Tuesday, July 22, 2014

This week's Illinois crop report

Cool and dry conditions prevailed in the week just past, according to the USDA crop report for Illinois.
“Corn silking reached 82 percent, ahead of the five-year average of 70 percent,” said Doug Hartwig, Heartland Region director of the National Agricultural Statistics Service.  “Corn was rated with 81 percent in good to excellent condition. 69 percent of the soybeans were blooming, ahead of the five-year average of 55 percent.  Soybeans were rated with 77 percent in good to excellent condition.”
Topsoil moisture is reported at 83 percent adequate, and the temperature was about 10 degrees below normal.
Coming up: warmer and humid conditions. “It must be getting to be fair time,” Hartwig quips.

County-level appointees who mess up could lose post under new law

County-level appointees who break an ethical code of conduct could lose their posts, under a bill signed into law by the governor.
The sponsor, State Sen. Julie Morrison (D-Deerfield), says, “This allows for the county board chairman to remove someone after a public hearing before the county board and after two-thirds of the county board votes to remove that person.  Previously, someone could serve indefinitely until his term expired.”
The law, effective Jan. 1, applies to only five counties: Du Page, Kane, Lake, McHenry, and Will, but Morrison says she hopes it can eventually go statewide.

Rauner wants term limits on November's ballot

Bruce Rauner is holding out hope that term limits will be on ballot come November.
The Illinois Supreme Court turned down a request for a direct appeal of a circuit court’s decision that the referendum didn’t meet constitutional requirements. The next move is asking for the Illinois Appellate Court to expedite its review of the case.
If those tactics fail and the referendum gets left off the ballot, Rauner is promising to pursue term limits through legislation.
“It would be tragic, but we’ll never give up,” Rauner said. “Then what we’ll do is we will bring it to the voters. We are gonna get a governor and a General Assembly elected who support term limits.”
A court decision would be needed by Aug. 22, which is when the Illinois State Board of Elections is set to certify the ballot for the Nov. 4 election.
The measure would limit state legislators to eight years in office. A Cook County Circuit Court judge ruled it didn’t meet constitutional requirements that such initiatives make procedural and structural changes to the legislature. A 1994 push for term limits, led by Rauner’s opponent, then-state treasurer Pat Quinn, was rejected by the courts for similar reasons.

New law would keep businesses from asking about criminal past until later

Job applicants with a criminal past would have a better shot at being considered, under a new Illinois law.
The law bans employers from inquiring about an applicant’s criminal history until they’ve been deemed qualified for the job and invited for an interview.
Todd Belcore of the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law says the problem was that ex-offenders were dismissed before being given a chance to explain their situation or demonstrate that they’ve been rehabilitated.
“For too long, it doesn’t matter how educated you are, how qualified you are, or how much of an asset you would be to a company, we are denying people opportunities, we are denying people hope, we are denying people the basic necessity of being able to take care of themselves and their family. This is one of many efforts that right that wrong,” he said.
The new law does not apply to certain jobs where employers must exclude applicants with criminal histories.
The governor already had an executive order in place regarding hiring in state agencies. This new law, sponsored by State Rep. Rita Mayfield (D-Waukegan) and State Sen. Antonio Munoz (D-Chicago), affects private employers, starting next year.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Davis talks about sales tax, Highway Trust Fund

Brick-and-mortar retailers would love for sales tax to apply to everything sold online.
U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Taylorville), addressing about a dozen small businesspeople in Springfield, said it's only fair, and provided an example: a birthday gift for Mrs. Rodney Davis.
“When I cashed out, I paid tax,” he said. “The collection method is there. It's a matter of getting a system in place … to disburse it to the states. This isn't a tax increase; it's closing a loophole.”
As for the Highway Trust Fund, Davis said he hopes the Senate passes the House-passed fix, although it's only temporary. Davis says talk must continue on a long-term solution.

