Week in Review for August 23, 2019

School bus safety law helps protect Illinois students. The nation was horrified last fall by the story of a girl and her younger twin brothers who were struck and killed on the side of a highway while attempting to board a school bus in Rochester, Indiana. The heartbreaking story was made even worse by the knowledge that it was not the only such incident in the United States in the recent past. That same week there were fatal bus stop accidents in Mississippi and Pennsylvania, and another crash in Florida in which three students were seriously injured.

After an accident a few days later in Kentucky in which two more students were struck and injured by a passing car, local media reported the findings of a study that “estimated more than 15 million drivers passed a school bus when it was stopped, lights flashing and stop arm extended last school year alone.”

Illinois law requires a driver to stop “before meeting or overtaking, from either direction, any school bus stopped on a highway, roadway, private road, parking lot, school property or at any other location, including, without limitation, a location that is not a highway or roadway for the purpose of receiving or discharging pupils. Such stop is required before reaching the school bus when there is in operation on the school bus the visual signals,” specified in state law. Every state in the union has a similar law.

School buses are equipped with flashing lights and an extended “stop” arm on the side of the bus as a way of attracting the attention of other motorists, who must stop before reaching the location of the bus if such signals are engaged.

In the wake of last fall’s tragedies, freshman Rep. Darren Bailey, a former 17-year member of his local school board, was concerned that in spite of the law, the message just wasn’t getting through; and kids were paying the price. He heard from constituents with similar concerns, and introduced House Bill 1873 this spring to enact tougher penalties for those caught passing a school bus in violation of the law. Bailey said he believed toughening the penalties would serve as a better inducement for drivers to follow the law and keep schoolchildren safe.

House Bill 1873, signed into law in mid-July, increases the fines for breaking the school bus safe zone law. The fine for a first offense of driving past a stopped school bus that is signaling passenger movement is increased from $150 to $300, and a second offense within five years will result in a one-year suspension of the violator’s driver’s license and an enhanced fine. A separate new law authorizes local school districts to mount video cameras on their school buses. The school bus cameras can catch images of motor vehicles that violate the safe-zone law.

Vistra Energy announces plans to close four Illinois power plants. The plants, all of which burn coal for power, are located in Canton, Coffeen, Havana, and Hennepin, Illinois. Approximately 2,000 megawatts of power will be pulled out of the Illinois grid as a result of the plant closures, but the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) interstate power consortium (which helps make Illinois energy policy by setting the rates that are charged for electricity that crosses state lines) believes that power supplies will be adequate. In describing the move, Vistra blamed new rules issued by the Illinois Pollution Control Board (PCB) that are aimed at coal-borne air pollution and the generation of carbon dioxide (CO²). Vistra also said that MISO was no longer allowing the plants to earn an adequate return for power sold into the interstate grid.

Approximately 300 Downstate Illinois workers are affected by the Vistra announcement. House Republican members joined together to offer job information and retraining opportunities to affected personnel. Vistra stated that their coal-originated emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO²) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) will drop by up to 61% once the four shutdowns are completed. The lost electrical power is slated to be replaced by electricity generated from natural gas and, to a lesser extent, from renewable energy sources such as wind turbine farms.

Representative Avery Bourne is one of the Downstate Illinois lawmakers whose constituents will be affected by this decision. “Today we see the effects of a democratic governor and democratic supermajorities who prioritize a radical environmental agenda over affordable energy and good-paying jobs,” Bourne said. “During his campaign, Governor Pritzker promised to completely eradicate coal and this is the first step. I’m disappointed that the Pritzker administration forced Vistra to close 40% of their downstate fleet of power plants. This is another example of Illinois’ job-killing environment. The closure of Coffeen’s coal plants is devastating to our local economy and the closure of all four plants will mean downstate Illinois loses production of affordable and reliable energy.”

The Havana Power Plant slated for closure is in Representative Norine Hammond’s district. “I’m deeply disappointed in the decision to force the closure of the Havana coal plant,” said Rep. Hammond. “This was a political decision that was entirely avoidable. While I intend to do everything possible to support the workers and communities impacted, I also call on Governor Pritzker’s Administration to release a plan to ensure the job security of the plant employees and local property tax base in Mason County.”

The coal turbine shutdowns and job layoffs are expected to take place during the fall and winter of 2019-2020. The process of applying for and getting permits for the shutdowns is not yet completed. The Vistra announcement was made on Wednesday, August 21.

Alleged lead contamination in University Park public water supply. The allegation, filed by the Illinois Attorney General, claims that the private firm Aqua Illinois made changes to its drinking water supply and drinking water additives that may have caused lead to leach out of old-fashioned pipes in the water provided to some residents of the suburb of University Park.

