Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Lawmakers overrule Rauner's pension bill veto

State lawmakers delivered a shocking loss to Gov. Bruce Rauner on Memorial Day when Republicans joined Democrats to override his veto of a Chicago pension plan.

According to the Associated Press, Chicago will save $1 billion on police and fire pension costs in the short term under the law the General Assembly approved Monday.

The Senate voted 39-19 and the House voted 72-43 to undo Republican Governor Bruce Rauner's veto on Friday that the city claimed would lead to a $300 million property tax hike. It will now become law.

Rauner argued that "Clearly, those who supported this measure haven't recognized what happens when government fail to promptly fund pension obligations."

The surprising reversal also makes it a major win for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

"On Memorial Day I particularly want to thank Democrats and Republicans in the General Assembly for putting politics aside and doing the right thing for Chicago taxpayers, and for our first responders," Emanuel said in a prepared statement.

The city's police and fire funds are $12 billion short of what's needed to cover current and future obligations. Chronic underfunding for decades is mainly to blame as it is responsible for the $111 billion shortfall Illinois faces in its state-employee accounts.

Information provided by the Associated Press and Chicago Tribune

Illinois State Museum to be repaired and reopen, charge admission

Local Lawmakers have approved a measure that would reopen the Illinois State Museum and use donations to pay for repairs, the associated press has reported. The plan would allow for the museum to charge admission fees.

Gov. Bruce Rauner closed the museum last October due to ongoing state budget issues.

Democrat Senator Andy Manar said Monday there are concerns the institution could lose its accreditation if it doesn't reopen.

The Senate approved the bill 38-18 and will next go to the House.

Illinois Republicans agree the museum is in need of repairs, but they said they opposed the bill because it requires private donations to be subject to state purchasing rules.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Lightning strikes Normal home Thursday morning, causes fire

Around 7:30 Thursday morning, lightning struck the attic of 1317 Ogelthorpe, just shy of the front entry. The owner of the house was home at the time and walked out after the strike and saw smoke and flames near the front door. 
Heavy fire was found in the attic by the Normal Fire Department and off-duty firemen and the Rapid Intervention Team from the Bloomington Fire Department were called to assist. 
Luckily, the fire was out within 25 minutes and no one was injured. 
There is approximately $60,000 worth of damage with most of it affecting the attic. The home is insured.
Information provided by The Pantagraph.

McLean County GOP name new candidate in second district

The McLean County Republican Party have selected county board member Scott Murphy of Downs as their nominee in the 2nd District.

He replaced former board chairman Matt Sorensen, who was charged with fraud back in January. Murphy, a farmer, was named in February to finish Sorensen's term after Sorensen resigned. Democrats are considering a candidate to run.

Sorensen is facing a federal indictment accusing him of defrauding State Farm of more than $400,000 in unearned consulting fees.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Former county director charged with embezzlement

A former Winnebago County purchasing director has been charged with embezzling at least $5,000.

U.S. Attorney John MacKenzie filed a criminal complain in federal court Wednesday against Sally Claassen. She is charged with two counts accusing her of embezzling in 2014 and 2015. The county has said she used her county-issued credit card to buy $60,000 worth of personal items.

Last December, FBI agents seized nearly $300,000 front bank accounts controlled by Claassen and her husband.

Claassen ran the purchasing department from 1997 until she was placed on administrative leave in August. She resigned the following month.

Information provided by the Associated Press.

Proposed bill aims to protect juveniles under 15

With the goal of expelling forced confessions in mind, a new bill proposed would require a lawyer be present when police question juveniles, in certain cases.

The issue was brought back to light after the highly popular docuseries "Making a Murderer" showed a young man, seemingly confused and pressured, confessing to a murder without a lawyer.

The new bill would make it so a lawyer would have to be present in juvenile cases during police interrogation, if the juvenile is under 15 and is involved in a murder or sex investigation.

Information provided by WHOI-19.

Tensions rise higher as House Dems pass spending plan

As reported yesterday, House Speaker Michael Madigan and Gov. Bruce Rauner could not reach an agreement and Madigan vowed to move forward with a spending plan.

He didn't waste any time.

The Springfield Journal-Register reported that the House voted 63-53 to send the budget to the Democrat-controlled Senate. Rauner said he will veto it if it gets to his desk.

