In what could be a major development in the bitter race for governor, a federal prosecutor has cleared the way for state lawmakers to resume hearings on Gov. Pat Quinn's controversial Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, and Republicans are immediately pressing to do so. In a phone interview, Sharon Paul, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of Illinois...

Read the entire story by Greg Hinz in Crain's Chicago Business.
In the wake of the latest possible data breaches, the Better Business Bureau offers the following suggestion for consumers concerned that their credit or debit cards may have been compromised by a retail or online data breach.

  • Stay calm. Consumers are not liable for fraudulent charges on stolen account numbers.
  • Check with the website of the retailer for the latest information. Type the store name directly into your browser. Do NOT click on a link from an email or social media message. 
Economy – food stamps
Count of new Illinois food stamp recipients exceeds count of new jobs created in Illinois. Throughout the United States, both food stamp application numbers and new job creation numbers are carefully tracked, and their ratio yields a picture of the overall economic activity of each state. Data from the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that in Illinois, starting from the base year of 2010, food-stamp enrollment has outpaced job creation by a rate of two to one; for every new job created during this four-year period, two Illinoisans have been forced to demonstrate eligibility and apply for food stamps. This four-year period coincides with the period designated by nationwide economists as the “economic recovery” from the so-called Great Recession.
State Representative Barbara Wheeler (R-Crystal Lake) has asked the Chairwoman of the Illinois House’ Elementary & Secondary Education Committee to reschedule an ill-timed hearing into the feasibility of the State Board of Education taking over the functions of the Illinois High School Athletics Association (IHSA).

The Elementary & Secondary Education Committee, chaired by Representative Linda Chapa LaVia (D-Aurora) has scheduled a meeting for 4:00 PM this Friday at a Chicago south-side high school to gather testimony on the issue.

“This is a blatant example of political shenanigans at its finest,” said Wheeler. Read more here.
Legislation recently introduced by State Representative Raymond Poe (R-Springfield) will ensure that state retirees receive a full refund for any contributions made to their health insurance premium.  Poe’s legislation stems from an Illinois Supreme Court decision that found state-subsidized retiree health insurance premiums are a protected benefit under the Illinois Constitution.  A law enacted in 2012 began the practice of requiring current retirees to make health insurance premium contributions.  Read more.

Hoping to highlight his district's role as the top pumpkin producing region in the nation, a state lawmaker from Tazewell County wants to make pumpkin pie the official state pie.

State Rep. Keith Sommer, R-Morton, introduced the legislation in anticipation of his hometown's annual pumpkin festival, which was held last weekend.

"I recognize we have much more serious business to do as a state. But in celebration of the festival, I thought it was appropriate," Sommer said Wednesday.

If approved, the official designation for pumpkin pie will join other state symbols, such as the official state snack food of popcorn.

Sommer said he enjoys a slice of pumpkin pie, primarily because he knows much of the canned pumpkin distributed in the U.S. is processed at the Nestle USA Libby's plant in Morton.

Read the entire story in the Pantagraph.
State Rep. David McSweeney has proposed legislation that would give another option for the Attorney General's office to look into possible violations of the Open Meetings Act.

Currently, Illinois state law says if someone believes there is a violation of the open meetings act, he needs to file a request for review within 60 days of the alleged violation. The problem is that because of laws regarding when public bodies must disclose their closed session minutes, it's difficult to suspect when a violation took place.

McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, is proposing that if the alleged violation isn't discovered within the initial 60-day period, someone can request for a review 60 days after the discovery of the alleged violation. Read the entire story by Joseph Bustos in the Northwest Herald.
Chicago – NRI
Federal subpoena against Quinn agency responsible for NRI.  A federal prosecutor based in Chicago has issued a subpoena against the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, a State panel that monitors funding for crime-fighting activities statewide.  The subpoena was dated August 27 and was made public on Tuesday, September 18.  The Authority was the successor-in-interest to the 2010 Neighborhood Recovery Initiative (NRI), a $54.5-million program funded by Democrats in the Illinois General Assembly that targeted State taxpayer general funds toward social-work initiatives.
In June, Governor Pat Quinn announced that he would sell off portion of the state's air fleet.  At the time, State Representative Bill Mitchell (R-Forsyth) a long-time critic of the state-owned airplanes, called the move "a step in the right direction" but believed the State should go even further.

After part of the air fleet was put up for auction earlier this week, Rep. Mitchell sent a letter to the Governor urging him to sell the entire executive fleet of state-owned aircraft imploring “it’s time to put an end to these perks of political power.”

