Sunday, March 1, 2015

This week's BUG Award winners

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

5th Grade
Connor Engel
Lane Shoemaker
Tyler Lange
Ethan Jasper

4th Grade
Austin Corry
Kallen Robertson
Halie Heinz

3rd Grade
Ellie Paul
Mia Nugent
Jolie Wade
Emma Freehill

2nd Grade
Michael Whitehouse
Lizzie Giroux
Anna Warren
Parker Baillie

1st Grade
Addison Farmer
Sarah Higgins
Kaydence Chounard
Dee Dee Harper

Kindergarten
Josie Kleist
Griffin Johnson
Kylee Morgan
Mataya Hill

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Criminal code review probably a good thing

Reviewing Illinois’ criminal code is a good idea, according to a University of Illinois law professor.
 
The code was “strong” when it was adopted in 1961, says Professor Eric A. Johnson, but since then, lawmakers have added crimes and added rules about what actions must be punished under what statutes, and it’s now confusing, even if prosecutors are aware of everything that’s in it.
 
“I think that there are probably a lot of prosecutors who for the sake of fairness and even-handedness probably ignore a lot of those superfluous statutes and focus on the regular, hard-core crimes,” he said.
 
The governor has announced a commission to tackle this job of re-evaluating the criminal code. He’s concerned about some offenders being in prison too long and punishment not fitting the crime; he also sees incarceration as a cost problem and would like to find alternatives where appropriate. Johnson, a former prosecutor, says he thinks sentences are fair.

PARCC test replaces ISAT in Illinois

This is the time you're hearing a lot about PARCC – the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.
 
PARCC is the test which Illinois students are taking in place of ISAT. Twelve states and the District of Columbia are giving it, with testing here divided between March and May. Members of an Illinois House education committee heard plenty of testimony about it.
 
“We do not have another test,” Illinois' new secretary of education, Beth Purvis, said to discourage districts from blowing off the new test. “If we do not have a 95 percent participation rate, we are at risk for significant sanctions from the U.S. Department of Ed.”
 
“My third-grade son will be writing,” marveled Williamsfield superintendent Tim Farquer, happy to lead the cheers for PARCC for local school leaders. “That's a valuable use of his time. He's going to be conducting research. He's going to be doing math problems worth solving.”
 
Not sold: State Rep. David Reis (R-Ste. Marie). “My goodness, the Affordable Care Act's been delayed 23 times. I don't know why we can't give school districts a little more time to work this in,” he told the educators. “I don't know why we don't phase it in. My son's a senior and has only been exposed to Common Core for two years. Why didn't we start this in the elementary grades and let our technology catch up? All those requests were ignored.”

Net neutrality good for everyone

Net neutrality is a good thing, says a University of Illinois expert.
 
The Federal Communications Commission's decision Thursday makes the Internet a utility and gives everyone equal access.
 
“Google is one of the largest supporters,” says Vickie Cook, director of the Online Learning Center at the Springfield campus of the U of I. “They could not have become what they are today – or provide the services they do -- if the type of stratified system were in place where only the people with very deep pockets could get to the fast lanes of the Internet.”
 
Cook says an opponent, Verizon, issued its statement in Morse code to illustrate how outdated the issue is; part of the Communications Act of 1934.

Quinn blasts Rauner's budget

Former Gov. Pat Quinn thinks Illinois may be feeling buyer’s remorse after hearing Gov. Bruce Rauner’s budget plan.
 
In his first appearance in front of reporters since leaving office, Quinn didn’t shy away from criticizing the cuts his successor is proposing.
 
“I think if anybody in Illinois knew the budget he presented last week was what he had in store, the election result would’ve been different,” Quinn said. “That’s the worst budget I’ve ever seen any governor presented in the history of Illinois.”
 
Quinn says he hopes legislators resist Rauner’s budget proposal. As to how Rauner has been talking about him since taking office, Quinn says he has a thick skin, and defends the executive orders he issued just before leaving. Rauner quickly rescinded many of them.
 
Quinn was asked if he thinks recall, an amendment he supported, could be possible for Rauner, but he would only say “I think it should be on the books and the people can decide whether to use it.”

Agency directors find themselves having to answer budget questions

Some of the governor’s picks to run state agencies got grilled about their plans to implement cuts proposed in the next fiscal year’s budget.
 