The vote comes just one day after Madigan said Rauner's camp had not be "persuasive" and neither side could make a compromise over Rauner's "turnaround agenda."

"This is a very sad and dark day in Illinois democracy," Republican House leader Jim Durkin, said.

Republicans have also argued that the plan passed is a whopping $7 billion off from being able to balance the budget. Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno of Lemont said Madigan's comments Wednesday confirmed her suspicion that he wasn't interested in compromise.

"What we heard was a vigorous defense of the status quo," Radogno said. "Madigan is reporting no progress in the working groups despite the fact that many rank-and-file Democrats say they want progress and have seen progress."

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Illinois man raises money while running 50 marathons in 50 states

A suburban Chicago man is one marathon away from completing his mission of running 50 marathons in all 50 states.

Kevin Ely of Batavia, Illinois will run 26.2 miles Saturday at the Bayshore Marathon in Michigan. What initially began as a personal goal has turned into a quest for charity, according to NBC Chicago.

After already running in 13 states, he discovered the Free Wheelchair Mission, a nonprofit that offers cost-effective wheelchairs to people with disabilities. The father of a 7-yr-old with Cerebral Palsy, Ely is aware of the importance and expenses of mobility which led him to a fundraising mission called Marathons for Mobility.

"I thought 'I need to turn this from being a selfish thing for me and what I could accomplish for myself," he said. "It was a realization that I needed to do something to make an impact."

Ely has raised over $42,000 for 550 wheelchairs to be donated through the Free Wheelchair Mission.

Information provided by 5NBC Chicago.

Rauner meeting unsuccessful, Madigan moving forward with budget bill

House Speaker Michael Madigan and Gov. Bruce Rauner can't agree on anything, apparently.

Madigan said Wednesday he will move budget bills forward in the House even though an agreement was not reached concerning Rauner's turnaround agenda.

After a brief meeting with Rauner and other legislative leaders, Madigan said Rauner's representatives had not been "persuasive" in                                                       their arguments for adopting the turnaround agenda.

Madigan said he is preparing to move an appropriation bill that will deal with state spending for the fiscal year on July 1. Rauner's office said Madigan's budget plan is disproportionate and would be $7 billion off from a balanced budget. Republican leaders said they will not support Madigan's plan until matters such as workers compensation and pension reforms are addressed.

Information provided by the State Journal-Register.

Wisconsin couple files discrimination charge with Illinois

In a game of he said, she said, they said and the city said, a couple has filed charges against Bernadine's Stillman Inn in Galena with the Illinois Department of Human Rights.

Jonathan Webber and Alexandra Katzman filed the discrimination charge after the owner of the popular inn, Dave Anderson, allegedly refused to host the couples wedding because a non-religious service was requested.

The couple says they paid a deposit but when they went to finalize Anderson  told them he would only allow a Christian service. Anderson told WGN (http://bit.ly/25hdnNo) that, because of a city rule, he can "only do religious weddings."

The city, on the other hand, said it doesn't get involved with religious matters.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois is representing Webber and Katzman.

Information provided by The Pantagraph.

Clean energy reinforcements show up in Springfield to support bill

Clean energy supporters went to Springfield Tuesday to urge politicians to pass the 'clean energy' plan. Advocates of Exelons LaSalle Generating Station say the legislation will save state nuclear plants from closing, create thousands of jobs and provide $1 billion in low-income programs.

"We need to get a next generation of energy for Illinois. We need a new plan to move us forward in our state," State Senator Donne Trotter, said.

The Illinois Public Interest Research Group that opposes the bill released a statement Tuesday.

According to the statement, "The ComEd Exelon bill prioritizes private profits over public good. Demand charges, the nuclear bailout, the grossly overpriced micro-grid proprosal and many other policies all aim to deliver more, and more consistent revenue for ComEd and Exelon."

Information from WEEK HOI-19.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Local man gets 2 years in death of infant daughter

A Bloomington man pled guilty last Friday to child endangerment charges after the 2014 death of his 2-month-old daughter.

Timothy Crafton, 35, accepted a plea bargain that requires him to testify against Elizabeth Potts, the girl's 21-year-old mother. He was sentenced to two years and will likely receive less due to time served.

