Friday, November 21, 2014

GCMS Board of Education notes

The GCMS Board of Education met in a regular meeting on Tuesday, November 18th.
The following donations were approved:

  • $1000 - Youth Service America for Project Ignition
  • $250 - Anonymous for Project Ignition
  • $250 - Illinois Educators Credit Union for the high school language department
  • $250 - Atlas agency to the district
  • $2200 - Anonymous to high school basketball
  • $50 - Ron and Carol Bielfeldt to the GCMS FFA program
In other action, the resignation of Elizabeth Ertal as a teacher at GCMS was approved with thanks from the district for her service. The resignation is effective on November 25th, 2014.
The following volunteer coaches were approved:

  • Susan Riley for the high school scholastic bowl team
  • Cameron Schwing for the middle school wrestling program
A motion was approved to set the levy hearing for December 18th at 6 P-M at the unit office boardroom.

The Board discussed the early college and career academy with Parkland College. Seniors will be eligible the first year with juniors included thereafter. Transportation and fees were discussed and no further action was taken at this time.

The district's crisis plan was reviewed and it was found that most of the items on the list complied last year have been completed. All mandated drills have been completed at all three schools. The ALICE drill that included local law enforcement was completed at the high school.

This week is "School Board Appreciation Week" with superintendent Anthonly Galindo giving each board member a certificate of recogniton for their service to GCMS.

Susan Riley of the GCMS Interact Club thanked the Board for their support for their trip to Joplin, Missouri.

Circuit judge agrees that pension restructuring law is unconstitutional

Next stop: Illinois Supreme Court.

A circuit judge is agreeing with a union coalition that the state’s pension restructuring law is unconstitutional. The decision was released Friday afternoon in Springfield.

The crux of the unions’ argument is that the Illinois Constitution prohibits the reduction of pension benefits which have been already promised. Judge John Belz wrote, in granting the unions’ motion for summary judgment, “The State of Illinois made a constitutionally protected promise to its employees concerning their pension benefits. Under established and uncontroverted Illinois law, the State of Illinois cannot break this promise.”

A lawyer for the State Universities Annuitants Association, John Carr, was in the courthouse to see the ruling and react. “We made arguments that it was such a commingled package that, to strike one part and let the other part survive, it violated the law,” Carr said. “You’ve heard Gov.-elect (Bruce) say that we’re in a fiscal crisis. The state argued we’re in a fiscal crisis. Eventually, if they don’t fix the problem, the judges are going to be telling them how to fix the problem.”

In a statement, Attorney General Lisa Madigan said, “We plan to immediately appeal the decision to the Illinois Supreme Court so that we can obtain a final resolution of these important issues and allow the Governor and General Assembly to take any necessary action. We will ask the Court to expedite the appeal given the significant impact that a final decision in this case will have on the state’s fiscal condition.”

Durbin talks about immigration

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) says the executive actions on immigration are within the power of the president.

Republican members of Congress, including all six from Illinois, have called President Obama’s move to defer deportations on millions of undocumented immigrants illegal.

Durbin says those Republicans need a history lesson. “Let me remind the congressmen from Illinois there was once a president from Illinois named Abraham Lincoln, who used executive action to sign the Emancipation Proclamation,” Durbin said. “Executive action has been used by every president. The last 11 have used it on the issue of immigration. This president is carrying on in that tradition.”

Durbin believes Republicans, especially in the U.S. House, should focus on trying to pass the comprehensive immigration bill approved by the Senate last year.

That legislation provides some undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship, which was not included in the actions announced by Obama.

"Undying Words" exhibit to open at Lincoln museum

A new exhibit opening Saturday at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library focuses on some of our 16th president’s famous speeches.

The exhibit is called “Undying Words”, and centers on five speeches Lincoln gave between 1858 and his assassination in 1865.

The earliest is the “House Divided” speech that Lincoln gave at the Illinois State Capitol, ahead of his series of debates with Stephen Douglas.

