Friday, October 24, 2014

Republicans upset about absentee ballot handling

Another election official appears to have violated the law in her handling of absentee ballots.

The Danville Election Commission Chairman Barbara Dreher says she had some absentee ballots run through a tabulator to make room in a bin for more ballots. This appears to be violation of the election law, and the attorney general recently published an opinion advising election officials not to count votes until the polls have closed.

The same situation was reported Thursday in Rock Island County. The Illinois Republican Party is upset.

 “The election code is not being followed, which unfortunately leads to questions about whether this election is being performed in a legal, open, fair and transparent manner,” spokesman Andrew Wellhouse said.

The Vermilion County Republican Party says 400 absentee ballots were opened and tabulated, though no results have been revealed.

Oberweis says Durbin isn't sincere in helping veterans

The Republican challenger in the U.S. Senate race doubts the sincerity of U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) when it comes to helping veterans.

State Sen. Jim Oberweis (R-Sugar Grove) says the problems with VA hospitals have gotten worse during Durbin’s time in Congress. He says Durbin has been disrespectful of veterans, and referenced comments Durbin made when interrogation techniques being used on suspected terrorists in 2005.

“Now he likes to talk about the veterans, but this is the same senator who talked about a comparison of our military with the Nazis and Pol Pot,” Oberweis said. Durbin’s comparison of the U.S. military to the Nazis and Pol Pot was not a general statement, but rather one directed at the military handling interrogation of terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay, as described by an FBI agent.

Durbin didn’t directly respond to that attack, but said Congress has taken steps to address problems in the VA. “We joined on a bipartisan basis to say if you are too far away from a VA facility, you can go to the hospital near you and bill the VA,” Durbin said.

Durbin has said the VA became overwhelmed with disability claims from Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, and needs more funding to keep up.

Getting driver's licenses to illegal immigrants slow going

The secretary of state’s office is slow in issuing driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, according to community groups trying to help them. They staged a demonstration Friday in front of a driver’s license facility in Chicago, saying that applicants can’t get appointments to take the vision, written and driving test, says Ashley Moy-Wooten of the organization Paso in Melrose Park.

“After two years and just 16 percent of driver’s licenses issued for (illegal) immigrants is absolutely unacceptable, and we’re calling on Jesse White now to do his job, get his office in order, and issue the full 100 percent. Create a plan so that everyone can get their driver’s license,” she said.

The problem is acute in Chicago and the suburbs; applicants from there have travelled to Springfield and Carbondale for their tests. The law allowing illegal immigrants who have lived in Illinois for at least one year to get driver’s licenses was signed in January 2013, and the system for issuing the licenses was up and running in December.

Since then, the secretary of state’s office has scheduled 100,000 applicants and issued 70,000 licenses. (Those who didn’t get licenses either lacked the proper documentation, or had legal problems with their driving record, or were no-shows at the appointments.) Initially, applications for these licenses were taken at 25 license facilities; that number is now 36.

A spokesman says the secretary of state understands the concern, but with so many first-time applicants – possibly 500,000 – this is going to take time.

An appointment takes about an hour. It involves a written test, vision test and driving test. The applicant’s documents are scanned and then examined later in Springfield.

Haunted sites of Illinois easy to find

From the “death lab” of H. H. Holmes, who famously preyed on women attending the World’s Fair in Chicago 121 years ago to the Clark Street Garage – site of the St Valentine’s Day Massacre – to the Peoria State Hospital to McKendree University, the “haunted sites” of Illinois are easy to find. It’s all just a story. Isn’t it?

“It depends on who you ask,” says Ally Ryder, curator of

“We consider ourselves skeptics. We neither believe nor disbelieve.” Illinois is rich in the creepy and the spooky, she says. “You’ve had a lot of horrific history that really lends itself to haunted stories and the imagination that goes along with creating haunted events,” she says. Take all of this lightly … if you dare.

Who really wants to raise the minimum wage?

In the race for governor, both candidates say they’re for raising the minimum wage, and that the other guy is against it.

Gov. Pat Quinn likes to point out that Bruce Rauner used to tell audiences that there shouldn’t even be a minimum wage, or if there is, it should be the federal wage, which is $1 lower than in Illinois.

