Tuesday, October 21, 2014

This week's Illinois crop report

It has been too wet to make much progress on the corn and soybean harvest.

Mark Schleusener, the USDA’s state statistician for Illinois, says 28 percent of the state reports excess moisture.
The harvest is 43 percent complete for corn and 37 percent complete for soybeans.

The numbers last year at this time were 49 percent and 65 percent, respectively. The five-year averages are 63 percent and 66 percent, respectively.

“The sunshine we’ve got scheduled is going to help to dry out the soil,” Schleusener says. “A little bit of nice, gentle breezes will help, but we don’t want it to get real windy. That could actually knock down the crops or make the soybean pods shatter; we don’t want any of that.”

Sunday, October 19, 2014

This week's BUG Award winners

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

5th Grade
Molly Kroon
Kellen DeSchepper
Jesse Calero
Tyler Lange

4th Grade
Cecilia Gooden
Lilly Vance
Skyler Morano
Elsie Sizemore

3rd Grade
Audrey Iverson
Wrigley Maxey
Jake Slinde
Isaiah Johnson

2nd Grade
Justice Milligan
Calvin Rachiell
Paul Baillie
Gaines Parsons

1st Grade
Maryn Berry
Jack Andrews
Caylynn Embry
Noah Hastings

Grayden Leonard
Keiragan Young
Brilee Little
Kate McCall

More rules in place to help new drivers stay safe

Learning to drive is more complicated than it used to be, with more rules about how much supervision your parents have to give you, how many unrelated passengers you can have, and so on.

Secretary of State Jesse White says the regulations of the “graduated driver’s license,” implemented since a stretch of teen fatalities in Tazewell County in the middle of the last decade, are responsible for a 55 percent drop in teen driving deaths since then.

“Driving is not a right, driving is a privilege,” says White. “The secretary of state gives out the driver’s licenses, which means: he who giveth can taketh away.”

White on Monday will present a safe driving award to Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville.

State's jobless rate down a little more in October

Illinois’ unemployment rate is down a little more.

The rate fell to 6.6 percent, from 6.7, but it’s now seven months in a row of decline, according to today’s (Friday’s) report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Unemployment hasn’t been lower since June 2008. The state gained 19,300 jobs over the month.

However, Illinois’ unemployment rate is still higher than the national rate of 5.9 percent, and that state still hasn’t recovered all the jobs lost in the 2008-09 recession.

Don't worry about the blood bank and Ebola

The people at the blood bank don’t want you to worry about a thing, when it comes to Ebola.

Tara Matheson, donor relations manager at the Central Illinois Community Blood Center in Springfield, says you have to exchange bodily fluids with somebody who has Ebola to get Ebola. And people who have traveled to West African nations are already excluded from donating, anyway.

“We do 14 tests on every single unit of blood,” says Matheson, “14 different tests the FDA requires.” That would respond to the possibility of somebody, for whatever reason, lying about where they’ve been or whether they’ve put themselves at risk.

Matheson encourages people who have been donating to keep doing so and those who have not been donating to start.

Rauner clarifies "right-to-work zones"

Bruce Rauner is now downplaying the “right-to-work zones” that were a part of his platform in the primary.

Rauner now calls them “opportunity zones”—areas with fewer regulations and taxes in order to bring in businesses to parts of Illinois with high unemployment. He wants cities and counties to be able to decide whether collective bargaining agreements can require workers to join unions in certain professions, but he says “right-to-work” laws aren’t his focus.

“Pushing any specific labor regulation is not my priority at all,” Rauner said.

Gov. Pat Quinn doesn’t buy the name change, claiming Rauner will try to weaken labor unions. “ That’s the heart and soul of a decent society,” Quinn said. “My opponent is the most anti-working candidate that’s Illinois has ever seen. He’s against workers.”

Collective bargaining agreements often require workers covered under the contract to be members of the union. In states with “right to work” legislation, such provisions are banned.

Rauner came out strongly against what he called “government union bosses” in the primary, and unions responded by throwing their support to one of his rivals in that race. He has since refrained from using that phrase in the general election campaign.

Both Senate candidates know there is a shortage of funds for transportation

Both the incumbent and the challenger in the U.S. Senate race recognize the problem with a shortfall in funds for transportation. Federal funds cover about three-quarters of the cost of large transportation projects in Illinois. Historically, highway legislation lasted five years. The most recent program, worth $105 billion, was for two years, and was to expire last month, but it was extended.