Employ Illinois program helps contractors hire more people

An expanded state program will give contractors a greater incentive to hire trainees for construction projects.
The Employ Illinois program is a group of training programs for construction jobs. Under the expansion, contractors will receive $15 an hour for hiring workers who have completed that training.
“One of the reasons our unemployment rate is going down and working opportunities are going up is because we understand that transportation is the heart and soul of our economy,” Gov. Pat Quinn said.
The program used to offer a $10 an hour incentive. According to the governor’s office, that incentive led to trainees participating in 269 construction projects around the state.

West Nile virus not as common in this year's mosquitoes

Illinois’ summer has been, for the most part, too moist and cool for the sort of mosquitoes which carry the West Nile virus.
The common inland floodwater mosquito – a “noisy biter” – thrives in this kind of condition, says Phil Nixon, extension entomologist at the University of Illinois.  But it’s the northern house mosquito which is responsible for more angst.
That one “normally doesn't fly more than a half mile, or a mile, and, typically, much less than that” in its lifespan, Nixon says. “It's a stagnant water, stinky water, discolored water-breeding mosquito that is what we call a ‘quiet biter’ … you don’t notice the bite.”
Nixon says while body chemistry dictates how susceptible you are to bites and their effects, the best thing you can do is use a repellent containing DEET and forget about bracelets and candles, unless they also have DEET.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Report shows that Illinois' landfills have 21 years worth of capacity left

Illinois landfills have about 21 years’ worth of capacity, according to an annual report from the state Environmental Protection Agency. But don’t panic.

“The facilities that we have – many of them do have the ability to look to expansions,” says agency spokeswoman Kim Biggs. “We have sufficient landfill space for what’s being disposed on an annual basis.”

In the 2013 calendar year, landfills at Atkinson and Jerseyville were listed as inactive, and a new one opened in the fall at East St. Louis.


Part of state Route 50 will be in honor of Nelson Mandela

Part of a state road will now honor Nelson Mandela. 

A 3½-mile stretch of Illinois Route 50 in Chicago is now designated as Mandela Road. Gov. Pat Quinn hopes it will serve as a reminder of the impact Mandela had on civil rights around the world.

“Whether we live in the United States of America or South Africa or any other country, we’re grateful to God for sending us a man who helped free not only his people, but all of us,” Quinn said.

The designation comes on what would have been Mandela’s 96th birthday.

Mandela spent 27 years in prison for opposing racial discrimination in South Africa. He visited Chicago in 1993, a year before he became South Africa’s first black president. He died in December at the age of 95.

The name is honorary; addresses along the road are still officially on Cicero Avenue.

National Seismic Hazard Project says Illinois is in earthquake country

Illinois is in earthquake country.  That's what the National Seismic Hazard Project says, in its series of updated hazard maps.

Illinois is one of 16 states at highest risk.  And the New Madrid fault is not all there is to it, says Mark Petersen of the U. S. Geological Survey in Colorado.

“There have been several prehistoric earthquakes in something called the Wabash Zone,” near Illinois' border with Indiana, Peterson says. “There are at least eight prehistoric earthquakes that people have found through researching the sediments in Wabash Valley.”

Petersen praises preparation efforts here, with drills and other educational measures in recent years.

The other 15 states in the “highest risk” group with Illinois are Alaska, Arkansas, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.


NRI testamony will start on October 8th

Less than a month before the election, lawmakers will hear testimony regarding the governor’s anti-violence program.

The Legislative Audit Commission had been set to question witnesses on the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative this week, but agreed to delay until Oct. 8 so it will not interfere with the federal criminal investigation being undertaken by the U.S. attorney and a grand jury in Springfield.

State Rep. Ron Sandack (R-Downers Grove) doesn’t believe that request from U.S. Attorney James Lewis had anything to do with politics.  “He asked for 90 days,” Sandack said.  “I think he’s apolitical, but I don’t know that.  I would assume that, and I think his office is owed that courtesy.  The election’s the election, it is what it is, and our process, our timeline is what it is, too.”

Among those who have been subpoenaed to provide testimony at that Oct. 8 hearing are Jack Lavin, former chief of staff for Gov. Pat Quinn, and former deputy chief of staff Toni Irving.

Rauner would like to freeze property taxes

Part of the Bruce Rauner tax agenda is a freeze on property tax.