“My opponent is advocating the elimination of the minimum wage. A person who has all that money that he talks about all the time wants to cut the minimum wage on people doing the hardest job in our society,” Quinn said.

Rauner says now that he wants to raise the minimum wage, and says if Quinn really wanted to raise it, he already would have done so during his six years as governor. “He’s a phony on the minimum wage. He’s playing political football to make it a political issue in the campaign,” Rauner said.

In fact, the minimum wage has gone up three times since Quinn has been governor – to $7.75 in 2009, to $8 in 2010 and to $8.25 in 2011 – but under legislation passed in 2008, before he took office.

Quinn says he was active in getting that legislation passed as lieutenant governor, and that he advocated for the previous minimum wage increases, in 2004 and 2005, when he was lieutenant governor.

Quinn pushed for an increase this year, but lawmakers balked, and now we have a non-binding referendum that Quinn supports, hoping it will be the impetus for lawmakers to act.

TTIP could benefit Illinois businesses

Illinois Republicans in Congress say a proposed free trade agreement between the U.S. and the European Union could have big benefits for Illinois businesses.

The agreement is called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Wheaton) was touting the proposal to representatives from European nations in Chicago, saying it can allow Illinois companies to increase exports across the Atlantic.

“We export, we sell, we manufacture, we distribute. This has a huge impact from an agricultural point of view Downstate, so it’s an absolutely winning proposition, but we just got to persuade people,” he said.

Roskam says TTIP could generate an estimated $8 billion in economic activity for the state.

Opponents of the proposal say the trade barriers that currently exist between the U.S. and the E.U. are already minimized, and claim TTIP is designed to help large corporations get around stricter business regulations in Europe.

There are also concerns that the agreement will go beyond exchanging goods, and seek to change certain banking regulations and international copyright laws.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Gibson City Council finance committee notes

The Gibson City Council's Finance Committee met on Tuesday, October 21st and had a lot to talk about.

The owner and developer of the Villas of Hollybrook assisted living project on the north side of Gibson City, Reggie Phillips. has requested the city come up with additional TIF 2 money to help with cost overruns.

Overruns were with construction, water mains, and sewer. Originally, $310,000 in TIF 2 money was awarded. The project to date has cost over $794,000 that is more than $482,000 more than the original estimate.

Alderman Nelda Jordan asked about the bound agreement the city had with Phillips. Alderman Davis stated that Phillips is only requesting more due to the cost overruns.

Alderman Jan Hall made note that the overruns are not just a little bit here and there, but quite a bit overall. Alderman John Carlson wondered how the engineer of the project be so far off on estimated and actual costs on the project.

Alderman Dennis Pardick noted that this isn't Phillips' first project - this would be the eighth or ninth living facility he's build. Alderman Kidd wasn't sympathetic to the issue, stating that the city has the TIF 2 money and that the total amount wasn't going to change. Hall added that money for cost overruns will have to be funded by bank financing.

Mayor Dan Dickey said that Phillips will have to finance the overruns and was merely asking the council for help. Carlson thought it was odd that Phillips waited until the project was almost finished to realize he was about half a million dollars over and wondered if he was getting updates from his contractor.

After discussing the matter further, Alderman Scott Davis said he would be comfortable giving $100,000 in additional TIF 2 money to Phillips' project. Dickey said the funds would be paid back to the general fund money next year. This will be voted on at the next council meeting.
The owner of the building at the corner of 8th street and Sangamon avenue that is now next to where buildings were recently razed gave a time-line about the completed work and future work to insure the building is in good repair.

There have been problems with a portion of the building sinking. Engineers determined that the building is safe for the current tenants (Main Attraction) to stay there. The building will be jacked up in the next few weeks, and there will be some roof, insulation, siding and front work that needs to be
done as well.

Aldermen asked about obtaining several estimates for work that needs to be done. Brucker asked the finance committee what the front of the building should look like and wanted it to fit in well with the downtown area.

There is currently $10,000 leftover from the demolition of the now torn-down buildings and Brucker was asking what could be done to make his building back whole.

The finance committee will ask the building owner of the deli restaurant, Mick Bradbury, and the owners of the now empty lot, Mr. Arends, to meet with Brucker and everyone, gather figures, and have a continuance of the finance committee's issues.

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.