Speaking before the House Appropriations-Human Services Committee, Greg Bassi, acting director of the Illinois Department of Human Services, said one of his goals in his new role is efficiency.
 
“The governor and this agency are committed to making responsible decisions to operate within a balanced budget,” Bassi said.
 
That comment didn’t sit well with State Rep. Mary Flowers (D-Chicago), who used the opportunity to bash the proposed cuts to Medicaid.
 
“If you take away the dental care or people who need dialysis, do you think that’s smart?” Flowers asked.
 
Bassi reiterated that he intends to make his department run efficiently. 

Exelon nuclear power plants want clean energy credit

Exelon nuclear power plants want to be credited as clean energy in order to avoid closing.
 
New legislation would require utilities to reward producers of low carbon energy, including nuclear power plants. Several groups have labeled it a bailout for Exelon’s unprofitable nuclear plants in Clinton, Byron, and Cordova, but Joe Dominguez, Exelon’s senior vice president of public policy, argues it creates fairer competition with other energy sources rewarded for being environmentally friendly.
 
“Nuclear power has thus far been excluded from the programs that actually provide compensation for zero carbon electricity,” Dominguez said. “So it’s the exclusion from that playing field that has injured the economics of the plants.”
 
Dominguez admits the company itself is profitable, but three of its Illinois plants aren’t. He claims the Clinton facility alone lost $100 million in 2014.
 
The legislation, which creates the Low Carbon Portfolio Standard, would likely mean an increase in electricity rates by about 2 percent around the state for customers of ComEd or Ameren. It doesn’t apply to smaller electric co-ops or municipal utilities.

Sanguinetti talks about being lieutenant governor

Illinois' lieutenant governor is still on the move.
 
“The main complaint to (Gov. Bruce Rauner and me during the campaign) was that anything south of I-80 is not only forgotten, it's downright deleted,” Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti told a Republican luncheon in Springfield Thursady. “And so, because of that, Bruce and I cannot stop touring now. You cannot stop us, and I firmly believe in Peoria that they're about to pass an ordinance where we're no longer welcome there because they're tired of seeing us every five minutes.”
 
Sanguinetti says she is the first Latina lieutenant governor in the nation's history and that she will continue to push women and Hispanics to vote Republican.
 
Sanguinetti has been shielded from reporters' questions since she joined the Rauner ticket more than a year ago. A spokesperson said there was no time for interviews before or after the luncheon, and she did not even take questions from the paying guests.​

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Medical marijuana start slow in Illinois

Medical marijuana has gotten off to a slow start in Illinois, so one state lawmaker wants to push back the finish line.
 
The four-year pilot program is set to end on December 31, 2017, but no one has legally grown, sold, or bought medical cannabis since the law went into effect over than a year ago.
 
State Rep. Lou Lang is introducing legislation to move back the program’s end date to four years from the date when the first dispensaries are registered with the state. Without an extension, Lang fears legalized medical cannabis may become too expensive.
 
“The entrepeneurs who won these licenses will set prices at a place where they can make their money back of their investment, and of course, the shorter the program, the higher the prices.” Lang said. “If patients have to go out on the street to buy the product cheaper, the program will fail.”
 
Whether Gov. Bruce Rauner, who has said he’s opposed to medical marijuana, would agree to the extension is another issue. Lang says if Rauner asked him to shorten the extension, from four years down to three, he’d consider it.

New downstate procedure may help save time and money in Cook County

A procedure already in use in downstate Illinois could be coming to Cook County, saving time and money in the criminal justice system.
 
A bill for a pilot program to field-test suspected narcotics has passed a House committee. “The kits are no more difficult (to use) than a pregnancy test,” Matt Jones of the State's Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor's office testfied, to laughter from knowing lawmakers.
 
“The field test would be admissible, and thereby the preliminary hearing time would be shorter,” said sponsor State Rep. Mike Zalewski (D-Riverside). In fact, a negative test could let a suspect walk immediately.
 
HB 356 has passed the House Judiciary Criminal Law Committee.​

Three percent tax on income over a million dollars being talked of again

An old idea is being supported by education groups hoping for more state funding.
 
That idea is a 3 percent tax on income over $1 million, with the revenue going to public schools. Cinda Klickna, president of the Illinois Education Association, says the state was already falling short of providing the recommend level of funding to schools before the income tax rate dropped at the beginning of this year.
 