Lincoln Collection Curator James Cornelius says it was through those debates that Lincoln’s power as a speaker was recognized. “Those debates were covered in the national newspapers,” Cornelius said. “This had never happened before for a Senate race, especially out in a western frontier state like Illinois.”

Included in the exhibit are more than 120 documents and artifacts related to Lincoln and his speeches.

The Chicago History Museum is also contributing items that have never been displayed at the Lincoln Library before, such as the carriage the Lincolns used in Washington. The exhibit will run throughout 2015.

Zalewski talks about ride-sharing bill

Lawmakers will not try to override the governor’s veto of a bill regulating ride-sharing companies in Illinois. Instead, the bill’s sponsor in the House – State Representative Mike Zalewski (D-Riverside) – says he’s gone back to the drawing board and ironed out an agreement, in principal, on a bill.

Zalewski says he has what amounts to a “gentleman’s agreement” with the interested parties to move forward with a bill that will include requiring primary insurance coverage, background checks and licensing requirements.

However, capping driver’s hours appears to be off the table. Zalewski hopes to pass the bill before a new General Assembly is sworn in next year.

Rauner talks about "horrible" state financial conditions

The man who will be governor is running out of words to describe how bad things are.

“The financial condition of the state of Illinois is stunningly bad. It's horrible,” Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner told reporters. He referred to a newspaper's description of a “booby-trapped budget” and added, “That's a kind term, and it understates the situation. Our financial condition is dire. We need to take strong action to fix it.”

 Rauner says a fiscal overhaul is needed, and while he does not have details for us now, he will in February's budget message – he has not asked for a delay.

Rauner sidestepped a question about what recourse he has if lawmakers defy his request to hold off on passing major legislation between now and the mid-January inauguration of Rauner and the 99th General Assembly.

A proposed minimum wage increase started moving this veto session, which resumes the week after Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

This week's Illinois crop report

Dry but cold weather conditions prevailed over the last week for Illinois farmers. Corn and soybeans are almost finished being harvested, according to the latest USDA crop progress report.
The main crops in the state are 94 and 95 percent harvested, respectively.
A crop popular among Southern Illinois growers, winter wheat, may have some left over because of the cold. “Emergence is behind normal,” says Todd Ballard, deputy director for the Heartland District (Illinois and Missouri) for the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service. “There are some concerns of cold … and they may not be able to get some acres planted.”

AG Madigan defends the pension restructuring law

The lawsuit over the state’s pension restructuring law proceeds to a hearing this week.
The law, enacted last year, raises the retirement age and limits the increases that retirees receive in their annual benefits. The unions representing teachers and state workers are suing, claiming the law in unconstitutional.
The hearing, set for Thursday afternoon in Springfield, is on a plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment – meaning the unions suing the state claim that based on the law and the undisputed facts, they’re entitled to a ruling in their favor without a trial.
Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who is defending the law, says this is a case that is likely to end up before the Supreme Court on matters of law and constitutionality. “What the court is going to be ultimately looking at is, were the changes made through the pension legislation – were they reasonable and were they necessary under the circumstances? That’s what it all revolves around. It’s really a contractual analysis that’s going to be made,” she said, speaking about the case in general, not specifically the motion to be heard Thursday.
The plaintiffs are relying on constitutional language that pension benefits are contractual and may not be diminished or impaired.
The state enacted the law in response to an unfunded pension liability of $100 billion, much of which was the result of the state’s failure to make employer contributions over the years.

