Starting next week, thousands of people with disabilities and the home healthcare workers who assist them could be heavily affected by Illinois' new overtime-pay policy. On May 1st, the state will begin to enforce a strict 40-hour workweek limit on home-care providers. Advocacy groups in Illinois argue the move bypasses new federal rules that extend overtime protections to these workers. Adam Ballard with Access Living says that this new policy essentially allows the state to avoid paying overtime, which has consequences not only for caregivers, but for the people who rely on those services.
"For people who have live-in personal attendants, those kind of worker often go over 40 hours a week. It becomes a huge problem for families in that situation, where there's actually a live-in attendant who'd often, but not always, a family member of some kind."
-Adam Ballard, Access Living
But Illinois' Department of Human Services says that overtime cuts are needed, as the state can't afford any extra payments due to the ongoing budget impasse. Ballard sympathizes with the state's need to rein in spending on some services or create more revenue to balance the budget, but he also believes that scaling back on home-care for some of Illinois' most vulnerable residents isn't the way to go.
"The bigger picture is, our state, in order to have a just budget that works for everyone - especially in this program - is to find real revenue solutions, where people who can afford to pay more in taxes are paying more in taxes."
-Adam Ballard, Access Living
Groups including Access Living and SEIU Healthcare Illinois are urging Governor Bruce Rauner to make last-minute changes to the overtime policy, before it goes into effect on Sunday.
Illinois State Comptroller Leslie Geissler Munger announced on Thursday that her office received $164 Million in MAP Grant vouchers from the Illinois Student Assistance Commission. She said that her office turned the payments around immediately, and as a result, colleges and universities will be receiving payment to assist the 125,000 students who are reliant on this funding. Munger says that many of these students have suffered terrible hardships in the past year, and she's making it a priority to provide whatever relief she can. She does go on to say that this is not a long term solution to the budget problem. The emergency funding covers only half of what students had been promised this year, and she says that a good first step has been made, but the real test will be following through, and finishing the job by passing a balanced budget.
Air quality in Illinois is a mixed bag, to say the least. That's according to the most recent "State of the Air" report from the American Lung Association. Out of 23 Illinois counties that currently have air-quality monitors installed, the report gives failing grades to 16 of them for high ozone pollution. Nationally, the Chicago area ranked 21st of about 200 cities for its unhealthy number of high-ozone days. But there is good news in this report as well. Mike Kolleng with the American Lung Association in Illinois says that throughout the past 3 decades, the state's overall amount of ozone pollution has been slowly declining.
"Standards that are put in place to help make sure that we're controlling the amounts of ozone pollution, the amounts of tailpipe emissions, the amounts of emissions from smokestacks, from coal-fired power plants - all those changes that have been made in recent years, we're starting to see the fruits of that labor."
-Mike Kolleng, American Lung Association
The ALA's report provides a snapshot of Illinois' air quality from 2011 to 2013. It also says that a little more than half of all Americans are currently living in a county with potentially unhealthy levels of air pollution. However, this year's report is incomplete, at least for Illinois. Particle pollution data is missing, because samples collected by the federal EPA were deemed unusable and the agency didn't have the resourced to run the tests again. Kolleng says for cities like Chicago, with historic particle pollution problems, it's a challenge to measure the levels of dust, soot, or smoke in the air.
"Unfortunately, this data was lost. When you start to see these resources siphoned away from things like EPA, it's really important for us to step in and do our advocacy work to make sure that doesn't happen, so that we can have accurate results and portray them to the public."
-Mike Kolleng, American Lung Association
To help reverse the effects of air pollution, the American Lung Association is suggesting that federal lawmakers protect the Clean Air Act, and that states could enact changes to move away from using old or dirty diesel engines.
Children who have at lease one parent that has spent time in prison may also have significantly fewer opportunities in life, according to a report released earlier this week by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Incarceration of a parent can obviously lead to some emotional hardships, but going beyond that, children whose parents have a criminal history can find themselves more easily unemployed, without proper housing, and even struggling to get financial aid for school. About 186,000 children in Illinois are currently dealing with the emotional, social, and financial problems of having an incarcerated parent. The report also shows that while lawmakers and activists have focused on making changes to mass-incarceration policies, many times the needs of children are overlooked, or not even thought about. Leslie Helmcamp with Voices for Illinois Children says the state doesn't have a solid support system for these kids, and there can be seriously detrimental effects down the road because of that.
"Children may suffer from mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety. It can hamper their long-term educational goals and achievements. It's really important to have those supports to counter the emotional toll that it takes on a child."
-Leslie Helmcamp, Voices for Illinois Children
The foundation suggests several changes that states could make in order to ease the burden on families. Illinois has already put a few of these ideas into practice, including a law that puts restrictions on when employers can ask about an employee's criminal background. But, Scot Spencer with the Casey Foundation says there are certainly more steps Illinois lawmakers could take.
"State and local governments should provide incentives for housing authorities and private landlords to lift restrictions on people with records, so that families can remain in or access safe and affordable housing."
-Scot Spencer, Annie E. Casey Foundation
Nationally, about five million young people have been separated from a parent because of a prison sentence. Even if their home life is good, the report shows that this can effect a child in a very similar way to abuse or domestic violence. The report also notes that African-American and Latino kids are much more likely to have an incarcerated parent than their white peers.
Jack and Nancy Laverdiere of Laverdiere Construction Inc. have presented a check for $10,000 to the McDonough District Hospital to go toward the Dolores Kator Switzer Women's Center. This donation was made in memory of Jack's mother Vern and Nancy's mother Lillian. Laverdiere Construction will be recognized at Golden Apple level of the MDH Business Honor Roll giving club. As of right now, the MDH Foundation has raised nearly $3.4 Million toward their $5.5 Million campaign goal for the Women's Center, which will provide a nursery, modernized suites, state of the art facilities, and an imaging center.
