Friday, March 20, 2015

Fed investigation going after Schock

A federal investigation has been launched into whether departing U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Peoria) misused public and campaign funds.

FBI agents in Springfield are now conducting a criminal investigation into Schock's spending, specifically looking at his mileage reimbursements, travel paid for by campaign donors, and his personal financial deals involving those donors.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) expected this would happen, even after Schock announced he would resign from Congress.

"We have to remember that when we talk about the misuse of campaign or official funds, we are talking about potential violations of the law," Durbin said. "So the fact that they are looking into this seriously at the U.S. attorney's office in Springfield is not a surprise."

While Schock has since repaid many of the questionable expenses that led him to resign including $40,000 for office decorations that began the scandal. Durbin says that shouldn't end any criminal investigation.

"It doesn't work that way," Durbin said. "In many instances, if you have violated the public trust, if you misused public funds, saying I'll pay them back doesn't get you off."

Schock staffers have been issued subpoenas, and a grand jury is expected to be convened next month in Springfield. The FBI investigation into former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. was handled in Washington.

Easter talks about U of I funding issues

Illinois' flagship public university is trying to preserve as much state funding as it can. College leaders are telling lawmakers a proposed 31 percent reduction in state funding will hurt.

"We provide a number of services to the state that we will have to examine" if a $200 million cut is reality, said president Robert Easter, citing a Chicago hospital "with 600,000 patients annually. We operate an airport in Champaign-Urbana; the chancellor is in conversation with local leaders about how the cost of that be more broadly offloaded."

Not to mention the rising cost of things; Easter told State Sen. Scott Bennett (D-Champaign), who asked if the university is simply too expensive to attend, that the 60 percent in the middle is squeezed the hardest.

Two bills consider reducing juvenile offender's sentences

Reducing or eliminating long prison sentences juvenile offenders is the goal of two bills being considered in the Illinois House.

One piece of legislation would eliminate mandatory life sentences for crimes committed by someone before they've reached 18 years of age. The other bill would set up a review process for anyone sentenced to 40 years or more for crimes they committed as youths. Dan Johnson, spokesman for Restore Justice Illinois, says that applies to more Illinois prisoners than you'd expect.

"Of those that are in now, there's 100 that have life without parole, and then there's another 600 or so that have de facto life, meaning you've got a 40 year sentence or more," Johnson said. "That's unconscionable from our perspective."

Johnson says courts should take age into account during sentencing, even for juvenile offenders being tried as adults.

The two bills have already passed out of committee, and will now be considered by the full House. 

Bill Brady thinks fighting over the budget will just make a bigger mess of things

One longtime state legislator says letting the budget battle drag into the summer won't help Democrats.

State Sen. Bill Brady (R-Bloomington) has seen his share of overtime sessions that stretch past the legislature's scheduled adjournment on May 31. From his experience, he says it'd be better for Democrats to work out an agreement with Gov. Bruce Rauner before that date.

"I think most people who get into those overtime sessions get less of what they want, but think that it's going to bring them more of what they want," Brady said, "and the longer the delay, the less you get. So my advice is to help Illinois by cooperating in a bipartisan way."

One of the longer overtime sessions Brady has experienced occurred in 2007, when legislators were kept in Springfield until August by then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

For legislators to pass a budget after May 31, it would require a 3/5th supermajority vote in both chambers.

GCMS Board of Education notes

The GCMS Board of Education met on Thursday, March 19th.

The following resignations were accepted:
  • Kyle Bielfeldt as a teacher at the end of this school year
  • Jordan Kerber as the middle school cheerleading sponsor at the end of this school year when a suitable replacement is hired 
The following hires (pending requirements) were approved:
  • Taylor Rubarts as a teacher at the start of the 2015-16 school year
  • Elizabeth Maske as a teacher at the start of the 2015-16 school year
  • Chris Headrick as the golf coach at the start of the 2015-16 school year
Also approved:
  • contract with Russell Leigh and Associates for the GCMS and Ford County special education association for the 2015 audit
  • amended school calendar for this school year with the last student day being June 2nd and teachers on June 3rd
  • the calendar for the 2015-16 school year that has teachers reporting on August 17th and students on August 18th
  • activity fee for students will include the scholastic bowl team. All students in activities will pay $50 for each one with a maximum charge set at $100 per student and $150 for each family
  • memberships in the IESA and IHSA for middle and high school activities
Superintendent Anthony Galindo announced that 8th grade basketball coach Mark Berry was nominated for the "Co-Coach" of the year by the IESA.
 
The District was awarded a $660 grant for the storyteller presentation from the Illinois Arts Council.
 
The Board held an executive session in which no action was taken.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Gibson City police notes

The following information of charges are merely an accusation and that the defendant is presumed innocent unless proven guilty.

