Week in Review for April 13 - April 17, 2015

Tornado Outbreak – Rochelle Area
Tornado that hit Rochelle and Fairdale classified as EF-4 twister. The classification placed the deadly April 9 Fairdale tornado in the next-to-the-highest category of storm severity. As of Wednesday, April 15, two persons were confirmed dead. Massive property damage was being inventoried assessed. Governor Bruce Rauner has mobilized the State of Illinois’ emergency-response efforts and declared DeKalb and Ogle Counties to be disaster areas.

EF-4 tornadoes are rare in Illinois, this being the first such since November 2013 in Washington, Illinois. The Fairdale tornado was the most severe of at least eight separate twisters that appeared on radar sets of the National Weather Service as the April 9 weather front passed through Illinois. Other tornadoes also caused property damage. With Belvidere, Cherry Valley, and other northern Illinois communities also affected, as of April 11 the injury count had passed 20.

For more information on ways to help the victims of this tornado outbreak, please visit The Caucus Blog.

General Assembly – Illinois House
First of two weeks of Illinois House floor action. 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.

Abraham Lincoln – 150th Anniversary 
Illinois House observes 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination and death. 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.

Led by Representative Tim Butler of Springfield, who represents an Illinois House district that is descended from Lincoln’s district, the Illinois House held a commemorative observance of the sesquicentennial of Lincoln’s death on Wednesday, April 15. This was part of overall preparations for the 150th anniversary of the return of Lincoln’s body to Springfield and reenactment of his funeral which will take place on May 2 and 3, 2015. 1,100 reenactors, and thousands of visitors from all over the United States, are expected to join in the observance.

College of DuPage – Severance Agreements
McDermed pushes bill through House. One of the elements of the College of DuPage scandal is a severance agreement reached between the former College board (since changed by a new election) and departing college President Robert L. Breuder. Efforts to seal the terms of this agreement led to overall attention being given to the issue of sealed severance agreements throughout the Illinois public sectors.

Representative Margo McDermed, starting with her experience on her township board and the Will County Board, has paid close attention to issues of openness in government. HB 303 provides that all severance agreements entered into or on behalf of a public body are public records subject to inspection and copying by the public. The documents may be redacted to remove information that is specifically exempted from the Freedom of Information Act by case law. The House vote on McDermed’s HB 303 was 114-2-0. Action taken by the House on Wednesday, April 15, sent the measure to the Senate for further discussion and action.

College of DuPage – Investigation 
Intensifying investigative action surrounding the College of DuPage. This week, a federal grand jury issued two wide-ranging subpoenas asking for a wide range of documents surrounding the embattled community college’s budgeting and spending. Typically issued on the advice of federal prosecutors, the grand jury subpoenas were revealed on Wednesday, April 15.

Sources told the Chicago Tribune that the subpoenas ask for information that could be used to scrutinize three key areas of College budgeting: administrator expenses reimbursed by public funds, contracts with the college’s fundraising foundation, and credits issued to police recruits at the college’s law enforcement academy. In recent years, the College of DuPage has increased its emphasis on the training of police officers and security professionals.

Congress – 18th District 
Governor Rauner sets amended dates for voters to fill vacancy. The post of congressman from Illinois’ 18th congressional district became vacant on Tuesday, March 31. In amended writs of special election finalized on Tuesday, April 14, Governor Bruce Rauner set dates of July 7 for the primary election to name two major-party candidates for the seat, and September 10 for the general election to allow voters to make a final selection.

The amended dates will allow for Illinois citizens living abroad, especially soldiers in combat zones, to vote by paper mail in both elections as required by law. Under the amended writs, candidates were able to file nomination papers with the State Board of Elections starting on Wednesday, April 15. At the close of business on Monday, April 20, all of the candidates for the congressional vacancy will have filed their petitions.

After the census of 2010, Illinois was allocated 18 congressional districts. Twelve of the districts are based in the Chicago area, and six represent Downstate Illinois. Illinois’ 18th district covers much of central and western Illinois, including portions of the metropolitan regions of Bloomington-Normal, Peoria, and Springfield. Abraham Lincoln used a distant ancestor of this district as his springboard to serve one term in Congress in 1847-1849.