Congratulations to Mrs. Docherty, a Pre-K Special Ed teacher from MacArthur school in Macomb!
She is the reigning K-100 and Pella Corporation Teacher of the Month!
Mrs. Docherty has won $500 from Pella Corporation to use in her classroom, a plaque form Lackey Monuments and Engraving by Linn, AND a certificate of recognition from K-100!
Keep up the great work!
Nominate YOUR teacher today by clicking here!
The City of Macomb Public Works Department began flushing fire hydrants throughout the city yesterday, and will continue to do so throughout the summer and into the early fall. Flushings will occur on weekdays, between the hours of 7am and 3:30 pm. If flushing is going on in your area, you may notice some discoloration of water. You are advised to wait until the water clears before washing clothes, as staining may occur, and you're also advised to avoid using hot water while experiencing discoloration, and to run cold water for 5-10 minutes after it stops in order to clear your line. This discolored water, however, does not represent a health hazard to you. Be advised that if the system pressure in your area drops below 20psi during flushing, that you will be issued a boil order as a precautionary safety measure. The boil order will be lifted once water samples have passed safety tests. To report any discoloration, or any concerns that you may have, contact the Water Treatment Plant at 309-836-3916.
Macomb has been named a 2015 Tree City USA by the Arbor Day Foundation for the city's commitment to effective urban forest management. 2015 is the 24th year that Macomb has received this title in recognition of their commitment to their ecosystems. The four qualifications that a town must have in order to receive this distinction are:
-A tree board or department.
-A tree-care ordinance.
-An annual community forestry budget of at least $2 per capita.
-An Arbor Day observance and proclamation.
In addition to this recognition, Macomb also received a Tree City USA Growth Award for the improvements that have been made in the care of urban forest environments. In the past year alone, over 100 new city trees have been planted in Macomb, and the city provided maintenance and pruning to over 500, and removed numerous trees in poor condition. This year's Arbor Day ceremony and planting will be on Friday, April 29th at 1:30pm in the green space just south of the VFW, bordered by East Jefferson Street, Candy Lane, and East Piper Street. City Forester Tim Howe will plant a Bald Cypress, which is being sponsored by the Macomb Woman's Club. Everyone is invited to attend this event.
Western Illinois University's Office of Public Safety (OPS) and Western Illinois University Emergency Medical Services (WEMS), a volunteer student organization, will partner with several community emergency service departments to present the 25th annual Mock DUI at 10 a.m. Monday, April 25 in Q-Lot on the WIU Macomb campus.
The Mock DUI event re-creates a realistic scene of an alcohol-related accident and displays how emergency personnel would react.
Officers from OPS, the District 14 Illinois State Police, McDonough County Sheriff's Department and Macomb Police Department, as well as emergency personnel from WEMS, Macomb Fire Department and McDonough District Hospital, will respond as if the accident were real. Air Evac will fly a helicopter in, and McDonough County Coroner Eric Jameson will also respond. The accident vehicles have been provided by Minus Muffler of Macomb.
"We want to provide an authentic view of drunken driving and the devastating consequences it can have," said OPS Corporal and WEMS Advisor Ted Anderson. "The Mock DUI project is graphic, but anything that deters people from drinking and driving is a plus. Too many people think it can never happen to them. We just hope that this opens their eyes and proves they don't have to just worry about their actions, but also the actions of the car next to them."
Students from area high schools have been invited to watch the situation as it unfolds. WIU faculty, staff and students, as well as community members are also invited to attend.
For more information, contact Western's EMS office at (309) 298-2863 or OPS at (309) 298-1949.
On Friday of last week, some much needed hope finally came for the people working in and with higher education in Illinois. The General Assembly passed SB 2059, which will provide about $600 Million in emergency funding for the state's public universities. This includes allocating money to fund the much-needed MAP Grants. Illinois Comptroller Leslie Munger said that it was heartening to see the Governor and legislative leaders come together to authorize this funding. She says that she's directed her office to prepare to immediately distribute funds, focusing first on the students and state institutions that are suffering the most. Munger also said that she hopes this legislative victory will need to more bipartisan work down the road, specifically in regards to creating a budget. Governor Bruce Rauner echoed Munger's thoughts in a statement he sent out, saying that he too is hopeful that this bipartisan momentum will continue so that a balanced budget can be put in place for Fiscal Years 2016 and 2017. SB 2059 was also supported by Representative Norine Hammond, from Macomb. This legislative move is drawing support from groups outside of Springfield as well. The Illinois Federation of Teachers has released a statement praising the move. And while, as they say, it is not a long-term solution by any means, it is a critical stopgap that should prevent further disaster within higher education for the time being. University of Illinois President Timothy Killeen says that going beyond providing needed funds, this move shows that the General Assembly is recognizing the importance of higher education in the state, and he says that it is imperative that work like this continues. SB 2059 was sent to the Governor's desk on Friday, and is currently awaiting Rauner's signature.
Last Friday, April 22nd, the Ambassador Committee of the Macomb Area Chamber of Commerce held a ribbon cutting to celebrate the recent completion of the new parking lot for the First Presbyterian Church at 400 East Carroll Street in Macomb. If you'd like more information on the church, or the recent project, you can call 309-833-3333 or visit www.firstpresmacomb.com
On Thursday, a bill passed through the Illinois House of Representatives that would require the state to provide the ACT test to any school district that wished to use it for the purposes of measuring and demonstrating college readiness. The bill passed 73 to 36 despite receiving heavy opposition from the Illinois State Board of Education. Not long ago, the ISBE decided to forgo using the ACT in schools, and instead entered into a 3-year contract with SAT. Representative Mike Unes, who is sponsoring this bill, says that he was surprised by the Board's move, and that many school districts were opposed to the idea.
