon Wednesday in Springfield. Rauner has already said he’ll talk about the gains in education funding and the need to reduce the $5 billion income tax increase lawmakers imposed last summer over his veto.
 
State Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, said he hopes Rauner gets away from pushing for political reforms and focuses on shoring the more than $2 billion his administration spent above what was appropriated.
 
“If it’s just the same old, same old, ‘We’re going to turn things around,’ and ‘Gosh, if we only had term limits we’d have $2 billion less in debt,’ he’s wasted an opportunity,” Harris said.
 
State Rep. Peter Breen, R-Lombard, said he hopes Rauner will reflect on how the rest of the country is doing, while Illinois continues to struggle and the need for economic reforms.
 
“We can take on some pro-growth policies, we can take advantage of the new Republican tax cuts and the new economic growth that is gripping the nation,” Breen said.
 
National Federation of Independent Business Illinois State Director Mark Grant said small businesses across the country have the wind at their backs, but in Illinois there are concerns.
 
Grant said small businesses want to see the governor lead on economic reforms like lowering workers’ compensation costs, decreasing the income tax, and addressing the state’s highest-in-the-nation property taxes. He also wants to hear the governor oppose any additional taxes.
 
“Everybody is saying, ‘there’s not going to be anymore taxes because they did them last year, with the income tax [increase],’” Grant said. “But I’m really concerned still about the feelings that ‘we need to start taxing services’. We don’t like that. Our businesses don’t like it. It’s bad for business.”
 
Two weeks after today’s speech will be Rauner’s budget address in Springfield.

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Mother Moon Service Scholarship applications available

The following explanation of the Mother Moon Service Scholorship comes from a McDonough County United Way press release. Please contact your school guidance counselor or the McDonough County United Way at 309-837-9180 or mcdcunitedway@gmail.com for an application.  All applications must be received in the United Way office no later than Friday, March 30, 2018.
 
"The mission of the Mother Moon Service Scholarship is to encourage and set a standard for individuals to give freely of their time and talent in service to others in their community. It is believed that values and habits are formed at an early age, and that each one of us must be a trustee of our community.  As a trustee, we are responsible for leaving the community in better condition than we found it.  The Mother Moon Scholarship Fund awards student scholarships for community service in recognition of Sadie “Mother” Moon and countless others like her who have focused their lives on serving others."  
 
"Mother Moon, as she was called by all who knew her, was born in 1880 and died in 1956.  She lived most of her life in Macomb, Illinois, but her impact on the lives of others reached far beyond the little town.  She raised 10 children of her own, in addition to many others who felt that she had been like a mother to them."  
 
"In the spring of 1991, Jane Leighty Justis approached the family of Sadie Moon with a rather unusual request – to name a scholarship in their mother’s name.  Jane’s father, H.D. “Ike” Leighty, was influenced greatly by Mother Moon when he was a boy living in her hometown of Macomb, Illinois.  He described Mother Moon as a wonderful example of one who quietly served others in need.  Mother Moon Service Scholarships have been awarded in her hometown of Macomb, Illinois, since 1994."
 
"To be eligible for the Mother Moon Service Scholarship a student must meet the following criteria:
Be enrolled as a Junior at one of the accredited McDonough County high schools
Plan to attend an accredited public or private University, College, Vocational Technical school, or other post-secondary institution upon graduation from high school
Be a good example and role model for others
Demonstrate an attitude of caring by giving freely of their time and talent in service to others in their community
Have contributed at least 100 hours of service to their community within a 12 month period"
 

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State Board: School funding delay is bureaucratic, not part of scholarship fight

Some school superintendents in Illinois say unless lawmakers quickly scuttle Gov. Bruce Rauner's tax scholarship changes, they may have to wait months to get the new money they've been promised. But the Illinois State Board of Education says the schools are going to have to wait regardless. 
 
The latest in the battle over Illinois' new school funding formula and the delay in getting money to schools is in the bureaucratic weeds.
 
A handful of superintendents turned out at the Illinois Capitol Monday to tell lawmakers that they're still waiting for word from ISBE as to how much they'll get from Illinois' new evidence-based school funding model. ISBE told the same lawmakers that it first needs enrollment figures from all schools in the state before it can answer that question.
 
This all happened as Democrats at the Capitol continued their fight against the governor's changes to a scholarship program. 
 
Bottom line, state Rep. Bob Pritchard, R-Sycamore, said it'll likely be March or April before schools get anything firm about their promised money. 
 
"The point is, ISBE wanted to get the numbers right," Pritchard said. "They need to correct whatever numbers ISBE has in its database."
 
ISBE said 97 of Illinois' 850 or so school districts are tardy in returning those numbers. 
 
Robert Wolf with ISBE said it is important for schools and the board of education to get this data right. 
 
"This is foundational work," Wolf told lawmakers. "If these numbers are not accurate, if we do not get concurrence on these numbers from our school districts, or there has not been diligence from the state board and school districts, we will have a situation in the future where school funding for a district would not be accurate."
 
There is a follow-up piece of legislation pending for lawmakers. That's the proposal that Rauner changed to shoehorn in additional rules for private school scholarships. 
 
But ISBE said that legislation actually deals with two technical issues, and that is not why there is a delay in getting local districts answers about what the new school funding formula would mean for them. 
 
Democrats say the legislature needs to act on that clean-up legislation first. 
 
Republicans in Springfield say there's no rush, and would rather see ISBE do its job and start to distribute money to schools first. 

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McDonough County V.I.B.E. presents checks to 2017 recipients

McDonough County V.I.B.E. (Volunteers Interested in Benefiting Everyone) presented checks to their 2017 recipients Monday afternoon at The Old Dairy.  

 

The Macomb Police Explorers received a check (below) for $4,000 which they plan to use for uniforms and equipment.

 

McDonough County YMCA received a check (below) for $24,000 with which it plans to purchase a newer van for delivering meals on wheels and transportation for children.

 

 

Macomb SRT (Strategic Response Team) received a check (below) for $25,000 which they will put towards the purchase of a new tactical response vehicle.

 

 

VIBE President Denise Kipling said "VIBE will have open enrollment applications available in February to any McDonough County non-profit looking to apply for funds in 2018".  Applications can be requested next month at mcdonoughcountyvibe@hotmail.com

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Heating Assistance Still Available From WIRC-CAA

The Western Illinois Regional Council-Community Action Agency (WIRC-CAA) still has funding available in its Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).  Low income households that meet eligibility guidelines in Hancock, Henderson, McDonough, and Warren counties are eligible for help in paying home utility bills this winter.

 

The WIRC-CAA in Macomb administers the program in the four-county area.  Individuals can call (309) 837-2997, or come to the office at 223 South Randolph in Macomb to schedule an appointment, Monday through Friday, 8:00 am to 4:00 pm. Local outreach sites are also available for filing an application.

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Fight continues over Illinois' Medical Cannabis Pilot Program

With more judges telling the state to expand Illinois’ Medical Cannabis Pilot Program, the department running it continues to fight back.
 
A judge ruled earlier this month that Illinois Department of Public Health Director Nirav Shah must add intractable pain, or pain resistant to treatment, to the list of accepted conditions. This is different than chronic pain, which was ruled to be included in the program but then appealed by the state.
 
Michael Goldberg with the Chicago-based Goldberg Law Group said the addition should greatly expand the program’s availability, including to those commonly injured on the job.
 
“It is common in workplace accidents, which can be terrible and cause people to be dependent on opioids for the rest of their lives,” Goldberg said.
 
The department will appeal this ruling as well.
 
The process to expand the program via court challenges has been protracted by appeals from the state and subsequent findings that have reinforced Shah’s decision to exclude a condition from the pilot program.
 
Goldberg said it hasn’t come to it yet, but they could be forced to take more serious measures if the state continues to fight against court rulings.
 
“At some point, if we have to hold someone in contempt of court or take more dramatic measures, then that’s the only option we’ll have,” he said.
 
Goldberg’s firm is seeking, via lawsuits, to add eight conditions to the list accepted by the program.
 
Nearly 30,000 Illinoisans have been issued cards to participate in the pilot program as of December 31, 2017. There are 53 dispensaries across the state. It’s set to expire on July 1, 2020.

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Republican state lawmaker says idea to bond out pension debt is 'massively irresponsible'

A Republican state lawmaker is blasting a Democrat’s idea to put the state in massive bond debt to address the state’s unfunded pension debt.
 
State Rep. Robert Martwick, D-Chicago, said his idea of issuing $107 billion in bonds to help pay down the state’s $130 billion unfunded pension liability could save billions in the long run.
 
“We are going to pay back that debt one way or the other,” Martwick said. “The question is at what cost.”
 
But state Rep. Grant Wehrli, R-Naperville, said that would be the largest bond issuance in world history.
 
“Think about that,” Wehrli said. “Illinois, that can’t pay its bills now, is going to put up more debt on our credit card in hopes of solving our pension crisis. I’m open to ideas, but simply bonding out $107 billion is massively irresponsible.”
 
Wehrli said instead, the state needs to look at shoring up expenses to help pay down the liability.
 
While some Democrats are pushing for a progressive income tax that would require a change to the state constitution, Wehrli urged for an amendment to allow for pension reform.
 
“How about this, why don’t we put it to the voters?” Wehrli said. “If you want to amend the constitution to allow for a progressive tax increase ... at the same time put on the ballot, ‘Do you want to amend the constitution to remove the pension clause?’ Let’s put them both on the ballot to see what Illinoisans have to say about either one of those issues.”
 
The Illinois Supreme Court ruled a previous pension reform proposal unconstitutional in 2015, citing the state constitution’s pension protection clause.
 
Illinois has the largest unfunded liability of any state in the nation. When including retiree healthcare, the costs are more than $200 billion.

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Brantley Gilbert to perform at 2018 Illinois State Fair

The Illinois State Fair announced Tuesday that Brantley Gilbert will close out the 2018 Illinois State Fair on Sunday, August 19.  
  
Gilbert is best known for songs such as, “Bottoms Up,” “Country Must be Country Wide,” “You Don’t Know Her Like I Do,” “One Hell of an Amen,” and “The Weekend.” Gilbert is currently promoting his #1 country album THE DEVIL DON’T SLEEP through his The Ones That Like Me Tour this winter.
 
“Brantley Gilbert is a well-known artist with a great fan base,” said Acting State Fair Manager Luke Sailer in a press release.  “We expect BG Nation will be treated to a fantastic, high-energy, in-your-face concert they soon won’t forget.”
 
An opening act for Brantley Gilbert will be announced at a later date. Tickets will go on sale later this spring. The Illinois State Fair will run August 9-19 in Springfield. 
 
 

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Illinois gains 7,700 manufacturing jobs in 2017, group says trends elsewhere raise alarm

The most recent Illinois jobs report showed Illinois gained thousands of manufacturing jobs, but that trails in comparison to trends in neighboring states.
 
Illinois Manufacturers’ Association Vice President Mark Denzler said it’s good news that Illinois added 7,700 manufacturing jobs in 2017.
 
“However, it’s unfortunate news for the tens of thousands of Illinoisans that should have manufacturing jobs, but those jobs have gone elsewhere,” Denzler said. “They haven’t located in the state of Illinois.”
 
Denzler said manufacturing jobs are good-paying jobs that are going to other states. While Denzler didn’t have the most recent numbers of other states’ gains, he said the trends raise an alarm.
 
“When you go back from June of 2009 to October of 2017, the neighboring states that touch Illinois have added 505,000 jobs,” Denzler said. “They’ve added half a million jobs. Illinois has added 3,600 [in that time frame].”
 
State Rep. Keith Wheeler, R-Oswego, applauded last week’s announcement that Carl Buddig & Co. is purchasing the former Butterball plant in Montgomery, but he said more can be done to attract more manufacturers, such as lowering workers' compensation costs.
 
“We are one of the most expensive states in the country and we’re miles ahead, unfortunately in the wrong direction, for work comp costs compared to our neighboring states,” Wheeler said.
To attract more manufacturers, Wheeler said Illinois also needs to lower its income tax, which increased last summer over the governor’s veto.
 
“We’ve taken the one thing ... we were kind of the leader on in the Midwest, ... income tax rates, and now we are not,” Wheeler said. “We don’t have that advantage like we had before.”
 
Lawmakers increased the state’s corporate income tax rates from 5.25 to 7 percent this summer (33 percent hike), alongside increasing the individual rate from 3.75 to 4.95 percent (32 percent).
 
Wheeler also said Illinois needs to lower its highest-in-the-nation property taxes to be more competitive with neighboring states.
 
“Property taxes are a set cost to a business, compared to an income tax where you only pay that tax if you make a profit," Wheeler said. "Property taxes you pay whether or not you make a profit. So you have to take that into account when you evaluate whether or not Illinois is a great place to make that investment.”

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Ameren to close parts of West Adams Street Tuesday for repairs

Weather permitting, Tuesday, January 30, 2018, Ameren CIPS will have W. Adams St. from Western Ave. to Wigwam Hollow Rd. closed for repairs. For more information contact the City of Macomb Public Works Department at (309) 833-2821.

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Illinois lawmaker wants to lower age children can be left home alone

An Illinois lawmaker wants to lower the age at which children can be left home alone.
Current Illinois law states any child under the age of 14 cannot go without adult supervision for “an unreasonable amount of time”. State Rep Joe Sosnowski, R-Rockford, says that’s a problem.
 
“I think there’s a lot of issues where people have been or could be charged for leaving what most people would find an acceptably mature student or child to be on their own for a little while,” Sosnowski said. “I think we’re really out of touch with where other states are in terms of the law.”
 
The measure, filed as House Bill 4296, would allow children 12 or older to be left home alone. It also would permit that child to babysit younger siblings. Sosnowski says this would allow single and working parents additional flexibility without risking neglect charges.
 
“We’re looking to create a little more responsibility for parents,” Sosnowski said. “Allow them to decide if their 12- or 13-year-old is mature enough. Let’s not run into areas where people could be charged if there’s a report or something happens.”
 
Sosnowski says under current law, parents can be charged with neglect and, in some cases, lose custody of their kids for leaving a minor under the age of 14 at home without supervision.
 
“There’s a lot of different situations in families with scheduling,” Sosnowski said. “It just makes sense. Let’s not create a violation of the law where common sense can dictate.”
 
Most states don’t specify a certain age when children can be left unsupervised at home. Of those that do, Illinois currently has the highest limit.
 
“I’m not expecting a lot of opposition,” Sosnowski said. “I think a lot of people are just surprised to hear that the age in Illinois is so old. A lot of people probably are saying, ‘Uh oh. I’ve been violating this law for a long time.’”
 
The Illinois House is scheduled to return to Springfield on Jan. 30. The bill could be assigned to a committee for review at that time.

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New tech could solve rural internet access problem

Illinois’ rural areas are lacking in internet coverage more so than other states.
 
1.2 million, or 9 percent, of Illinoisans don’t have access to broadband internet, according to the Federal Communications Commission. Fifty-six percent of rural Illinoisans, 770,000, don’t have broadband connectivity. This is significantly higher than the national average of 40 percent.
 
But technology that uses over-the-air signals that aren’t used for television anymore could solve that problem. Microsoft’s Airband Initiative has connected communities in places like rural southern Virginia, even the African country of Namibia, with its Rural Airband Initiative. It works by utilizing unused frequencies, or whitespace, to transfer information from a provider to the consumer.
 
“Theoretically, it will give you 15-20 Mbps on a 20 Hz channel,” said Dr. Apurva N. Mody, president of the WhiteSpace Alliance. “That much higher than the rates many are getting right now.”
 
Other technology offers broadband in rural areas but it’s often unrealistically expensive.
 
Common broadband connections in rural Illinois are direct subscriber link, or DSL, offering up to 6 Mbps, or satellite broadband offering just 2 Mbps.
 
By contrast, urban areas with cable internet connectivity can reach speeds of up to 2 Gbps, or 2,000 Mbps. 
 
“There are folks living in the Oshana District in the northern part of Namibia up against the Angola border who have greater broadband access than folks living in rural Illinois,” said Paul Garnett, senior director of Microsoft’s Airband Initiative. “That’s not acceptable.”
 
Garnett said the technology can offer up to 29 Mbps using two channels but new advancements could increase speeds.
 
The Airband Initiative, launched last July, plans to partner with businesses to offer the technology with the goal of connecting two million rural Americans to broadband by 2022.
 
Microsoft President Brad Smith said last July that the FCC would have to ensure nationwide access of three of the low-frequency channels for unlicensed use.
 
“This will help stimulate investment by hardware companies to produce the needed chips for new devices at a higher scale and lower cost,” Smith said.
 
