"We have some very difficult decisions still to come concerning the state budget in Illinois, but providing for the disadvantaged that can’t do so for themselves should always be a priority. I’m happy that the Governor has acted quickly to reinstate funding to ensure programs for those with autism, epilepsy, and other serious health conditions won’t be lost.

There is not going to be an overnight fix for our dire fiscal situation, but cutting funds for the most vulnerable wasn’t going to help solve our problems. I think Gov. Rauner’s actions today stand to improve the discourse in the negotiations over the budget."
When we spend more money on taxes than food, clothing, and housing combined, something needs to change!

A loophole in State law currently denies the tribute of a statewide memorial flag observance (flag raised to half-staff) for a man or woman killed in U.S. armed forces uniform if the person was killed in the course of duty training. This is expected to change soon.

After Major Reid B. Nannen of Hopedale, Illinois, a Marine Corps aviator, was killed in a training accident at TOPGUN Naval Air Station in Nevada on March 1, 2014, his father Dale Nannen learned of the loophole and launched a grass-roots push to change State law. HB 2932 will allow the Governor to issue an official proclamation of memorial flag raising in honor of men and women in uniform who are killed in training. Flags will continue to be flown at half-staff for Illinois persons in uniform who are killed in the course of active duty.

The unanimous House vote to pass HB 2932 on Tuesday, April 21, was 114-0-0 (see details here). Representative Sommer’s bill, which was backed by more than 60 House sponsors, was sent to the Senate for further action.
The deadline refers to the ability of members of all four General Assembly caucuses to get bills they have sponsored out of their houses of origin. The “Third Reading Deadline” is the deadline for the House to pass bills over to the Senate, and for the Senate to pass bills over to the House. From here on until the end of the 2015 spring session, the House will be dealing with Senate bills, and vice versa. House Republicans will closely scrutinize these Senate bills.

As of the morning of Friday, April 24 (deadline day), the Senate had sent 251 bills (see bills here) and one joint resolution to the House for further action.

The House has sent 331 measures (see bills here) to the Senate. This reflects almost three-quarters (331/444) of the 444 House bills let out of House committee for floor consideration. More measures may be sent over before the deadline at the close of business on Friday.
Governor Bruce Rauner announced on Tuesday, April 21 that he will soon start an infrastructure Listening Tour (click here for dates and locations) in which the Governor will talk to local leaders in at least 30 separate Illinois communities to hear their needs for additional help in maintaining vital local infrastructure. At the same time, Illinois House budget working groups will be meeting on FY16 budget challenges, including issues of public infrastructure.

Deteriorating roads and bridges are expected to be a particular focus of the Governor’s tour and Illinois House discussions. Current projections, based on existing trends on motor fuel consumption and taxes paid, have looked at the current six-year Illinois Department of Transportation
(IDOT) planning program. Current trends indicate that by the end of this six-year program 40 percent of Illinois highways, and one in seven Illinois bridges, will be in unacceptable condition.

Most of the money raised by motor fuel taxes is deposited in the state’s Road Fund and used for road and bridge repair and replacement. Illinois transportation infrastructure work will continue in the 2015 construction season, but IDOT has reported to the Illinois House that the State’s asphalt infrastructure is depreciating faster than moneys are being deposited in the Fund.

The Task Force on Local Government Consolidation and Mandate Reform, chaired by Lieutenant Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti, continued to hold meetings dedicated to the cause of reduction of burden on Illinois local governments. At a hearing in Carbondale on Monday, April 13, Sanguinetti and her colleagues continued to learn that many of these burdens are caused by mandates imposed on local governments and school districts from Springfield.

The General Assembly may well be asked, before the end of the 2015 spring session, to look at specific legislative proposals aimed at reducing these burdens. These proposals could include not only mandate reductions, but also suggested changes on local governmental labor-management relations and the consolidation of specific units of local government into efficiency-sized units.

SPRINGFIELD – State Representatives Sheri Jesiel (R-Winthrop Harbor), Ed Sullivan (R-Mundelein), and Barbara Wheeler (R-Crystal Lake) have joined with other elected officials from Lake and McHenry Counties to sponsor and pass legislation in the Illinois House to bring greater efficiency to county and local governments. Illinois has more layers of government than any other state in the United States, creating one of the most burdensome property tax scenarios nationwide. House Bill 229, which passed the House today, allows for duplicative bodies of government to be dissolved. This initiative has already been utilized in DuPage County to great effect.

“County officials and residents in both Lake and McHenry Counties have been frustrated by so many overlapping units of government for a long time,” said Wheeler. “We’ve seen how helpful this efficiency initiative has been in DuPage County and I’m very pleased we will now be able to benefit from it in Lake and McHenry Counties as well.”