"This is a great opportunity for those that believe in school choice. This gives our schools a chance to make the best decisions for their students."
-Mike Unes, State Representative
By law, the ISBE must provide each high school student with the opportunity to take one college-readiness exam, and they're citing a modest cost-saving benefit with the new SAT contract, spending just over $5 per student. But Unes says that cost cannot be the only consideration in this debate.
"We are number 2 in the nation, of mass exodus, of our high school seniors leaving the state of Illinois. Let's put a fiscal impact on that."
-Mike Unes, State Representative
Students may of course choose to take the ACT exam on their own at their own cost, but this new legislation would put the choice of which test to administer into the hands of each individual school district.
The YMCA of McDonough County will once again be hosting their "Fair to Remember: A Night of Fellowship and Fun" coming up on Saturday, April 23rd. Carla Teslicka from the YMCA says that this event will have a great dinner, some dancing, a silent and live auction, and it will certainly fit the "Fair" theme.
"It's going to be really fun, people are really going to have a great time. We'll have county fair food and desserts. We're also going to have all sorts of games that you would find at the fair. It'll be, really a lot of fun."
-Carla Teslicka, YMCA of McDonough County
The event will kick off at 5:30pm, and go until about 10 o'clock. It will be in the Western Illinois University Grand Ballroom. Tickets are $40 per person, or you can get a Corporate Table for $500. You're encouraged to get your tickets reserved in advance by calling the YMCA at 309-833-2129. Proceeds from this event will go toward the Y's Scholarship Program.
Interact, the local, high-school chapter of Rotary, will be holding their first ever Trivia Night on Sunday, April 24th. The trivia will be spring-themed, and you can tackle the challenge by yourself or make a team of up to 8 people. The winners will receive prizes, and all of the proceeds from this event will be donated to St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital. Tickets are $10 for the event, and you can buy them at the door. The Interact Trivia Night kicks off at 6pm on Sunday, April 24th at the 4-H Center at 3022 W. Jackson St. in Macomb.
If you have any pets that need medication, you now have another local option to fill your pet's prescription. HyVee has announced that all of their pharmacies will now be able to fill pet-specific medication. They've been doing this in part for a number of years, stocking antibiotics and allergy meds, but will now also offer flea and tick, heartworm, NSAIDs, and hundreds of other pet medications at affordable prices. To utilize this, simply have your veterinarian fill out a prescription for your pet, and bring it in to your nearest HyVee pharmacy to have it filled. These will also be eligible for HyVee's Repeat Refill program.
As Illinois legislators continue to hash out budget details in the hopes of coming to an arrangement and ending this financial impasse, many people are looking toward Illinois' future; specifically, in the area of public works projects. One of the most important aspects of our economy, public works projects give the state the opportunity to create or renovate important structures while putting people to work. Governor Bruce Rauner has proposed a plan for construction projects in fiscal year 2017, but at least one congressman thinks that the federal government isn't contributing enough toward this goal. Rauner's plan would be funded mainly by state tax funds; nearly $3.3 Billion. Almost a billion would come from bond sales, and the federal government would kick in only $145 Million; about 3% of the overall cost. U.S. Congressman Bill Foster explains this, saying that the formula used to distribute federal highway funding favors states that are less-populated. Because Illinois has one of the larger state populations, Foster says we'll only get $85 per person in federal tax dollars to go towards our roads.
"If you're in a state like Wyoming, you get about $400 per person, per year, in federal highway funding. In Alaska they get $600."
-Bill Foster, U.S. Congressman
Foster said that he's brought this issue up before, and attempted to introduce legislation to fix it, but the proposal was dropped by the Senate. Working with what little money we'll be receiving from the federal government, we have to look at the other aspects of funding. One of them being bond sales, which as I said will contribute about $1 Billion to the program. One Economist, Chris Edwards from the CATO Institute, says that Governments should steer clear of selling bonds.
"Going in to debt just pushes the cost of the future generations, and it's completely unnecessary. Many states fund much of their capital improvements by current revenues."
-Chris Edwards, CATO Institute
Edwards says that states like ours, which have a high amount of debt, need to focus on cutting other areas of the budget in order to make room for infrastructure improvements.
Illinois is currently one of only 8 states in the country to utilize a flat tax rate for individual income, but that could be about to change. Democrats in the Illinois General Assembly have introduced two bills, HB 689, and HJRCA 59, that would give a bit of a tax break on those in the state earning less money, and increase the rate quite dramatically on those earning more. The current Illinois tax rate is 3.75% for all individuals. These proposals would change that so that anybody filing individually who makes less that $100,000 (per year) would pay only 3.5%. In the next bracket, going from $100,000 to $500,000, people would be taxed at the current rate of 3.75%, and then it takes a big jump. Anybody making anywhere from a half million to a million dollars annually would be taxed at 8.75%, and any income coming in over $1 Million would be taxed at 9.75%. Plans like this have gone through the Illinois legislature, and failed, before, but many people believe that, especially with the ongoing budget issues, this is one strong way to move the state forward financially.
New research is showing that an overwhelming majority of Illinois voters support changes to the state's criminal justice system, even across party lines. The U.S. Justice Action Network released a new poll this week that says about 94% of Illinois Republicans and Democrats agree that the goal of the state's criminal justice system should shift from an incarceration-heavy model, to one more focused on rehabilitation. Network executive director Holly Harris says providing assistance, such as job training for people convicted of low-level, non-violent offenses, could help keep them from re-offending while actually saving the state some tax dollars.
"We're spending millions, and in some cases billions, of dollars on incarceration and we're not getting the public safety return that we deserve. The 10 states over the last decade that have most significantly reduced their prison populations saw roughly a 13% drop in their crime rate."