“What we’re really asking the FCC to do is to create a nationwide market for TV white space technology so that folks in rural America can take advantage of the scale that it would create,” Garnett said.
 
Illinois lawmakers are pushing Gov. Bruce Rauner to include in his budget spending on faster internet access for rural schools. Garnett said the connections via the schools could serve as a base for broadcasting the internet signal out to rural residents.
 
Mody said last year’s government auction of some of the spectrum created uncertainty. Now that the auction is over with a significant amount of spectrum unsold, he said the technology should become more prevalent.
 
“2018 will be the year where this takes off,” he said.
 

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Illinois congressmen Davis, LaHood, pushing to release secret FISA memo

With all the fervor in Washington D.C. about the investigation into alleged Russia collusion by the Trump campaign, some inside the beltway say something more troubling is found in a memo that’s under lock and key. A couple of Illinois' congressman are pushing for the memo’s release.
 
It’s known as the Nunes Memo because it was crafted by House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes. It’s also been referred to as the FISA Memo because it deals with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
 
While no one has explicitly revealed what’s in the memo, some speculate it deals with abuse of FISA under the administration of President Barack to spy on American citizens, and possibly President Donald Trump when he was a candidate.
 
U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, said he’s signed on to a letter to have the memo released. When asked if he agrees with U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, that the allegations are worse than Watergate, Davis said, “I wish I could tell you what was in the memo, but I cannot do that without violating my security clearance.
 
“I signed a non-disclosure agreement,” Davis said. “I cannot discuss what was in the memo because I read it in a top secret setting.”
 
U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Peoria, said in a letter to Nunes requesting the memo be made public that he believes the allegations of abuses of power by government agencies “are serous matters, and the public has a right to know about them.”
 
Davis said the ball is rolling to let the memo see the light of day.
 
“A lot of folks want to see that memo released, but there’s a process that has to happen to get that done and I know our leadership team is working on that process to do so," Davis said.
 
Some leading Democrats in Congress have said the memo was crafted as a distraction from the special investigation into the Trump campaign’s alleged collusion with Russia prior to the 2016 presidential election.

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Legislators propose measures to curb local officials spending tax dollars on annual conferences

Property taxes are already too high in Illinois, and that’s one reason a couple of state lawmakers want to end the use of tax dollars for lavish trips to annual conferences for local officials.
 
An Illinois News Network investigation of more than 24 school districts’ attendance at last November’s annual Illinois Association of School Boards conference in Chicago found districts spending tax dollars on travel, expensive hotels and even steak and lobster dinners.
 
State Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, said that’s abuse of taxpayers who are already tapped out.
 
“Remember, school districts are about 70 to 75 percent of the property tax bill,” McSweeney said. “This is a complete, 100 percent waste of money. It should be stopped. My legislation would do that.”
 
Rep. Allen Skillicorn, R-East Dundee, said another measure would require votes on such expenditures.
 
“Not just having a budgeted amount, but for every one of these expenses they would have a public vote on that,” Skillicorn said. “Unfortunately, the public doesn’t know this is going on.”
Some of the spending uncovered through records requests included dinners that cost $100 per person and tips in excess of $100. Many of the 26 districts investigated spent $1,000 per attendee or more, at taxpayer cost.
 
McSweeney said Illinoisans already pay among the highest property taxes in the country. That’s one reason he said there’s continued outmigration from Illinois to other states. The most recent U.S. Census data showed more than 114,000 Illinoisans left for other states between July 2016 and July 2017. During that same time period, Illinois' population declined by nearly 34,000 people. It also was the fourth consecutive year of population decline.
 
McSweeney said public officials spending on annual conferences is unjustifiable.
 
“[School officials and lobbyists] are getting together and then talking about ways to prevent property tax relief,” McSweeney said. “In the case of educators, they should be spending money in the classroom, not spending money on these types of items.”
 
Champaign Community Unit School District No. 4 sent 17 officials costing taxpayers more than $20,000. Superintendent Susan Zola said in an email the district was “invited to host a breakout session focused on our successful passing of a $183 million referendum in November of 2016. The session was a panel discussion requiring five speakers and a moderator, four of which would not have attended the conference otherwise.”
 
Illinois Association of School Boards Executive Director Roger Eddy defended the conference as having value. He said some of the presentations include ways to save money by restructuring bonds or focusing on green energy projects.
 
McSweeney said school officials should hold informational seminars in school auditoriums, not a downtown Chicago hotel that requires travel, lodging and food.
 
Skillicorn has another idea.
 
“I think the average Illinois taxpayer should join me in asking these people to pay back the money,” Skillicorn said.

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Macomb City Council Committee of the Whole Meeting canceled January 29

The Macomb City Council Committee of the Whole meeting for Monday, January 29 will be canceled. According to City Hall, the cancelation comes because of "non-time sensitive issues."

 

Discussion will be held at the City Council Meeting on Monday, February 5. Those with questions can contact the City Clerk's Office at (309) 833-2575. 

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Ipava female minor injured in Route 136 single vehicle rollover crash

For the second time this week, a single vehicle rollover crash has occured in McDonough County on US Route 136. This time, the driver was a female juvenile, age 17, of Ipava. The accident occurred at at 8:10 a.m. Thursday morning, resulting in the driver being airlifted to OSF in Peoria with non-life threatening injuries. 

 

Per the preliminary report, was traveling east on US 136 near Fulton County Highway 12, approximately one mile west of Ipava. The driver stated her vision was obscured by the sun at the time. She ran off the roadway, overcorrected, then lost control and rolled her vehicle. Her 2008 Ford Focus came to rest upright on its tires. No charges have been filed at this time. 

 

Her car was towed by Hammond's Towing out of Astoria. Assistance was provided by Ipava Fire and Rescue, Table Grove Fire and Rescue, Air Evac Team, and Fulton County Sherriff's Department. 

 

 

 

 

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MDH to offer childbirth and community CPR classes in February

McDonough District Hospital has announced free Childbirth classes along with Community CPR classes for the month of February.

 

The first free Childbirth class will be held Saturday, February 3  from 10-11 a.m. in Auditorium B on the lower level of MDH. This will be a one-hour Sibling class, designed to teach big brothers and big sisters what it will be like to have a baby in the family. Additional classes available include: Breastfeeding (February 8), Cesarean Section (February 15), Postpartum Care and Understanding Your Newborn (February 22), and the 8-hour L.A.T.E. class.

 
The 8-hour L.A.T.E. class will be held Saturday, February 24, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., in Auditoriums A and B. This class explains the stages of labor, as well as breathing and relaxation techniques. 
 
The Community CPR class will be held Tuesday, February 13, at 6 p.m. in Auditoriums A & B and Auxiliary conference room (lower level) at MDH. Pre-registration is required and the fee for the course is $40. MDH Community CPR classes are taught according to the American Heart Association guidelines.
 
For more information or to register, contact MDH Outreach Services at (309) 836-1584. To learn more about MDH Community Classes, visit MDH on Facebook or online.

 

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Flu in Illinois leveling off, not going away

The flu in Illinois isn't going away anytime soon. The Illinois Department of Public Health says its latest report for the CDC shows a dip in cases, but not a drop in activity. 
 
The state's report for the second week of the year shows flu cases are down from their peak in December and are holding steady. 
 
Melaney Arnold with the state health department said that doesn't mean that flu season is ending. 
 
"Flu is unpredictable. We could see an increase later on," Arnold said. "There are different strains of the flu. H3N2 has been the predominant strain, but there are other strains that circulate. Including H1N1 and Influenza B strains, those typically come a little bit later in the season."
 
Arnold says that's why the IDPH is still asking people to get a flu shot. 
 
Illinois' report says 175 people were checked into intensive care because of the flu in the second week of 2018, which makes 830 admissions for this flu season. One child has died.
 
Arnold said that's about all the information that the state tracks. 
 
"Illinois is similar to the CDC in what it tracks when it comes to influenza," Arnold said. "We look at influenza-related ICU hospital admissions, influenza pediatric deaths, and influenza outbreaks. And that's similar to the CDC."
 
Arnold says that's why the IDPH is still asking people to get a flu shot. She said that way, if the flu makes a comeback, you'll still be protected.
 
Doctors say this year's flu shot is about 20 percent effective. That's far less than the 50 percent to 60 percent the vaccine usually carries. 

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Labor analyst: Members-only unions would be unions answer in world without forced dues

A free-market public policy think tank says public sector unions should embrace members-only unions to allow workers freedom of choice, rather than forcing government employees into a one-size-fits all union.

 

Competitive Enterprise Institute Labor Policy Analyst Trey Kovacs expects the U.S. Supreme Court will rule in favor of Mark Janus in his case challenging forced union fees to the AFSCME union. Janus, a child support specialist for the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, says his First Amendment rights are being violated by being forced to associate with a union he doesn’t agree with. Unions contend he just wants a free ride.

 

Kovacs said in a report released Wednesday morning there’s a fix for that called members-only unions.

 

“It basically nullifies what [unions] call the free-rider or freeloader issue that they have to represent employees that don’t pay dues, so how about let them free?” Kovacs said. “Let them negotiate their own contract so you don’t have to represent them.”

 

Janus has said he’s be happy to negotiate his own contract with his employer, rather than being forced to pay an agency fee.

 

A members-only union, which would be a union of workers willingly paying union dues, would allow unions to spend that money on politics, Kovacs said.

 

“In members-only unions, they’re all full-fledged members that voluntarily pay dues. You can spend their dues how the union and the membership feel that’s where it should go,” Kovacs said, adding that unions would save money by not having to do all the accounting involved with segregated fund for politics or for providing representation to employees.

 

A 2015 report from the progressive Century Foundation said members-only unions have been able to get collective bargaining agreements on behalf of members and provide “appreciable benefits in the workplace.”

 

“[Members-only unions] provide a structure for worker solidarity and collective action; a means of accessing some of the protections of the [National Labor Relations Act]; an inroad for labor in inhospitable territory; a framework for workers to advocate and organize local political change; and a means of disseminating information,” the report said.

 

“Major unions should employ the model as both a path to majority and as a beachhead in hostile parts of the country,” the Century Foundation report said.

 

Kovacs said implementing members-only unions will be difficult because unions get lots of benefits from being exclusive representatives for all public employees, such as more ability to do union work while on the clock.

 

Oral arguments in the Janus case are next month with a ruling expected sometime this summer.

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Google's popular art selfie tech not accessible in Illinois

One of the most popular app features in the nation is not available in Illinois likely because of a decade-old law.

Google’s Arts and Culture app is currently the fourth most popular on Apple products and second most popular in terms of Android app downloads. The program allows a user to match their facial characteristics to a face in a famous painting. But the “Search with your selfie” ability is not available to anyone in Illinois or Texas.

The company hasn’t said why residents of the two states can’t use it. One thing both have in common is laws allowing lawsuits for not protecting biometric information. A key difference, however, is any Illinoisan can file a lawsuit, whereas Texas’ attorney general would have to initiate one there. Washington state has a law similar to Texas but users there reportedly are able to access the function.

Google is one of many companies facing numerous lawsuits under Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act of 2008. Google’s parent company, Alphabet, also bans Illinois purchasers of its Nest home cameras to use their facial recognition software.

Electronic Frontier Foundation senior lawyer Adam Schwartz says Google should just abide by the law.

“Companies have to respect people’s biometric privacy by getting consent before they gather and use peoples’ biometrics,” he said. “More and more technologies are coming online that make it easier and easier for people to gather biometrics from each other use them in ways that people might not want.”

Schwartz warns that biometric information in the wrong hands can be worse than a normal password since you can’t change your bodily information.

As technology becomes more advanced, Schwartz said laws protecting biometric privacy will become more important.

Moving forward, it appears companies will either comply with Illinois’ laws requiring permission to use the sensitive data or find that it’s not worth the litigious risk to offer the service in the state.

Illinoisans who want to use the application can either send an out-of-state friend a selfie or take a road trip to a neighboring state.

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WIU Tri Sigma chapter to hold cancer run/walk

The sorority Tri Sigma at Western Illinois University will hold its First Annual Cancer Run/Walk on Sunday, March 4 in Macomb. The sorority is encouraging both students and community members to come out for the cause, with proceeds from the event going to the American Cancer Society. 

 

The event will begin and end in Chandler Park that day. It costs $20 to register. Participants registered by February 10 will be guarenteed a t-shirt for the event. 

 

For more information on the event and the motivation behind it, listen to my interview with event organizer Lindy Giesler. 

 

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Illinois hunters bag more deer in 2017 seasons than year before

Illinois deer hunters had a better year in 2017, as compared to the year before.
 
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources released its final report on deer hunting for 2017 and early 2018 on Monday.
 
In all, hunters bagged 147,535 deer. That's about three thousand more deer than in 2016.
 
DNR spokesman Ed Cross said it may sound basic, but the weather helped drive those numbers higher.
 
"Animals move in weather and conditions as they are. Hunters tend to be a bit more sensitive to it," Cross explained. "When you have better weather, you have more people out. That's what we saw during the second firearm season."
 
Western Illinois saw the best numbers, with Pike, Fulton, and Adams counties as three of the state's four most productive counties for hunters. Randolph County is southern Illinois was the third busiest. 
 
Cross says the harvest numbers show just how good the hunting ground in Illinois really is. 
 
"Illinois has always been a go-to place for deer hunters," Cross said. "Here in the Midwest, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, and Nebraska, we all have fantastic numbers. And we produce a lot of big deer, that generates a lot of interest from deer hunters from across the country to come here."
 
Illinois has nearly a half dozen different deer hunting seasons, but Cross said that traditional firearm season in late November is the most popular. Hunters bagged 80,021 deer, or 55% of the states total, during the two weekends of firearm hunting season. 
 
Illinois' archery season is also proving popular. Hunters took 57,937 deer during the archery season that ran from October 1, 2017 to January 14, 2018.

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McDonough County single vehicle rollover crash results in driver airlifted to Peoria hospital

A single vehicle rollover crash on US route 136 in McDonough County Tuesday resulted in a driver being airlifted from the scene.

 

A 50 year old male of peoria, who’s name is currently withheld by Illinois state police, was driving a 2011 international truck tractor traveling westbound on US Route 136 near 2350E at 9:10 a.m. Tuesday. The driver lost control of the vehicle, which was carrying a fully loaded box/van trailer. He lost control of the vehicle, driving off the north side of the road. The vehicle rolled over on its side before coming to rest in a ditch across both lanes of route 136. The driver was taken by helicopter to a Peoria hospital. The crash blocked the road for several hours while recovery crews worked to remove the wreckage.

 

There is no update on the identity or health status of the driver at this time. Along with Illinois State Police, Mcdonough County Sheriffs and Adair Fire and Rescue were on the scene. 

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Police apprehend West Prairie student after school threat

The following press release comes from Illinois State Police District 114, regarding an incident at West Prairie High School Tuesday morning. We will continue to update the story as further details come to light. 
 
"Today, at approximately 11:04 a.m., McDonough County Sheriff’s Department received a 911 call requesting deputies to respond to West Prairie High School in reference to a male juvenile student, who was armed with a knife, threatening staff and students. The male juvenile fled the school. McDonough County Deputies located the subject, in a reportedly stolen truck, and engaged in a pursuit in an effort to apprehend him. The pursuit traveled from McDonough County into Henderson County and into Warren County. The subject was ultimately taken into custody in a farm field located south of Cameron, Illinois.
 
Several squad cars from multiple police agencies were damaged during the pursuit as a result of the juvenile suspect ramming or attempting to ram them.
There were no reported injuries at West Prairie High School. The school was placed on lockdown during the incident. West Central School District in Henderson County was also placed on a lockdown status as a safety precaution when the pursuit left McDonough County and entered into Henderson County.
 
Further information will be forthcoming as it becomes available."
 

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Secretary Of State: 14 buildings near Capitol tested for Legionnaires Disease

Illinois state officials are taking precautions after preliminary tests uncovered the "possible presence of Legionella" in the water system at the Capitol Complex.
 
The Secretary of State and governor's office late Monday sent a note to all Capitol Complex state employees warning of the 'possible presence' of Legionella in the water system at the statehouse and near-by office buildings.
 
Legionella is the bacteria that can cause Legionnaires’ disease, a respiratory virus that is contracted by breathing in water vapor that may contain the bacteria. Legionnaires is not transmitted by drinking contaminated water.
 
 Secretary of State spokesman Henry Haupt says the process that led to the identification of the bacteria began Jan. 10, after a pipe burst in the old Illinois State Armory. 
 
