- Legislative leaders meet with Governor Rauner for third time; Madigan a no-show. The series of budget meetings has brought together Governor Bruce Rauner with Illinois legislative leaders to discuss issues standing in the way of the enactment of constitutional balanced budgets for FY16 and FY17. The third in this series of meetings was held in Chicago on Thursday, December 17.
The high-level meeting follows sharp criticisms leveled against the Democrats’ leader in the Illinois House, Speaker Michael Madigan. The powerful Democratic legislative leader and party chairman had previously told attendees at a gathering, held on Wednesday, December 9 at the City Club of Chicago, that the State needed to look at re-instituting a 5.0% personal income tax rate on individual Illinois incomes. Madigan’s move in January 2011 to pass a bill to enact the first 5.0% individual income tax rate was the largest tax-hike law in Illinois history. Speaker Madigan’s spokesman told the press that the House leader would not be able to attend the December 17 meeting and the Speaker was not in attendance.
Chicago – Possible School Strike
- Chicago school strike vote. The 24,750-member Chicago Teachers Union has voted to authorize a strike during the 2015-16 school year. The results of the vote were announced on Monday, December 14. The union stated that 96.5% of the ballots cast were cast to authorize a walkout, and 88% of the total membership voted in this direction. Following a mandatory cooling-off period, the union members could walk out as early as late March 2016. Further discussions during the cooling-off period could avert the strike or could delay it through the spring term and into September 2016.
Issues dividing the teachers’ union from the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) center on money. CPS believes that demands presented so far by the union would cost an additional $1.3 billion/year at a time when there are not enough funds to roll over the existing contract. The union demands that additional nurses, psychologists, and social workers be hired throughout the school system. The Chicago public school budget is being squeezed by catastrophic or near-catastrophic fixed-cost challenges, including pension costs and the continued operation of brick-and-mortar infrastructure in city neighborhoods with sharply declining population rates. At the same time, pupil counts are moving sharply higher in other sections of the city – especially neighborhoods with majority Hispanic and Asian-American ethnic identities – and the public school system is required to make additional investments in these neighborhoods.
Chicago – Mayoral Recall Issue
Bill in Illinois House would authorize Chicagoans to recall Mayor Emanuel. HB 4356, introduced on Wednesday, December 9, would create a ballot procedure for Chicago voters to circulate a petition and place a question on the ballot to remove an incumbent mayor. The bill follows revelations of interplay between the Chicago Police Department and the mayor’s office in relation to the death of Laquan McDonald on October 20, 2014. HB 4356 has not yet been assigned to a House committee.
The McDonald shooting was captured on videotape. After an extensive period of delay, the videotape was publicly released in November 2015, more than one year after the death of McDonald. The video release has sparked intense emotions in the Chicago area. Mayor Rahm Emanuel is serving his second four-year term in office, and under current law will be mayor until May 2019.
College of DuPage
- Chairwoman Katharine Hamilton resigns. Hamilton had been chairwoman of the college’s board of trustees for seven months. The resignation, which took effect immediately, was submitted on Sunday, December 13.
Hamilton’s time of leadership over the 28,000-student college’s board of trustees was filled with policy and legal challenges, including discussions by trustees of the form of disciplinary action the College would take towards now-former College President Robert Breuder. Former Chairwoman Hamilton presided over the College trustee meetings that oversaw scrutiny of Breuder’s contract, and voted in October to terminate his contract.
Hamilton had been a leading member of the “Clean Slate” group of trustees that took over control of the troubled community college’s board in spring 2015. Citing concerns with the college’s governance practices, the College of DuPage’s agency of accreditation has placed the two-year institution on academic probation. A majority of the infractions cited by the Higher Learning Commission occurred during the administration of former President Breuder. The College also remains under investigation by federal and state law enforcement, with inquiries centering on spending and budget decisions made by former President Breuder and his top aides.
- New Illinois drug law cracks down on so-called “synthetic marijuana,” “K2” drugs. The new law was enacted by passage of SB 1129 and becomes effective on January 1, 2016. It strengthens, rather than replaces, existing drug law by expanding the legal definition of chemical compounds that are illegal. Structural classes of chemical compounds are declared to be illegal if these classes include chemicals that are controlled substances.
Under the law that existed prior to enactment of SB 1129, “synthetic marijuana” was an artificial chemical substance sold by some drug pushers as a “legal” alternative to cannabis. Other chemicals, such as “K2,” were sold with similar assurances. Medical care providers have reported significant increases in emergency room utilization, attributed to the consumption and abuse of so-called synthetic cannabis and other structural-class chemicals.
The new law does not change Illinois’ overall Cannabis Control Act, which continues to criminalize the sale or possession of marijuana in this State. A narrow exception to state cannabis laws is carved out for persons who have applied for and received “medical marijuana” cards. These cards authorize the holder to purchase small quantities of cannabis at permitted dispensaries for self-treatment of a list of defined and diagnosed medical conditions.