-Holly Harris, U.S. Justice Action Network
Conversely, Harris says the states that most increased their prison populations through what she calls tough on crime measures saw only an 8% drop in crime. According to the conservative-leaning reform group Right on Crime, last year Illinois' taxpayers spent $1.4 Billion on the criminal justice system. Both Right on Crime and the U.S. Justice Action Network say that money could certainly be better spent elsewhere. The groups are urging state lawmakers to pass reforms such as lowering mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug offenders.
"If they move these recommendations from the commission forward you will see a lot of national attention on Illinois and it could become a national leader, like Texas, like Georgia, like South Carolina."
-Holly Harris, U.S. Justice Action Network
Other findings from the poll include 85% of Illinois voters supporting shifting money form locking up non-violent offenders to other rehabilitative solutions, such as mandatory community supervision programs, including probation and parole. The poll comes as state lawmakers consider recommendations from Governor Bruce Rauner's Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform.
Wildlife protection groups are backing a bill that would ban the trapping of bobcats and the sale of their pelts in Illinois. Last year, state lawmakers gave the OK to allow sport-hunting of bobcats for the first time in nearly 40 years. Marc Ayers, state director for the Humane Society of the United States, says that the state hasn't done a good job of tracking the bobcat population and that traps could pose a serious problem.
"The problem is that trapping is indiscriminate. We don't want to see these cats put back onto the state's threatened species list by the same things that led to their demise in the first place."
-Marc Ayers, Humane Society of the United States
Ayers says bobcats were on the endangered species list until 1999, so more research should be done before creating a market for their fur. The bill (SB 2143) does not ban all bobcat hunting, rather it would only prohibit the use of traps and make selling and buying their pelts illegal. The Sportsmen's Alliance, however, argues that the move would only make it harder to manage a growing bobcat population. Still, the bill's main sponsor, Senator Don Harmon, has said that without precise data on the number of bobcats, it's difficult to know exactly just how well they're recovering. Ayers says by adding a few more precautions, the state will have more time to conduct better research.
"It's concerning because there's still a lot that we don't know about bobcat populations. The state of Illinois has no comprehensive report, there's no management plan for bobcats."
-Marc Ayers, Humane Society of the United States
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources plans to make 500 bobcat permits available next hunting season, which will allow each hunter to kill one bobcat. Currently, their pelts sell for about $40.
The Colchester State Bank has pledged $10,000, and presented the first installment of that money, to the Dolores Kator Switzer Women's Center at the McDonough District Hospital. After this donation, Colchester State Bank will be recognized as Golden Apple level of the MDH Business Honor Roll giving club. With this money, MDH has currently raised $3,325,000 of their $5.5 Million goal. The Women's Center will provide a new nursery, modernized suites, state-of-the-art facilities, and an imaging center.
On Sunday, Illinois Comptroller Leslie Munger announced that, due to the continuing budget impasse, compensation for Illinois' General Assembly and Constitutional Officers (including herself) will be delayed. Essentially, due the $7.8 Billion backlog of bills for the state, Munger has decided to treat the salaries of the state's government officials the same as any other government bill, and delay the payout until funds become available. Munger explained her decision by stating that many organizations throughout Illinois are going through difficult times and preparing for cuts and layoffs. She says that many businesses are still waiting on payment for services that they've already provided, and that it would be unfair to continue to prioritize the payments of elected leaders. The combined salaries for the state's Constitutional Officers and the 177 members of the General Assembly total up to about $1.3 Million a month. These payments will still be processed on time by the Comptrollers' office, but will then wait in a queue with other state payments until cash is available. As of right now, state payments are being delayed a minimum of two months. This wait time is expected to grow in the coming months as Summer and Fall typically bring in less revenue. Munger concluded her statement by saying that this is the right thing to do, and if it helps bring all of the sides together to finally pass a budget and end the damage to our state, then that is an added benefit.
On Sunday evening, Fulton County deputies were dispatched to a reported one-vehicle motor accident on IL Highway 95 near Smysor Road in Smithfield. Upon arrival, deputies determined that the sole occupant, 18 year-old Megan L. Beaird of Cuba, was ejected from her vehicle when her Jeep failed to negotiate a curve, went off the road, rolled several times, and struck a utility pole on the south side of the road. She was not wearing her seatbelt. Fulton County medical personnel and the Fulton County Coroner Steve Hines pronounced Beaird deceased upon arriving at the scene. IL Highway 95 was closed for several hours while deputies performed an accident reconstruction, investigated the scene, and while Spoon River Electric repaired the utility pole. An investigation into the accident is currently ongoing.
Data from last month shows that, once again, the state added a good number of jobs but, once again, the unemployment rate continues to rise. It's now up to 6.5%, lagging behind neighboring states and the nation as a whole significantly, despite adding 14,700 jobs in the month of March. Before the "Great Recession," Illinois hit it's high point for employment in September of 2000, and still has yet to recover to a point anywhere near that. As of now, we're still about 46,100 jobs short of that peak. Sean McCarthy of the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity said that a lot of this is due to key programs in the state failing. Manufacturing, one of the largest and most important industries in Illinois, lost about 100 jobs per day last month alone, netting about 3,100 lost jobs. Professional and Business Services also lost about 1,400 jobs in March. According to the Illinois Department of Employment Security, this lagging job growth is due to an increasing number of people entering the labor force who aren't able to find work.