"On Jan. 10, the pipe burst," Haupt said. "On Jan. 11, the pipe was repaired. On Jan. 12, the testing phase was initiated and testing kits ordered. On Jan. 17, the testing kits arrived. On Jan. 19, the preliminary test results came back. Meetings were held over the weekend with industry experts. On Jan. 22, meetings were held with the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Capitol Development Board."
 
Haupt says the secretary of state then sent a memo to Capitol Complex workers Monday. 
 
The letter, from Mike Wojcik, drector of Physical Services at the Secretary of State's office, and Deputy Governor Trey Childress, states that there are no confirmed cases of Legionnaires disease among state employees or statehouse visitors. The letter says that preliminary tests indicate the "possible presence" of the bacteria in the Capitol's hot water system and that more testing will be conducted. It will take about 14 days to get more thorough test results back.
 
Haupt says workers and visitors should not be at risk from simply drinking the water or washing their hands. 
 
"The Illinois Department of Public Health says Legionnaires is typically contracted by inhaling mist or vapor," Haupt said. "That's typically in a shower, hot tub or Jacuzzi type setting."
 
Haupt said that the Secretary of State's office is advising against the use of the Capitol Complexes' few remaining showers, and that crews will remove all aerators from the statehouse and surrounding buildings. There are no hot tubs or Jacuzzis.
 
People are unlikely to get sick from day-to-day office work, Haupt said. 
 
Springfield state Rep. Sara Wojcicki Jimenez, who represents many of the Capitol workers, said she wants to see the state be open and hones with workers and visitors who might be worried about being exposed to Legionnaires. 
 
"We need to over-communicate with the public and be very factual," Jimenez said Tuesday. "Things get out there. I hate to say it, but even as people shared the story this morning you saw a fearful face emoji, or some other indicator of worry."
 
Illinois' recent history with Legionnaires disease has been well-documented. Thirteen people died at the state's veterans home in Quincy from legionnaires outbreaks in 2015 and 2017, while dozens more were sickened. 

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Illinois lawmakers propose tax-deductible donations to government

Rather than working to lower one of the nation's highest property tax burdens, some Illinois lawmakers want to sidestep the federal tax reform bill by allowing for donations to government.
 
One bill would create the Illinois Excellence Fund. It would allow taxpayers to donate and receive a tax credit for the exact amount. This shuffling of money back and forth would allow a taxpayer to deduct that amount on their federal taxes, effectively thwarting the $10,000 cap on state and local tax deductions put in place by the tax reform bill passed last month. The state treasurer can then use that money as he sees fit.
 
“[The SALT deduction cap] sort of came out of nowhere,” said state Rep. Jonathan Carroll, D-Northbrook. “This is trying to offer a solution to give tax relief to the middle class.”
 
The bill has a populist tone, appealing to the cries of high property taxes across the state. Nearly all of the current sponsors of the bill are likely to face a challenging re-election effort this November.
 
Carroll said he expects the Internal Revenue Service would object to such a law.
 
“They’re not likely to take it lying down,” he said.
 
The IRS classifies a charitable donation as “voluntary and is made without getting, or expecting to get, anything of equal value.”
 
Being a federal tax deduction as well, the state-bound donation would actually turn into a money maker. In addition to a 100 percent credit from the state, the donor would get up to 37 percent of that donation back in a federal write off.
 
The bill would also allow a county to set up a similar charity, which could cause different issues. Local taxes are devised in reverse compared to state and federal taxes. A taxing district sets percentages based on a target revenue number and then properties are taxed at that percentage of the assessed value of their homes.
 
State Rep. Steven Reick, R-Woodstock, said in an online post that the sponsors would tell counties that "they can set up a fund to accept donations to be used for undefined charitable purposes in exchange for a reduction or elimination of your property tax bill, which will either raise taxes on everybody else or destroy the budgets of every school district and taxing body in the County."

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Despite canceled session, state reps say they are working on their issues

Pensions and balanced budgets could dominate the spring session, once lawmakers do come back to Springfield, but session this week for the House has been canceled.
 
Despite that, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle say they are working issues key to taxpayers.
 
State Rep. Robert Martwick, D-Chicago, said he’s not sure why session was canceled this week. Regardless, he’s working.
 
“Even though I was supposed to meet with some people in Springfield, I’m going to meet with them instead in Chicago,” Martwick said.
 
State Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, suspects House session was canceled because leaders in the House and Senate can’t get their schedules to match up. But there always are things to do in his Springfield district when not in session, Butler said. He hopes to focus on the budget and reigning in spending when they come back.
 
“I think we need to continue to look at spending reductions to try to reduce some of the programs because I do think spending is just too high for state government,” Butler said.
Balancing the budget and reducing the income tax increase are his top priorities.
 
“There comes a time when we really need to reign in spending,” Butler said. “That’s the important part of it. We can’t continue to raise people's taxes across the board to get things done.”
 
Butler said pensions and other taxpayer-funded entitlements need to be reformed.
 
Martwick said his agenda is to reform pensions, either through issuing more bond debt he said could save billions on pensions in the long run or an option for Tier I employees to take a buyout for Tier II cost-of-living increases.
 
“What keeps us from being able to offer services to people who need it, and what keeps us from being able to reduce taxes is the fact that we are being crushed by this pension debt,” Martwick said.
 
Both the House and Senate are in next week.
 

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Congressman: Politics, not policy at heart of government shutdown

One central Illinois congressman says the government shutdown is all about politics.
 
Congressman Rodney Davis said the plan to keep the government running is chock full of issues that Democrats used to support.
 
"Fund our military. Fund a six-year program for children's health insurance. These used to be what Democrats called their priorities," Davis said. "Now they've decided to hold them all hostage and shut the government down to make President [Donald] Trump and Republicans look bad."
 
But Davis said the fight on Capitol Hill, which centers on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and the continued "resistance" to Trump, isn't about the issues. It's all about the politics. 
 
"It wasn't a coincidence that they did this on the year anniversary of President Trump's inauguration," Davis added. "I think they did it for political messaging, and it backfired on them. Because they're getting the blame for this."
 
Davis said Illinois' senior U.S. Senator Dick Durbin should get a lot of the blame, Davis says Durbin is the one who drove the wedge that scuttled a government funding deal. 
 
But Durbin, speaking Sunday on CBS News' "Face the Nation," blamed Republicans for the shutdown.
 
"There's been a consistent failure by the Republican leadership in Congress to deal with these critical issues," Durbin said. "We don't want to see this situation as it currently exists, but we want to see a solution that has meaning and one that will serve this nation. We're lurching from one continuing resolution to the next." 
 
Davis said Durbin overplayed his hand.  Still, an agreement was reached Monday morning to end the shutdown. That package provides funding through Feb. 8 for services that were impacted by the shut down.

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Illinois eighth least impacted state by government shutdown

With the government shutdown continuing into the work week, there is a great degree of uncertainty throughout the country at the moment. The website Wallethub provided some context to this uncertainty, ranking all of the states and the District of Columbia in terms of how they will be affected by the shutdown. These findings are favorable to Illinois, with the Land of Lincoln coming in as the eighth least affected state. 

 

The report used a variety of factors to determine where each state falls in this scenerio. Factors include: share of federal jobs, federal contract dollars per capita, small business lending per capita and percent of children under CHIP (Children's Health Insurance Program).

 

Neighboring states Iowa (45), Indiana (49), Missouri (29) and Wisconsin (34) all fared relatively well in the study. The top five most affected on this list (in decending order) are District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia, Alaska and Hawaii. 

 

Source: WalletHub

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Big changes in Illinois school choice for this year's National School Choice Week

It’s National School Choice Week and there are some big changes parents need to know when it comes to choosing and paying for the right school for their children.
 
National School Choice Week President Andrew Campanella said federal tax reform is significant because it allows parents to save for private K-12 schools in a 529 savings plan to get a federal tax break.
 
“All the gains that you make in that account will not be taxed at the capital gains tax rate or the personal income tax rate,” Campanella said. “You’ll get to grow that tax free and use those funds to pay for [K-12] tuition.”
 
While Illinoisans can take advantage of that benefit for their federal taxes, the benefit does not apply to Illinois’ state taxes.
 
Regardless, Campanella highlighted a positive new steps in the Land of Lincoln this year.
 
“There are scholarship programs that are taking effect this year in Illinois to help parents with the cost of private school tuition,” Campanella said.
 
The Illinois Department of Revenue said the Invest In Kids Scholarship Tax Credit Program offers a 75 percent income tax credit to individuals and businesses that contribute to qualified Scholarship Granting Organizations, or SGOs.
 
Approved SGOs must begin granting scholarships no later than Feb. 1 for the coming school year. IDOR said SGOs must allow eligible students getting a scholarship through the program to attend the school of their choosing, but that’s subject to the availability of funds.
 
Students eligible for the scholarships in Illinois are those whose household adjusted gross income does not exceed 300 percent of the federal poverty level, or $73,800 for a family of four.
 
More information can be found at the website revenue.state.il.us/investinkids/
 
Campanella said choice in education is important because every child learns differently.
 
“That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with the school or anything wrong with the child,” Campanella said. “It just means that the child would be better placed and have their needs met better in a different environment.”
 
He said some of the biggest challenges to getting the best education for your child is knowing the options and making decisions soon.
 
“The days of being able to look at schools over summer break and find your best choice and get your child in there in July, those days are over,” Campanella said. “There’s a lot of interest in school choice now so you want to be at the forefront of it and start early.”
 
Find school choice events near you at SchoolChoiceWeek.com.

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Illinois comptroller can now seize local funds for late pension payments.

In the first year that Illinois’ comptroller can seize local government's funds for delinquency of pension payments, a report shows the debt of Illinois’ police and fire pensions has exploded, potentially leaving local services threatened.
 
A report by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability shows Illinois’ 653 police and fire pensions outside of Chicago are nearly $10 billion in debt.
 
This reflects a funding ratio of only 58 percent.
 
Municipalities can be penalized if they miss a payment. 2018 is the first fiscal year that Comptroller Susana Mendoza can legally withhold the full amount that the city falls behind from state payments to the city via the Local Government Distributive Fund.
 
If a municipality falls more than 90 days behind in its required contributions, under the 2016 law, the police or fire pension fund “may, after giving notice to the municipality, certify to the State Comptroller the amounts of the delinquent payments in accordance with any applicable rules of the Comptroller.”
 
Mendoza could then take the delinquent payments owed to the pension funds out of the city’s expected LGDF money.
 
Cities across the state have announced tax increases that will go to paying off growing pension costs. The city of Danville now collects a “public safety pension fee” that costs residents up to $267 a year to pay down their public pension debt.
 
Commission member and State Sen. Jil Tracy, R-Quincy, said most of her city’s property taxes go to pay police and fire pension debt.
 
“It’s definitely a snowball rolling, as to edging out other vital services,” she said. “They have to struggle to find ways to meet that obligation but still provide core services to the public.”
 
Mendoza’s office did not immediately provide statistics on whether this law has yet to be utilized.
 

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Rauner signs executive order targeting lawmaker conflicts of interest in property tax appeals

Gov. Bruce Rauner was joined by homeowners in south suburban Chicago Thursday as he took steps to end a property tax system he called immoral, unethical and something that should be illegal.
 
At the news conference, Rauner announced he signed an executive barring lawmakers from arguing cases in front of the Illinois State Tax Appeals Board.
 
Flossmoor resident Christine Wilson said her home was improperly appraised for nearly $300,000 by Cook County and her property taxes are $12,000 a year “with no knowledge of where this money is going to.”
 
“Taxes are going up,” Wilson said, “and we’re becoming a ghost town. Businesses are closing. Residents are leaving.”
 
Glenwood Village resident Adam Winston said he pays $8,000 in property taxes on a $120,000 home. Winston said addressing high property taxes is crucial.
 
“Hopefully we can get more people behind it because it’s just too important,” Winston said. “What we’re paying in taxes, we’re not getting in service.”
 
He said his wife wants to move but they can’t even sell the house.
 
In order to fight high property taxes under the current system, Rauner said homeowners have to hire politically connected law firms, like the one where longtime House Speaker Michael Madigan works.
 
“No one who sets tax policy, no one who has an influence to increase taxes on one hand should be in a position where they financially benefit from fighting about property taxes and try to get them reduced on the other hand,” Rauner said.
 
Madigan has long denied conflicts of interest.
 
Rauner said the system to dispute high property taxes is rigged. In addition to signing the executive order barring lawmakers from arguing cases in front of the Illinois State Tax Appeals Board, he proposes a law to ban lawmakers from making money from property tax appeals.
 
“We also don’t let legislators argue cases in the Court of Claims. We should do the same thing for property tax appeals,” Rauner said. “It’s a conflict of interest. It’s unethical. It’s immoral. We should also make it illegal.”
 
Rauner also reiterated his desire for a law allowing local referenda to freeze and/or lower property taxes. He’s also called for Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios to resign.

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Illinois' student exodus is decades long and accelerating

Nearly every other high school graduate in Illinois who went to a four-year university chose to do so outside the state in 2016.
 
A new report from the Illinois Board of Higher Education says that the number of Illinois residents enrolled in a local college is continually dropping and the number of students going to school in other states has been growing for more than a decade. In 2016, almost half of the local high school graduates that planned to attend a four-year school did so out of state. The report shows that they’re primarily just crossing the borders to neighboring state schools.
 
Board chairman Al Bowman said the decade-long trend is troubling. He thinks recent dips in enrollment are due to other universities out-recruiting Illinois’ schools on their home turf.
 
“The schools will collectively have to do a better job of marketing their products,” Bowman said.
 
Education analyst Preston Cooper with the American Enterprise Institute said the cost of administration often drives up in-state tuition, lessening the value of the local discount.
 
“It’s definitely an area where schools might be able to cut back if they’re looking to rein in expenditures rather than raise tuition,” he said.
 
Bowman said a recent IBHE study showed students often pay more in out-of-state tuition and fees than if they had attended a local university.
 
The University of Illinois is the third most expensive school in the Big 10 conference behind private Northwestern and Penn State. The cheapest is the University of Iowa.
 
The top out-of-state school for Illinoisans in 2016: the University of Iowa.
 
Some schools are getting the hint. The University of Illinois confirmed Thursday morning that it would once again keep its tuition rates at the same level as the previous year’s levels. Illinois State University froze its tuition rates last year. Both have seen enrollment increases in recent years, Bowman says.
 
Illinois’ budget impasse definitely didn’t help attendance at Illinois’ public universities, Bowman said, but the trends extend far beyond 2015, when the impasse began.
 
The college graduate brain drain is troubling for politicians and school officials alike. College students are statistically more likely to set roots where they went to school, rather than move back home once they graduate. On a mass scale, this exasperates Illinois’ ongoing exodus of population that is now in its fifth consecutive year of lower headcounts.
 
Also, fewer students inevitably means less revenue for the universities that have become increasingly reliant on tuition for operating expenses. The combination of fewer new freshmen and increasing operation costs creates a vicious cycle of financial trouble for the institutions.
 

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Illinois Board of Education approves 2019 budget request

At a Wednesday meeting the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) approved its 2019 fiscal year budget request. The ISBE wants push the amount of general state tax money schools receive from the current $8.2 billion to more than $15.6 billion. This comes as the the state's Evidence-Based Funding (EBF) formula picked up on severe inequalities in education funding throughout the state. 

 

These preliminary EBF Adequacy Target calculations show school districts in Illinois range from having 46 percent to 284 percent of the resources necessary to provide a quality education to students. The EBF Adequacy Target represents the cost of providing the best practices for staffing and other resources defined in the EBF law.

 

“The Adequacy Target gives us a common understanding of what students deserve for a quality education and whether the state is adequately supporting districts in meeting students’ needs,” said State Superintendent of Education Tony Smith in a statement. 

 

The ISBE will now ask Governor Bruce Rauner and the General Assembly to approve this request. The 2019 fiscal year budget kicks in July 1. 

 

 

 

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New legislation would ban taxpayer-funded harassment settlements in Springfield

With a wave of harassment accusations in Springfield, lawmakers want to ensure their colleagues accused of misconduct aren’t bailed out by Illinois taxpayers.
 
A couple U.S. congressmen have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to staffers accusing them of sexual misconduct. To make matters worse, the payouts were done in secret via the “Office of Compliance.” Texas Republican Blake Farenthold reportedly gave a staffer $84,000 to settle a harassment complaint. Democrat Alcee Hastings of Florida cost taxpayers $220,000 to settle his alleged harassment claim. Both are still in office.
 
State Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, introduced a bill Wednesday that would forbid the practice in Springfield.  
 
“I want to make sure that no taxpayer money is ever spent to settle sexual harassment claims against members of the General Assembly,” McSweeney said. “We have secret payoffs by Democrat and Republican members of Congress. We need to make sure that doesn’t happen here.”
 