Crime – DNA Testing
Brady moves bill to expand DNA testing of homicide victims. HB 233 brings together Illinois’ 102 county coroners/county medical examiners and the existence of new technology for DNA preservation and testing. It imposes preservation standards upon specimens taken when investigating a death and directs law enforcement to submit these specimens to a National DNA Index System-participating laboratory within 30 days.

This bill, which was developed by Representative Dan Brady with the full cooperation of county coroners and Illinois law enforcement, was unanimously approved by the Illinois House on Tuesday, April 14.

Crime – Plea Bargaining
Cabello gets House approval for bill to reform plea bargaining process. HB 2569 creates a checklist of warnings that a court and its judge will be required to go over, line by line, when a defendant pleads guilty. The warnings will enumerate various negative consequences, to the defendant, of accepting a court-record guilty plea as the disposition of their case. The judge will be required to warn the defendant of the minimum sentence that may be imposed upon them by the court as a consequence of their plea.

As a police officer, Representative John Cabello has worked extensively with criminal procedure issues and has continued this work in the Illinois House. HB 2569 was unanimously approved by the Illinois House on Tuesday, April 14.

Education – State Superintendent Appointed
State Board of Education names Tony Smith. 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).

Tony Smith, in his career as an executive educator, has often specialized in issues of math and science achievement. He is the holder of a doctorate from the University of California, and began his executive pathway as the head of the Math, Science and Technology Initiative in Emeryville, California.

Energy – Grain Belt Express
Developers file power line route map; Bourne files resolution of concern. The proposed Grain Belt Express power line would carry electricity from Kansas to an existing power grid interface point in Sullivan, Indiana. Planned to be 780 miles long, the high-tension power line is expected to carry wind-generated electricity from the Great Plains to the east. Plans to construct the line were filed on Monday, April 13 with the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC), which has the right to grant or deny permission to build.

Representative Avery Bourne was joined by two colleagues this week in filing HR 371, which urges the ICC to carefully consider the Grain Belt Express application and to determine whether it provides “clear and substantial benefits to the State of Illinois that definitively outweigh any deprivation of property rights or land value of the citizens of Illinois.” If permission is granted, the builder will have the right to enter properties and obtain easements to build the line. The ICC is required to approve or deny the proposal within 225 days.

The proposed line spans much of south-central Illinois, including right-of-way in Pike, Scott, Greene, Macoupin, Montgomery, Christian, Shelby, Cumberland, and Clark Counties. These counties cover a west-to-east belt of land that crosses Illinois north of St. Louis. The Shelby County Farm Bureau has declared its intent to oppose the power line proposal. Developers say they have inked or are negotiating deals with 14 separate wind farm developers. Declarations of intent on paper – which may not lead to the flow of actual power – encompass 20,000 megawatts of electricity.

Local Government Consolidation Task Force
Sanguinetti Task Force continues meetings. The Task Force on Local Government Consolidation and Mandate Reform, chaired by Lieutenant Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti, continued to hold meetings this week 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.

Medical Cannabis
Rauner administration continues to take action to get law ready for implementation. With rules in place to qualify closely-guarded medical cannabis cultivation centers and dispensaries, the goal now is to qualify the businesses that have undergone the extensive and time-consuming background checks required for qualification. On Tuesday, the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation announced the qualification of two Chicago dispensaries and a cultivation center.

Final implementation of Illinois medical cannabis and opening of the cannabis dispensaries awaits clearing final legal snarls that have delayed operation, including resolution of legal challenges mounted by unsuccessful applicants. Qualified cultivation centers and dispensaries will be allowed exclusivity in defined geographical districts in order to carry out their closely regulated business.

Pumpkin Pie 
Sommer bill supports unique local industry. 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.”

Four states have previously designated a state pie. They are Florida (key lime pie), Maine (blueberry pie), Massachusetts (Boston cream pie), and Vermont (apple pie).

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