“Obviously, when the income tax was not extended, we added another big hole in the state budget,” Klickna said. “So, we look at this as one aspect of a way to put money into education and start getting us on the right track.”
 
The proposal, which has been introduced by House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), would supposedly provide about $1 billion in additional education funding. It also requires an amendment to the Illinois Constitution, and the same proposal wasn’t able to move forward in the legislature last year.

Lifeline bill may help those who's life is in the balance

When somebody's life hangs in the balance, law enforcement could provide some grace.
 
What the sponsor calls the “Lifeline” bill moved forward Wednesday, passing a House committee unanimously. It sets out provisions immunizing someone from underage drinking charges for calling 9-1-1 to help someone whose drinking is endangering his or her life.
 
“I found myself … unconscious for hours after drinking,” University of Illinois sophomore Molly Bernstein, who is from Highland Park, testified to lawmakers about an episode two years ago. “I naively thought binge drinking was something only an alcoholic could do, and that alcohol poisoning was the result of bad alcohol – not an excess of alcohol.”
 
Bernstein says a friend's call to 9-1-1 may have saved her life, and the friend was slapped with an underage drinking citation for her trouble.
 
“I feel that it is wrong to punish people” for doing what her friend did, Bernstein said. “These kids are heroes. The truth is, high school and college kids are going to drink. It's a fact; it's inevitable.”
 
HB 1336 has passed the House Judiciary Criminal Law Committee.

Rauner convenes cabinet

A few dozen people in a meeting room Wednesday afternoon made up what the governor said was his cabinet.
 
Gov. Bruce Rauner's team allowed reporters and the tools of their trade – recorders, cameras, notebooks – in long enough for Rauner to address the department heads before he left.
 
“I don't want you guys shy – 'Oh, I don't want to upset the governor,' or, 'Oh, that's too sensitive,'” he said. “There ain't anything too sensitive, and there ain't any sacred cows. We work for the people of Illinois, and we've got to deliver results. We've got to break some china to get it done right, and I need you to speak up.”
 
And there's a timetable we can expect: “I'll tell you,” he said, “within 24 months, we're going to be (on) a very different trajectory as a state, and we are going to restore our prosperity and become growth again. I want your people well rewarded and respected, and I want state government to be a wonderful place to work.”
 
Some of the people who heard those words may find themselves out of work sooner rather than later. One heads a state agency the governor wants to fold into another; others, also holdovers from the previous administration, haven't heard yet whether Rauner still wants them around.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Gibson City man going to prison for federal mail fraud

A Gibson City man has been sentenced to more than eight years in prison for federal mail fraud and other charges for selling a product that prosecutors said led to the death of fish in ponds and lakes across the country.

Earlier this week Chief U.S. District Judge James E. Shadid ordered that Carl Kieser, 63, serve 97 months in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release. The judge also ordered him to pay $71,411 in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service and $4,451 to victims he defrauded.

He will begin serving his sentence on May 5.

Following a five-day trial in October, a jury found Kieser guilty of mail fraud and illegal application of a pesticide inconsistent with its labeling.

Kieser had previously been convicted in July 2014 of four counts of tax evasion.

According to court records, Kieser owned and operated Aquatic Control of Illinois, a business located at his Gibson City Fishing and Camping Club, south of Gibson City on Illinois 47.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Eugene L. Miller said Kieser manufactured, advertised, sold and distributed a product he called Pond Clear Plus as part of a fraud scheme.

Kieser sold the product to customers from about July 2007 to September 2012.

Miller showed evidence that Kieser made Pond Clear Plus by mixing Diuron 80DF with other ingredients, including a blue pond dye.

Kieser advertised the product in newspapers and magazines and claimed that he had 20 years’ experience with consulting and lake management.

Miller argued that Kieser knew full well that Pond Clear Plus contained a chemical pesticide that the EPA prohibits being applied directly to water.

In addition, Kieser sent the product to customers using Federal Express in 2.5-gallon jugs without any labels.

Court records showed that Kieser received more than $400,000 from the sales of Pond Clear Plus, but failed to pay income taxes on that money between 2008-11.

Kieser was arrested following an investigation by the U.S. EPA and the Internal Revenue Service, with help from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the state EPA and the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

GCMS Board of Education notes

The GCMS Board of Education met in a regular session on Monday, February 23rd.