You may not think about the state taxing your gas, but they do. Every time you fill up at the pump, the state's takes a percentage of what you're paying. This money is pre-included in the price you see, so we very seldom think of it. Well, there are a couple new proposals in the works that would certainly remind us all that it's there. The Metropolitan Planning Council has crunched the numbers and determined that Illinois will need to spend about $43 Billion over the next 10 years to fix state roads and update damaged infrastructure. That's a lot of money, and with our current gas tax rate, we're not going make that mark. In fact, the gas tax in Illinois hasn't changed since 1991, even to account for inflation. The Illinois Senate, using these estimates form the MPC, have come up with a proposal that would essentially double Illinois' gas tax; taking it from 30 cents a gallon, up to 60 cents a gallon. This would make Illinois' gas tax rate the highest of any state in the nation. This proposal would also include a 50% increase in vehicle registration fees to help the state meet their required $2.7 Billion in revenue each year. As with any new tax, this plan isn't the most popular thing among constituents. Senate President John Cullerton has devised an ulterior solution which is striking a cord with some, and infuriating others. His proposal? A mileage tax. Instead of taxing people per gallon of gas that they purchase, people are instead taxed per mile they drive. Cullerton's proposal would remove the gas tax at the pump, and replace it with a tax of 1.5 cents for every mile driven on an Illinois roadway. Cullerton says that people with electric cars, such as himself, are wearing down the roadways just as much as gas-guzzlers, but paying nothing toward the gas tax to help fix the highways. This is a fair point, but it's angering many people who paid premium prices for the more expensive hybrid or electric cars to avoid the hassle of having to spend money down the line. This proposal would be put in effect through one of three means: a device that tracks your driving with GPS, charging for the miles driven on public highways and roads, an odometer that would directly charge for every mile driven, or a flat mileage tax of 1.5 cents per mile and set at 30,000 miles per year, or about $450 per driver. Both of these proposals are currently being reviewed and debated by the Illinois Legislators.
Legislation has just passed out of the Illinois House of Representatives which would explicitly define dyslexia in order to ensure that the State Board of Education incorporates the definition into both the general and the special education curriculum. This legislation was sponsored by Representative Patti Bellock who says that she feels this is a necessary step for schools.
"It doesn't sound like it's a big bill, but to the parent's of children with dyslexia, this bill is huge."
-Patti Bellock, Illinois Representative
As of right now, dyslexia is only defined under the special education curriculum, but many students with this particular learning disability don't qualify for special ed services. This legislation would begin the process of making sure that all students in need of aid for dyslexia would receive it. The measure was approved unanimously in the House, and will now move to the Senate to await their decision.
As the state currently sits in its 10th month without a budget, we continue to see ever-worsening signs of the lack of funding all throughout the area, but perhaps no place more prominently than Western Illinois University. Although these drastic and abrupt changes already forced WIU to institute mandatory furlough days, reduce spending drastically, and of course, lay a number of employees off, the University is still struggling to stabilize. Yesterday, it was announced that Western Illinois University will be laying off an additional 110 non-instructional staff members. In the coming couple weeks, those individuals will receive 30-day notice of their termination.
In the statement released by WIU President Jack Thomas, he said that the University must work to protect the meager cash resources that it has, and despite their best efforts to do so, the lack of state appropriation is making it increasingly difficult. Thomas said that if the budget impasse continues much longer, even more hard decisions will have to be made about program spending and personnel.
For Fiscal Year 2016, the University has already made appropriated budget reduction of over $6 Million to date. They already have more than 500 employees participating in either the mandatory furlough or pay reduction program, saving more than $1.5 Million for the school, but Thomas says that it's just not enough to put WIU back in stable financial standing. Through all of the uncertainty surrounding the budget, President Thomas adamantly reiterated that WIU will continue to keep its doors open, and said that the school will continue to serve students and provide an accessible and quality education.
You can read WIU President Jack Thomas' full statement here - http://www.wiu.edu/news/newsrelease.php?release_id=13549
Worker's rights advocates are in Springfield today as the state Senate considers what could become Illinois' first ever Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights. Currently, Illinois housekeepers, nannies, and home care workers have fewer workplace protections than people who work in most other fields. Groups such as Arise Chicago are in the state capital supporting House Bill 1288. Spokeswoman Anna Jakubek says that if this bill is passed, it would give these workers access to the state's minimum wage, the right to one day off a week, and protections against sexual harassment.
"We are trying to bring them up to [the] position that other workers have, which is removing all the exclusions from worker's rights that already exist."
-Anna Jakubek, Arise Chicago
According to a new International Labor Organization report, about 90% of all domestic workers do not even have Social Security protections. Other research from the Pew Charitable Trust shows that home care work for the state's aging population is expected to become one of the fastest growing job fields over the next few years. Jakubek, who is a former domestic worker herself, is hoping that Illinois will become the next state to take the lead on this issue.
"Every couple minutes somebody turns 65 years [old], and very soon we will need an army of caregivers. And we need to protect that part of labor."
-Anna Jakubek, Arise Chicago
Six other states, including Massachusetts, California, and New York have already extended these rights to their domestic workers. The Illinois House has already approved its version of the bill, and so far at least 21 state senators have pledged their support.
Steinjager will host it's inaugural "Jeep Blitz" in Bushnell this weekend. On Friday (April 15th): Pre-registered attendees will get to tour the Steinjager Factory at 590 E. Main St. in Bushnell (near Kitchen Cooked) from 11am-2:30pm) Then on Friday, head to 290 E. Main in Bushnell for he Show & Shine w/Beer Garden sponsored by the VFW Post 1422... and a band/live music from 8-11pm.
On Saturday (April 16th) at 21996 Industrial Park Red. in Bushnell, enjoy the Fireman's Breakfast (410 N. Dean St.) from 6-9am. Vendors Area will run Saturday from 9am-6pm... Jeep Obstacle Course on the Steinjager Test Track from 9am-5pm... Jeep Mud Pit Open (Sat. 9am-5pm)... Trail Ride (pre-registered only) from 10am-1pm & 1pm-4pm.... show/vendors close at 6pm & at 8pm, enjoy "After Hours" sponsored by Jenny Wren Club at 375 E. Water St. in Bushnell.