SB 1129 was approved unanimously by the House in the 2015 spring session. The bill was given an effective date of January 1, 2016; this delayed effective date gave law enforcement time for continuing-education training on how to enforce the new law.
Economy – Illinois Unemployment
- Statewide jobless rate rises to 5.7%. The increase in November 2015 was a hike of 0.3% from the 5.4% rate measured for the month of October. Illinois’ production of new jobs ground almost to a halt in the most recently-reported month, with only 400 net new nonfarm jobs created in November. The new numbers were published by the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) on Thursday, December 17.
IDES found that the weakest section of Illinois’ job environment once again continued to be manufacturing. The factory sector paid 12,800 fewer Illinois workers in November 2015 than had received paychecks in November 2014. By contrast, increases were reported over the same period in many sectors of secondary and tertiary services; these segments are classified by IDES as professional services, business services, educational services, and health-care services.
Illinois’ jobless rate continues to be higher than the national unemployment rate, as well as the jobless rates reported by many of our neighboring states. The national unemployment rate was 5.0% in November 2015.
Education – PARCC Test Results
- New PARCC test results lead to renewed debate on “Common Core” educational standards. The 2015 PARCC tests cover math and language arts, and are meant to track the abilities of Illinois students to meet standards set down by the so-called “Common Core” interstate agreement. Test results showed that less than half of the Illinois student groups tested achieved levels defined as “meeting expectations” or “exceeding expectations.” This result was consistent across all grades tested, from grade 3 to high school, and covered both math and language arts. In both of these curriculum areas and among all PARCC-tested age-grades of students, more than half of the student populations tested returned results classified as “did not meet expectations,” “partially met expectations,” or “approached expectations.” The test results were graded under the supervision of the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE). Full results of the 2015 PARCC tests, including results tabulated for school districts and individual schools, can be found at www.illinoisreportcard.com.
The 2015 PARCC test results were released in the form of the ability of a score generated by a student to conform to or fail to achieve PARCC expectations. Each student was tested in math and in language arts, and he or she was classified as part of the student population inside one of five “levels.” The top two levels, Level 5 and Level 4, signaled the ability of the student to meet or exceed PARCC expectations, and Levels 1, 2, and 3 signaled the three levels that fall short of PARCC expectations.
No statewide subgroup of Illinois students placed at or above 50% in Levels 4 and 5 within any category. The closest approach to this goal was in 4th grade, 7th grade, and 8th grade language arts, each of which saw 40% of all students scoring in Levels 4 and 5. On the other hand in the most troubled subgroup, high school math, only 19% of all students scored within Levels 4 and 5. In most subgroups, between three-fifths and four-fifths of all students scored in the challenged Levels 1, 2, and 3. In the category of PARCC high school math, more than one-half of the students tested – 54% - scored in Levels 1 or 2, signaling that the majority of the students in this group did not even approach PARCC expectations.
The 2015 PARCC results are believed to represent a statistically valid picture of all Illinois students. While extensive publicity was generated of alleged efforts to boycott the test, the ISBE reports that all but 4.4% of statewide students assigned to age groups within the PARCC universe did take the test. Noncompliance increased to 11% in Chicago. Federal law requires that at least 95% of a given state’s student population take the tests that are used to measure the state’s compliance with Common Core or any comparable interstate achievement baseline, and Illinois’ PARCC compliance met this federal standard. At the same time, the act of encouraging mass compliance with a test regimen proved to be controversial in 2015, especially among parents and educators who also express concern about the “Common Core” as a whole.
The 2015 PARCC test generated results that fell sharply below the levels reported by the student populations that took the ISAT and PSAE tests that school districts were authorized to use in 2014. In 2014, 56% of 11th graders met or exceeded PSAE Language Arts standards, while in 2015 the comparable percentage of high school students meeting language arts PARCC standards was only 35%. The State Board of Education has stated, however, that the ISAT/PSAE results are not compatible with each other. The PARCC tests were completely different examinations, and their administration required each school to alter the protocol for administering the test. The test-taking skills enjoyed by students who took prior tests could not be transferred smoothly over to the new class of exams. The closely-followed Illinois test results were released on Friday, December 11.
Education – ACT Test
- Rep. Unes files bill to require ACT test as option for Illinois school districts. State Rep. Mike Unes filed HB 4362 this week, legislation that would require the State of Illinois to provide the ACT test to any high school junior who wishes to take it for purposes of measuring and demonstrating college readiness. This legislation comes after the unexpected decision made by the Illinois State Board of Education to abandon its long and successful history with the ACT by instead entering into a three-year contract with SAT. The ACT has long been the preferred college-readiness exam in states like Illinois, as it is accepted by every post-secondary institution in the nation, unlike the SAT.“I am highly disappointed that the State Board of Education would make such a decision that is so strongly opposed by local school districts, and which offers no obvious net benefit to our state. The consequences of marginalizing our local school districts and our students in this manner far outweigh the immediate and insignificant cost-saving benefits of providing a test that will ultimately be useless to many area students,” said Rep. Mike Unes.By law, the Illinois State Board of Education must provide each high school student with the opportunity to take one college-readiness exam. The Board cites a modest cost-savings benefit in their decision to enter into a contract with SAT, amounting to just over $5 per student, or about $450,000 annually. Students may choose to take the ACT exam on their own; however, without this legislation proposed by Representative Unes, they will have to individually bear the cost of around $39-$57 per test. That cost is significant in area school districts such as Pekin’s 303, where 50% of its students come from households that receive means-tested State benefits.