In addition to a sales tax increase and an income tax decrease, Rauner, the Republican nominee for governor, wants to freeze property taxes, which are collected by local governments and school districts.

“This is the No. 1 problem we have.  Our local property taxes are stunningly high.  They’re the second-highest in America, and soon to be the highest in America.  They’re punishing our hard-working families of our state,” he said as he introduced his tax proposal at a factory in Schaumburg.

Rauner says the average homeowner in the state pays $4,469 in property tax each year, and in most Illinois counties, property tax is greater than 1.5 percent of the value of the home.

Businesses pay property tax too.

Under Rauner’s plan, the amount of tax that a local government levies would not go up unless voters approve a referendum.

Rauner says he’ll tell us soon how he would provide more state support for school districts, since about 60 percent of the property tax that is collected statewide goes to local school districts.  The rest goes to cities, counties, townships, community college districts and special districts such as park, library and fire protection districts.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Medial marijuana rules finalized in Illinois

The rules for Illinois’ medical marijuana have been finalized, but it may be 2015 before any product is in the hands of patients.
The approval of the rules by the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules Tuesday means the process of getting patients, cultivators, and dispensers registered can begin soon. State Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), the sponsor of the legislation, originally predicted that marijuana would be available this fall. Now he says spring 2015 is more realistic.
“Perhaps I pushed it a little, but I think I have to applaud the state agencies who’ve worked on these rules, because they may have sacrificed for doing it faster for doing it better,” Lang said.
The state will still have to decide who gets the permits to run one of the 21 cultivation centers and 60 dispensaries allowed under the law.
Patients with one of three dozen medical conditions, which include cancer, multiple sclerosis, and lupus, are eligible for the program.
As to the possibility of Illinois following the lead of Colorado and Washington in legalizing marijuana for recreational use, Lang wouldn't speculate. “Not in my mind. That's the least thing from my mind," Lang said.”

Some children from Central America in Illinois

Some of the kids fleeing from Central America to the U.S. are being housed in Illinois.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) visited one of their shelters in Chicago, and says if those calling for mass deportations visited a shelter, they might change their minds.
“You would want to adopt these children if you spent five minutes in a room with them,” Durbin said. “They are lovely, beautiful little kids, and I think our nation is going to do everything it can to make sure they have a better life.”
Durbin says about 400 unaccompanied minors from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala are being housed in Illinois. The $3.7 billion in funding requested by President Obama would help those kids be matched with family members more quickly, according to Durbin, rather than have them placed in foster care or deported.
Durbin estimated about 85 percent of 50,000 unaccompanied minors would be able would end up in the care of relatives.
The facility Durbin visited is one of nine of its kind located in Illinois, though Durbin declined to give more specifics on its location out of concern for the children’s safety.

Lisa Madigan sues two companies for student loan scams

The Illinois attorney general is suing two companies for scamming people looking for student loan debt relief.
Attorney General Lisa Madigan says Chicago-based First American Tax Defense LLC and Broadsword Student Advantage of Frisco, Texas advertised across Illinois about programs to eliminate student loan debt.  The scam starts, according to Madigan, by charging an upfront fee up to $1,200 for applying for government assistance.
“All of the services that they take your money for are completely free, available at no cost from the (U.S.) Department of Education,” Madigan said.  “I mean, it’s a terrible scam.”
Madigan says that in itself violates a state law that forbids charging upfront fees for debt relief programs.  The companies may also be charging monthly fees, according to Madigan, without delivering the promised results.
Madigan says similar scams have become more common as more people struggle to pay off student loans, so she expects more lawsuits to be filed.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Flooding photos from Gibson City

These images taken by WGCY on Saturday, July 12th. Click on each image for a larger view.

Rental property on North State St.
Rental property on North State St.
Gibson City Water Department building on North State St.

North State St.

North Park flooding

On south Rt. 47 near Load-Redi

Harvest Moon Twin Drive-In

Harvest Moon Twin Drive-In

South Sangamon Ave.

Corner of 14th and Melvin St. Near the city pool