State Sen. Tom Cullerton, D-Villa Park, agreed.
 
“The money sent by taxpayers is meant to pay for government, not lawsuits,” Cullerton, who plans to cosponsor the legislation, said.
 
Neither lawmaker has found any instance of payouts happening in Illinois.
 
State lawmakers have been anonymously accused by a number of women as well as men of sexual misconduct. An October letter signed by hundreds of women accused Illinois lawmakers and others in power under the dome of sexual misconduct ranging from inappropriate comments to outright sexual advancements.
 
“Misogyny is alive and well in this industry,” the letter said.
 
Only state Sen. Ira Silverstein, D-Chicago, has been publicly accused.
 
In the wake of the scandal, a task force was created to review and toughen state policies and procedures surrounding harassment.
 

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Lawmakers highlight what they'd like Rauner to address at State of the State

Illinois state lawmakers are highlighting what they’d like the governor to address during his State of the State later this month.
 
Gov. Bruce Rauner delivers his third State of the State address Jan. 31 to a joint session of the House and Senate, and one focus could be pensions.
 
State Rep. Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield, said how to deal with continued deficit spending is one of the most pressing issues. But the elephant in the room, he said, is Illinois’ worst-in-the-nation pension debt.
 
Illinois lists its unfunded pension liability at $130 billion, though many actuaries say it's significantly more than that because the state inflates its anticipated return on investments.
 
Batinick has proposed a pension buyout plan he said could save taxpayers billions of dollars down the road, but the state needs to reverse its trend of continuous population loss.
 
“The more people you keep in this state,” Batinick said, “the more that that legacy cost is spread out amongst more people. And the more economic growth you have, the easier it’s going to be to deal with the pension crisis.”
 
State Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, said pension reform is going to be tough.
 
“If we’re going to change any pensions, it has to be negotiated with the employees that are going to be affected,” Manar said.
 
Manar also said he’d like to hear Rauner bring both parties together with healing words to solve the state’s problems.
 
State Sen. Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant, D-Shorewood, said as the chairman of the Senate Education Committee, she wants the governor to focus on funding education.
 
“I think the governor should continue, he says it, but he needs to act on making education a No. 1 priority,” she said.
 
State Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Raymond, noted the major strides made for education funding reform already and said she hopes Rauner emphasizes the need for spending reductions.
 
“We will have to do that in a bipartisan way, but I think that this is an opportunity to come out really strong and say, ‘Here’s the case for why we have to change. Here’s the issues we’ve seen in the past,’” Bourne said.
 
Partisan gridlock is also an issue, but Bourne said Rauner needs to persuade Democrats of the need for spending controls to shore up the state’s structural budget imbalances.
 
Two weeks after the State of the State address Jan. 31, Rauner will deliver his third budget address as governor for the coming fiscal year. That address is Feb. 14 in Springfield.
 

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VMT tax criticism include double taxation and privacy concerns

Possible double taxation and concerns about privacy are among the biggest criticisms against implementing a vehicle miles traveled, or VMT, tax.
 
In 2016, Illinois Senate President John Cullerton floated the idea of a VMT, but after immense public opposition he abandoned the bid.
 
Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker brought the idea of tracking and taxing miles driven to the editorial board of the suburban Daily Herald last week as a way to pay for infrastructure projects in Illinois.
 
Such a pilot program that is voluntary and only available for 5,000 drivers is ongoing in Oregon. Beginning this year, the program charges 1.7 cents per mile.
 
Oregon-based Cascade Policy Institute President and CEO John Charles was part of a commission to bring about the program.
 
“Back in 2001, the Oregon legislature decided to see a future in which the motor fuel tax would eventually become minor or completely irrelevant due to the coming revolution of hybrid vehicles, and now all electric vehicles and people with such vehicles pay little or zero motor fuel tax and become free riders and the system wouldn't work,” Charles said.
 
Charles was part of a task force that eventually settled on the road user fee pilot program.
 
“In my mind, if you are paying for something and you’re getting a service in return, it’s not a tax it’s a user fee,” he said.
 
The volunteers in Oregon’s pilot program can deduct the fees they pay through the VMT pilot.
“It’s a test of the concept,” he said.
 
If a state like Illinois were ever to fully implement such a system, taxpayers need to hold politicians’ feet to the fire to get rid of other taxes, Charles said.
 
“[Legislators] can’t get themselves to do that,” Charles said. “They just want to double and triple tax people. OK, well that’s where it goes away then. You’re not going to get public support for double taxation.”
 
If such a program involves a transponder reporting to government where drivers travel, Charles said there will be privacy concerns.
 
“Privacy issues will definitely come forward and politicians would need to be aware of that,” he said.
 
Eventually, Charles said, this will be a conversation all states are likely to encounter.
 
“As electric cars penetrate the market at an increasing rate, I think every state is going to have to grapple with this issue, which is, 'What’s the future like if motorists aren’t buying motor fuel, how are you going to pay for roads infrastructure?' ” Charles said.
 
Taxpayers will have to be persistent that if a user fee is implemented in one area, a tax must be repealed from another, he insisted.
 
“People are not going to stand for it unless you’re going to give them some tax relief from some other second or third tax” Charles said. “Politicians have a very, very hard time getting that message.”

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Illinois historian finds rare artifact linked to Abraham Lincoln

A fragile object tucked away in a room of unknown historical treasures has been found and it is tied to one of the most well-thought-of presidents in U.S. history, Abraham Lincoln.
 
Sandy Vasko, director of the Will County Historical Society, discovered a dried rose a few weeks ago that she said was on the funeral bier of Abraham Lincoln when his remains were at the capitol in Washington D.C. on April 20, 1865.
 
The flower is fairly rare, according to Vasko.  She knows of only one other group of flowers and they are in the Library of Congress.
 
Vasko said the flower was given to General Isham Haynie of Illinois, who was a good friend of Lincoln’s and may have been by his bedside when he died.
 
General Haynie presented it to Mrs. James G. Elwood, who lived in suburban Joliet.  Her husband, James Elwood, was the mayor of Joliet and a civil war veteran.
 
The Historical Society received some of Elwood’s possessions and the flower was inside one of his boxes.
 
In 1971, the Will County Historical Society moved into the building they occupy now. Many of their boxes were put in closets and attics, and were soon forgotten.
 
Vasko had been tasked with looking through those rooms and, a few weeks ago, she discovered the dried rose.
 
“For a museum director to find this kind of incredible artifact, it is so lucky,” Vasko said. “When I was touching it and handling it, it was like electricity. It was just so amazing.”
 
Vasko said a few lucky people will soon get the opportunity to see the flower.
 
"The first thing we’re going to do is have a sneak peek," Vasko said.  "On Feb. 17, we’re going to allow 50 lucky people to come in this building and view it first-hand."
 
After the viewing, the flower will be put back in a safe and won’t be displayed again until about June, according to Vasko.
 
Vasko said she and the museum staff are working to make the flower available for Illinois’ Bicentennial.
 
“You have to be approved," Vasko said. "We started the process a week ago, but being incorporated, everyone has to look at it and see it and approve it."
 
She also wants people to be aware of what hidden treasures could possibly be in their homes.
 
“There are so many attics in the state of Illinois that have boxes full of things,” Vasko said. “Don’t let them sit there. Look through them. Give them to the next generation.”  
 

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Rauner says before Medicaid work requirements, there needs to be job-creating reforms

Illinois’ governor supports work rules for able-bodied Medicaid recipients, but there needs to be more jobs, he said. The state’s leading manufacturers’ association says making Illinois more business friendly would help.
 
The Trump administration proposed to allow states to require able-bodied adults with no children to work in order to get Medicaid benefits. The Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services said it’s reviewing the federal proposal.
 
Gov. Bruce Rauner supports the idea, but said the first move is to make good jobs available for everyone.
 
“We don’t have jobs available for everyone,” Rauner said last week in Peoria, “and that’s got to be our priority, because you can force people to work but if there’s not a work opportunity, that’s not going to succeed.”
 
Rauner said the first priority is creating a business-friendly environment to grow more jobs.
 
“I need the legislature’s help to reform our regulatory burden,” Rauner said, “and also to agree with me to bring down the income tax hike and get local control of property taxes.”
 
Rauner said that will foster more businesses to come to Illinois.
 
Illinois Manufacturers’ Association Vice President Mark Denzler said one thing state lawmakers could do is reform the state’s high business costs.
 
“We need to reform Illinois’ workers’ compensation system,” Denzler said. “We need to reduce the tax burden on Illinois employers. We need to reduce the unnecessary and costly regulations on employers that make it more difficult to do business in Illinois.”
 
Denzler said the state also needs to get control of soaring property taxes, which are among the highest in the nation.
 
While manufacturing employees likely get employer-sponsored health care, Denzler said every manufacturing job created spurs on three additional jobs in other sectors.
 
“There’s jobs in the retail sector, or the restaurant sector,” Denzler said. “There are jobs that support manufacturers. It’s the biggest multiplier effect of any industry.”
 
The federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services put a letter out to states last week saying it would support state efforts to test incentives that make participation in work or other community engagement a requirement for continued Medicaid eligibility for able-bodied adults without dependents.
 
So far, only Kentucky has been given the green light to implement the new guidelines.

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Government report: Illinois GDP lagged behind Midwest, nation in last decade.

Illinois has lagged behind the rest of the country, as well as the rest of the Midwest, in the 10 years since the recession began, according to an Illinois commission’s report.
 
The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability weighed Illinois’ gross domestic product over the past 10 years against the rest of the country.
 
According to the report, the state’s “real GDP” expanded from $671 billion in 2007 to $696 billion in 2016. That growth of 3.8 percent pales behind the national rate of 10.7 percent, and 9.1 for the Midwest region.
 
“Illinois has lagged behind both the U.S. and the Midwest comparatively since December of 2007, which was the beginning of the Great Recession,” said COGFA Senior Analyst Ben Varner.
 
In the middle of the recovery, the state’s economy took a turn back for the worse that other states didn’t see before that, Varner said.
 
“We took a jag down in 2013 that you didn’t see quite as significantly in the Midwest or the U.S.,” he said.
 
Lawmakers approved a 67 percent personal income tax increase in 2011 and a 30 percent corporate tax increase.
 
“Illinois has a bunch of issues with their state government and their tax environment,” Varner said. “I don’t think businesses like that.”

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The Regional Media Grand Winter Auction

The Regional Media Grand Winter Auction continues this week as we still have many items to sell! Make sure to tune in to your favorite Regional Media station weekdays from 11am until 12noon. 

 

Below are a few items we still have availible for you to place bids or buy!

 

A year membership to Cassady Martial Arts Academy up for bidding! Retail Value of $1200

 

From M&B Furniture we have a LaZBoy Recliner in a cream tweed color. Retail Value: $529

 

A Symbol Queen size mattress, box spring, and bed frame set from Modern Home Furniture Outlet  Center retailing at $499

 

A MedLift Lift Chair in a thistle color from More Medical valued at $1808

 

We have many items from A Boy and His Tiger

 

From Discount Furniture and Bedding we have a Brown leather reclining sofa valued at $999

 

Listen for many of your favorite certificates to your local resturants as well!

 

 

 

Remember to tune in weekdays from 11am until 12noon on all of your favorite Regional Media Stations to get great DEALS on many items!

 

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West Central Illinois Arts Center to Hold Battle of the Brushes Fundraiser

The West Central Illinois Arts Center is holding a live art competition event called Battle of the Brushes. It will take place Saturday, January 27 from 7-10 p.m. at the WCI Arts Center (25 East Side Square, Macomb). Proceeds from the event go back to the WCI Arts Center and its effort to improve its facility and capabilities within it.

 

The event will feature twelve painters competing in a live competition that will be determined by an audience vote. Area artists will participate, along with celebrity guest artists. The celebrity artist group includes Macomb Mayor Mike Inman. The night also features music, food, a cash bar, raffle, and silent and live auctions. 

 

Through January 22 tickets are $25 for non-students and $15 for students. After that day the admission prices rise to $35 and $20 respectively. Tickets are available at wciarts.org or by emailing tickets@wciarts.org or calling (309) 836-2782.  

 

To learn more about the event, listen to my interview with Nancy Crossman here

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IDPH shows flu dip, doctor says Illinois still in midst of flu season

The latest report on the flu in Illinois shows a dip in the number of people getting sick. But one doctor said Illinois' flu season is not slowing down, yet. 
 
Dr. Brian Curtis, Director of Physician Practice for OSF HealthCare Medical Group, said that the latest report from the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) shows a dip in flu cases for the first week of the year isn't a sign that flu season had peaked.
 
"Usually the flu season will last two to three weeks, then come down," Curtis explained. "And then, about two to three weeks later you get a second spike, a second wave of illnesses that come through."
 
The latest IDPH report says 218 people went to the emergency room in the first week of 2018, the season total is now over 600. 
 
Curtis said that most of the people who've already gotten sick in Illinois are either very old or very young. He said the latest outbreak is among middle aged folks. Which can cause some of its own problems. 
 
"The big thing is that if you are sick, you need to stay home," Curtis said. "Don't try and tough it out. Don't go to work. Don't send your kids to school."
 
So why is this flu season so early, and so strong? Curtis said blame the flu vaccine. 
 
"Usually the flu vaccine is 50 percent to 60 percent effective. Now you're looking at 20 percent to 30 percent effective," Curtis said. "So you're going to have a worse flu season."
 
Curtis said even if the vaccine is only 20 percent to 30 percent effective, that's better than not getting a flu shot at shot at all. 
 
The Center for Disease Control's latest flu report says every state but Hawaii is reporting widespread flu activity, and the number of flu cases across the country is starting to level off but not decline. 

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Wisconsin community gives Illinois partial credit for economic boom

One Wisconsin community is giving Illinois at least partial credit for an economic boom.
 
The town of Beloit is located just over the state line, about 20 miles north of Rockford. Town administrator Ian Haas says he’s seen several development projects roll out in just the past year.
 
“In the past 12 months, we’ve seen a boon in all sectors,” Haas said. “In residential, we’ve seen the signing of three different development agreements that insure a little less than 400 housing units in the next 10 years. We’re looking at an increase of just over 20 percent of our population.”
 
Hass says many of those new residents will be making the short move from Illinois into Wisconsin.
“There’s an awful lot of people I’m talking to who are moving into these new residences or taking part in these commercial developments that are coming from Illinois,” Haas said. “[They] are cutting ties and moving themselves and their family or moving their business. I know there’s a lot of people who are worried, especially when it comes to the financials for the state of Illinois.”
 
Haas says he’s heard from people concerned about the possibility of taxes continuing to rise in Illinois. Last summer, Illinois lawmakers approved a $5 billion tax increase over the veto of Gov. Bruce Rauner. The Town of Beloit has seen an uptick in moves from the Illinois towns of Roscoe and Rockton.
 
“Those are very nice municipalities,” Haas said. “I think it has less to do with what’s going on at the local government level and more with what’s going on at the state or county level.”
 
One major difference between the two states can be found in property taxes. A recent study by CoreLogic found Illinois has the highest median property tax rate in the nation, at a combined 2.67 percent. Wisconsin had median property taxes of 1.95 percent.
 
“One of the things I was absolutely floored by were the property taxes for the average property owner in the city of Rockford,” Haas said. “When we were running our comparables, we found it was above and beyond anything we see in Wisconsin.”
 
The Town of Beloit also is seeing more activity on the business side of things. An undisclosed company is in talks about building a $50 million agriculture facility in the area. And Haas says he’s taken a handful of calls recently from Illinois businesses looking to relocate.
 
“Being in a rough spot is not easy, and I’m not trying to attack the state,’ Haas said. “But there are definite issues that need to be resolved, and until they are I think people will continue to look in Wisconsin and Indiana for options.”

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Gubernatorial candidates pressed on gerrymandering

With Illinois’ primary election less than two months away, the candidates for governor are being pressed on their views about gerrymandering.
 
The next Illinois governor will be in office for the redrawing of the state’s political maps. Jeff Raines, communications and outreach director with Change Illinois, said that’s why they’ve tasked all of the candidates to share their views on who should be drawing the state’s political boundaries.
 
“They draw their districts in such a way, both Republican and Democrat, so that they can have a safe ride to victory, not having to worry about any opposition,” Raines said.
 
The questionnaire asks the candidates about their opinion of the current method of drawing Illinois’ political maps, whether they would support a citizen-led push to change the process, and other aspects that Raines says voters should know about before the primary election in March.
 
Gerrymandering of districts has led to “safe seats” where Raines said the only competition an incumbent would face is from their own party.
 