Sunday (April 17th): at 3587 E. Checkrow Rd. in Avon there's Country Church at Checkrow Church from 8:15-9:15am... Jeep Cruise departs Checkrow Church from 9:30am-Noon and Guided Trails (pre-registered only) on Sunday from 9:30am-Noon.
Steinjager started in Bushnell & is sponsoring this inaugural (to become annual) Jeep Festival. Own a Jeep or just enjoy watching Jeep's play, come out to the family-friendly, pet-friendly, all-ages event. Profits to benefit the Honor Flight base in Peoria. For more info, visit www.jeepblitz.com, or search Jeep Blitz on Facebook.
Today (4/12) is "Equal Pay Day," a time to recognize the very real issue of a gender pay gap. On average, women working in Illinois, who are employed full time throughout the year, are paid just 79 cents for every dollar that is paid out to men. This levels out to be a yearly pay gap of, on average, over $10,000. That means that, in total, women in Illinois are losing nearly $20 Billion every year, which is money that could strengthen the state's crumbling economy and the financial security of many families, including the more than 600,000 women-headed households in the state. These are just some of the findings in a new analysis conducted by the National Partnership for Women and Families. (Which can be read here )
These finding also go a bit deeper, finding that for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men in Illinois, African American women, Latinas, and Asian women who are all employed full time are paid only 64 cents, 48 cents, and 86 cents, respectively. According to this analysis, if the pay gap were eliminated in Illinois, each woman who holds an annual full time job could afford to buy 1.6 more years of food, pay mortgage and utility bills for seven more months, or cover nearly an entire extra year in rent. Basic necessities like these would be especially helpful for the 31% of women-headed households in the state which are currently living below the poverty level.
These findings are nothing new, but that doesn't stop them from being troubling. They're also not specific to Illinois. Every single state in the country, along with 98% of congressional districts, have some level of a gender pay gap, the national average being 79 cents on the dollar. Congress is currently reviewing the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would close loopholes in the Equal Pay Act and help break patterns of pay discrimination throughout the country. The National Partnership for Women and Families is arguing that this legislation, along with supportive policies including paid sick days, paid family and medical leave, a livable minimum wage, and fair scheduling and protections for pregnant worker, is what's needed to close the pay gap, and should be a top priority for lawmakers. The findings for each state, and individual state rankings on the pay gap are available at www.NationalPartnership.org/Gap
First State Bank of Illinois has pledged $15,000, and presented the first installment of that money, to the Dolores Kator Switzer Women's Center at the McDonough District Hospital. For their commitment, First State Bank is being recognized as Partner level of the MDH Business Honor Roll giving club. This donation brings MDH one step closer to meeting their fundraising goal for the new women's center, which will provide a modernized facility to meet the needs of women today. There will be a new nursery, private suites, labor/delivery/recovery rooms, and an imaging center.
The Illinois Department of Transportation has announced that, beginning today, northbound US 67 between County Road 1500N and County Road 1600N, just north of Macomb, will be reduced to one lane. This closure is necessary for pavement construction as part of stage work to build an intersection with IL 336, and will be in place until May. Please slow down and use extreme caution while driving through all work zones.
This week, Illinois lawmakers are taking a closer look at possible changes to the state's senior home-care program, which would slash funding by about 200-million dollars. Advocates for the state's aging population are saying that Governor Bruce Rauner's proposal could force more than 40,000 seniors and people with disabilities to lose some home and community-based services. Lori Hendren with AARP Illinois is urging legislators to instead support House Bill 4351. Hendren says that this bill would secure funding for the Community Care Program, while the Governor's plan would create uncertainty for some seniors.
"This puts an 80-year-old woman, for example, who was able to live vibrantly and be part of the community, to now have to say, 'If my services are being reduced, what are my options?' "
-Lori Hendren, AARP Illinois
Rauner's office argues that his proposed Community Reinvestment Program will keep seniors out of nursing homes while saving the state money. But groups such as AARP Illinois and SEIU Healthcare say the Governor has not laid out specific details on exactly how that plan would work. Additionally, these groups are arguing that the Governor's changes could force even more people into nursing homes, possibly at an even higher cost to the state. Hendren says currently the average cost of Illinois' Community Care Program is $860 a month, per person, but the cost for nursing home care is about three times that.
"If we talk about the budget, and we talk about being compassionate and being able to care for out greatest generation, if we have a program that allows them to stay with their family, that is a wonderful opportunity to be conservative with taxpayer dollars."
-Lori Hendren, AARP Illinois
This comes as the federal government has been urging states to find ways to keep more low-income seniors out of nursing homes. Representative Greg Harris' HB 4351 is scheduled to come up for discussion again in a House committee on Wednesday.
Students at Macomb High School are continuing on with their Spring Musical this weekend. The production of the classic show Fiddler on the Roof will have shows a 7pm on Friday and Saturday nights, and a 2pm matinee on Saturday as well. The show will be in Fellheimer Auditorium at the Macomb Junior Senior High School, and you can get tickets at the door. Tickets are $8 for adults, and $5 for students and those over the age of 62.
Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz, more commonly known to most as the "American Pickers" are going to be making their way throughout Illinois in the month of May, and they're looking for places to stop on their History Channel show. Their mission is to search America and give new life to some forgotten relics, while learning the history behind them. They're currently looking for anyone in the area with a "buried treasure" of sorts. Vintage bikes, toys, radios, movie memorabilia, military items, folk art, automotive parts, and anything that reserves its own spot in history and has a story to tell could be featured on their show! If you, or somebody you know has a large, private collection that you think would be perfect for Mike and Frank to check out, please email your name, phone number and location, along with a description and photos of the collection to firstname.lastname@example.org or call them at 855-OLD-RUST (855-653-7878)
Genesis Garden will be holding their third and hopefully final cleanup for the house that will become their Emergency Family Shelter this Saturday, April 8th from 9am to 3pm. Anybody age 16 and over is encouraged to come out and give their assistance to this project. Will Wetzel with Genesis Garden shares that this program has already seen tremendous community support.