The alleged conduct was similar to the conduct followed in a recent water case in Flint, Michigan. In Flint, a water supplier switched the original source of their piped water supply to a local river that provided copious supplies of slightly corrosive water. Additives then added to the river water increased the fluid’s slightly corrosive properties, making it possible for small quantities of lead to dissolve into the supply. It is alleged that similar events took place in University Park. The Attorney General’s lawsuit was filed on Friday, August 16.

Public health warning against blue-green algae. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Public Health are reminding residents to exercise caution if they are planning activities on Illinois waterways, including lakes, rivers, streams and ponds. During summer months, water conditions are ideal for blue-green algae growth (also known as cyanobacteria), which are microscopic organisms that naturally occur in lakes and streams. Rapid growth of algae is referred to as a "bloom." While most blue-green algae are a natural part of our ecosystems and are harmless, some can produce toxic chemicals that cause sickness or other health effects in people and pets, depending on the amount and type of exposure. National news reports are stressing the dangers of algal toxin exposure following reports of illnesses and dog deaths after contact with blue-green algae blooms.

Each year, Illinois officials work to raise awareness of the dangers of harmful algal blooms through an annual news release and information made available online. Residents are reminded to use caution when recreating on Illinois waterways, especially at this time of year when blue-green algae blooms are most prevalent. When a blue-green algae bloom has been confirmed, local officials are advised to post appropriate signage to warn residents to avoid contact with affected waters; however, not all blooms are reported to state officials. Therefore, residents must be aware and avoid contact with suspicious looking water.

People who plan to recreate in or on Illinois waters this summer are advised to avoid contact with water that:
  • looks like spilled green or blue-green paint;
  • has surface scums, mats, or films;
  • is discolored or has green-colored streaks; or
  • has greenish globs suspended in the water below the surface.
People are also advised to keep children and pets out of the water. Do not allow pets to drink from the water and do not allow them to lick their fur after swimming in water containing a blue-green algae bloom. If you or your pet has contact with water you suspect may have a blue-green algae bloom, rinse off with clean, fresh water as soon as possible.

For additional information about harmful algal blooms, please visit the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency’s Harmful Algal Bloom website.

Governor signs bill allowing schools to supply undesignated glucagon. On Monday, Governor Pritzker signed legislation allowing schools across the state to store an undesignated supply of glucagon to treat students with diabetes.

Under the new law, undesignated glucagon must be stored in a location immediately accessible to a school nurse or a designated care aid who can administer it to a student if authorized and if the student's prescribed glucagon is not available on-site or expired. After the administration of undesignated glucagon, a school must immediately notify the student's parent, guardian or emergency contact.

House Bill 822 was co-sponsored by House Republican Leader Jim Durkin.

Del Monte cannery in Mendota to close. The plant, located in northwestern LaSalle County, packs vegetables for grocery stores. When the plant shuts down at the end of the 2019 growing season, up to 680 jobs – including 550 seasonal jobs – will be affected. The plant specializes in canned sweet corn. Del Monte described the move as a necessary restructuring in line with changes in the U.S. consumer marketplace. The firm simultaneously announced plant closings and disposals in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Mendota has long made sweet corn a key element of its community identity, and the city hosts the Mendota Sweet Corn Festival during the second weekend of August.

Jobs up in all metro areas. The number of nonfarm jobs increased in all fourteen Illinois metropolitan areas in July, according to preliminary data released Thursday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES). Data also shows the unemployment rate decreased over-the-year in July in eleven Illinois metropolitan areas, increased in one and was unchanged in two.

Illinois businesses added jobs in all fourteen metro areas, with the largest percentage increases in: Carbondale-Marion (+2.3%, +1,300), Lake - Kenosha (+2.3%, +9,900), Danville (+2.2%, +600), and Rockford (+2.0%, +3,000). The Chicago-Naperville-Arlington Heights metro division was up (+1.3% or +47,700).

New law targets online sexual harassment. Sponsored by Representative Avery Bourne, HB 2408 creates the Removal of Private Compromising Images Act and directs persons not to post a private compromising image of another person online. The new Act further provides a process by which a person may file a petition for a take-down order if the person discovers that a private compromising image of himself or herself is posted online. It directs the court, upon finding of fact, to enter a take-down order. It also provides for liability for damages, at the discretion of the court, against any person who is found to have posted a private compromising image of another person.

Bourne’s House colleagues unanimously approved HB 2408 in the spring 2019 session and it was signed into law on Friday, August 16 as PA. 101-385.

DuQuoin State Fair runs through end of August. The DuQuoin State Fair, which began on Thursday, will continue through Monday, September 2. “Southern Illinois’ State Fair” features motorsports and motor events, music, festival food, rides, and animal showings. Located on the historic “Illinois Central Line” railroad tracks in southeast Perry County, Du Quoin is 84 miles southeast of St. Louis. Nearby attractions include Pyramid State Recreation Area, which at 19,701 acres is one of Illinois’ largest state parkland areas. To the south in Jackson County, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, the Shawnee National Forest, and the 11-winery Shawnee Wine Trail attract further visitors.

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