HB 229 grants authority to Lake and McHenry Counties to pass ordinances, which may be ratified by referendum, to remove certain units of local government that perform the same duties as other units of local government, or lack appropriate accountability. The purpose of this is to increase efficiency in local government and help lessen the heavy tax burden already on the backs of families in Lake and McHenry Counties. In addition to being supported by a number of local leaders in both counties, it is also supported by the Better Government Association, Illinois Association of County Board Members, the Illinois Association of Realtors, and the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning.

The State Superintendent of Education is the supervisor of public schools and publicly-supported charter schools throughout Illinois. Dr. Tony Smith has experience in educational management in both the public and the private sector. He is a past superintendent of the Oakland Unified School District, operating public schools in one of the largest cities in California.

The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), a nine-member panel appointed by the Governor with the advice and consent of the Senate, is the statewide school board that oversees distribution of state school aid and compliance with state and federal educational mandates. Departing State Superintendent Dr. Christopher Koch was thanked for his 21 years of educational leadership at ISBE, particularly his advocacy for students affected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

SPRINGFIELD – Representative Barbara Wheeler (R-Crystal Lake) has filed House Resolution 404 in an effort the reexamine the impact of PARCC testing on Illinois. Wheeler’s resolution also calls on the State Board of Education to be more transparent about the implementation and use of PARCC. Representative Sheri Jesiel (R-Winthrop Harbor), of the neighboring 61st District, has joined Wheeler in this call, along with several other General Assembly members.

“The rollout of PARCC testing this year has been poor to say the least,” said Wheeler. “In most schools, teachers weren’t properly prepared to administer the testing, which has left our students unprepared and very frustrated. This is made worse because there is no legitimate way for parents to ask that their child not be tested because of the contract the federal government is demanding states comply with to maintain funding.”

Wheeler continued, “Many of my colleagues and I have been hearing from parents that are greatly concerned because their children, who are good students, have become so overwhelmed by testing that doesn’t align with their classroom instruction. As a former teacher, and a more importantly a parent, it’s clear we need to reevaluate PARCC and ensure that it doesn’t hinder our children’s scholastic success.”

HB 208 designates pumpkin pie as the official State pie of Illinois. The bill was approved by the House on Thursday, April 16 by a vote of 108-3-2.

In discussion on the bill, Representative Keith Sommer told his colleagues of the importance of the traditional American dessert to his home town. A canning plant or “cannery” in Morton, Illinois specializes in the washing, peeling, mashing, cooking, and additional processing of fiber-rich pumpkin pulp into the raw material for pie-making. The University of Illinois reports that this plant, combined with the work of area purchasers of whole pumpkins for transport and sale, mean that approximately ninety percent of the pumpkins grown in the United States for commercial sale are cultivated in the region of Peoria, Illinois.

Local soil that is simultaneously rich and sandy, washed down the Illinois Valley by melting glaciers, creates ideal farmers’ plots for pumpkins. The slogan of the Village of Morton is “The Pumpkin Capital of the World.”

The 16th president was shot in the head by an assassin on April 14, 1865 in Ford’s Theatre, Washington, and died on the following day. Lincoln’s assassination, which took place less than one week after the surrender of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Confederate army, marked the end of the Civil War and the start of a period of national mourning and reconciliation.

The Illinois House has a unique perspective on Abraham Lincoln; this legislative chamber was Lincoln’s first political home and elected position. The future President served central Illinois in the 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th General Assemblies, starting in 1835 and ending in 1842. These were key years in the history of Lincoln’s home town of Springfield, as the aggressive advocacy of Lincoln and his colleagues was decisive in the selection of the Sangamon River community to be Illinois’ permanent state capital. The “Old State Capital,” which still stands in Springfield’s central city, was built in response to Lincoln’s urgings. A legislator’s desk, believed to be Lincoln’s, has been re-installed in the chamber and is seen by tens of thousands of visitors annually.

The two weeks in mid-April ending on April 24 are the weeks set aside for floor action and final passage of House bills out of the House of Representatives. In many cases, including the fourteen House Republican members who are serving their first full terms, this is a time of intense participation in the lawmaking process as final questions are asked and answered, a bill is debated on the floor, and the final roll call taken that decides whether the bill will survive and be sent to the state Senate for further action.

House members spent long hours on the House floor this week. 444 bills had been advanced from House committees and placed on the chamber’s calendar for possible final action. The Illinois House streams live audio and video feeds of its floor action to the general public.