- New law requires more boat captains to possess boating safety certificates. Under the new law, which becomes effective on January 1, 2016, the specifications of boats whose skippers are required to possess the certificates have been widened. Under the terms of SB 3433, the skippers of many boats powered by engines of 10-horse power or greater will be required to possess and maintain boating safety certification.
Many Illinois House Republicans were concerned about this bill when it was passed into law by the General Assembly majority, seeing it as another imposition of greater government regulation of Illinois family activities. The House vote in May 2014 to pass the bill was 71-42-0. Partly because of concerns raised at the time this law was enacted, the effective date was delayed for 1½ years until Jan. 1, 2016. In another concession, an exemption was carved out from the new 10-h.p. rule for boats skippered by a person born before Jan. 1, 1998 (i.e. 18 years of age or older as of January 2016).
Boating safety certificates are obtained from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) or from private providers who operate in cooperation with the Department. Information about the new rules is available on the IDNR’s Boating Safety Education website.
- New Illinois law protects pets from life-threatening heat or cold. SB 125 makes the act of leaving a dog or cat companion animal in an inhumane environment (such as a locked car in summertime) a Class A misdemeanor. If the dog or cat is placed in a life-threatening situation for a prolonged period of time in extreme heat or cold conditions, and the conditions cause an injury to or the death of the companion animal, the offense has been committed. If a perpetrator is charged with this Class A misdemeanor, he or she could be sentenced to up to 1 year in county jail, as well as being required to pay a fine of up to $2,500.
- Families can install cameras in nursing homes to monitor safety of loved ones. Under the terms of HB 2462, families will be able – for the first time – to legally install monitoring cameras in the nursing home rooms occupied by their loved ones. The cameras will have the capability to stream video to an observant family member. In House debate, supporters of the bill told their colleagues that the measure will sharply increase the peace of mind of family members who will utilize the new law to monitor the safety of their loved ones. Similar cameras and video streams are often used, under existing law, by Illinois working families to monitor the health and safety of young children in a home or day care environment.
The safety of senior citizens in nursing homes is a serious concern. Every year, the Illinois Department of Public Health receives approximately 19,000 complains of abuse and neglect against long term care facilities. While some of these complaints prove upon investigation to be unfounded, these facilities house some of Illinois’ most vulnerable residents. The new law was supported by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).
HB 2462 was approved by the Illinois House in the 2015 spring session by a vote of 96-15-0. The bill becomes effective as part of the collection of new Illinois laws effective on January 1, 2016.
- Bigger fines for moving violations. The supplemental traffic fine goes into effect on Friday, January 1. It will be imposed through a complex formula that will increase traffic fines by up to 12.5%. The formula increases by $5, from $10 to $15, a flexible surcharge that is imposed on each fine imposed for a traffic moving violation. The $15 surcharge will be charged on each $40 of the base fine. The new language was enacted in spring 2015 as part of SB 1304, a bill enacted by the General Assembly to move towards universal placement of body cameras on law enforcement officers when carrying out most of their official duties.
Many police forces had expressed concerns about a State body camera mandate, starting that their stretched budgets could not pay for the expensive devices. As a result, a decision was made to create an alternate funding pathway. The monies raised by the fine will be allocated to a special State fund, the Law Enforcement Camera Grant Fund, which will provide resources to purchase body cameras for police officers and police forces. The fine supplement will not be levied on parking, registration, or pedestrian offenses.
Volunteers – Illinois #1
- Illinois residents volunteer numbers, time at a rate that exceeds other top-5 states. The numbers released on Thursday, December 17 by the Serve Illinois Commission on Volunteerism and Community Service included an hour-count of more than 274 million hours of service time volunteered by Illinois residents in 2014. The service hours were donated by 2.5 million Illinoisans. Their time, valued at $6.8 billion, helped make Illinois the top-volunteering state out of the most populated states in the top tier of the U.S. census. Smaller and rural states tended to demonstrate a higher overall rate of volunteer activities than larger ones.
The Serve Illinois numbers were released in cooperation with the national Corporation for National and Community Service. The CNCS summary for Illinois contains informational data on the current state of volunteering in the Land of Lincoln. Illinois volunteering activities include tutoring, fundraising, and the collection and distribution of food to the hungry. Bodies that organize Illinois volunteer work include churches and synagogues, schools, social service agencies, and health-care institutions.
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