03/09/15     Catherine L. Balsamello, 109 S Walnut St, Roberts, IL 60962
       Operating Motor Vehicle with Suspended Registration   Age 22
03/11/15     Peter L. Bilotto, Jr. 106 W Vine St, Piper City, IL 60959
       Driving Under the Influence of Drugs      Age 25
03/11/15     Brady L. Kerns, 324 N 1100 E Rd, Paxton, IL 60957
       No Valid Safety Test Sticker       Age 18
03/11/15     Jordan D. Seymour, 1113 N Bell St, Gibson City, IL 60936
       Disobeyed Stop Sign       Age 20
03/12/15     Jared M. McClure, 314 S Lott Blvd, Gibson City, IL 60936
       Expired Registration Sticker       Age 22
03/12/15     Robert A. Humpage, 638 N Sangamon, Gibson City, IL 60936
       Driving While License Revoked      Age 36
03/13/15     Thomas M. Long, 507 W Pearl St, Thomasboro, IL 61878
       Operating Uninsured Motor Vehicle      Age 19
03/14/15     Steven M. Mathes, 116 E Illinois St, Sibley, IL 61773
       Illegal Operation of Sound Amplification System    Age 21
03/14/15     Kelly L. Wendall, 719 N State St, Apt D, Gibson City, IL 60936
       Unlawful Possession of Drug Paraphernalia     Age 25

Today was gun lobby day at the state capitol

Gun owners are using their lobby day Wednesday in Springfield to make sure they have a friend in the governor's office.
 
While at the Capitol, gun rights organizations will hand out cards to all state legislators, as well as special cards addressed to Gov. Bruce Rauner specifically.
 
"There's a message that each of our attendees will be dropping off to the governor's office, basically just urging him to protect our rights," said Valinda Rowe, organizer of Illinois Gun Owners Lobby Day and spokeswoman for IllinoisCarry.com. "He's our last line of defense against a bad bill and our first line of defense on a good bill."
 
Rowe says this year's "good bills" include efforts to remove restrictions on concealed carry at highway rest stops and on mass transit, along with establishing an appeal process for those who are denied a concealed carry license.

Fiscal year ends on June 30th - lots of work to do

Illinois Democratic senators coming out of a closed-door meeting at the Capitol said there's still work to do to make a deal to finish the current fiscal year.
 
The governor has said Democrats, led by ousted Gov. Pat Quinn, spent a year's worth of money in six months. He also said he was close to working out a Fiscal Year 2015 fix before lawmakers had to "throw a monkey wrench" into it.
 
His idea to sweep dedicated funds is problematic to State Sen. John Sullivan (D-Rushville). With interfund borrowing, he says, "there's an implication that it's going to be repaid. We haven't done fund sweeps in quite a few years."
 
Another senator, Dan Kotowski (D-Park Ridge), says, "There's a concern out there that any proposal to cut education would be harmful to school districts."
 
Across-the-board cuts of perhaps 2.25 percent are being discussed in addition to the sweeps to make up a $1.6 billion hole.
 
The fiscal year ends June 30.​

State Farm to use drones to help settle claims

State Farm is planning to use unmanned aircraft to examine insurance claims.
 
State Farm says it's the first insurance company to receive an FAA permit to use drones.
 
"Whenever there's a big catastrophe, or a big storm is another way to put it, we'll be able to use these devices to go up and inspect roofs. Right now our claim representatives climb up on the roofs with ladders, and with these drones, we feel that we're gonna be able to be much more efficient," spokesman Missy Dundov said.
 
Flying will be done by trained pilots, not the claims adjustors.
 
The company has two models undergoing testing near the company headquarters in Bloomington. The company isn't saying how much it paid for them, but in general they're only a few thousand dollars. The company wants to be in the field with them soon.

Aaron Schock quits - what's next?

Peorians who served in the statehouse with U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Peoria), who Tuesday announced his resignation effective March 31, say it's a cautionary tale.
 
"I think you need to learn maturity when you're in this kind of a position," says State Rep. David Leitch (R-Peoria). "I think, without knowing details about Aaron's experience, clearly, he rose very quickly. He was very aggressive as far as fund-raising" for himself and others was concerned.
 
Calling the experience a lesson, State Sen. Dave Koehler (D-Peoria) says, "It's too bad, in a sense, that someone gets caught up in crossing the line over from public service into celebrity, and I think that's what happened."
 
So who's next? State Sen. Darin LaHood (R-Peoria) says he'll announce Wednesday whether he'll run in the special election. His father, Ray LaHood, was Schock's predecessor in Congress.
 