Both were originally charged with involuntary manslaughter after the couple left the toddler in a car seat after returning home. The child lived for almost a year later but an autopsy linked the baby's death to brain injury suffered due to suffocation while in the car.

Potts remains in jail as she awaits trial.

Bloomington police ask for help in finding shooter

Local police are asking for information regarding a shooting that took place around midnight last Saturday at the 2200 block of East Empire Street. The victim, 20, was taken to a local hospital after suffering multiple gun shot wounds to the chest.

His injuries are not considered to be life threatening, but the suspect has yet to be identified.

Anyone with information should call McLean County Crimestoppers at 309-828-1111. Or contact Detective John Atteberry at 309-434-2548.

Help leading to the arrest and indictment of the suspect(s) may result in a reward of up to $1,000.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Dick Van Dyke is coming home

Still going strong at 90 years young, talented actor and comedian Dick Van Dyke will be heading to his hometown of Danville. To help raise proceeds for his charity, the Dick Van Dyke Foundation, the actor will perform June 26 in Downers Grove. A date for a Danville event will be set soon.

Van Dyke hopes to restore his childhood home and turn into his foundation headquarters and provide scholarships to young performers.

Rauner vows to 'keep trying' for balanced budget

The state has been without a budget for nearly a year as Gov. Rauner continues to disagree with Democrats who control the Legislature. Lawmakers sent the governor a bill that would authorize $700 million for human service programs, however Rauner says that's only a short-term fix. Speaking at a manufacturing plant in suburban Chicago last Sunday, Rauner said there's still time to come to "a grand compromise" on a balanced budget before the Legislature adjourns May 31.
According to the Associated Press, he thinks Democrats are ready to accept economic reforms and that "all we can do is keep trying." 

Funding cuts to Illinois universities affecting enrollment

A continued, year-long stalemate between Gov. Bruce Rauner and General Assembly Democrats over education funding is making college students second-guess attending in Illinois. While most universities, including Illinois State, will not give attendance projections, many of the ones that do have reported lower turnouts than usual. Eastern Illinois, Western Illinois, University of Illinois-Springfield and Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville all say they have fewer applicants this year.

Eastern and Western Illinois have laid off employees while Chicago State University eliminated a third of their jobs and even cut their spring semester short. Throughout most of the 1990's, Illinois was the top performing state in helping its residents attain higher education through need-based grants and affordable tuition, according to a report by the University of Pennsylvania's Institute for Research on Higher Education.

Soil value to change property taxes for farmers

Farmers, especially in Southern Illinois, should expect to see a bump in their property taxes according to the Associated Press and The Southern Illinoisan. Tax increases will be decided by the farmland's productivity index and, in Illinois, the value of the land takes soil quality into account. For example, Central Illinois' soil is of higher quality while Southern Illinois' is valued lower. Changes made mean values on lower quality soil will increase at a faster rate while land with better soil will increase at a slower rate. 

Williamson County Farmer Jim Anderson said farms in Southern Illinois will take more of a hit and thinks northern farms should pay more in property tax to make up for soil discrepancies. 

"Their soil is a higher quality, so they can sell it at higher prices," Anderson said. "With the exception of land costs, we have the same expenses in equipment...and time."

Information given to the The Southern Illinoisan - thesouthern.com

Friday, May 20, 2016

Fully funded tuition grants approved, Republicans say measure will increase defecit

In a 39-15 vote, the state Senate approved a bill that would fully fund tuition grants for low-income students. The bill still needs to be signed by Gov. Rauner, which might not come to fruition as many Republicans have argued the state simply does not have the funds to pay for the measure. Under the Monetary Award Program, approximately $397 million would go to colleges and universities according to the Associated Press.  

Local law enforcement not in favor of marijuana decriminalization bill

On May 18th, the Illinois House voted to decriminalize marijuana, making it so only a ticket would be issued for anyone in possession of up to 10 grams of pot. The bill has gone to Gov. Rauner, who is expected to sign once he gets caught up with "more important issues." But not everyone is happy about the bill, including some local law enforcement. According to Central Illinois Proud, Sheriff Jon Sandage is "not in support of it."