“This only encourages the most extreme people from both parties to get elected by fighting over those most fervent supporters,” he said.
 
Removing politicians from the process has seen strong support from both sides of the aisle in Illinois. A recent poll by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute poll showed that 72 percent of Illinoisans support an independent commission to draw Illinois' district lines.
 
Multiple attempts to take politicians out of the map-drawing business have been shot down in court by organizations with ties to House Speaker Michael Madigan. Lawyer Michael Casper led the legal challenge to the last citizen-led initiative to institute a map-drawing process that was more free of political influence. Casper has represented Madigan and Illinois’ Democratic party in court in the past.
 
A number of other states have had their political maps challenged in court for disenfranchising their voters. Most recently, a panel of judges struck down North Carolina’s congressional maps as unconstitutional and gave them until January 29th to fix them.
 
The gerrymandering survey response deadline is Tuesday, January 23.

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Watchdog: Illinois fudged jobs data to get federal OK to waive work requirement for food stamp recipients

A government accountability group says the state of Illinois is fudging employment data in order to allow more healthy Illinoisans to receive taxpayer-funded food stamps without having to work.
 
The U.S. Department of Agriculture approved an Illinois Department of Human Services waiver request in October for the entire 2018 calendar year. The move means able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWD) can continue to get food stamps without having to seek work.
 
In a USDA letter to DHS obtained by Illinois News Network, the federal agency said the state “may waive the applicability of the 3-month ABAWD time limit for any group of individuals in the State if the Secretary makes a determination that the area in which the individuals reside has an unemployment rate of over 10 percent, or does not have a sufficient number of jobs to provide employment for the individuals.”
 
USDA based the waiver off numbers provided by Illinois officials that showed an unemployment rate of 5.9 percent. That number was generated by combining two years worth of data, 2015 to 2017, from all Illinois counties unemployment data except DuPage County, and fit USDA’s requirement of an aggregate average unemployment rate 20 percent above the national average.
 
“During this time period, the national average unemployment rate was 4.95 percent; 20 percent above that rate is 5.9 percent,” USDA’s letter said.
 
Jonathan Ingram, vice president of research at Foundation for Government Accountability, said Illinois fudged its numbers to get the waiver.
 
“What the state did is it combined all these counties together so that when you combine a higher unemployment county with a lower one, it brings the average up,” Ingram said. “So they used this gimmick and loophole to really exempt virtually the entire state from these common-sense work requirements.”
 
Ingram said the numbers game Illinois played should send a signal to the Trump administration to forbid such tactics to save taxpayers money.
 
DHS said the waiver means 174,000 Illinoisans will remain eligible for the benefit for 2018.
 
“The individuals who qualify for [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] under this waiver are called Able Bodied Adults Without Dependents. However, we’ve found this name can be misleading,” a statement from DHS said. “Research has shown that many of these individuals have significant barriers to gaining employment like mental illnesses, substance use disorders, justice involvement, and significant physical limitations.”
 
Ingram said even though food stamps are mostly federally funded, the net result of Illinois’ waiver will cost state taxpayers.
 
“Taxpayers continue to pay more and more money for able-bodied adults to be on welfare, crowding out resources for other critical priorities like education, public safety, infrastructure,” Ingram said, “every other priority that taxpayers have.”
 
Federal data show that fewer than 20 percent of healthy, childless adults on food stamps in Illinois are working, Ingram said.
 
“Work is critically important to achieving self-sufficiency ..." he said. "After work requirements were implemented in other states, those leaving welfare went back to work in more than 600 different industries. They found work, worked more hours, and their incomes more than doubled on average.”
 
Ingram also said the work requirement would provide budget relief to Illinois, which despite a $5 billion income tax increase last year is still operating on a deficit.
 
“Higher wages for those moving from welfare to work would mean increased income tax collections and fewer people relying on other state-funded programs, including Medicaid,” he said.
 
DHS said it will use the one-year waiver period for pilot programs to transition the able-bodied population to self-sufficiency and touted numbers from previous years.
 
“In FY17, 11,459 Illinois households transitioned off [SNAP] due to increased earnings, which is a 32 percent increase from the previous fiscal year,” a DHS statement said. “In the first quarter of FY18, 4,591 SNAP households transitioned off SNAP in Illinois due to increased earnings ... We intend to continue to support our SNAP customers to help them achieve self-sufficiency.”

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Macomb Park District taking applicants for Superintendent of Grounds

The Macomb Park District has announced the opening of a new position. The Park District is taking applicants for the position of Superintendent of Grounds. 

 

The position includes the following duties: responsibility for supervision of all Macomb Park District park properties; facility and maintenance operations; seasonal staff hiring and supervision; and overall planning of maintenance operations. Applicants must apply before January 29, 2018. To be eleigible for the job, applicants must provide a Cover Letter, Resume, List of References, and a Park District Application 

 

For more information call 309-833-4562 or email parks@macomb.com. Applications can also be picked up at the Macomb Park District office at 1406 North Randolph Street. 

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Doctor: Work requirements for Medicaid would save taxpayers money, strengthen safety net

A doctor and author says requiring able-bodied people to work in order to receive Medicaid benefits will help everyone involved.
 
While the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services says it’s reviewing the federal government's proposal for states to require able-bodied Medicaid recipients to work, Dr. Myles Schneider, who wrote the book “Restoring ‘Health’ To Healthcare,” said the move makes sense.
 
“The people who work, who are working, if they can, if they are physically and mentally involved, have a much better chance to be healthier and live longer and have a better quality of life,” Schneider said.
 
Schneider also said such a requirement would save taxpayers money and make Medicaid stronger.
 
“Maybe they can get an employer-sponsored plan, which I think they’d rather have than Medicaid,” Schneider said. “That would get them off of Medicaid and would leave more money in Medicaid for people on Medicaid who really need it.”
 
Around a quarter of Illinois’ budget every year is eaten up by Medicaid costs.
 
HFS spokesman John Hoffman said the proposed federal policy is under review.
 
Hoffman also said Illinois is making progress on its Section 1115 waiver to the federal government to invest billions of dollars in new Medicaid policies up front in order to save billions in the long run. That proposal was submitted in October 2016

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If population loss continues, Illinois projected to lose two congressmen

When projecting out to the new decade, a new study shows Illinois’ loses two congressional seats.
 
A new report by the Virginia-based Election Data Services divvies up Congress by population using the latest Census Data. The number of U.S. representatives in a state depends on its population. Since Illinois once again shrank in population last year, many outlets have predicted that the state will lose one member of Congress at the end of the decade.
 
EDS President Kim Brace said one of their projections shows Illinois losing two.
 
“[Illinois is] within that magic five points of potentially being on the odd side of the line,” he said. “Illinois is between 100,000 to 192,000 people away from losing that second seat.”
 
That particular projection is based on an assumption that Illinois will continue to lose a similar amount of people to what it did in the Census data released last month. The data showed the state shrank by 33,700 in total population.
 
Brace cautions that these are projections that assume no changes. EDS predicted that Louisiana should have gained a representative in the 2010 Census but Hurricane Katrina changed that in 2005.
 
“Instead of gaining a seat, they not only didn’t go even, they actually lost a seat,” he said.
 
Population losses in other states will affect whether Illinois loses just one U.S. House seat or two.
 
By April 1 of the new decade, the decennial U.S. Census is completed. The Census Bureau will announce the official populations for all 50 states by the end of the year. Those numbers are then taken into account by the federal apportionment program. That will ultimately determine how many congressional seats each state receives. Illinois has lost six representatives in the last four apportionments. Illinois lost one representative in each of the last two Census counts.
 
The states will receive their local population data by April 1 of the following year. That kicks off the redistricting process, where the group entrusted with drawing the political boundaries in each state will use that data to produce a new district map.
 
In Illinois, politicians themselves draw the maps. This has garnered criticism and legal challenges in recent years from people saying their votes are diminished due to an unfair drawing of the map, commonly known as gerrymandering.

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Macomb Park District continues Push 4 Parks initiative with two more partnerships

The Macomb Park District continues its Push 4 Parks initiative, in hopes of raising enough money to install lights at the Veterans Park ballfields. UM Autos is now helping in this pursuit, pledging to donate $50 for each new car purchased (by McDonough County residents) in the month of January.

 

The Macomb Hy-Vee is also assisting the Push 4 Parks campaign, with a special deal on family size pizzas. You can purchase $10 pizza coupons at the Macomb Park District (1406 North Randolph Street), and three dollars of that will be donated to Push 4 Parks. 

 

To hear more about the Push 4 Parks campaign, listen to my interview with Macomb Park District Executive Director Rachel Lenz here

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McDonough County United Way releases funding application

McDonough County United Way has released its funding application for 2018-2019. The organization is looking for nonprofit programs that support three community-oriented impact goals: Health, Education and Financial Stability. 

 

An informal meeting with interested applicants will be held January 31 9am at The Old Dairy small conference room in Macomb. If interested, RSVP to the event by January 26. 

 

Applications are due February 28. Email mcdcunitedway@gmail.com or call 309-837-9180 for an application or to RSVP for the informational meeting.

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Lawmakers: U of I's latest tuition freeze shows progress

A pair of Republicans at the Illinois statehouse say the University of Illinois may be getting part of the message about the high cost of a college education at their flagship campus. 
 
The university is looking to freeze tuition, once again, for Illinois students next fall. It'd be the fourth straight tuition freeze, according to university officials. 
 
And it is perhaps a sign that the U of I is starting to get it, according to state Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon. He's one of two statehouse Republicans who say the state's biggest university is finally acknowledging that it's too expensive for too many Illinois families. 
 
"This state has lost thousands of students over the last several years to schools outside of Illinois," Righter said. "Because we have not taken more aggressive action and leaned on institutions of higher learning."
 
Righter said the pendulum is now swinging back on many campuses across the state as school leaders refocus on affordability. 
 
State Rep. Dan Brady, R-Normal, said he too gets a sense that the mindset at the U of I is changing, though he said $35,000 a year for tuition, room, board, books, and fees is still expensive. 
 
And Brady said he is still concerned that Illinois students might not always have a place at the University of Illinois.
 
"You look at that out-of0state and international freshman will increase 1.6 percent this fall," Brady said. "[The U of I] has to make that tuition freeze up somewhere. And then you have to look at fees."
 
University spokesman Tom Hardy said fees will go up, but added that it is too soon to tell how many more out-of-state or foreign students will arrive on campus. 
 
Hardy did say that the tuition freeze is an acknowledgement of the high cost of a U of I degree. 
 
"The four years of tuition freezes for in-state freshmen ... is a recognition that the affordability of a world-class college education is foremost on the minds of prospective students and their families," Hardy said in an email. "The state of Illinois is exporting too many high school graduates to out-of-state colleges, and we want to incentivize more of them to attend college here and build their futures in Illinois."
 
Righter said it is great that the U of I is looking to freeze tuition. But he said university spending on professors and administrators is still massive, and the school's pension costs are not being addressed. 
 
"There is no doubt that pension issues and administrative bloat have to be dealt with. And they will be dealt with, one way or another," Righter said. "The leaders at the U of I have been able to boast and recruit ... in part because of the attractive salaries and pensions benefits that they offer."
 
Righter said he thinks Illinois can control costs at the U of I and still preserve the school as a world class university. 
 
University trustees are scheduled to discuss the tuition freeze at their meeting on Jan. 18 at the Chicago campus. 

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Is another temporary state budget in the works?

One of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan’s chief budget negotiators is trying to put the kibosh to a rumor that there’s an effort to pass a six-month budget to get through the November elections.
 
While fingers continue to point across the aisle and at Gov. Bruce Rauner for the current budget being more than $1.5 billion out of balance, state Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, said he’s heard some rumblings about a stopgap budget.
 
“I’ve heard some people mention that we might have a short-term budget to get us through the [November] election,” Butler said. “I certainly don’t think that’s the way to go.”
 
Butler said lawmakers aren’t supposed to pass temporary budgets. They’re supposed to pass full year balanced budgets, per the state constitution.
 
“There are a lot of rumors going around,” state Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, said. “I think that our idea would be to pass a full year’s budget. That’s what we’re supposed to do.”
 
Harris said upcoming budget talks are already in the hole because of unappropriated spending from fiscal 2017.
 
Harris said Rauner’s agencies revealed more than a billion dollars in unappropriated spending. Rauner has said it’s the budget lawmakers imposed on taxpayers over his veto that’s out of whack.
 
Regardless, ratings agency S&P analyst Gabe Petek said Illinois hasn’t had a conventional budget in three years. It also hasn't had a balanced budget since 2001.
 
“Now that you’re talking about passing a budget in an election year, I’m not a political analyst, but I have to think it doesn’t help smooth the process,” Petek said.
 
Lawmakers didn’t pass a full year’s budget for fiscal years 2016 or 2017 at all. They only passed stopgap and temporary budgets. Petek said the current fiscal 2018 budget wasn’t conventional because it was imposed on taxpayers by lawmakers overriding the governor’s veto.
 
The current budget also spends the entirety of a $5 billion income tax increase imposed on taxpayers over the governor’s veto, doing little to pay off the state's backlog of unpaid bills or chip away at the state's $130 billion in unfunded pension liability.
 
On Feb. 14, Rauner delivers his budget address for the coming fiscal year that begins July 1 to both the House and Senate.
 
The state's fiscal year runs from July 1 through June 30.

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Another harassment task force, no solutions

Members of a task force designed to tackle sexual harassment in Illinois government are hopeful that their recommended fixes will be put into place, but they seldom addressed their issues in a meeting.
 
Instead of talking about ways to correct years of alleged sexual misconduct in Springfield, the House Sexual Harassment Task force spoke Thursday to women suing Ford Motor Company for the harassment they saw there. The task force spent hours hearing from the women as well as Equal Employment Opportunity officers from some of the state's other constitutional officers.
 
After hearing the emotional testimonies of the harassment victims from Ford, state Rep. Litesa Wallace, D-Rockford, worried that they may not be able to pass anti-harassment laws because of resistance to change in Springfield from those in leadership positions.
 
“It’s going to take all of us having a strong coalition both inside the legislature and outside so that the things suggested do pass,” she told one of the harassment victims. “I’ve seen things that I know would have benefited people go nowhere.”
 
Rep. Sara Wojcicki Jimenez, R-Springfield and the task force’s minority spokesperson, acknowledged the issue but warned legislative leaders against ignoring the changes they’re going to propose.
 
“I’m going to be unwavering if that happens,” she said. “I would advise that we would have full hearings and a vote.”
 
Despite the meeting lasting hours, the task force never addressed solutions for the harassment going on under the dome in Springfield that was much publicized last October, when anti-violence advocate Denise Rotheimer told her story of alleged harassment and intimidation at the hands of state Sen. Ira Silverstein, D-Chicago. He’s since been stripped of his leadership position but remains in office.
 
Rotheimer was one of hundreds of women to sign a letter detailing alleged misconduct by Illinois lawmakers and others in power.
 
The task force was sold by lawmakers last year as the source of solutions to the sexual misconduct claims. Instead, the meetings seem to have expanded into the lofty goals of solving sexual harassment across the state.
 
The task force has been assigned to complete its report by December 2018, well after the upcoming November elections.

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Urgent need for blood donations with temperature drop

The following press release comes from Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center. Due to the extreme cold during the holiday season, the blood supply has lessened significantly. Area donor centers include Burlington, Galesburg, and Macomb (1520 W Jackson St). Donors may find a nearby Donor Center or mobile blood drive by calling (800) 747-5401 or by scheduling online at www.bloodcenterimpact.org.
 
"The supply of blood components available for patient transfusions at local hospitals has dropped significantly due to the combination of holidays, extreme cold, and illness across the Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center service region in late December and early January. With more moderate temperatures in the forecast and a spike in blood utilization to treat trauma patients, officials at MVRBC urge all eligible donors to help the blood supply recover by scheduling an appointment to donate in the coming days. 
 
The demand for blood remains constant year-round, but the rate of blood donation has decreased over the last three weeks due to the holidays, extreme cold, and widespread illness. From the days leading up to Christmas until after New Year’s Day, MVRBC’s schedule of mobile blood drives is greatly reduced and many donors too busy to schedule an appointment until after the holidays. This year, extreme cold between Christmas and New Year’s Eve and during the first week of the year has led to blood drive cancellations and a decrease in the Blood Center’s appointment show-rate.
“Patient need at the hospitals we serve never stops,” said Amanda Hess, Director, Donor Relations. “We’re asking donors to help us have a strong recovery from the cold snap to help make sure we can provide a steady blood supply for our local hospitals.”
 
