Week in Review for week of March 29, 2018

ADM, Deere, Caterpillar honored as top Illinois firms. The honor was published in “Illinois Top 200,” a series of online surveys enabling Illinois respondents to honor local leadership activities, institutions, and experiences. Illinois respondents were asked to honor their favorite “homegrown companies,” in a list that also included McDonald’s, Walgreens, Rand McNally, DeKalb AgResearch, Sears, State Farm, and Dairy Queen.

The three named firms – ADM, Deere, and Caterpillar – all share a historic orientation toward Illinois agriculture and heavy-industry engineering. ADM helped make Illinois corn oil and soy-based protein into global commodities, while Deere & Co. helped invent the machines that grow the corn and soybean crops that are used to grind or press out the oil and protein meal that Illinois crops produce. Like Deere, Caterpillar makes heavy off-road machinery used around the world.

Illinois Top 200” is now welcoming votes for top inventions and innovations. Candidates include farm silos, blood banks, plasma display screens, and pinball entertainment machines. Votes will be accepted until Friday, March 30.

Illinois unemployment dips in February. The Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) announced last week that the unemployment rate decreased by -0.1 percentage point to 4.7 percent in February and nonfarm payrolls increased by +15,200 jobs over-the-month, based on preliminary data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and released by IDES. January jobs were revised down to show a slight drop (-1,300 jobs) rather than a slight gain as initially reported (+200 jobs).

Job growth improved in the December to February period posting average monthly gains of +4,400 jobs, an increase over the prior three-month period (September to November 2017) with average monthly gains of +3,100 jobs.

“Illinois job growth is starting the year off with stronger momentum as average growth has picked up in early 2018,” said IDES Director Jeff Mays. “At the same time, the unemployment rate has declined to an 11-year low.”

“The work of the administration is paying off as employers around the world look to Illinois to expand their business,” said Director of the Illinois Department of Commerce Sean McCarthy. “Our goal is to continue to build upon these positive results by attracting investment and creating good paying jobs for all Illinoisans.”

The state’s unemployment rate is +0.6 percentage points higher than the national unemployment rate reported for February 2018, which held at 4.1 percent. The Illinois unemployment rate is down -0.4 percentage points from a year ago when it was 5.1 percent. The Illinois jobless rate last stood at 4.7 percent in April 2007.

The number of unemployed workers dipped -2.0 percent from the prior month to 305,300, down -7.4 percent over the same month for the prior year. The labor force was unchanged over-the-month and also over the prior year. The unemployment rate identifies those individuals who are out of work and are seeking employment.

An individual who exhausts or is ineligible for benefits is still reflected in the unemployment rate if they actively seek work. To help connect jobseekers to employers who are hiring, IDES’ maintains the state’s largest job search engine, IllinoisJoblink.com (IJL), which recently showed 63,180 posted resumes with 190,226 jobs available.

Rep. Barb Wheeler sponsors technology-aware bill to expand definition of stalking. Stalking has grown beyond physical shadowing to also cover conduct on social media. HB 5829, sponsored by Rep. Barbara Wheeler, reflects this change by expanding the definition of these criminal acts and the course of conduct that encompasses them, to cover the sending of unwanted messages via social media such as Twitter and Facebook.

Stalking and the liability atmosphere created by this conduct are now also encompassing Illinois institutions. HB 5829 would grant standing to churches, workplaces, and schools to initiate citizen complaints intended to conclude in a charge of stalking. The Wheeler bill would also authorize a court to order that a violator subject to a stalking no contact order must submit to a mental health evaluation or wear an electronic monitoring device as a condition of receiving the no contact order.

Rep. Sommer sponsors “Safe to Learn” grant program. In response to recent acts of violence in schools nationwide, Rep. Keith Sommer is sponsoring legislation to put child safety first. The Safe to Learn grant program to be created by HB 5848 would provide state funding for safety and violence prevention programs in schools and would be overseen by the Illinois State Board of Education. HB 5848 was introduced earlier this month.

Illinois case for federal disaster declaration moves forward. A federal declaration that the February 2018 flooding event in northeastern Illinois was a disaster could unlock millions of dollars in potential federal aid to affected residents and communities. Stormwater runoff and snow melt caused significant flooding in Iroquois, Kankakee, and Vermilion counties.

Following the stormwater event, Gov. Bruce Rauner immediately issued a State disaster proclamation on Feb. 23 and asked the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) to oversee preliminary damage assessments. Reports from three affected counties counted 126 homes that were destroyed or suffered major damage. Another 850 homes were affected by the flood waters.

These reports were forwarded to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Washington, D.C. bureau that is responsible for recommending a federal declaration that a disaster has occurred. FEMA also supervises the distribution of federal aid to communities with standing to apply for relief status.

The federal agency has agreed to oversee an interagency team of disaster assessment officers to inspect flood-damaged regions of Illinois. The inspection began last week. Personnel from FEMA, IEMA, the U.S. Small Business Administration, and first responders from local governments are participating in the assessment.

Metra to renovate Chicago commuter rail station. The LaSalle Street Station, built in 1993, has a dilapidated 20,000-square-foot concourse. The commuter rail station serves the Metra Rock Island Line to Joliet, Illinois. The station is the direct descendant of the old long-distance passenger train station, also on La Salle Street, that passengers on the Rock Island Line and other major railroad lines used for passengers arriving and departing from Chicago. Although the “Twentieth Century Limited” and other legendary trains have steamed away, the current LaSalle Street Station continued to serve more than 13,000 people each weekday. The Metra announcement of the $2.95 million project was made on Tuesday, March 20 with work commencing this week and expected to continue into July.

First Illinois laws available online. When Illinois became a state in 1818, its first General Assembly had to enact a law code to govern the new state. The first law code was enacted in the then-state capitol of Kaskaskia, now a ghost town in southwestern Illinois. A law code totaling 387 pages was composed in lead type, set up letter by letter by a print shop. The law code had to provide for the needs of a frontier state. For example, a law printed on page 111 orders all county sheriffs to “quell and suppress all affrays, riots, routs and insurrections, and all species of crimes and breaches of the peace.”

Copies of the 1819 law code continue to exist to this day and can be accessed through the “Laws of Illinois” website operated by Western Illinois University (WIU). The Laws of Illinois website, which provides access to laws and legal texts from throughout Illinois’ history, was recognized this week as an official Illinois Bicentennial Project.

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