"We've had two cleanouts that went really great. We had 282 volunteers in 2 days that gave 660 hours of service, so we're just looking to finish that out."
-Will Wetzel, Genesis Garden
The cleanout will be happening at 307 East Carroll Street, and anybody wishing to come out and help can park at the First Presbyterian Church and walk over to the house. This shelter will be the first of its kind in McDonough County. It's goal is to keep families intact when hard times hit, and providing shelter for those who need it while still keeping them with their loved ones.
"As they're there in the shelter, not only will they be able to have a roof over their heads, but we'll work with them on everything from employment to education services, helping them get on food stamps, and find a good pathway to self-sustainability and housing."
-Will Wetzel, Genesis Garden
A new task force has been created by Governor Bruce Rauner that will work to root out fraud and waste in the state taxpayer-funded health care system. The Health Care Fraud Elimination Task Force, which was created via executive order, will work over the next year and a half to investigate where taxpayer savings can be found. Going beyond practicality, Rauner says that the state has a moral obligation to find savings while keeping health care quality high, drive better value for taxpayers, and free up money for other vital needs.
"Frankly, every dollar that we can save in wasteful spending or fraudulent spending in healthcare, is a dollar that we can put into our education system to fund our schools or into our human services to fund our most vulnerable families."
-Bruce Rauner, Governor of Illinois
Taxpayer-funded Medicaid programs and state-employee health insurance plans are a big expense for taxpayers, costing about $19 billion a year. The Governor didn't say specifically how much fraud there could be throughout the system, but he put his estimate in the hundreds of millions of dollars per year.
Advocates of sustainable food are in Springfield today talking about local food policies as a state Senate committee considers a seed-sharing bill. Supporters of HB 3130 believe that it will help protect free, public seed exchanges. According to the Illinois Stewardship Alliance, over the past few years at least two states have tightened restrictions on seed libraries. But spokeswoman Rebecca Osland says recently Minnesota and Pennsylvania reversed course by passing bills to exempt seed exchanges from complying with commercial regulations. Osland says Illinois should add similar exemptions for local seed libraries.
"This is important to biodiversity; it's been a tradition that people have engaged in since the beginning of agrarian time. So, we wanted to just be proactive and clarify the law here."
-Rebecca Osland, Illinois Stewardship Alliance
Some state-level agriculture regulators aren't convinced though, and they've come out in favor of tighter monitoring, saying it could prevent someone from sneaking toxic or weed seeds into a library. Osland, however, argues that those concerns are overblown. She says that adding more regulations to seed libraries would benefit the commercial seed industry at the expense of smaller, local food producers. Osland says the exemptions in HB 3130 would only apply to non-patented, noncommercial seeds.
"I think it'll be a really strong message that this is a value that we have: People should be able to garden and save seed, that we have this freedom to exchange that product of nature."
-Rebecca Osland, Illinois Stewardship Alliance
So far, the seed-library exemption has earned bipartisan support from at least six state senators.
21 year-old Austin Foster of Elmwood, IL, is being charged in connection with an altercation with a Farmington Police Officer on Sunday, April 3rd. In the early afternoon, Farmington Police Officers and the Fulton County Sheriff's Department were responding to a 911 call regarding a domestic battery. A car was identified by one Farmington police officer who initiated a traffic stop and ordered the male out of the car. The suspect charged the officer, began hitting him in the head, and took him to the ground. A struggle ensued until the officer was able to utilize his firearm to fire one round, which struck the suspect in the upper leg. The suspect was taken to the hospital and treated for non-life threatening injuries. The officer was treated for contusions and evaluated before being released. An ongoing investigation is being conducted for the incident, and Austin Foster has been charged with Attempted Murder of a Peace Officer, Aggravated Battery to a Peace Officer, Disarming a Peace Officer, and Domestic Battery. He's currently being lodged at the Fulton County Jail and his bond has been set at $750,000. All suspects are considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. No further information has been released at this time.
A move to change Illinois' birth certificate law is earning praise from a civil rights watchdog group. The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois says the change would help thousands of transgender residents throughout the state. House Bill 6073, sponsored by Representative Greg Harris, passed out of committee on Monday. Supporters argue that it would update the law by removing a requirement that transgender people must have surgery in order to change the gender marker on their birth certificate. John Knight with the state's ACLU says many times transgender people can face serious discrimination when they are "outed" against their will.
"A birth certificate is one document that can end up revealing someone's transgender status. We know that transgender people face overwhelming discrimination in so many aspects of their lives, including employment. This helps reduce that possibility."
-John Knight, ACLU
Illinois hasn't updated its birth certificate gender marker law since 1962. HB 6073 would use the same standard as the federal government for changing gender markers on passports. The bill is now headed to the full House for a vote. Also on Monday, a separate bill aimed at regulating how transgender students use Illinois school restrooms was sent down by lawmakers to a subcommittee. Knight says he's hopeful that means Representative Tom Morrison's House Bill 4474 will not move forward during this session. Knight argues against the bill, saying that it is discriminatory because it would deny transgender students access to gender-appropriate restrooms, and would run afoul of federal civil rights protections.
"Title IX protects against discrimination against transgender kids and this effectively would put every school district in Illinois at risk of losing their federal dollars."
-John Knight, ACLU
Recently, South Dakota's governor killed a similar bathroom regulation bill, although several other states are still considering like-minded legislation. This all comes just a few weeks after North Carolina passed a law overriding local protections for LGBT people.