“We put it off until May of next year, when we’ll address it again. The election is gonna decide who’ll sit down at the table to address it,” U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said. “I’m committed to this infrastructure. There isn’t a single thing that Congress can do that has more dramatic positive impact on the growth of the economy.”

The problem is that the federal gas tax, set at 18.4 cents per gallon in 1993, is bringing in less money as vehicles gain in fuel efficiency, while at the same time, construction costs are rising. What to do? One option would be to raise the gas tax for the first time in 21 years; another would be just to say we’ll do fewer projects.

“There is a third answer that you didn’t really mention, and that is an increase in user fees – tolls on roads, and I think that should be one of the considerations as well,” said State Sen. Jim Oberweis (R-Sugar Grove), the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate. Oberweis says he’s for highway work, but he isn’t set on any one funding solution.

How legal are similar video gambling machines to regulated ones?

The legality of machines similar to video gambling, but aren’t subject to the same regulations, is being questioned in a new report.

The machines are called “sweepstakes machines,” and supposedly don’t fall under video gambling regulations because they don’t directly distribute cash. Art Belik, executive vice president of the Chicago Crime Commission, disagrees, and says a dozen other states have shot down that argument in court.

“Every single one of the 12 held they were gambling machines,” Belik said.

The commission is sending out its report to sheriffs and state’s attorneys around Illinois, saying the machines amount to unlicensed video gambling, with none of the proceeds going to the state. Belik says the lack of regulation also means the owners of the machines aren’t vetted.

“They could have any background they want,” Belik said. “They could be a notable felon. They could have been convicted a number of times for gambling. They could be a known member of the organized crime syndicate. No one would know that.”

The Illinois Gaming Board has said these machines fit the definition of a video gambling device. Belik says the “loophole” that allows for these machines was put into place by an amendment to the original Video Gaming Act.

The sponsor of that change, State Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), says it wasn’t his intention to allow video gambling in Illinois “without the Gaming Board’s oversight,” but says neither the Gaming Board nor the Crime Commission has reached out to express their concerns about the consequences of that amendment.

The commission’s report estimates there are about 100 of the “sweepstakes” machines already operating in the state. While the argument over their legality means no one has been arrested for operating or playing the ma

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Check out the Illinois Report Card for state's schools

Parents who like to get information about their kids’ schools are in for a bonanza.
The Illinois Report Card has been recognized by a national education commission as the best resource of its kind, says the Illinois State Board of Education.
“There’s a lot of data about college readiness and about how well our schools are doing,” says Mary Fergus, a spokeswoman for the board. There’s also information about teacher and principal retention, performance, demographics, and more.
Fergus, who says the citation was given by the Education Commission of the States, says the results of the 5 Essentials survey will be incorporated as well. The newest information is due on the site Oct. 31.

Less money around for primary education

There's less money to go around for kindergarten-through-12rh-grade education.  A new national report shows how much less.
Illinois is about one-third of the way from the bottom – with per-pupil spending down 9.3% since the 2007-09 recession.  Voices for Illinois Children is promoting the results, and that organization's Fiscal Policy Center director, David Lloyd, says he sees no way to fill the hole created by the rollback of the state income tax, scheduled to recede from 5 percent to 3.75 percent at the end of the year.
Lloyd says the report does not use the accounting tricks which support the “facts” in the political ads these days.  “It looks at inflation-adjusted numbers, which takes into account the rising costs we all experience every day,” Lloyd says.  “There was the expiration of the stimulus dollars, which provided a crucial lifeline.”
The national report comes from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Quinn gets gun control group's endorsement

Gov. Pat Quinn gained the endorsement Wednesday of a couple of gun control group.
The Gun Violence Prevention Political Action Committee and the National Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence endorsed Quinn, mainly because Quinn wants to ban assault weapons. Sandy Phillips, whose daughter was killed in the Colorado theater massacre in 2012, says those guns have no worthwhile purpose.
“Gov. Quinn’s opponent referred to them being used in target shooting. Well our daughter, 11 others (killed), hundreds of others (wounded) in that theater were definitely targets that day,” she said.
A federal assault weapons ban expired in 2004. Those weapons are now legal if they comply with other gun-ownership laws.
The organizations announced the endorsement at a Chicago subway station where a man with a criminal history fired five shots from an assault weapon at a train that was arriving at the station. Nobody was injured in that incident. The suspect, who has several misdemeanors in his past and whose grandfather describes him as mentally ill, is charged with aggravated unlawful use of a weapon.
Challenger Bruce Rauner says he wants restrictions to keep guns away from criminals and the mentally ill. Rauner was endorsed today by the National Troopers Coalition.