Tornado outbreak - a year later

A year after the tornadoes, our politicians are recognizing the rebuilding efforts in the affected communities, and handing out money.
In Washington, Ill., U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Peoria) spoke at the one-year ceremony today Monday.
“More than any state, federal or local government, it’s really the people of Washington that have rebuilt this town, and you all deserve the credit for seeing all of these home starts, for seeing all of these families move back into their community, and for you really wrapping your arms around each other and taking care of one another,” he said.
Gov. Pat Quinn also visited Washington and Brookport today, distributing additional money to the local governments to help them cover tornado recovery costs: $398,000 for Washington, bringing their total to $13 million, and $938,000 for Brookport, giving them a total of $2.9 million.
The mayor of Brookport, John Klaffer, said the state money saved the city from Bankruptcy.
The governor said he was impressed by the rebuilding that has taken place in Washington in the year since the tornado flattened half the town.

Durbin and Kirk talk about the Keystone pipeline

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) is predicting a close vote in the Senate on the Keystone oil pipeline.
A bill approving the next phase of the project passed in the House, and will likely be considered in the Senate Tuesday. Durbin says he’ll vote against it, but by his count, the bill is close to getting the 60 votes it needs to clear any attempt at a filibuster.
“It’s close. One or two votes will decide whether it goes forward,” Durbin said today (Monday). “I do believe we should let the president go through the orderly process of reviewing this from an environmental basis, and I will not be voting for this expedited approach.”

President Obama has indicated he’d veto the bill because the environmental impact study has not been completed by the State Department.
U.S. Sen. Mark S. Kirk (R-Ill.) has said he’ll vote for the bill because of the jobs it will supposedly bring to Illinois. Durbin says those jobs were a part of an already-completed phase of the project, which carries oil from Canada to Marion County. 

IDOT says they are ready for winter

The Illinois Department of Transportation is declaring itself ready for winter.
“We anticipate a typical Illinois winter this year. In other words, we can expect rapidly changing, and at times unpredictable weather that can make travel a challenge, with little or no notice. As always, we will be prepared at IDOT for the worst. We’re re-stocking our salt supplies statewide, and expect to be ready to fight snow and ice throughout the winter,” said Steve Travia, acting director of operations for IDOT, at a news conference in an IDOT maintenance facility near I-90/94 in Chicago.
IDOT is responsible for snow plowing on 43,676 lane-miles of roads, mainly the state’s non-toll Interstate highways, and some other major roads. They use 1,768 trucks. Last winter, they went through 799,496 tons of salt. They have 1 million tons available for this winter.
Snow removal last winter cost IDOT $131 million – and that’s just IDOT. Cities counties and the Illinois Tollway system have their own snow removal budgets.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

This week's BUG Award winners

GCMS Elementary principal Justin Kean announces this week's BUG (Being Unbelievably Good) Award winners:

5th Grade
Austin Elliott
Brandon Reynolds
Victoria Bonds
Ashley Hyatt

4th Grade
Alivia Trautman
Seth Barnes
Kellie Koss
Parker Snyder

3rd Grade
Kyah Lee
Delaney Lindsey
Jolie Wade
Reece Miller

2nd Grade
Ava Lage
Michael Whitehouse
Ava Rexroat

1st Grade
Jack Andrews
Lexi Allen
Colin Rogers
Shay List

Ava Walton
Payton Farmer-Spies
Xavier Moore
Gavin Powell

Environmental advocate approves updates to the Clean Water Act

Plans to prop up the federal Clean Water Act by clarifying its jurisdiction get the approval of an environmental advocate.

The head of Healing Our Waters Great Lakes Coalition, Todd Ambs, says people have to have confidence they can drink what comes out of the tap.

“Certainly, we’ve had some issues with water quality across the region,” Ambs says, pointing to this past summer’s problems in Toledo, Ohio. “This (proposed) rule is a painstaking effort by the EPA to, once and for all, define what waterways are covered, so we can go back to having a very strong federal law in place that applies to a broad range of waterways.”

Ambs says a couple of U.S. Supreme Court rulings over the past decade muddied the waters, so to speak.

 Approximately 1.6 million Illinoisans depend on what the group calls “ambiguously protected” surface waters for their drinking water.

Health insurance enrollment marketplace has begun again

The second year of open enrollment in the health insurance marketplace begins Saturday.

