Week in Review: DCFS, agriculture, FOID & more


Embattled DCFS director grilled by Legislative Audit Commission over massive failures. Since December, nine children have died under DCFS' watch. Meanwhile, DCFS Director Marc Smith has been held in contempt of court 12 times for failing to place children in state care appropriately.
  On Tuesday, Director Smith and DCFS staff appeared before the bipartisan Legislative Audit Commission to answer for troubling missteps outlined in recent State audits of the agency. According to CBS 2 Chicago and other media reports, Smith was grilled by legislators over the agency’s massive and repeated failures to protect children under its care.

DCFS Director Marc Smith, the head of the state's child welfare department grades his agency as: "One of the best child welfare systems in the country."

Legislators overseeing DCFS see it differently.

"You are delusional," said State Sen. Chapin Rose (R-Champaign). "The facts are that other states' directors and agencies don't get held in contempt of court over 10 times for being non-responsive."

"Who's driving this boat here?" asked State Rep. Tony McCombie (R-Sterling). "Who's supervising? Who's leading?"

Since December, nine kids on the radar of Illinois DCFS have died.

Several audits of the department reveal glaring problems: 48% of kids that are victims of child abuse or neglect related to substance abuse did not have their cases handed to state's attorneys for review as they're supposed to.

In 98% of cases, DCFS was unable to provide home safety checklists and 100% of employees and contractors had no receipt or acknowledgement of DCFS policies.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin has repeatedly called for Director Smith’s resignation and a complete restructuring of DCFS. Thus far, those calls have gone unanswered by Governor Pritzker and his administration. No more excuses, it is clear that the leadership and policies at the agency need to change immediately to protect Illinois' most vulnerable children.

Research heads to market on cress cover crops; buyers appear. For more than a decade, enthusiasts have touted the potential value to Illinois farmland of a cold-weather stalk weed, field pennycress. Pennycress is adapted to the climate after corn is harvested in the fall and before new kernels are planted next spring. The fast-growing plant, if planted as an off-season cover crop, will send out late fall roots and discourage topsoil erosion during field downtime. Furthermore, the cress will then produce spring seedpods that can be pressed for biofuel oil.

Despite its potential value, until 2022 little pennycress has been planted in Illinois. There has been little demand for cress oil, and few or no Illinois elevators or buyers have offered to buy cress pods or seeds. This summer, however, reports came that Bunge, the sunflower/canola merchant, will start buying cress seeds. Bunge has inked a deal with Chevron, the oil giant, which is urgently seeking opportunities in biofuels. Chevron says it will process cress seed at its plant in Cairo, Illinois. From Cairo, cargoes can be shipped to biodiesel distributers throughout the eastern United States.

The pennycress that Bunge will buy will have to be a specific hybrid type called Covercress. Farmers will have to purchase Covercress seed, a patented, intellectual-property seed, in order to grow a salable cover crop. A spokesperson for Illinois State University says that Covercress was developed after more than seven years of federally-supported field studies and research. This institutional research project has generated a crop that is said to be ready for market expansion. Seed salespeople says that 1,000 acres of the new cress were harvested in Illinois in spring 2022, generating seed for planting 10,000 acres of cover crop in fall 2022. Enthusiasts believe that, with potentially booming demand for cress-oil biodiesel fuel, as many as 3 million Illinois acres could be planted to cress by 2030.

Illinois State Police changes FOID card “clear and present danger” standard. Current law makes possession of a Firearm Owners Identification (FOID) card a requirement for possessing or carrying a firearm. Illinois residents apply to the State Police to present identification information before being issued a FOID card, which must be presented whenever a resident seeks to buy or take possession of a firearm in Illinois.

The presumption, under Illinois law, is that most persons who apply for an FOID card ought to get one. Exceptions include the authority granted, by current law, to the State Police not to issue an FOID card to any person who is a “clear and present danger” to others. “Clear and present danger” is a legal term that can be expanded or shrunk. The State Police has now promulgated a rulemaking to expand the definition of “clear and present danger” to prevent likely dangerous individuals from receiving a FOID card to purchase firearms. The new language strikes out old language that defined “clear and present danger” as involving an actual, impending, or imminent threat of substantial bodily harm to themselves or another person. Instead, the new standard adopted by the State Police will allow any violent, suicidal, or assaultive threat, even if not immediate or imminent, to stop the issuance of an FOID card.