Victim's Bill Of Rights on November ballot

Being made aware of hearings. Having their voices heard. Being notified when an offender is free. Those are part of “Marsy's Law,” the “Crime Victims' Bill of Rights” which is a proposed constitutional amendment on the statewide Illinois ballot Nov. 4.
“There is an opportunity for that victim to actually go to court and to say, I want to be able to make my victim impact statement,” says Attorney General Lisa Madigan. “They can now (if this passes) actually bring a case in court. They didn't have standing previously. They didn't have the ability to appeal a decision made by a court, and now they will affirmatively have that ability if this passes and is put into our Constitution.”
Isn't this all a common-sense thing which should be law anyway? It is law, but the state's original “victims' bill of rights” of 1992 lacked any enforcement provision. The director of Marsy's Law for Illinois, who lost a sister and brother-in-law – and that couple's unborn baby – to gunfire, points to a well-known case in which a rape victim's diary wound up as part of a trial despite its lack of evidence about the crime. “Under this new provision,” advocate Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins says, “that victim could object to … irrelevant private records being admitted.”
The Illinois General Assembly can pass no more than three referenda in one election. Next month, the “crime victims' bill of rights” takes its place alongside a voters’ rights amendment and a non-binding question about the minimum wage.
The measure will succeed if it gets yes votes from 60 percent of those voting on the question, or a majority of those who cast a ballot in the election.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Who would raise taxes? The other guy?

Which candidate for governor will raise taxes? Each one says it’s the other guy.
Paul Vallas, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, says it’s Republican Bruce Rauner who will impose new taxes because of his plan to tax services. Vallas doesn’t believe Rauner will stop at taxing the few dozen services he’s already outlined.

“It opens the door on a whole array of taxes, a whole new sector of taxes, taxing services,” Vallas said. “Restoring the tax on food and drugs, which the governor decades ago worked so hard to eliminate.”
Rauner campaign spokesman Mike Schrimpf calls those claims “wild allegations,” and says Rauner has never proposed a state sales tax on food and medicine.
Schrimpf claims Vallas and Gov. Pat Quinn plan on raising taxes after the election, but Quinn has proposed only making the current state income tax rate of 5 percent permanent, not raising it. (Strictly speaking, that tax rate will fall to 3.75 percent on Jan. 1, so any restoration of the 5 percent rate after Jan. 1 would be a tax increase.)
The two candidates will meet in the second televised debate of the campaign Tuesday at DuSable Museum of African-American History in Chicago.

Quinn sticks to his record on veterans' issues

Despite attacks by Bruce Rauner, Gov. Pat Quinn is sticking by his record on veterans’ issues.
Rauner has claimed Illinois veterans have been hurting under Quinn’s leadership of the state, but Quinn says his record says otherwise, pointing to programs designed to help veterans get jobs and buy homes.
“We do want to be the most veteran-friendly state in the union every day,” Quinn said.  “We owe that to our veterans, our service members, our Gold Star families, all those who serve.”
Rauner appealed to veterans by announcing a veterans’ coalition supporting his candidacy, and Quinn launched a similar group at an event at Chicago’s Soldier Field.
Several Democratic state lawmakers who once served in the military called Quinn “the veterans’ governor” and predicted Rauner’s budget proposals would result in cuts to programs for veterans. 

Durbin and Oberweis are at odds over retirement ages, Social Security issues

Privatizing Social Security, raising the retirement age, and throwing Medicare subscribers onto the open market are all bad ideas, says U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and they’re ideas he says his opponent, State Sen. Jim Oberweis (R-Sugar Grove), endorses.
Oberweis is on record supporting Social Security privatization when it was proposed by President George W. Bush a decade ago; he has not made an issue on it during this campaign.
A voucher system would “turn seniors loose to the mercies of health insurance companies,” Durbin says.
Working until 72, Durbin says, might be all right if you are, say, a senator or a business executive; for a waitress or coal miner, not so much.
Durbin also is afraid more Social Security recipients are actually living in poverty.