The Board accepted the resignation of Elliott Hasselbring, the high school agriculture teacher for the end of the  2015 school year with thanks from the district.
The Board accepted the following donations:
  • $3,000 from an anonymous donor for the Middle School field trips
  • $50 from the Melvin Women's Club for Project Ignition
  • $1,774 from the Illinois State Council for the District Special Education Program
  • $150 from County Market for the High School.
The Board approved:
  • the Illinois Elementary School Association Softball Program at the Middle School for the 2015-16 school year with start up costs paid through donations
  • the Middle School Wrestling program for the 2015-16 school year
  • a bid to Jeff Jackson for mowing for the 2015 summer mowing season
The Board discussed the possible activity fees for the 2015-16 school year for the High School and Middle School. A Scholastic Bowl team would also be included. The Board will vote on these fees at the next board meeting.
In his report, Superintendent Anthony Galindo informed the board about the new additions
to the bullying law and plan for the district. The bullying law would include cyber bullying at
school and at home. The district's full plan is available to review on the school website.
Superintendent Galindo informed the Board about the ROE Compliance Review that was recently completed. There are several electrical outlets in several buildings that need to be installed along with a fire extinguisher to one room. These items will be added to the summer work plans.
The District received a district library grant in the amount of $773.25. The Board thanked Lynne
Titus for preparing that grant for the district.

The Board then adjourned for executive session with no action to be taken at this time.    

Monday, February 23, 2015

Gibson City Police notes

The following information of charges are merely an accusation and that the defendant is presumed innocent unless proven guilty.
  • 02/18/15 Olivia V. Mahan, 315 W Walter St, Strawn, IL 61775 - Disobeyed Stop Sign Age 39
  • 02/18/15 Michael G. Ruechel, 6583 Young Rd, Oconto, WI 54153 - Disobeyed Stop Sign Age 50
  • 02/18/15 Melody L. Leeb, 832 N Bell St, Apt 3, Gibson City, IL 60936 - City Ordinance Violation/Disturbing the Peace Age 27
  • 02/18/15 Matthew G. Olivero, 832 N Bell St, Apt 3, Gibson City, IL 60936 - City Ordinance Violation/Disturbing the Peace Age 38
  • 02/18/15 Linda G. Hutchins, 2287 E Watson St, Forrest, IL 61741- Expired Registration Sticker Age 23
  • 02/19/15 Tony W. Ales, 34763 E 1800 N Rd, Colfax, IL 61728 - Disobeyed Stop Sign Age 55
  • 02/19/15 Michael R. Allen, 208 N Elm St, Gibson City, IL 60936 - In-State Warrant Age 32
  • 02/19/15 Bernard O. Davis, 211 E 8th St, Gibson City, IL 60936 - In-State Warrant Age 51
  • 02/22/15 Shaylee B. Hill, 504 S Wood St, Gibson City, IL 60936 - Domestic Battery Age 23

25th anniversary of no smoking flights

25 years ago, smoking was outlawed on commercial flights, thanks to legislation from an Illinois politician.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), then a congressman from Springfield, sponsored the commercial airline smoking ban law, which went into effect February 23, 1990. He says the significance of the ban is only apparent now.

“I didn’t realize that would make a difference in terms of whether you could smoke on a train, on a bus, in a building, in a restaurant, in a hospital,” Durbin said.

Durbin’s concern now is the regulation of e-cigarettes, which he says are becoming more and more popular with young people, but aren’t subject to the same scrutiny as other tobacco products. Most airlines voluntarily ban e-cigarette use, but Durbin wants an across-the-board ban put in place by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

GOP caucus coming together at the statehouse

A House Republican caucus which can more easily choose Gov. Bruce Rauner's agenda over that of union-represented state workers is coming together.

Rich Brauer of Petersburg is the second Springfield-area lawmaker to join the administration in the weeks after being sworn in. He's Rauner's appointee to be assistant secretary of transportation. Wayne Rosenthal of Morrisonville is now director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

The political calculation of choosing constituents versus the governor “really doesn't” enter into the decision to leave the House, says Brauer. “We've always had to take those votes, and that will continue,” he adds. “What's important is (the issue) gets out, gets debated, and then we look for solutions. It's back and forth, and we come to a compromise and move the thing forward. I think that's what's going to happen with pensions.”

The district includes part or all of Sangamon, Menard, Logan, and Tazewell Counties.​