With Donor Centers in Galesburg, Burlington, and Macomb, MVRBC is the exclusive provider of blood products and services to 86 hospitals in Illinois, Iowa, Missouri and Wisconsin, including OSF St. Mary Medical Center (Galesburg), OSF Holy Family Medical Center (Monmouth) and McDonough District Hospital (Macomb). Potential donors are asked to find a convenient time to donate by calling MVRBC’s Donor Scheduling team at (563) 359-5401 or (800) 747-5401.
 
To recognize donors who provide this lifesaving resource during the month of January, the blood center will provide all registered donors with a voucher that can be redeemed (online or by phone) for the donor’s choice of a knit beanie (cap) featuring the MVRBC logo or a $5 electronic gift card for Starbucks coffee (email delivery). Vouchers will be distributed at mobile blood drives through January 14 and at MVRBC Donor Centers through the end of the month.
 
Blood donation is a safe, simple procedure that takes about 45 minutes to one hour. A photo I.D. or MVRBC Donor Card is required to donate. All persons age 17 and up (or 16, with a signed parental permission form) who weigh at least 110 lbs. and are in general good health meet the basic eligibility requirements for blood donation." 
 

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Freezing rain impacts West Central Illinois

A week of peculiar weather in West Central Illinois continues with a threat of Thursday afternoon freezing rain. The prospect of freezing rain on already wet roadways has resulted in schools throughout the area dismissing students early Thursday. Temperatures opened up in the mid 50's Thursday, only to drop to the low teens at night. Throughout the weekend temperatures are expected to fluctuate between the teens and single digits. Snow is expected Sunday evening. 

 

Slick roadways and unpredictable driving conditions are expected. Please use caution when driving and be sure to stay updated with the latest weather conditions on MacombNewsNow.com

 

 

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Shuttered Gander Mountain locations to reopen as Gander Outdoors in four Illinois locations

An outdoors advocacy group is excited that shuttered outdoors retailer Gander Mountain is opening up under a different brand.
 
Gander Mountain filed for bankruptcy last year and stores in Illinois closed. The retailer was bought by Camping World CEO Marcus Lemonis. He said in a Facebook Live video last week that a slew of stores are opening under the name Gander Outdoors.
 
“They’re going to be opening at a very rapid pace,” Lemonis said. “With all of them being open by the end of May, the middle of June.”
 
Gander Outdoors stores are expected to open in Springfield, Rockford, Peoria, and O’Fallon.
 
Lemonis said when the stores open, customers will notice a difference.
 
“Rather than just opening up a big box we decided to change it up a little bit,” Lemonis said. “What you’ll see is four distinct departments with four distinct specialities and brands.”
 
Michael Rasmussen, with Illinois outdoors advocacy group Capitol Outdoors, said it’s not just hunters and fishers who will find what they’re looking for; the new stores will also attract other outdoors enthusiasts as well.
 
“It’s going to be more for hikers, you know, a different demographic for the outdoors,” Rasmussen said. “So that’s what I think is most exciting.”
 
Rasmussen said there’s a ton of newfound interest outside of traditional groups of hunters and anglers.
 
“It’s a cool thing to be outside now,” Rasmussen said. “It’s cool to be out hiking and enjoying that stuff. And to me, that’s always been cool though.”
 
Rasmussen said he wasn’t surprised by Gander Mountain closing because of high pricing. He expects Gander Outdoors to be more competitive.
 

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Bipartisan support for capital bill to support new Quincy veterans home, Chicago home

There’s bipartisan support among Illinois lawmakers for a plan to build a new veterans home in Quincy and for funds to finish a stalled Chicago veterans facility.
 
The Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs says it will move forward with a plan to update an aging facility of the Quincy Veterans Home following 13 deaths of legionnaires disease in the past two years.
 
State officials said there were 200 instances of legionnaires in the entire state in 2015 with 53 of the cases in the Quincy Veterans Home alone. Center for Disease Control Dr. Sam Posner said that would be considered an epidemic.
 
In 2015, 12 veterans died. In October 2016, an additional veteran died of an illness associated with the disease.
 
Legionnaires is a respiratory virus that is contracted by breathing in water vapor that may contain the bacteria. In water pipes, legionella bacteria can grow on what’s called biofilm that accumulates in all water pipes. State officials said there’s still no known source of the problem.
 
Testing for legionella isn’t required at public health facilities, public or private, but Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Nirav Shah said if there is a positive test the state requires a water management plan.
 
Department of Veterans Affairs Director Erica Jeffries said one reason there may be more cases of legionnaires is because of increased testing. She said there are multiple tests per day being done on the water system at Quincy in the aftermath of the outbreak.
 
During the nearly four hour joint House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing, lawmakers pressed officials about the outbreak. They wanted a permanent solution.
 
State Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, said he supports a capital bill to fund a new building on the Quincy campus and money to finish a stalled Chicago veterans home.
 
“I do believe that if you have a new state of the art facility, you do it with a combination of federal funds, a capital bill with minimal exposure to [General Revenue Funds] that would take a delay in some other capital plans,” McSweeney said. “I don’t believe there’s any other solution.”
 
State Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Smithton, agreed.
 
“In a very bipartisan fashion, I don’t believe you’ll run into any resistance as far as trying to get financial help,” Costello said.
 
State Sen. Tony Munoz, D-Chicago, also supported a capital bill for a new or renovated facility.
 
There are several buildings on the Quincy campus that are decades old, with some more than 100 years old. There’s also plenty of space for a new facility with 210 acres on site.
 
A 200-bed Chicago veterans home that broke ground in 2014 has been delayed, partly because of a lack of funding and, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, partly because of design flaws that need to be corrected.
 
McSweeney said both projects would cost about $125 million with most of the funds possibly coming from federal tax dollars. If all sides come together and Gov. Bruce Rauner meets with federal officials, McSweeney said a proposal could come together in the next couple of weeks.
Jeffries said she’s eager to cooperate.
 
However, there were concerns construction could kick up the legionella virus during construction. Posner said legionella is something that’s found everywhere and can be dusted up during construction.
 
Some of the panel criticized the state for delaying a public release of information for six days back in 2015. Shah said it was a matter of ensuring that all information was gathered before sending out a press release.
 
Gov. Bruce Rauner temporarily moved into the home in Quincy after the first of the year. He’s expected to provide a review of his stay sometime after his stay ends this week.

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Rauner proposes changes to Illinois school funding bills

Gov. Bruce Rauner sent back part of the sweeping education reform plans that the General Assembly sent to him so it can be changed.
 
Rauner used his amendatory veto power on one of the bills Monday. In a release, he said the bill as written excludes at least 36 Catholic or independent schools from being eligible for the state’s new scholarship program for private schools.
 
“Making this adjustment to this bill will maximize the number of schools eligible to participate, and therefore the number of students who may benefit,” Rauner said. “Inclusivity was the spirit of this legislation to begin with, and we simply must ensure that we follow through with the appropriate language to get the job done.”
 
The specific changes Rauner made to Senate Bill 444 were to include schools not yet recognized by the Illinois State Board of Education but that are or will be registered before Feb. 15. This, Rauner said, would allow students attending those schools, many African-American, the chance to apply to the Invest in Kids program. If the changes don’t happen, those students will not be eligible to apply for those scholarships.
 
The program, which sunsets in 2024, offers a state tax rebate on donations to help students attend private schools.
 
Students are being told to apply for the private school scholarships on Jan. 24, before the Senate is scheduled to convene.
 
With the veto, questions now arise about what it means for the education funding formula as well as the Invest in Kids program. 
 
And answers to those questions are all over the place. Chief sponsor of the original education funding reform bill, state Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, said Rauner's amendatory veto "stands to derail implementation of the new [education funding] formula."
 
One of the chief Republican negotiators on the bill, state Rep. Robert Pritchard, R-Hinkley, said Rauner's move likely will delay payments of extra funds, but no schools will see any losses as result.
 
State Rep. Will Davis, D-Homewood, a sponsor of the education funding reform bill in the House, said he has yet to fully review Rauner's amendatory veto but didn’t think holding up Senate Bill 444 would stall the new education funding formula.
 
Another issue is House Speaker Michael Madigan’s history of not accepting amendatory vetoes, regardless of the governor's political stripes.
 
“[Madigan] has been more than willing to essentially kill legislation where he believed the governor has overstepped his constitutional authority,” University of Illinois at Springfield Professor Emeritus Kent Redfield told Illinois News Network in July. That was when Rauner’s amendatory veto of the original school funding bill led to it being derailed after an override in the House failed.
 
The schools affected, according to Rauner's office, are:
 
1. Most Blessed Trinity (Waukegan)
 
2. St. Joseph (Libertyville)
 
3. St. Clement (Chicago)
 
4. Ascension (Oak Park)
 
5. St. Bartholomew (Chicago)
 
6. St. George (Tinley Park)
 
7. Francis de Sales High School (Chicago)
 
8. Leo High School (Chicago)
 
9. Pope John XXIII (Evanston)
 
10. St. Catherine Laboure (Glenview)
 
11. St. Sylvester (Chicago)
 
12. Children of Peace (Chicago)
 
13. St. Frances of Rome (Cicero)
 
14. St. Daniel the Prophet (Chicago)
 
15. St. Barnabas (Chicago)
 
16. Incarnation (Palos Heights)
 
17. St. Bede the Venerable (Chicago)
 
18. Holy Angels (Chicago)
 
19. Academy of Scholastic Achievement
 
20. A Step Ahead Academy
 
21. Cambridge School of Chicago
 
22. Chicago Westside Christian School
 
23. Chicago S D A Academy
 
24. Christians Center Outreach
 
25. Faith Walk
 
26. Freedom Home Academy
 
27. Gospel Quartets Academy
 
28. Hales Franciscan
 
29. Loving Spirit Community Outreach
 
30. Muhammad University
 
31. Northwest Institute
 
32. Nkrumah International Academy
 
33. Peaceful New Beginnings Academy
 
34. Prologue
 
35. United Educational Cultural Academy
 
36. Village Leadership Academy

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Republican lawmakers: Maybe it's good legislature is not in much

Illinois lawmakers are scheduled for less than 20 days at the statehouse between now and April. Some legislators say that's a good thing. 
 
Both the state House and Senate will spend just a couple of days a week, with breaks in between, in session in January, February, and March. 
 
State Sen. Paul Schimpf, R-Murphysboro, said that's not a lot of time to get things done. But he said it's also not a lot of time to screw things up. 
 
"If we're not up in Springfield, we can't make the situation any worse," Schimpf said. "That certainly appears to me that all of the legislative ideas that are circulating at the Capitol would make the situation worse."
 
Schimpf says he doesn't think lawmakers will tackle the state's problem of bringing job creators to Illinois. With the highest workers' compensation costs in the Midwest, among the highest property taxes in the country and what employers say are overly burdensome business regulations, Illinois lags behind its neighbors when it comes to jobs growth.
 
State Rep. Joe Sosnowski, R-Rockford, said he understands that people expect lawmakers to earn their starting $67,000-a-year paycheck, but he also agrees with Schimpf. 
 
"Generally speaking, the less we meet the less damage can be caused," Sosnowski said. "I think the less that the state legislature does, the better."
 
Sosnowski said it would be one thing if Illinois lawmakers were going to solve the state's pension crisis, or tackle reforming Medicaid or property taxes, but he doesn't see that happening this year. 
 
Schimpf added that  half of the problem is that Democratic leaders control every piece of legislation because they control both chambers, so there's often nothing to do at the statehouse.
 
Illinois lawmakers are scheduled for less than 20 days between now and April 1, then they're in most weekdays until June. 

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Macomb FOP endorses Petitgout for Sheriff

The Macomb Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) has announced its endorsement of Nick Petitgout for McDonough County Sheriff. Petitgout, who currently serves as the Chief Deputy to Sheriff Rick VanBrooker, is one of three Republican candidates that appeared before the Macomb FOP prior to the decision being made. This comes with the primary set for March 20. 

 

In a press release from Macomb FOP President Derek Wiley, four main reasons were given for the FOP's decision. The reasons were: the FOP's current working relationship with Chief Deputy Petitgout, his BA in Law Enforcement from Western Illinois University, his training and service as a Marine, and the fact that Sheriff VanBrooker selected Petitgout to be his Chief Deputy in the first place. 

 

The Macomb Police Department and McDonough County Sherriff's Office work together in a variety of different areas, including drug cases and burglaries. 

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Knox County 4-H Livestock Judging Team competed in Denver

The Knox County 4-H Livestock Judging Team finished thirteenth at the national livestock judging contest in Denver. The team earned its way to nationals after finishing in second place at the state level in 2017. The team was in Denver competing from January 2 through January 8, and is now back home in Galesburg. 

 

The team consists of Andy Bates, Katelyn Engel, Evan Link, Case Hennenfent, and Annika Spring. Twenty-six 4-H teams from various states participated in nationals. The Knox County group earned its highest scores in goats and beef, finishing fifth and seventh respectively in those areas. Individually, Hennenfent placed third overall, with Link finishing sixth. 

 

The team now looks ahead to competitions throughout the state, running through May. 

 

 

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Benefit set for WIU OPS Officer battling cancer

Western Illinois University's Office of Public Safety (OPS) will hold a benefit for Officer Krystal Scott Wednesday, January 10. Scott is undergoing treatment for stage four colon cancer. Proceeds from the benefit, which takes place from 4:30-8 p.m at the Macomb American Legion Post No. 6 (221 E. Washington St.), will go to Scott and her daughter.

 

"Krystal is a hard-working, dedicated and passionate individual, in and out of uniform, and she is a wonderful single mother to her daughter," said Det. Sarah Worthington, who is co-coordinating the benefit. "She is the last person to ever ask for help, but we want to provide her with as much support as we can." 

 

The benefit features a spaghetti dinner catered by Italian Express, along with silent and live auctions. The dinner is $10 for adults and $5 for children 12 and under. The meal includes spaghetti, garlic bread, salad and a beverage. Take-out is also available. 

 

Tickets are available at the door, or in advance at the Office of Public Safety/Mowbray Hall, or by calling (309) 298-1949 or emailing publicsafety@wiu.edu. 

 

 

 

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Not much happening in high-tax Illinois in reaction to federal tax reform

In the aftermath of federal tax reform, a couple of state lawmakers are sounding off on what the state of Illinois needs to do when it comes to taxing and spending. One wants to take a wait-and-see approach. Another says the state must address its spending problem.
 
From proposing state tax cuts or even lawsuits against the feds, a number of high-tax states like California and New Jersey are looking at ways to lessen the impact of federal tax reform on their state’s bottom lines. What’s happening in high tax Illinois? Not much.
 
Illinois has some of the highest state and local taxes in the nation and is rivaled only by New Jersey for the highest property tax in the nation.
 
The federal tax reform puts a $10,000 cap on the amount of state and local taxes, or SALT, deductions taxpayers can write off on their federal taxes. That is expected to pinch tax filers with more than $10,000 in property taxes as they won’t be able to deduct above that.
 
State Rep. Mike Zalewski, D-Chicago, said before moving forward with any ideas, lawmakers must fully digest the federal reforms.
 
“That being said, when we get to Springfield and when we talk to our colleagues and when we talk to stakeholders, [we need to] make sure we’re being responsive to the concerns people have and go from there,” Zalewski said.
 
State Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, said he pulled numbers from Sangamon County and a very small percentage of residents and businesses actually paid more than $10,000 in property taxes, so he didn’t see that being a big issue. However, he said spending drives taxation and there must be a focus on spending reform in Illinois.
 
“As time goes on, we’ve seen a real stranglehold on being able to use our tax dollars in other ways and more of it going to things like pensions and Medicaid,” Butler said. “We’re going to have to address those situations. We’re going to have to figure something out on that.”
 
Zalewski said high property taxes in Illinois are a concern and, given the recent income tax increase and the battle over the now repealed soda tax in Cook County, “we need to be mindful of tax fatigue in this state."
 
Regardless of what happened in D.C., we need to sort of keep in mind we need to be responsible to the taxpayers as well,” Zalewski said.
 
Butler said one way lawmakers can be responsible to taxpayers is to address the state’s pension crisis.
 
“This pension problem isn’t going away,” Butler said. “We have $130 billion-plus in unfunded pension liability. The public employees of this state need to be part of that solution.”
 
Despite various efforts and ideas to reform public sector pensions in Illinois, lawmakers finished out last year without substantive reforms.
 
Butler said he’d like to roll back the income tax increase Democrats and some Republicans imposed on taxpayers last summer over the governor’s veto. Butler didn’t support that measure. He also said the federal reform doubling the standard deduction will keep more money in taxpayers' pockets and help spur more economic activity.
 