Ford County Bowlympians compete in sectional tournament

Zach Baillie
Jake Nelson
The East Central Illinois Special Olympics Sectional Bowling Tournament was held at Landmark Lanes in Peoria, Saturday, October 11th.

Two Ford County Special Athletes who qualified by earning gold medals at the Area 8 Tournament in Champaign on September 7 participated.

Zach Baillie of Gibson City received a bronze medal.  Jake Nelson of Paxton received a gold medal which qualifies him to move on to the Special Olympics State Tournament which will take place on December 6th in Peoria.

Monday, October 13, 2014

AG candidate Schimpf talks about political corruption

The challenger in the race for attorney general says the office should do more to thwart political corruption.
Republican Paul Schimpf says the office isn’t sufficiently involved in an area for which Illinois is notorious.  “I believe that government corruption is the No. 1 threat that Illinois faces, and if I’m elected attorney general, that’s gonna be my No. 1 priority,” he said.
Incumbent Lisa Madigan says it’s true, her office doesn’t see corruption fighting as its main job.  “One of the reasons that we don’t is that there are other entities in state government that we’ve put in over the last 10 years that do those investigations on the front lines,” she said
Those are various agency inspectors whose job is to sniff out corruption.  Madigan also says it is the U.S. attorneys who have made the best anti-corruption cases under federal law, and local state’s attorneys have the primary responsibility for prosecuting crime.
Madigan says her office gets involved when the state’s attorney needs help for a big or complex case, or when the state’s attorney has a conflict, such as the case of the former Rock Island County sheriff, who was convicted of attempted cyberstalking.  He resigned from office, ended his re-election bid and gave up his pension.

Illinois having problems offering competetive health insurance

Illinois has become one of the most non-competitive states in health insurance, according to a new American Medical Association report.  It’s in the Top 10 of least competitive, and it showed the biggest drop between 2011 and 2012.
The good news, says Illinois State Medical Society president Dr. Bill McDade, is that the Affordable Care Act has taken effect since then.
“Over the summer, it was announced that there were going to be eight companies seeking to offer a 504 plan under the Affordable Care Act exchange.  Last year, just six insurers were there, offering 165 plans. Now they are going to offer a 504 plan, so that will give you a lot more options.”
An example of how things go wrong, McDade says, is when you have a hospital procedure done, and the surgeon is in-network and the anesthesiologist is not. “The patient is going to be responsible for paying that other physician.  Even though the patient thinks they’re paying tons of premiums in insurance, if the insurance company does not enroll that physician in its network, then you won’t be covered, and you’ll have to pay that separately.  And that’s really the situation that disturbs us as a state society. Has that happened? Yes.”

Prison system needs more money, says Rauner

Illinois should be putting more money into prisons, says Republican governor candidate Bruce Rauner.

Rauner says the problem is safety. “We have unsafe prisons. We have corrections officers with their life and their personal safety at risk. We have inmates with their personal safetyat risk because we haven’t properly staffed and invested in our corrections system,” he said.

The Department of Corrections has 11,000 employees and a budget of $1.3 billion. The cost of adult incarceration is about $38,000 per inmate per year, when you include the Corrections budget, plus capital costs and employee pensions and health care, which are not included in the Corrections budget.

The governor has closed prisons at Tamms and Dwight, and youth prisons at Murphysboro and Joliet. Illinois has 48,902 adult inmates (as of Oct. 1), in a system with a design capacity of 32,000.

Rauner also says the state must find ways to keep non-violent lawbreakers out of prison. Gov. Pat Quinn says he’s doing that.

“We have reduced the number of repeat offenders. One thing we use is what’s called Adult Redeploy. We invest in the front end, trying to keep people out of our state prisons – alternative ways of punishing people for bad behavior so they don’t have a life of crime,” he said.

Rauner made his comments even while he’s running a TV ad that dings Quinn because some prisoners who were let out early– and some who had completed their sentences – went on to commit violent crimes.

The two candidates discussed this issue during the public television debate in Peoria.