Also thinking about it is State Sen. Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington). State Sen. Bill Brady (R-Bloomington) said he would not rule it out but said the excitement of a Republican governor in Springfield would make the state Senate difficult for him to leave now.​

Sunday, March 15, 2015

This week's BUG Award winners

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

5th Grade
Ashleigh Skinner
Peyton Leonard
Trinity Bonds
London Hixson

4th Grade
Rylee Stephens
Gavin Tomes
Kaleigh Shepherd
Nick Giroux

3rd Grade
La'Shaya Harper
Ty Cribbett
Aydin Cornell
Keagen Grover

2nd Grade
Avery Schlickman
Kaelyn Jiles
Lily Harmet
Tucker Pabian

1st Grade
Kaylyn Owens
Matthew Duke
McKenzy Foster
Cale Royal

Kindergarten

Emma McDuffie
Olivia Wilson
Owen Borders
Lane Elder

Less money for parks in state

The fallout from Illinois' financial condition, and the lack of an immediate solution, includes the suspension of some park district projects around the state. The governor's office is now holding up grants for the major construction projects, including some for which the local match has already been spent and for which construction has begun.

"Cities such as Pana, for example, have already expended funds, which are required by the grants. I think it's unconscionable that Gov. Rauner would bring those grants to a closure without fully seeing through the grant agreement that was made between the state and local governments," said State Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) of places in his district.

State Sen. Dale Righter (R-Mattoon), who said he had not heard from any of his local park districts, said this is the sort of pain Illinoisans will have to bear. "The perception that we can somehow ease ourselves out of a deficit" of $1.6 billion in the current fiscal year, Righter said, "without creating issues like this stopping some things, cutting some things - that's not real. These things are gonna happen."

Former Gibson City educator turned SIU president upset about lack of state monetary support

Doubling the tuition wouldn't be a good idea, says the president of Southern Illinois University.

"We have the potential here to hollow out, or create shells of, our state universities," Randy Dunn told lawmakers in Springfield. "If we tried to go back just in tuition to make up what has been proposed as a cut, we would have to go anywhere from 90 to 110 percent."

The senators and representatives who sit on appropriations committees are hearing a lot of this kind of story, as the governor has proposed a 31 percent cut in state funding for the universities. Dunn says across the SIU system, which includes a medical school in Springfield and a dental school in Alton in addition to its Edwardsville and Carbondale campuses, that means $60 million.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Recruitment into the military has issues in Illinois

A new report says military recruitment in Illinois is running into the same three problems with many who wish to enlist.
 
Those problems being they can't pass the entrance exam or the fitness test or because they have a criminal record. State Rep. David Harris (R-Arlington Heights) says he ran into issues many times while serving as the state's adjutant general.
 
"One of my jobs was to oversee recruitment," Harris said. "Too often, individuals who wanted to join the military could not pass the aptitude test or could not score high enough on the aptitude test to gain entrance into the military service."
 
The report, released by the group Mission: Readiness, doesn't advocate lowering these standards, but recommends increasing access and funding to early childhood education to prepare Illinois kids for better careers, including in the military.

Pension reform heads to the court

Pension reform gets its day in court.
 
Defending the 2013 pension law before the Illinois Supreme Court was Illinois Solicitor General Carolyn Shapiro, who said the state is allowed to use its so-called "police powers" to alter contracts, such as pension benefits, in an emergency. Shapiro argued the plaintiffs' argument would mean pensions are untouchable, even after a natural disaster or epidemic.
 
That is not what the clause says, Shapiro said. That is not what the clause was intended to do. That is not what the delegates to the constitutional convention discussed.
 
Speaking for the plaintiffs trying to block the law, attorney Gino DiVito argued the words in Illinois Constitution's Pension Protection Clause are so clear, official guides for voters weighing in on the 1970 constitution didn't bother to explain it.
 
"They are self-explanatory. They have common meaning," DiVito said.
 
The court hasn't set any date for when it will issue its ruling.

We Rise rally at state capitol, govenor's mansion

There was more than one big event in Springfield today.
 
Competing for attention with the oral arguments on the pension fix at the Illinois Supreme Court was a We Rise rally and march. An estimated 1,500 protestors crowded the floors of the Capitol before moving on to the Executive Mansion, where they staged "a funeral for the 99 percent."
 
The people are the government, protestor Marvin Hunter, a Chicago church pastor, says is what the protestors want Gov. Bruce Rauner to know.
 
Money's running out for social service programs, which also are threatened by Rauner's proposed budget.​

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Gibson City Council notes

The Gibson City Council met on Monday, March 9th.

The Council approved:
  • a request from Marc Petersen of the Sandtrap Bar and Grille asked to have their outdoor beer garden to have additional space for the Rotary Beach Ball even on March 21st
  • a request from police chief Steve Cushman to purchase within the department's budget $5975.29 worth of computers and software from McNutt Consulting Services
  • Cushman's request to get quotes for surveillance cameras for the park's bathrooms to identify future vandals
City superintendent Randy Stauffer told the Council that the Lott Boulevard engineering survey work was started and the downtown survey was finished. The first fire hydrant flushing in Gibson City is scheduled for May 11th, and the annual clean up day is set for May 16th.