Illinois state lawmakers aren’t back in Springfield until Jan. 23 in the House, a week and a day before Gov. Bruce Rauner delivers his State of the State address.

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Study ranks Illinois 12th best state to raise family

After publishing a study last week ranking the best cities in the Land of Lincoln to raise a family, Wallet Hub ranked Illinois twelve in its "Best and Worst State to Raise a Family," rankings

 

The rankings were determined by factoring in the following categories.

 

Raising a Family in Illinois (1=Best; 25=Avg.):
12th – % of Families with Young Kids
27th – Child-Care Costs (Adjusted for Median Family Income)
27th – Infant-Mortality Rate
6th – Median Family Salary (Adjusted for Cost of Living)
35th – Violent-Crime Rate
26th – % of Families in Poverty
18th – Housing Affordability
45th – Unemployment Rate
10th – Separation & Divorce Rate
 
The midwest as a whole fared well in these rankings. Minnesota was ranked second with Wisconsin coming in at six, Iowa eight, Missouri twenty four and Indiana thirty. 
 
 

Source: WalletHub

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Report shows federal bloat in Illinois

A new searchable map of government bloat shows there are almost as many federal government employees in Illinois as there are state employees and their benefits are generous.
 
OpenTheBooks.com’s latest project, “Mapping The Swamp: A Study of the Administrative State,” allows visitors to search their ZIP code to find out how many federal employees are in their backyard.
 
Open The Books founder and CEO Adam Andrzejewski said Illinois’ findings are eye opening.
 
“There are 57,000 federal workers employed by different federal agencies including the post office,” Andrzejewski said. “That number rivals the number of state employees in Illinois.”
 
Illinois state government employs around 63,000 workers. The largest private employer in the state is Allstate Insurance with 13,000.
 
Andrzejewski said 9,000 of those federal employees in Illinois make more than $100,000 a year.
 
Across the country after three years on the job federal bureaucrats get 43 paid days off in sick time, vacation days and holidays.
 
“And just that little benefit costs taxpayers $23 billion a year,” Andrzejewski said.
 
 

 
The report says the federal government paid its employees more than $1 million per minute, overall.
 
Andrzejewski said there are a couple of ways to shore up costs like eliminating bonuses.
“With these high salaries, many people don’t feel a federal worker also needs a bonus but [in 2016] just that line item cost the American taxpayer $1.5 billion,” Andrzejewski said. 
 
He also suggested cutting “the federal in-house spin machine, the [public relations] officers. There’s 3,600 PR officers employed in the federal agencies. That line item costs the American taxpayer a half a billion dollars a year.”
 
“So if you do both of those things, bonuses and trim back the PR corp, there’s $2 billion on the table,” Andrzejewski said.
 
U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., said he was successful in opening up the House’s books with online reports of expenses required every quarter.
 
“That doesn’t happen for the U.S. Senate,” Davis said. “That doesn’t happen in the executive branch, and it frankly doesn't happen in the judicial branch, which I think it should.”
 
Davis, a Taylorville Republican, said he does what he can to control costs within his own office and members of Congress are already limited by law how large their individual budgets can be and how many employees they can hire.
 
You can view the entire report here
 
 

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Amy Walen named new operations manager at Legacy Theater

The Legacy Theater in Carthage begins its third year of shows, with Amy Walen as the new theater operations manager.
 
Walen is at the theater box office from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday to Friday to sell tickets to upcoming performances, but her job goes far beyond ticket sales. 
 
“Of course, we have to get tickets sold so we can continue to be a venue. We wouldn’t have the theater without people coming to the shows,” Walen said.
 
In this part time position, Walen works with the volunteer Legacy Theater Foundation board and its three committees. 
 
With the performance recruitment committee, Walen helps secure performers, finalizing details of their contracts and taking care of their needs. This can mean a place to stay, meals, or even decorating a large Christmas tree for the Hughes Brothers’ Christmas show.
 
On the production side, she may need to provide special sound or lighting equipment for a show. 
To promote marketing, Walen will work with travel services. Bus groups from outside the area are an important part of the growing Legacy Theater audiences.
 
“On the operational side, I need to be sure the facility is clean and at the right temperature. If I find a problem, I deal with it or report it to the board,” she said.
 
“I go to all board and committee meetings and represent the theater at community organizations.”
The theater works with local restaurants to create “dinner and a show” options, bringing more customers to other businesses in the area.
 
“It is hard to explain all I do because I’ve just barely begun. I will take things as they come. I don’t know what all I’ll do because it hasn’t come up yet,” she said. Walen volunteers on the marketing and fundraising committees, and in the ticket office before being named operations manager, the only paid position at Legacy Theater.
 
Walen grew up in North Dakota and graduated from West Fargo High School, but she stresses, “My home is here now.”
 
She attended Millikin University in Decatur for two years, majoring in theater administration, and graduated after two more years at BYU Idaho majoring in business management with an emphasis in finance.
 
After graduation in 2014, she moved back to Illinois with a job at the Carthage branch of First Community Bank.
 
“All during my high school years, I was heavily involved in theater. Every play they put on, I did something with the theater. In the last two years, I was more on the stage management side,” Walen said. She was involved as an officer in drama club and created a high school improve group.
 
This continued at Millikin where she was production manager of Pipe Dreams, a student run theater and worked with its faculty/community board. She had many theater classes in make-up, staging, and dance, as well as operations.
 
“Being in theater has always been a dream of mine. It is nice to be able to use my business degree in theater.”
 
Looking ahead, Walen hopes to see the theater’s audiences reaching out beyond the Quincy, Burlington and Macomb regions.
 
“I want the Legacy to be a location people want to come to. People are looking for unique places to go that are not too far away,” she said. “I like how the theater is reaching for broader audiences with different types of shows.”
 
This spring the theater features Highwaymen Live, a country tribute band; Dennis Watkins, a mentalist; and Midwest Dueling Pianos.
 
“I’d like to see more on the educational side. Drama classes, perhaps ask the performers who come if they would do a workshop."
 
“It all goes back to our mission, to enrich, educate, inspire and entertain. That’s the job of the manager, to make sure we are fulfilling that mission in each performance. I want our audiences have a good experience in the theater. And not just a good show, but interacting with people at the theater.”

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Closings 1/8/2018

Schools:

 

Astoria Schools: Closed

Beardstown Schools: Closed, Evening activities canceled

Brown County Schools: Closed

Bushnell-Prairie City Schools: Closed

Carl Sandburg College: All campuses closed

Carthage Elementary: Closed

Dallas City Elementary: Closed, Evening activities canceled

Hamilton Schools: Closed

Illini West: Closed

LaHarpe Elementary: Closed, Evening activities canceled

Nauvoo-Colusa Schools: Closed, Evening activities canceled

Schuyler-Industry Unit #5: Closed, Evening activities canceled

Southeastern Dist. 337: Closed

Spoon River College: All campuses closed 

VIT: Closed

Warsaw: Closed

West Prairie CUSD #103: Closed, Evening activities canceled

Western Illinois University (Macomb and Quad Cities): Open but under weather advisory until 10 a.m.

 

Culbertson Memorial Hospital:

 

Due to icy road conditions the following departments will be closed January 8th.
 
Cardio-Pulmonary Rehabilitation
Community Medical Clinic - Astoria
Community Medical Clinic - Table Grove
Elmer Hugh Taylor Clinic - Beardstown
Rushville Family Practice
Senior Life Solutions
 
Therapy Services in Rushville and Beardstown will open at 10 a.m.
 
If you have any questions please call the hospital at (217) 322-4321
 
YMCA of McDonough County:
 
No Senior Meal Program today in Bushnell, Colchester and Macomb

 

 

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Macomb City Council January 8 meeting agenda

The Macomb City Council Committee of the Whole will meet Monday, January 8 to hear public comments on several issues and hold its executive session. Topics to be discussed in the public comments section include renewal of the City of Macomb's health insurance plan, the Macomb Police pension fund statement of investment policy and an update on the Blight Reduction Program. Following that, information will be considered pertaining to the Open Meetings Act. You can read through the entire agenda here

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Illinois Legislature ethics commission under fire for neglecting complaints

The Illinois Legislature ethics panel has been hit with a complaint for neglecting to do their job for years. The question now is “who will investigate them?”
 
Anti-violence advocate Denise Rotheimer filed a complaint with Legislative Inspector General Julie Porter Wednesday against the panel Porter answers to: the Legislative Ethics Commission. In her complaint Rotheimer says the eight-lawmaker panel broke state law when they failed to appoint an acting legislative inspector general for three years, leaving dozens of complaints to go unaddressed.
 
“To allow for that vacancy to remain for three years shows that they are not serious about having these complaints investigated,” she said Thursday.
 
State law dictates that “the Commission shall designate an Acting Legislative Inspector General who shall serve until the vacancy is filled.”
 
The lawmakers named in Rotheimer’s complaint are: state Sen. Terry Link, D-Vernon Hills, Chairman, state Rep. Norine Hammond R-Macomb, state Sen. Cristina Castro, D-Elgin, state Rep. Chad Hays, R-Catlin, state Sen. Michael Connelly, R-Lisle, state Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, state Sen. Karen McConnaughay, R-St. Charles, and state Rep. Arthur Turner, D-Chicago.
 
In the three years of vacancy, dozens of complaints piled up. Porter recently told the Commission that only 10 were valid. One of the complaints she suggested be disregarded was because the accused lawmaker was no longer in office.
 
During a House floor debate about some of the new ethics laws passed, Hays heatedly chastised another member for saying that the commission members never made recommendations for an interim legislative inspector general. Hays claimed the commission did submit names for the vacant post, but legislative leaders from both parties took no action with them.
 
In addition to the new complaint, Rotheimer’s also asking that the commission members recuse themselves from her harassment complaint against state Sen. Ira Silverstein, D-Chicago, since hers was one of the complaints they shelved.
 
“Why should I feel as though they would take my complaint seriously if they allowed that position to remain vacant for three years,” she said.
 
These cases are typically handled in anonymity to protect both sides of a complaint, but Rotheimer has decided to forgo that in hopes that it will shed more light on a process that’s been criticized as ineffective and riddled with conflicts of interest in favor of the accused.
 
Most notably is the fact that Porter must ask the commission before she can investigate Rotheimer’s case against Silverstein. A split vote means the case goes nowhere. This step has been criticized by not only victims and their representatives, but lawmakers on the ethics commission itself.
 
“There are a lot of people still stuck in the dark, silently suffering because there has been no real reform,” Rotheimer said.
 

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Seniors, Metro East hardest hit in latest Illinois flu report

Illinois' flu season is not getting any lighter. The latest report from the state shows a large number of outbreaks among senior citizens and in the Metro East. 
 
The latest flu report from the Illinois Department of Public Health for the last week of 2017 shows a large jump in the number of flu cases across the state. 
 
Illinois doesn't track flu cases, just hospitalization. The IDPH reports 130 new people went to the emergency room with the flu, and there were 37 new outbreaks in the last week of 2017. 
 
So far this season, almost 350 people have gone to the ER in Illinois because of the flu. 
 
People older than 65 are the most vulnerable, and the Metro East leads the state in the number of flu outbreaks. 
 
Marsha Wild is the director of infectious diseases with the St. Clair County Health Department, she said they're seeing a lot of cases in nursing homes, care centers, and even the jail. 
 
"Anytime that you get people close together, living together," Wild said. "You can see how the flu can spread quickly."
 
Wild said that's one reason why a number of local hospitals are limiting visitors.
 
"We're particularly concerned about people who are immune compromised," Wild said. "People who are ill already, or they may have other health issues that suppresses their immune system, that makes them more susceptible."
 
Both Wild and the state's Department of Public Health say a flu shot can still help you avoid the flu or just limit its severity. 
 
Peak flu season doesn't usually hit until late January or early February. 

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Illinois legislators react to possible DOJ move on marijuana prohibition

State lawmakers are unclear what the U.S. Department of Justice’s threats Thursday to enforce federal marijuana prohibition on states with legal pot sales will mean for Illinois.
 
Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, and reports from Washington suggest that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions intends to give district prosecutors more discretion to enforce cannabis prohibition at the state level.
 
That would mean the DOJ could end Obama-era guidelines that Illinois state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, said were meant to provide clarity to how legal marijuana businesses such as dispensaries and cultivation centers in Illinois should legally operate.
 
“Businesses want to know what to expect. They need to know what to do,” Cassidy said. “Ensuring they’re following financial tracking laws, ensuring they’re addressing concerns about leakage. This wasn’t revolutionary, this was common sense.”
 
But with most states, including Illinois, having a medical marijuana provision and the state's legislature debating whether to legalize pot for recreational use, Cassidy said the DOJ’s moves could cause a chaotic patchwork. That, she said, depends on how zealous federal prosecutors will be in enforcing federal marijuana laws.
 
“What we could see [are] businesses operating legally in some jurisdictions, relatively unbothered,” Cassidy said, “and ... other areas where raids are a regularity.”
 
State Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, hears those concerns. He believes there's already a patchwork that exists, and it's "reflective of the standards and norms that arise from local decisions." 
 
Barickman, who recently came out in support of the debate about making cannabis legal for adult use in Illinois, said he expects the U.S. Congress to act on the issue in order to help "remove some of the confusion that exists around the country because of the different approaches the states are taking.” 
 
In a statement, Gov. Bruce Rauner's office downplayed the significance of Sessions potentially changing federal policy, saying, "The impact remains to be seen. How federal prosecutors select which cases to prosecute was and remains a matter solely within their discretion, regardless of any state laws or policies."
 
Gov. Rauner has opposed marijuana legalization during his tenure, and reiterated that stance as recently as December. 
 
Cassidy has said she hopes to vote on her legalization legislation sometime this year.
 

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CDC Legionnaires' Disease Report on Illinois Veterans Home released

The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) has posted the most recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report addressing the Legionnaires’ disease cases at the Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy (IVHQ). CDC generated the report after a visit in December 2017 by environmental health and infectious disease specialists to IVHQ. IDPH requested on-site technical assistance from the CDC after confirming Legionnaires’ disease cases and this report addresses the complexities and persistence of Legionella and how the State of Illinois has taken appropriate action.

 

The full report can be viewed here. In the report, the CDC highlighted disease surveillance and the veterans home's water management program as areas that need improvement. Ideas including testing any residents who develop pneumonia for Legionnaires' as well as establishing control limits for hot water temperature range at fixures. The report indicates that the State of Illinois has taken the appropriate action to date. 

 

Cases of Legionnaires’ disease have risen throughout the U.S. in recent years. In 2017 there were 300 reported cases in Illinois, involving both public and private facilities. 

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School Closings 1/5/2018

Illini West: Closed
LaHarpe Elementary: Closed and no evening activities
 

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Illinois tax credit scholarship program flooded with donations in first two days

Illinois’ new program offering tax incentives for donations to private school scholarships is off to and running at a significant pace.
 
An eleventh-hour addition to the education reform bill signed into law last year, the Invest in Kids Scholarship Tax Credit Program gives 75 cents on the dollar in state tax credits for donations that are distributed to children hoping to attend private schools but aren’t able to afford the cost.
 
Donations from people and businesses are reserved with the state and then given to one of the five Scholarship Granting Organizations, or SGOs. They will then distribute the scholarship dollars to applying students whose parents wish to choose a private school over their local public school. Students may apply for the scholarships through the SGOs beginning Jan. 24th. The program will support scholarships for up to 15,000 students annually and sunsets in 2024.
 
In less than 48 hours, the Illinois Department of Revenue reported $36 million of the allotted $100 million had been pledged for donation.
 
More than one-third of all available contributions were allocated in the first hour Tuesday morning.
 
“This outpouring of generosity is truly a testament to the many Illinoisans who believe in offering students and their families a choice in their education,” said Gov. Bruce Rauner in a release.
 
Rauner has long advocated for school choice programs.
 
“We’re absolutely amazed at the generosity of donors throughout the state,” said Myles Mendoza, Executive Director at Empower Illinois, one of the qualifying SGOs and recipient of the vast majority of the pledges. “The fact that Empower Illinois received $29 million in tax credit reservations is really a sign of strength of the coalition that’s working underneath our umbrella.”
 
More than 1,000 donors have pledged to the program at a median of $4,000, Mendoza said. Donations are capped at $1.3 million.
 
With the window opening after a holiday weekend, Mendoza thinks there will be an uptick in giving since there is an up to ten-day lag between time registered and the time reserved.
 
The program has been criticized by public teachers unions, saying it will sap resources from districts when fewer students attend. A number of Democrats withdrew their support from the education funding bill once the program was added. Multiple Democratic candidates for Illinois governor have said they would end the program if they are elected this fall.
 