In Fiscal Year 2014, the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) spent more than $7 million to operate and maintain the State’s fleet of aircraft. IDOT has spent nearly $33 million over the last five years on the air fleet, while costs have gone up by 35 percent. Mitchell feels the daily plane shuttles between Chicago and Springfield are a waste of taxpayer dollars and should be stopped.
Democrats are meeting in secret, behind closed doors this summer to discuss fundamental changes to the way education is funded in Illinois. As parents and taxpayers, we should be worried — very worried.

History has shown that lame duck sessions are notoriously dangerous for taxpayers. Are these secret meetings a prelude to higher taxes during the upcoming lame duck session?

We are told the basis for discussion by Democrats is Senate Bill 16. Introduced last spring, the bill would shift revenues among school districts and weaken local control. It was never called for a vote in the House and changes to the bill by Democrats will likely look much different. While I appreciate the Senate sponsor’s good intentions and his willingness to take on this issue, his proposal gives to some school districts by taking away from others. If our goal is to provide every student in Illinois with the best possible education, we must strive to build up districts in need without tearing down those who are already doing a good job.

As written, Senate Bill 16 does not provide fair and equitable funding across-the-board. It simply picks new winners and losers. Among the losers would be many suburban and larger downstate school districts whose property taxpayers are already footing a larger share of the bill. Read the entire guest column by House Minority Leader Jim Durkin in the Daily Herald.

In its attempt to get to know each of our elected officials better, INN recently conducted a Q and A session with State Rep. Mike Fortner, R-West Chicago. Here’s what he had to say:

What’s one thing you’re proud of from the Illinois legislature in recent sessions?

“I think the fact that we were able to work on a bipartisan basis to get the fracking bill done was really good. We did it in a way that brought both industry and environmental groups to the table to produce a fully negotiated bill. It’s been slow going since then, but this is an example of a successful bill coming out of a situation where all stakeholders were included in the discussion.”

What’s the biggest problem the state faces and what is the solution?

“Well I’m not sure what the solution is, but in my mind the state of our budget – that we can’t get a handle on doing things in a consistent way so that we can stay abreast of our revenues. Sometimes we do well for a year or so but usually we go back to borrowing from the future to pay for what we want now.” Read more by Brady Cremeens on the Illinois News Network.
A legislative panel said Tuesday that it wants more time to decide whether rules written by the Department of Natural Resources to govern hydraulic fracturing in Illinois can take effect.

The legislature's Joint Committee on Administrative Rules received proposed rules for high-volume oil and gas extraction from the DNR on Aug. 29, after the agency reworded some rules based on more than 30,000 comments on it original draft. But industry and environmental groups said they would ask JCAR to seek dozens of changes.

The panel originally had 45 days --until mid-October -- to act on the rules, but exercised a 45-day extension, asking the DNR to ensure the rules comply with the intent of a law passed last year after intense negotiations that included industry and environmental groups. Read the AP story in the Daily Herald.
Today the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR) unanimously agreed to delay implementation of the controversial rules on Hydraulic Fracturing in Illinois proposed by Governor Quinn’s administration. Instead they sent the rules back to The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) for changes. Some members felt the current proposed rules were in direct conflict with a carefully negotiated law signed into effect in 2013. JCAR is tasked with ensuring administrative rules comply with state statute.

A new subpoena seeking records about Gov. Pat Quinn's botched 2010 anti-violence program has been issued, this time from a federal grand jury based in Chicago.

The request marks the first subpoena issued by Chicago-based federal authorities in the probe into Quinn's $54.5 million Neighborhood Recovery Initiative. Numerous prior subpoenas had come from federal authorities in Springfield.

(The development means an additional set of federal authorities are looking into Quinn's $54.5 million Neighborhood Recovery Initiative beyond those working on a probe in progress in Springfield.)

The federal grand jury in Springfield has subpoenaed emails from the governor's former chief of staff, Jack Lavin, and several others heavily involved in implementing the program. The administration did not respond immediately to requests for comment today. Ray Long and Monique Garcia have the story in the Chicago Tribune.
Waist-high weeds and a crumbling old Chevy mark the entrance to a rust-colored factory complex on the edge of town here, seemingly another monument to the passing of the golden age of American industry.

But deep inside the 14-acre site, the thwack-thwack-thwack sound of metal on metal tells a different story.

“We’re holding our own,” said Greg Hess, who is looking to hire draftsmen and machine operators at the company he runs, Youngstown Bending and Rolling. “I feel good that we saved this place from the wrecking ball.”