SPRINGFIELD – Today, Representative Barbara Wheeler (R-Crystal Lake) passed legislation with the full support of the Illinois House of Representatives to place harsher restrictions on repeat DUI offenders. The legislation, House Bill 3533, requires that repeat DUI offenders must have their vehicles equipped with Breath Alcohol Ignition Interlock Devices, better known as BAIID devices, for longer periods and also requires offenders to be disallowed from reapplying for a license with the Secretary of State’s office until first completing a period with a restricted driving permit.

“Everyone makes mistakes in life, but when a person places themselves and others at risk by repeatedly driving under the influence, we need to make every effort to keep them from doing so again,” said Wheeler. “While fatalities from alcohol related accidents have gone down greatly since the 1980s, the number has started to rise again over the past few years and clearly new steps are needed to keep our roads safe.”

The Prescription Pill and Drug Disposal Fund is set to provide help to community law enforcement agencies to collect unwanted and unneeded prescription pharmaceuticals from Illinois households. In many cases, a patient’s health status changes, leaving pharmaceuticals on hand. Grants from the Fund will help local police collect, transport, and incinerate these pharmaceuticals under secure conditions.

While the Fund is not new, the circumstances under which it was set up and paid for meant that it took several years to gather moneys necessary to operate it. Former Illinois Representative JoAnn Osmond wrote the bill creating the Fund so that the money came not from taxes paid by taxpayers, but from a supplemental fine imposed on specific drug offenses. HB 2056 became law in 2011, and the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority (ICJIA) announced on Tuesday, March 31 that moneys in the Fund are now sufficient to start giving out grants to Illinois police forces. Implementation of the grant program will be affected by the current freeze on new State spending imposed by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Only five days after Lee surrendered, ending the Civil War, President Lincoln was fatally shot on the night of April 14, 1865. He died the following day, April 15. Following these tragic events, the newly-reunited United States combined in an emotional event of mourning and national reconciliation that was encapsulated in the westward progress of Lincoln’s funeral train. The Springfield-based Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum has worked with other entities on a series of observances to mark the anniversary of the assassination.

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. To address increases in the sexual exploitation of youth, the Lake County Sheriff's Office is hosting a public safety forum entitled Technology and Pornography - Keeping Youth Safe on Friday April 24, 2015 at the CLC's C-005 Auditorium in Grayslake from 8:00 a.m. to noon.

Guest speakers include Dr. Mary Anne Layden, Director of Education for the Center of Cognitive Therapy at the University of Pennsylvania, Ms. Liz Yore, former special counsel for Harpo Studios and former general counsel at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and Detective Chris Covelli, Lake County Sheriff’s Office Cyber-crimes task force.
The wisdom of SOFIA will be shared with science teachers at a free workshop at the College of Lake County scheduled in conjunction with Lake County Astronomy Day on April 25. NASA Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors Marcella Linahan (Carmel High School) and Lynne Zielinski (Yerkes Observatory/National Space Society) will report on their trip aboard NASA's SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy) aircraft.

In addition to describing how NASA astronomers use the SOFIA telescope to see beyond the visible light spectrum into infrared, the two will demonstrate several hands-on classroom activities related to infrared light that can be used in any elementary or high school science classroom. The goal of these activities is to help students understand how scientists explore the universe using infrared light so as to enhance student interest in and curiosity about space science.

Seeking to utilize its globally-ranked standing in materials research and development, the University of Illinois this month finalized plans to oversee the construction of a new medical school adjacent to its primary Champaign-Urbana campus. The plans were described on Sunday, March 22 by the USA Today.

Responding to researchers who see increasing challenges and opportunities in biomedicine, the University of Illinois sees the new medical school as a way to bring together the College of Engineering and the clinical resources of the nearby Carle hospital-and-health-system. The University’s trustees repeatedly assured staff and affiliated professionals at their existing medical school, the University of Illinois College of Medicine, that the decision did not signal any diminution of their support level for the existing UIC school, which is organized around a traditional urban teaching-hospital model and is affiliated with the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Illinois helps U.S. Navy prepare for launch of new submarine. The capital ship, which will be called the “U.S.S. Illinois” when it enters commissioned service, is in the final stages of being fitted out on the East Coast and is expected to be launched later in 2015. Chicago business leaders are helping train two key members of the crew – the culinary specialists who will man the submersible boat’s tiny galley.

Physically slightly smaller and with smaller crews than the armored battleships that were once the backbone of the U.S. Navy, an attack submarine like the “U.S.S. Illinois” is in some ways even more heavily armed. A crew of 145 to 150 men will sail on a six-month tour of duty, much of which will be spent submerged. Modern technology even allows submarines to communicate with naval headquarters while deep under water. Although the “Illinois” is only 370 feet long, the “silent service” believes that American submarines serve as the ultimate deterrent to potential enemy action.