Week in Review for June 17, 2018

Moody's cites 'positive' moves in new Illinois budget. The fiscal 2019 Illinois budget enacted last week includes a voluntary pension buyout plan and a boost in school funding, which are credit-positive moves for the relatively low-rated state and its school districts, Moody’s Investors Service said on Monday.

The $38.5 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins on July 1 incorporates $423 million in savings that would be generated by current or former public-sector workers choosing to accept a buyout of their pensions or a retirement benefit in exchange for cash raised by the sale of up to $1 billion of state general obligation bonds.

“The state’s buyout offer is credit positive because it will generate significant pension liability savings to the extent that employees accept the offer,” Moody’s said, adding that actual savings could fall short if participation fails to meet targets of 22 percent of vested former workers and 25 percent of retiring current workers. Read the rest of the story.

Following passage of bills, legislators work with Governor Rauner on bill signings. The final stage of enacting a bill into law is its signing by the Governor. In the 2018 spring session that ended on May 31, 612 bills – 301 House bills and 311 Senate bills – were passed by both houses of the General Assembly and sent to the Governor for final action.

House members who were the “lead sponsors” of bills passed by both houses of the General Assembly now have the duty of gathering information, answering questions from the Governor and his staff, and presenting a case that their bill should be enacted into law by signature of the Governor. Gov. Bruce Rauner is required to sign or veto all of these measures no later than 60 days after the measure is presented to him for his signature. As in previous summers, there is expected to be a series of bill signings throughout the summer of 2018. Persons interested in particular bills should keep watch on the General Assembly’s website, which updates the current status for each bill that has been passed by the General Assembly.

Meningitis vaccination push begins. As the start of college fall term approaches, public health officials are mounting a push to encourage incoming college freshmen to get vaccinated for meningitis B. The contagious neurological illness is a concern on college campuses worldwide. Public health experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that adolescents and young adults aged 16 through 23 are at particular risk of this disease. Many parents do not know that the meningitis vaccine administered to their children and adolescents can also be administered to young adults.

Illinois unemployment rate declines fifth month in a row in May. The Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) announced Thursday that the unemployment rate decreased by -0.1 percentage point to 4.3 percent in May and nonfarm payrolls increased by +8,600 jobs over-the-month, based on preliminary data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and released by IDES. The April job gain was revised down slightly from its initial report to show a smaller gain. (+2,500 jobs versus +4,700 jobs).

Job growth stabilized in the March to May period posting average monthly gains of +4,600 jobs over this three-month period, about the same as the 6-month average monthly gain of +4,500 jobs between December 2017 to May 2018.

“Through the first five months of the year, jobs are growing faster than each of the past two years,” said IDES Director Jeff Mays. “More than half of the year-to-date gain of nearly 28,000 jobs is coming from those sectors with higher-than-average wages.”

“Since Governor Rauner took office, Illinois has added 192,700 jobs and the unemployment rate has fallen 1.7 points,” said Illinois Department of Commerce Director Sean McCarthy. “We’re seeing increases in job creation, retention, and investment due to the implementation of a pro-business climate. Our work certainly continues as we look to build upon these results to generate opportunity and success for all Illinoisans.”

The state’s unemployment rate is +0.5 percentage points higher than the national unemployment rate reported for May 2018, which dropped to 3.8 percent. The Illinois unemployment rate is down -0.6 percentage points from a year ago when it was 4.9 percent. The Illinois jobless rate last stood at 4.3 percent in September 2006.

Up to 600 jobs could be created at Thomson prison in northwest Illinois. The U.S. Bureau of Prisons reports that work continues on remodeling the former Illinois correctional center in Thomson, Illinois for use as a high-security federal prison. The federal renovation of Thomson began in June 2015. The bureau’s current plans include hiring of prison personnel and commencement of operations in 2019.

In line with changing correctional needs, the “new” prison will contain specialized units for the care and treatment of inmates who are seriously ill, mentally ill, or have medical needs associated with life in late old age. Thomson is located northeast of Moline, close to Illinois’ Mississippi River boundary with Iowa.

Illinois bar approves moving toward Uniform Bar Exam. Adoption in Illinois of the standardized Uniform Bar Exam, taken by all aspiring lawyers as a condition of professional licensure, will enable persons looking toward taking this exam the opportunity to obtain standardized professional help in exam preparation. Many law school graduates take preparation courses or tutoring experiences to prepare for the high-stakes exam, and these preparations are more available to all when the aspiring lawyer knows the bar exam will follow a nationwide standard. Illinois will be the 30th state to adopt the standardized exam.

The decision of the Illinois bar to move towards the Uniform Bar Exam utilizes the convergence of many features of contract law under the Uniform Commercial Code and other statutes passed by the Illinois General Assembly. Two neighboring states, Iowa and Missouri, have already adopted the standardized bar exam. Large states that have adopted the Uniform Bar Exam include New York and North Carolina. Illinois’ aspiring lawyers will begin taking the Uniform Bar Exam in July 2019.

First Alzheimer's community forum in Illinois. June is Alzheimer's & Brain Awareness Month and groups across the country are spearheading events to raise awareness.

More than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's disease, a progressive brain disorder leading to memory loss and changes in thinking and other brain functions. That includes more than 220 thousand people in Illinois, according to the Alzheimer's Association.

The Alzheimer's Association Illinois Chapter held the first community forum at John A. Logan College Wednesday night, hoping to help bridge the gap and better serve the community. Read the rest of the story.

Widely anticipated decision imminent. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hand down a decision in the case of “Janus v. AFSCME” before the court adjourns at the end of June. Current law requires, in many cases, that an employee-participant in a workplace that has been organized by a labor union submit to mandatory paycheck deductions in order to cover the cost of operating the union’s activities. Many people believe that these mandatory deductions, for purposes that an individual employee may not favor, are a violation of the employee’s rights to free speech and free association.

The nation’s highest court could back up these assertions of constitutional right with a “Janus” decision in favor of the plaintiff. Mark Janus, a child welfare specialist who works for the State of Illinois, requests the right to opt out of AFSCME union payroll deductions. Janus and his attorneys point out that not only do these deductions pay the day-to-day operating expenses of a labor union – an entity that Janus does not wish to support – but these cash flows also create secondary support for political stances and endorsements made by the union with which Janus is not voluntarily associated and which do not represent his political positions and views.

Although “Janus” is an Illinois case, the U.S. Supreme Court has the right to make case law for all 50 states. The anticipated decision could generate landmark case law with respect to workers’ rights in a unionized workplace.

Federal grants to Illinois airports announced. The grants of nearly $12 million to three Illinois regional airports symbolize the continuing commitment of the federal and Illinois Departments of Transportation to the air infrastructure of Illinois. The grants will be used to expand or renovate runways, tarmac surfaces, and terminal buildings in the regional commercial airports of Quincy, Rockford, and Springfield.

“Wizard of Oz” voted top Illinois book in Illinois bicentennial poll. The honor was voted on by participants in the “Illinois 200” bicentennial poll series, who cast ballots for their favorite book written in Illinois. “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” was penned in Chicago by a South Dakota newspaperman, L. Frank Baum, who was looking towards a midlife career change of course as a writer of children’s fantasy. The blockbuster novel inspired Baum to spend the rest of his life writing “Oz” novels. Other books supported by poll participants included Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” and the poetic “Spoon River Anthology.”

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