The turnaround is part of a transformation spreading across the heartland of the nation, driven by a surge in domestic oil and gas production that is changing the economic calculus for old industries and downtrodden cities alike.  Nelson D. Schwartz has the story in the New York Times.

Downstate – Fracking Rules 
Fracking advocates call for new rules. Horizontal drilling into shale beds for Illinois oil and gas (fracking) was legalized by SB 1715 in spring 2013. Implementation of fracking was delayed for more than one year, however, because the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), an arm of the Quinn administration, was writing administrative rules to implement the new law and enable engineering crews to apply for drilling permits.
By Rep. Barb Wheeler

While slavery is illegal across the globe, a modern-day version of slavery is thriving in the United States and even in our own communities. This form of slavery manifests itself primarily through human trafficking, which is the buying, selling and smuggling of people to profit from their forced labor or sexual servitude. While every state criminalizes at least some forms of trafficking activity, legislators across the nation continue to explore new ways to combat traffickers and provide support for victims. Read more.

Illinois’ pension liability as a percentage of state revenue is far and away the nation’s highest, according to a new report from a major credit-rating agency.

The state’s three-year average liability over revenue is 258 percent, Moody’s Investors Service says.

The next closest? Connecticut, at about 200 percent.

The Moody’s report averaged the Illinois percentage from 2010 through 2012. In 2012 alone, the state’s rate was 318 percent.

The state has a $100 billion deficit in the amount of money that should be invested in the portfolios of five state-employee pension accounts. Lawmakers adopted an overhaul plan last fall that cuts benefits and increases worker contributions to significantly cut that debt.

But the law has been challenged in court. A Sangamon County judge indicated last week he wants the case moved swiftly to appellate courts, suggesting the Illinois Supreme Court’s rejection in July of a law affecting retiree health insurance could prove a model for the pension challenge. Read the AP story in the Chicago SunTimes.
Energy – Fracking 
New Quinn fracking rules seen as stalling budding industry in Illinois. The General Assembly enacted legislation in 2013 to add Illinois to the list of U.S. states that utilize horizontal hydraulic “fracking” shale drill operations to increase production of crude oil and natural gas. This is the technology used successfully in North Dakota, Texas, and other states. With the help of fracking technology, U.S. crude oil production has increased to 8.4 million barrels per day and natural gas produced has increased to 328 billion cubic feet per day. The United States is now the world’s largest producer of natural gas and gas liquids.
Complaining they were “misled,” Illinois House Republicans are asking Gov. Pat Quinn not to enforce a significant new business tax they helped create a few months ago."There's anger,” House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, said in an interview. “People are upset.” he co-chaired earlier this year on business tax reform issues. “It's going to be very difficult to trust the administration in the future when they seek a technical change.” Read the entire story by Paul Merrion in Crain's Chicago Business.
Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration Wednesday turned down a bid by a Downstate Republican to search state computer servers personally for any unreleased emails related to the governor’s Neighborhood Recovery Initiative anti-violence program.

Rep. David Reis, R-Willow Hill, was not given access to state email systems by officials at the state Department of Central Management Services, who cited state and federal law and security concerns as the basis for their decision. Read more.
Legislation that will help cooperatives grow and expand in Illinois has been signed into law by Governor Quinn.

Cooperatives operate for the benefit and mutual gain of members/shareholders, who purchase shares in exchange for having a voice in how the cooperative operates. In most cases, they allow shareholders to purchase products and services as a lowest-possible cost.

The new law, signed by Quinn on August 26 as Public Act 98-1122, amends the Cooperative Act to increase the following values:

The number of shares for which a person may control from 5 to 10
The maximum price per share from $100 to $1,000
The maximum value of stock one stockholder may control from $500 to $10,000

Read more.
It had been 437 days since the wait began for Illinois' rules governing the high-impact form of oil and gas drilling, also known as hydraulic fracturing.

On Friday, they were finally dropped off at the state committee charged with their approval.

And then another clock began ticking: 77 days for the Illinois legislature's Joint Committee on Administrative Rules to approve the rules. If it fails to approve them, the process starts all over again.

For now, highlights from the package include:

  • Strengthened public disclosure rules for water volumes and fracking chemicals.
  • Public hearings for fracking permits take place in the county where the drilling would occur.
  • Public information in cases of water pollution.
  • Stronger penalties for violations.
  • Expanded rules covering fracking that doesn't use water.
  • A requirement that toxic flow-back materials are not stored in open pits for more than seven days.

Julie Wernau has the rest of the story in the Chicago Tribune.