The new State Police language was adopted by emergency rule, which means that it is already in effect. The emergency rule will remain in effect for no more than 150 days, which will be a period of time required to write the new language in the form of a permanent rule up for public comment. Persons throughout Illinois will have the chance to comment on the new rules language when it comes out. These comments will not, however, affect the current emergency rule. The State Police emergency rule was published on Monday, July 18.

Illinois unemployment at 4.5%, higher than national average. The Department of Employment Security (IDES) has published preliminary Illinois unemployment-rate numbers for June 2022. Unemployment was 4.5% in June, below recent pandemic-affected levels but significantly higher than comparable unemployment rates published in neighboring states in the same month. In addition, the 4.5% Illinois unemployment rate was 90 basis points higher than the U.S. national rate of 3.6%.

Compared to the pandemic-affected June 2021 jobs picture, overall Illinois nonfarm employment was up by 245,700 jobs statewide. The Leisure and Hospitality sector, which includes restaurants and other places that sell prepared food, led the way by creating 79,900 net new jobs over the twelve-month period. The high-paying Professional and Business Services sector created 51,100 new Illinois jobs.

However, job creation was even healthier in states around Illinois, with many of these states noting record-low unemployment numbers. In Indiana, the June 2022 unemployment rate was 2.4%; in Iowa, 2.6%; in Kentucky, 3.7%; in Missouri, 2.8%; and in Wisconsin, 2.9%.

Looking at specific Illinois metro areas, several areas continued to post unemployment numbers in June 2022 that indicated widespread unemployment and local recession conditions in some sectors. Examples were Danville (5.5%), Decatur (6.5%), Kankakee (5.3%), and Rockford (6.6%). Hard-hit Illinois metro areas continued to be those with a traditional reliance on manufacturing.

In revised deal, Chicago’s James R. Thompson Center (JRTC) will be sold to Google. The transaction has reached the public intent-to-purchase stage, with tech giant Google finding an iconic Chicago structure to serve as flexible office space. Google currently operates an office of more than 1,800 employees in Fulton Market, in downtown Chicago well west of the Loop. For more than thirty years, the Thompson Center has been the State of Illinois’ chief in-house office location within the city of Chicago. As such, the State has been the recognizable building’s sole office occupant. After the transition represented by this week’s announcement is completed and the remaining State employees leave the Thompson Center, Google will be the sole occupant, and will control visual rights to the structure’s unusual layout and iconography. Google will pay $105 million for the building.

The sale announcement marks the successful end of a push by House Republicans, led by Leader Jim Durkin, to reduce or eliminate the State’s space in the physically troubled Thompson Center. The unusually shaped and glassed-in structure was architecturally designed by the late Helmut Jahn. The Thompson Center opened in 1985, with the building subsequently named after then-Illinois Governor James R. Thompson. However, the office building had chronically leaky windows and major HVAC issues. Google is expected to perform a gut rehab on the building, alleviating its problems while enabling the preservation of its architectural vision. State workers are moving, or have moved, to other office spaces within downtown Chicago. The Thompson Center sale announcement was made on Wednesday, July 27.

Expirations for Illinois drivers’ licenses/ID cards extended until December 1, 2022.

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as well as federal REAL ID requirements, the Office of Illinois Secretary of State has announced a further extension in the lifespan of drivers’ licenses and identification cards until December 1, 2022. This postpones the previous deadline, which had been July 31, 2022.

In addition, Illinois residents whose goal is simply to “roll over” their existing driver’s license or ID card are being encouraged to file their renewal applications online. This online renewal process, for those who are eligible, will replace the requirement under current law that the renewal applicant show up at a Driver Services facility in person.

This extension and online application opportunity does not apply to all drivers in all conditions. Applications for commercial drivers’ licenses (CDLs) and CDL learners’ permits must obey existing time requirements and deadlines. First-time license/ID-card applicants, and those who are seeking to switch over from a non-REAL ID-compliant card to a REAL-ID compliant card, will continue to have to visit a facility in person to submit documents to verify their identities.