"Cannabis is a gateway drug and I think that's a slippery slope we're on," Sandage said. "To me, it takes away what we're trying to do in the fight against drugs." 

If Rauner signs the bill, Illinois will become the 21st state to decriminalize marijuana. 

Dog flu concern in Normal causes vaccination cancellation

The town of Normal announced, amid safety concerns, that it's canceling the canine flu vaccination booth planned for this weekend, according to Central Illinois Proud. The 'dog flu' outbreak began earlier this month and has caused hundreds of dogs in the area to come down with the illness. Much like with the regular flu, it is highly contagious but is only fatal in severe cases.

Veterinarians are asking owners to call their vet if they begin to notice symptoms, as well as keep them away from other dogs until the outbreak calms down.


Voter registration bill approved by Illinois Senate

In an attempt to counter low voter turnout, the state Senate passed a bill Thursday that automatically registers people to vote upon obtaining their driver license. Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, who sponsored the bill, contends the process will kill two birds with one stone - increasing the number of voters while also saving the state money.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Republicans were highly opposed, suggesting the law could lead to an increased risk of voter fraud while Gov. Rauner said he was a "big fan of simplifying voter registration process."

The proposal passed on a vote of 42-16.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Pot Decriminalization Bill on Rauner's Desk

It’s just a little pot…..Legislation to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana in Illinois is on its way to Gov. Bruce Rauner's desk. The House approved the measure Wednesday on a 64-50 vote. It had previously passed the Senate. The bill would impose fines between $100 and $200 for possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana but no jail time. Rauner vetoed a bill last year that had lower fines and made possession of up to 15 grams a civil offense. Rauner recommended the higher fines and lower threshold.

State Lawmakers Want to Raise the Age for Tobacco Purchases

You might have to wait until you are old enough to drink before you can buy your smokes. Legislation to raise the legal purchasing age of tobacco and electronic cigarette products from 18 to 21 passed the Illinois Senate Wednesday by a vote of 32-22-2. The bill fell five votes shy of passage last Thursday, but Sen. John Mulroe, D-Chicago, the bill’s sponsor, was able to get a second vote.

State Lawmakers Mull Soda Tax

How about taking a little fizz out of your soda for the taxman? Lawmakers trying to find money to fix the state's multi-billion dollar deficit are entertaining an idea is floating around Springfield to tax distributors of sodas and sugary beverages. The proposal would impose a penny-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, syrups, or powders. Estimates vary on how much money the tax would collect—anywhere from $375 to 600 million.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Sorensen Off The Ballot

Former McLean County Board Chairman Matt Sorensen is having his name removed from the November general election ballot. Sorensen resigned his District 2 seat after he was indicted in January on federal wire fraud charges. He topped four write-in challengers in March's primary election. His name was left on the ballot then because his resignation came after the deadline for ballot filing had closed.

Gov. & Legislative Leaders to Form a Working Group to Address Turn Around Agenda

Gov. Bruce Rauner and the four legislative leaders Tuesday agreed to appoint some rank-and-file lawmakers to a group that will attempt to find agreement on components of the governor’s "turnaround agenda." House Republican Leader Jim Durkin said the newly formed group will focus on worker' compensation, pensions and collective bargaining.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

State Upgrading Security for Driver's Licenses & ID Cards

Illinoisans will receive temporary paper driver's licenses and identification cards as the state works to meet federal security mandates. Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White's office said Tuesday that by the end of July applicants will no longer be issued a license or identification card. Instead they will receive a temporary paper driver's license or ID that's good for 45 days. They'll also receive their old ID with a hole punch. Those will serve as identification and are good for air travel. The office then will send the applicant's information to a secure facility in Illinois for a fraud check. The state will then send the applicant via mail a more secure license or ID within 15 days. White says the changes will help Illinois comply with federal REAL ID standards.

Rauner Vetoes Arbitration Bill

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed legislation Monday that would let an arbitrator settle state-employee wages and working conditions if union negotiations stall, describing the bill as an attack on taxpayers.

The Republican governor for weeks had been expected to veto the bill, having vetoed an almost identical bill last year. The governor said sending negotiations to an arbitrator would favor the union and strip away his power to represent taxpayers on a new labor agreement with state workers.