Taxpayers wishing to contribute to Invest in Kids may apply online through MyTax Illinois

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Study ranks Macomb 36th best place to raise family in Illinois

The website WalletHub thought highly of Macomb in its annual "Best Places to Raise a Family in Illinois,"rankings. Macomb is 36 out of 220 cities in the Land of Lincoln according to the findings

 

A main factor for Macomb earning such a favorable spot on the list is affordability. Macomb earned the top spot on overall affordability, which also factors in the fifth most affordable housing prices on cities included in this list.

 

In the area of family life and fun, Macomb slotted in at 15. The methodology there included playgrounds per capita, number of attractions, share of families with young children, weather and average commute time. 

 

In Health, Education and Safety Macomb came in at 53. Quality of school system, high school graduation rate, air quality, pediatricians per capita, share of uninsured children, violent crimes per 1,000 residents and property crimes per 1,000 residents all played a role in that ranking. 

 

In the final category, Socio-economics, Macomb is down at 191. The sub-categories there include seperation and divorce rate, share of two-parents families, share of families living below poverty level, share of households receiving food stamps, unemployment rate, wealth gap and forclosure rate. 

 

Other area cities in the rankings include Canton at 72, Galesburg at 124, Jacksonville at 114 and Quincy at 99. A look at the entire state can be seen below. 

 

Source: WalletHub

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Snowy owls spotted in Illinois

An owl not typically seen in Illinois is being spotted in the state, as snowy owls are migrating here from the Arctic Circle.
 
Vernon Kleen, a retired avian ecologist, said the owls typically make their way south because of a shortage in their food supply. Kleen said he had not heard whether their food supply was reduced.
 
Kleen said scientists in the eastern United States are trying to attach transmitters to the birds to figure out their exact migration habits.
 
The owls do not appear in Illinois most years, but sightings in Central Illinois are high this year.
 
“This year, for some reason, there is an extremely large number,” Kleen said. “We’re in Central Illinois (where) ... one (sighting) every 10 years is kind of unusual. We have had seven or eight reports in just this past week.”
 
Snowy owls are used to hunting conditions in the Arctic Circle, which means they do not have to focus on staying out of the way of vehicles. When they fly south, the owls often are struck and killed by cars.
 
“When they come down here, they are focusing on the foods they are trying to catch, not paying attention to hazards that might befall them, which are cars,” Kleen said.
 
Kleen said those looking to catch a glimpse of the birds can check with local birders. He also said the owls sit on signposts, and are easy to spot in the sky or on the ground, unless snow is covering them.
 

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Illinois joins FirstNet broadband network for first responders

Illinois has opt-in to a federal program that is pulling the state’s public safety phone traffic onto a separate broadband network.
 
FirstNet, an independent authority within the U.S. Department of Commerce, develops broadband networks across the U.S. for first responders.
 
Chrissie Coon, public safety liaison with FirstNet, said an example of a separate network’s importance came after the Chicago Cubs won the World Series.
 
“When the Chicago Cubs won the World Series and [had]] a parade in downtown Chicago, there was almost 5 million people in one concentrated area,” Coon said. “That can overwhelm commercial cellular networks.”
 
Coon said FirstNet can help first responders to keep receiving calls during high call-volume situations, such as victory parades or natural disasters.
 
“When those commercial networks are overwhelmed, and text messages and phone calls cannot get through, your police, fire and medical personnel will be able to communicate,” Coon said.
 
FirstNet’s networks will place no additional taxes on residents, Coon said. FirstNet and its private/public partner, AT&T, will bear the cost of developing the network throughout Illinois.
 
Coon said the program also can make it easier for first responders to communicate at longer distances and between different disciplines.
 
“This network will also give them the ability to communicate across geographical jurisdictions and different disciplines within those jurisdictions,” Coon said.
 
Although Coon said residents might not notice a difference, first responders and public safety officials should be able to operate more efficiently behind-the-scenes.
 
“Hopefully it becomes a seamless solution that residents do not even realize it is kind of happening behind the scenes, but their public safety will be able to operate more efficiently and safer,” Coon said.
 
The deadline for states to opt-in to FirstNet is Dec. 28. 

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Western Illinois Museum to hold Celebrate Local event

On Friday, January 5, the Western Illinois Museum will hold an event called Celebrate Local. From 6:30-9:30 p.m., the venue will have live music, local food samples and new historical exhibits open to the public. The Western Illinois Museum is partnering with the Macomb Food Co-op for Celebrate Local. 

 

Five musical acts will perform throughout the night, all playing music of different genres. The event also celebrates the growth of the Macomb Food Co-op and marks the closing of the museum's As Advertised: A History of Local Advertising exhibit. 

 

A $5 donation is suggested at the door. A cash bar will be provided by Hy-Vee Catering. For more details on the event, listen to my interview with Western Illinois Museum Director Sue Scott here

 

For additional information, contact the Western Illinois Museum at (309) 255-5572 and online. The Macomb Food Co-op can be reached at (309) 255-5572 and online

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Repeal of fine for not having health insurance set for 2019

U.S. law still mandates that people have health insurance in 2018, but in 2019 the fine on those who don’t have insurance goes away. An insurance broker has said it will be good when the dust settles and the effects of the change become clearer.
 
The federal tax reform law President Donald Trump signed in December strikes the fine imposed on taxpayers who don’t have insurance coverage, starting in 2019.
 
HealthMarkets Insurance Agency Individual Insurance Agent Dave Ferguson said there won’t be much of a change in insurance offerings once the mandate is essentially lifted in 2019, but he said premiums outside of government insurance exchanges could go up 10 percent every year.
 
“These insurance companies do have to make money,” Ferguson said. “They adjust their premiums to the point where they think they're going to make money. They never know for sure until they get through the whole year.”
 
With renewed efforts expected this year in Congress to reform the health insurance industry, Ferguson said there’s a lot of confusion among consumers.
 
“And it will be nice when things settle down and become stabilized in the marketplace, whatever that solution winds up being,” Ferguson said.
 
Ferguson said the amount of money needed to fund Medicaid could go down as result of people who would have been forced into Medicaid deciding to forego insurance.
 
Goldwater Institute Director of Healthcare Policy Naomi Lopez Bauman agreed.
 
“Assuming that people choose not to enroll because there's no longer a penalty, you could potentially see some savings,” Bauman said.
 
Medicaid is among the largest costs for Illinois taxpayers.
 
Ferguson said Illinois’ biggest challenge for those forced into Medicaid because of the mandate is the time it takes to process individual applications.
 
Bauman said the solution ultimately should be to afford consumers more choices that fit their needs.
 
“Why not open up the market so there could be more innovation, more choices of products?” Bauman said.
 
People who don’t obtain insurance coverage for this year can still expect a fine, Ferguson said.

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States with largest outmigration share startling similarities

A number of states that have seen the most people leave in the last five years have some startling similarities.
 
Connecticut, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, and Maryland have had the most net outmigration per taxpayer in the nation in the last half-decade based on IRS data. Bill Bergman from financial watchdog Truth in Accounting set out to find any common traits that the five have.
 
While much of what he found can’t prove to be more than coincidence, Bergman says there are parallels about people leaving their states and how much economic freedom they have or trust in state government they lacked, for instance.
 
“Taxpayers, and imminently future taxpayers, are sensitive to that probability and are increasingly leaving the state,” he said. “It appears that the citizens are neither that blind or that stupid. They don’t trust their government.”
 
States like Illinois that are losing population will have a harder time generating the tax money to fuel services as a result, Bergman said.
 
“States and local governments tax other things like sales and property taxes but if you’re running out of gas on income [tax collections], that’s not a good sign for those other sources,” he said.
 
The five states with the biggest outmigration problems were among the states that ranked worst in Cato Institute's Freedom Ranking, which evaluates states "according to the estimated costs that government restrictions on freedom impose on their victims," according to Cato's website; overall taxpayer burden; trust in state government; and real value of $100, which ranks states by their buying power.
 
Bergman also found that average temperature in January wasn’t as big of a factor as many have claimed but still seemed to matter to an extent.

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Following LaHarpe New Year's Eve shooting, teen charged with first-degree murder

A 17-year old boy, charged in connection with the shooting death of 19-year-old Madison Finch of LaHarpe, appeared in Hancock County court Tuesday. The boy, who's name has not been released, was charged with three counts of first-degree murder and one count of aggravated battery. 

 

The charges stem from a shooting early Monday morning at a home on the corner of Conch Drive and Terre Haute Road in LaHarpe. The call came at 1:30 a.m. Finch was pronounced dead at 5:22 a.m. at the house by Hancock County Coroner Kendall Beals. 

 

Per a WGEM report, the prosecution stated the incident happened at a party at the house. They stated the suspect brought a 22-caliber gun to the party and shot Finch once in the back of the head.

 
The prosecution then said the suspect ran away after the shooting. It was also revealed that the suspect was initially held in the Adams County Jail, but he will be placed in the Hancock County Jail, with no bond. 
 
Hancock County Public Defender Kam Miller was appointed to represent the boy. The first preliminary hearing is set for January 23. According to the Herald-Whig, Hancock State's Attorney Jason Pohren asked the court to try the boy as an adult.

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Illinois starts 2018 with record cold

Illinois is starting 2018 with record cold. 
 
The first day of the year was also the coldest day in years for a handful of places in Illinois.
 
The National Weather Service says the extreme cold that started 2018 set at least two records for cold, in Peoria and Lincoln. 
 
Pretty much the entire state is looking at single digit temperatures and below zero wind chills for a little while longer, according to Scott Baker, a meteorologist at the Weather Service office in Lincoln.
 
"We're getting the southerly flow of cold air," Baker said. "And we're seeing several rounds of cold air. Once you get so cold, you just can't get out of it."
 
Baker said it's not just cold air. It's dangerously cold air.
 
"Frostbite and hypothermia and that stuff can set in very quickly," Baker said. "It can take as little as 10 to 15 minutes outside in these dangerously cold wind chills that frostbite can set in."
 
Baker says it will be cold for most of the state through the beginning of the weekend, but Sunday and early next week will see warmer temperatures.
 
Baker said that means temperatures in the teens and 20s for the northern parts of the state and up into the 30s in southern Illinois. 

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Complete list of 215 new Illinois laws in effect for new year

With the beginning of 2018 comes the official implementation of new laws across the Land of Lincoln. A total of 215 laws officially took effect January 1. You can view the complete list of these new laws, along with a description of each law here

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Businesses in Illinois were one swing vote away from higher workers' compensation costs in 2018.

Businesses in Illinois dodged a Yuletide bullet after a state board narrowly voted against a change to worker compensation laws.
 
The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission voted 5-4 Wednesday morning to reject a recommendation from the Medical Fee Advisory Board that would have increased the costs of most physician interactions by 30 percent for all workers’ compensation claims in Illinois.
 
The medical industry in Illinois has said they’re struggling to make money based on the current state rates, and it’s forcing patients in some areas to travel far and wide to get treatment. Business advocates say that’s no cause for an across-the-board hike of that magnitude.
 
“This was an end-run around the legislative process and the General Assembly’s ability to craft a medical fee schedule,” said Mark Denzler, vice president of the Illinois Manufacturers Association. “There was absolutely zero data presented at the Medical Fee Board or at the Workers’ Compensation Commission showing an access-to-care issue.”
 
The fee increases, Denzler said, would have hit Illinois businesses already suffering the burden of some of the highest workers’ compensation costs in the nation.
 
Gov. Bruce Rauner has long called for reform to the state’s laws regarding workers’ compensation but has so far not been able to find common ground with the Democratic majority in the General Assembly.
 
Democrats have, in turn, pushed for their own workers' compensation reforms that are more aimed at placing cost supervision on the insurance providers that offer the plans. Democrats largely claim that reforms made in 2011 have worked to reduce costs but the insurance plan providers have been keeping the cost savings for themselves.
 
Critics say this claim is ludicrous since the hundreds of plan providers in Illinois would have to collude to keep all rates high.

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Automatic voter registration law doesn't allocate money for implementation

Automatically registering voters anytime they register with certain state government agencies was considered a major legislative priority by some at the statehouse, but lawmakers haven’t put the necessary tax dollars behind it to get it started.
 
As it is right now, Illinois residents can opt in to registering to vote when they get or update information for a state ID card or driver’s license. Lawmakers pushed to make that automatic and to include more state agencies.
 
Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed the original automatic voter registration bill in 2016 with suggested changes he said made the bill better. Lawmakers followed his lead in 2017 and passed automatic voter registration.
 
Illinois State Board of Elections General Counsel Ken Menzel said that directed the elections board to start implementing the program.
 
“We haven’t gotten any money appropriated for it quite yet,” Menzel said. “There’s a supplemental appropriation request pending with the legislature but we do have staff working on it as best we can. The staff that’s working on it has been updating the board on a monthly basis.”
 
Menzel said the elections office would need more than half a million dollars to get technology and programming in place.
 
“For the thing to work, we’re going to need, for example, servers,” Menzel said. “And, of course, we’re going to need programming time to do that, and I think some of the money was going to adding staff to do the programming.”
 
There’s already been coordination between the elections board and the Secretary of State’s office, Menzel said, but other state agencies involved in the process are also going to have to be updated for AVR to work.
 
“We’ve got to get their systems collecting that data,” he said. “We’ve got to figure out how to get our systems to talk to their systems to transmit it.”
“It’s a fairly big undertaking,” Menzel said. “Without the money, it would be difficult to hit our benchmarks.”
 
The law says AVR should be fully implemented no later than July 2019.
 
Supporters of the law said they want to increase voter turnout and that the bill will help keep voter rolls accurate. Opponents said the measure wasn’t necessary and could lead to lower voter turnout percentages by adding scores of more voters to the rolls who might not actually go to the polls.
 
Eligible voters who don’t want to register to vote automatically when getting a service through the DMV or other state government agencies like the Illinois departments of Human Services, Employment Security, Financial and Professional Regulation, and Natural Resources have to opt out of the system.
 
The measure explicitly disallows any illegal immigrants to be registered to vote automatically when they apply for a Temporary Visitor Driver's License.

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Researcher: Government also to blame in opioid crisis

A growing number of Illinois counties are suing the makers of opioid pain pills to recoup the cost of treating addicts, but one researcher in Illinois says the drug companies alone are not the only ones with a role in the state's opioid crisis. 
 
Champaign County is the latest county to join the lawsuit against the makers of opioid pain medications. 
 
The thought is to hold the drug makers accountable for the rapid spread of addiction. But Jesse Hathaway, a research fellow at the Heartland Institute, said the drug companies aren't the only ones with a role to play. 
 
"The seven states with the highest rates of drug overdoses were West Virginia, New Hampshire, Kentucky, Ohio, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts," Hathaway said. "There's something else those states have in common. Those states had just expanded Medicaid coverage, which also includes more access to prescription drugs."
 
Hathaway says both the CDC and the Government Accountability Office note the link between Medicaid and Medicare and the opioid crisis. 
 
"According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are a number of peer-reviewed, academic studies that suggest Medicaid enrollees are twice as likely to be prescribed opioids as people in private insurance," Hathaway said. 
 
Hathaway is not suggesting that counties who are suing drug makers also sue the state and federal government, although he is saying that there are more people to blame for the explosion of opioid addiction than just the companies that made the pills. 

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New Illinois gun law cracks down on repeat offenders

In response to the epidemic of gun violence in Chicago, Illinois lawmakers passed a new law coming into effect next week that some say will help crack down on repeat gun offenders. Reform advocates argue that they’re missing the point.
 
Gov. Bruce Rauner signed into law new mandatory minimum sentences for people arrested more than once for gun crimes. The bill is seen as Springfield’s answer to rampant gun violence plaguing Chicago’s south and west sides. The new law requires at least seven years in prison for repeat gun offenders instead of three.
 
Republican Minority Leader Jim Durkin sponsored the bill. He admitted that it would not solve the problem, but it was a start.
 
“This is the start of something to stop this plague of violence which we pick up and read in the newspaper on a daily basis,” he said in June.
 
But Clark Neily, CATO Institute vice president of criminal justice, said putting more people behind bars for a longer period of time is not a move in the right direction.
 
“All you’re doing is locking people up for much longer periods of time,” he said. “It’s very costly and has a terrible effect on their lives as well as their families and the people who depend on them.”
 
The best cure for crime, Neily said, is gainful employment.
 
“When people have work that they find meaningful, then they truly feel that they’re part of something,” he said.
 
Illinois has the highest unemployment rate in the Midwest and the highest black unemployment rate in the nation.
 
More than 3,500 people were shot in Chicago this year with over 600 dying.
 

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