House Republican Leader Jim Durkin is currently sponsoring legislation which would create the offense of firearms trafficking in the state of Illinois. Citing the out of control gun violence statistics for Chicago and other areas of the state that are garnering national attention, Durkin says that the General Assembly needs to do its part in fighting the violence.
"The bill will target straw purchasers who have not been issues a current, valid FOID card, who will leave the state, purchase a firearm, and bring it back with the intent to sell that firearm illegally."
-Jim Durkin, Illinois State Representative
This new proposal, HB6303, was approved in committee and will now move on to the full House for their consideration.
WalletHub, a consumer research group, says that Illinois is less reliant on federal tax dollars than most other states. Specifically, Illinois comes in 45th among all 50 states on the amount of federal funds that are going back into the states. WalletHub spokeswoman Jill Gonzales says that this means the Land of Lincoln is less reliant on federal money.
"One would be the most dependent, fiftieth the least dependent. So, Illinois is pretty independent on its own."
-Jill Gonzales, WalletHub
This certainly isn't the only way to look at it, though. U.S. Congressman Bill Foster says that Illinois taxpayers are being cheated, and aren't getting their money's worth when it comes to federal funding for things like education, infrastructure, and social services.
"This forces us, eventually, to increase state taxes, which causes industrial flight."
-Bill Foster, U.S. Congressman
Foster says that one major problem is the lack of federal reimbursement for natural disasters to a state like Illinois. In the southern regions of the state, we saw flooding happen last year, but no federal funds were awarded to aid the cleanup efforts. So why is Illinois not receiving as much federal money as some other states? Jill Gonzales says that a lot of it has to do with the state's gross domestic product, or GDP.
"A low dependency on the federal government usually means a high GDP, and Illinois is definitely up there."
-Jill Gonzales, WalletHub
This week is National Public Health Week, a time to recognize the contributions of public health and highlight issues that are important to improving the health of our nation. In this state alone, the Illinois Department of Public Health and 97 certified health departments work every day to control infectious diseases, ensure food safety, conduct newborn screenings, provide immunizations and educate communities on how to live healthier lives. If you've ever used a public swimming pool, gone to a hospital, or eaten at a restaurant, then you've received a public health service. Take time this week to thank the people who work in public health, and learn more about the steps that you can take to help build a healthier community. Go to www.nphw.org
While Illinois is still struggling with rising unemployment numbers, and is lagging behind the rest of the country in that regard, there is one are where our state is outperforming the rest, and by a pretty strong margin. Illinois is the #1 state in the Midwest for the amount of jobs held in the clean-energy field, according to a new report. The Clean Jobs Midwest survey shows that Illinois tops out the list of all Midwestern states, at about 114,000 jobs, most of which are in the energy-efficiency sector. Unfortunately, the report's findings aren't all good news. Gail Parson, with Environmental Entrepreneurs, warns that the state recently lost more than 150 solar jobs and more than 400 wind-power jobs.
"Illinois is one of those examples of a place with a sizable workforce, but again we've seen these loss in wind and solar jobs. I think we can tie a pretty direct correlation to sort of broken policy in the state."
-Gail Parson, Environmental Entrepreneurs
The report's authors suggest that Illinois should make changes to what's known as the state's Renewable Portfolio Standard. One idea is to remove Illinois' spending cap on energy efficiency programs, which, Parson argues, could help the state regain its lost solar and wind jobs. More broadly, the research also shows clean energy is one of the fastest-growing industries, with an estimated 25,000 new jobs expected to be added in the Midwest over the next year. Parson says the Midwest has become a powerhouse for clean-energy careers.
"Many people may think of corn, our farms - but the Midwest should be known for clean energy, contributing over half a million workers, certainly not fly-over country when it comes to the clean energy field."
-Gail Parson, Environmental Entrepreneurs
However, according to the survey, Illinois is not meeting its current energy efficiency goals. Parson says more state investment in efficiency programs could help reach those benchmarks while helping residents save money on electricity bills.
The Illinois State Police, District 14, has announced that they will be conducting Occupant Restraint Enforcement Patrols throughout McDonough County during the month of April. These patrols are meant to focus on traffic violations related with safety belt compliance. Illinois law require all vehicle passengers, both in the front and back of the car, to be buckled up.
Additionally, the ISP announced that they'll be performing Nighttime Enforcement Patrols this month in Fulton and Henderson Counties. These patrols are aimed at targeting impaired drivers by looking for unsafe vehicle operation, driving with a suspended or revoked license, transporting open alcoholic beverages, and driving under the influence. Alcohol and drug impairment is a significant factor in nearly 40% of all fatal motor crashes in Illinois.
If you'd like more information on either of these patrols, you can go to the Illinois State Police's website - http://www.isp.state.il.us/
The McDonough County Sheriff Rick VanBrooker and the Blandinsville Police Chief Robbie Phellps have reported the arrests of two Juvenile males, age 16 and 17, responsible for a business burglary in Blandinsville. On March 31st, at around 5:15 in the morning, detectives from the Sheriff's Office and the Blandinsville Police responded to a burglary complaint at Tinks Restaurant. Police discovered that suspects had entered, pried open a cash register, and stole some money, the amount of which has not been released. At approximately 8am, the two unnamed male juveniles were apprehended two miles north of Blandinsville. They had been walking through fields and timber. Suspected stolen money was recovered and the juveniles were detained pending court appearances.
The Ambassador Committee of the Macomb Area Chamber of Commerce held a ribbon cutting on March 31st to celebrate the opening of Found, a carefully curated boutique located above Nostalgia Decor and Gifts at 129 North Randolph Street. The owners, Matt and Shannon Duncan, started the shop which opened officially on April 1st. The store sells handmade decor, jewelry, home furnishings and vintage items. The hours of operation are Friday and Saturday from 10am to 5pm. For more information you can visit them on Facebook.