Last year, 217,000 Illinois residents signed up for health coverage, despite the initial problems with the federal website.

To avoid a repeat of those problems, Get Covered Illinois regional coordinator Sal Cerna is urging shoppers to meet face-to-face with a navigator whenever possible to better understand their coverage options.

“Know that Get Covered Illinois has in-person help available,” Cerna said. “We are offering high quality coverage and these are affordable plans.”

Prices are going up on some plans being offered on the marketplace, but there will be more choices, with 410 plans being offered, up from 165 last year.

The enrollment period ends on Feb. 15, 2015. Those who bought plans last year and now want to switch have a smaller window. They must select by a new plan by Dec. 15, or they’ll be automatically re-enrolled in their existing coverage.

Kirk and group head to GitMo for a tour

U.S. Sen. Mark S. Kirk (R-Ill.) is part of a group of senators visiting the detention facility for suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay.

Kirk is one of two Republicans touring the facility in Cuba, which houses suspected terrorists captured overseas. Kirk wants the facility to remain open, but says there haven’t been any clashes with other lawmakers on the trip who want the facility shuttered.

“I think when you’re face-to-face with some of the detainees who are pretty healthy, and pretty committed to war on the United States, you understand just the great danger that is represented by these people here,” Kirk said in a phone interview Friday afternoon from Guantanamo. Kirk says he’s in favor of keeping detainees who have a connection with the 2001 terrorist attacks at Guantanamo “forever.”

President Obama had made it one of his campaign promises to shut down the detention center, but opposition in Congress has made such a move unlikely.

Along with Kirk on the trip are Sens. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia), Chris Coons (D-Delaware), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Joe Donnelly (D-Indiana), Susan Collins (R-Maine), and Angus King (I-Maine).

Jesse White talks about organ donation

Illinois’ secretary of state doesn’t want to see religion interfere with organ donation.

Secretary of State Jesse White says there are a variety of reasons why people won’t sign up to be organ donors: They’re afraid that doctors won’t try to save their lives, or that their organs will be sold, or that they won’t look good at their funeral. Those are all false, says White, as is a religious objection.

“When it comes to religion, someone will say my religion will not allow me an opportunity to participate in this program. According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, all religious groups support the organ and tissue donor program,” he said at a news conference Friday in Chicago with clergy and the wives of church pastors, who are on a radio spot urging people to sign up as organ donors.

White will be speaking in churches this weekend, known as the National Donor Sabbath, to persuade people to overcome these objections and become organ donors.

Illinois has 5.6 million people signed up to be organ donors, but about 300 Illinoisans die each year awaiting transplants, a number which would be reduced with more donors. The secretary of state is involved because his office maintains the registry, and people sign up on their driver’s license or state ID.

Community college degrees help people earn more money

Illinois community colleges are putting a dollar figure on what their graduates earn.

That figure is $570,000 more for a lifetime, compared to those with no college degree or certificate, according to a study by Northern Illinois University. Illinois Community College Board Director Karen Hunter Anderson says this is because, at community colleges, students either gain credits to go to four-year universities, or they get trained for real jobs.

“Students can very often walk out the door of their community college with their certificate or their degree in-hand and have high expectations of getting a good-wage job,” she said.

Anderson says community colleges train students for the needs of local industries, so there are jobs available for graduates, particularly in fields such as nursing and manufacturing. Anderson says nine out of 10 community college graduates stay in Illinois, so the state reaps the benefit of the increased earning power.

Mr. Bost goes to Washington

Illinois newest member-of-Congress-to-be is in Washington for orientation.

U.S. Rep.-elect Mike Bost (R-Murphysboro) says he’s learning Washington is a lot like Springfield, where he served as a member of the Illinois House of Representatives. “It’s similar to the Illinois General Assembly but it’s kind of on steroids,” he said.

One of Bost’s erstwhile colleagues from Springfield happens to be in the White House. Bost says in the past, presidents who have had the opposite party controlling Congress have made strides.

Bost was asked whether President Obama will engage the Republican majority. “I’m not gonna make a judgment call until we actually move forward,” he said.

The only other “new” member of Congress from Illinois is Robert Dold (R-Kenilworth), who was elected in 2010, un-elected in 2012 and re-elected this year, so he has been there before.

Eating as a family discourages obesity

The family that eats together stays healthy together.

The idea of eating together as a family – even as little as once or twice a week – could discourage childhood obesity, according to newly published research in the Journal of Pediatrics. It’s because of the dynamics involved – the emotional connection, parents making better choices for the family, and parents modeling good behavior. And, with the TV off and with everybody together, people are less likely to just eat for the sake of eating.

“You can set a timer on the microwave or something to know that after 30 minutes, they have to get up and do something different,” says Dr. Marthe dela Cruz, a pediatrician and assistant professor of pediatrics at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine in Springfield. “It’s definitely difficult, but just (try) to make that a priority from the beginning, and stick with the rules.”

Thursday, November 13, 2014

David Davis mansion putting on a 19th century Thanksgiving

A historic mansion in Bloomington is offering a look at what Thanksgiving was like in 19th century Illinois.
The home of U.S. Senator and Supreme Court Justice David Davis will be portraying both the differences and the similarities between the modern and post-Civil War Thanksgiving throughout the month of November. Assistant site manager Jeannie Riordan says it was once a much quieter holiday.
“You go to church, and then you come home, perhaps play some games or cards or read aloud to each other in the afternoon, and then have a few friends over for dinner,” Riordan said.
 Even then, the holiday revolved around food, with a few differences. Riordan says dishes that wouldn’t be served during most Thanksgiving meals today, such as oysters, were common in the 1870s, alongside the usual staples like turkey and pumpkin pie.  
Thanksgiving wasn’t widely celebrated in Illinois when the Davis family moved into the mansion in the 1870s. It had only been proclaimed as a national holiday in 1863, but Davis’ wife, Sarah, had grown up in New England, which had a stronger Thanksgiving tradition predating its national acceptance.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Gibson City council notes

The Gibson City council met in a regular session on Monday, November 10th.

Dennis Norton of the First Baptist Church of Gibson City requested permission from the council to install a solar light on their property leading to the parking lot. The church repaved their lot and have problems with heavy trucks using it as a drive-through, causing possible damage. The council approved the request.

City superintendent Randy Stauffer informed the council his department has been removing leaves from around town. Residents have been calling the city to let them know when they have leaves ready for removal.

Stauffer stated that the city will pick up leaves on a regular schedule of north and south streets one day, then east and west streets the next day and so on.

Stauffer asked the council if the Illinois Department of Transportation gives permission for the new business district signs this week if they could be installed. The council approved Stauffer's request.

Callie Jo McFarland and Kerry Redshaw of Monticello gave presentations to the council about their downtown revitalization efforts.
Sean Widner of Clark, Dietz and Associates gave the council a presentation of the city's downtown revitalization. Photo renderings of the new-look downtown included new lighting and paving bumps. Widner said that the committee along with the council need to work on a master plan for the project soon.

The United States Department of Agriculture grant was discussed. Alderman Jan Hall questioned details in the grant letter and wants it to be clarified that the city will not receive any money until certain parts of the project are completed.

Hall added that she would be willing to help with quarterly reports that needed to be submitted to be in compliance with the grant. The grant would be for $99,000 for new downtown lighting.

Widner told the council that additional grants may be applied for in the future to help with projected costs of other phases of the project. The city's portion of the lighting project would be $310,000.

A cash bid from Zach Bunting of $255 per acre for the industrial park was approved for a three-year period.
The tax levy ordinance for the City of Gibson for 2014-15 with a 1.5 percent increase was approved. The total tax levy will be for $338,300.