Rep. Wheeler's Weekly Roundup: September 16

Jobs – Illinois labor force
·         Illinois payroll drops by 8,200 jobs in August.  The monthly jobs and unemployment report from the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) showed a 30-day drop of 8,200 in Illinois’ seasonally-adjusted nonfarm payroll jobs.  This key employment number declined from 6,016,900 in July 2016 to 6,008,700 in August. 

More than one-half, or 4,400, of the new job losses were posted by the manufacturing sector.  The making and supporting of goods assembled or packaged in factories now accounts for less than one-tenth of Illinois’ total nonfarm payroll jobs.  In August 2016, 568,400 workers labored in or around Illinois factories, less than 9.5% of Illinois’ total employment of 6.0 million.  Parts of the August job losses posted by Illinois in manufacturing, construction, mining and other sectors were made up by continued job growth in leisure, hospitality, professional services and business services.  These sectors have done well in past months in Illinois and continued to add new jobs in August 2016. 

The overall unemployment rate dropped in Illinois in August 2016 from 5.8% to 5.5%.  Much of the decline was attributed to “discouraged workers” dropping out of the labor force or leaving Illinois entirely.  Approximately 20,000 Illinois residents dropped out of the labor market in August 2016.  Illinois’ unemployment rate continued to be significantly higher than the nationwide unemployment rate of 4.9% for the same month. The IDES jobs report was released on Thursday, September 15.   

Chicago – New water and sewer tax enacted
·         City Council approves Mayor Emanuel surcharge on water, sewer bills.  The surcharge will add 29.5% to the billed amounts for all water and sewer bills sent to Chicago residents.  Money from the tax will be deposited in an underfunded pension fund operated for the benefit of Chicago municipal employees.  The new tax was enacted on Wednesday, September 14 by a City Council vote of 40-10.

The additional tax is scheduled to be phased in over a four-year period.  By the end of this ramp-up cycle, in 2020-2021, the average homeowner should expect to pay an additional $225.96 per year on his or her water and sewer bills.  The new money brought in by the tax increase, which is projected to total $240 million per year, is supposed to move Chicago toward the goal of “pension reform.”  However, Gov. Bruce Rauner has pointed out that the pension spreadsheet offered by plan proponents relies upon optimistic estimates of future rates of investment return; will take 40 years to implement; and, even at the end of this period, the severely underfunded pension plan will still not be fully funded (it is scheduled to be only 90% funded).  The additional water-and-sewer tax is on top of other tax increases previously imposed upon Chicago residents for separate pension payments, including a major property tax hike to be imposed by the Chicago Board of Education for Chicago city teachers.   

Chicago – Art Institute of Chicago
·         Major art museum honored.  The widely-read travel advice aggregation service TripAdvisor ranked the Art Institute of Chicago as the 2nd-highest-ranking art museum in the world, behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.  The list ranked Chicago’s largest art museum in a class with Russia’s Hermitage, Paris’s Musée d’Orsay and Mexico City’s National Museum of Anthropology. 

TripAdvisor’s “Travelers’ Choice Awards” are partly based on ratings granted to an attraction by the websites’ users.   The Art Institute of Chicago has substantive collections that cross a wide variety of genres and specialties, with a particular emphasis on French Impressionist and American Realist works.  The museum welcomes approximately 1.5 million visitors annually.  

Criminal law – sex offenders
·         Law enforcement admits 15% of Illinois registered sex offenders have no known address.  Under the Sex Offender Registration Act, persons adjudicated by the courts for a variety of sex offenses are required to register as sex offenders.  For a sex offender, registration requires going to that agency of local law enforcement with jurisdiction over the offender’s home address.  If the offender is employed in a different jurisdiction than his or her home address, he or she must register separately with the police force that has jurisdiction over his or her place of employment.  The duty to register is not voluntary, and failure to register is a Class 3 felony (2 to 5 years in State prison) for which the offender may be re-arrested and prosecuted.  Local police share this information with the Illinois State Police; who compile and maintain a statewide list of registered Illinois sex offenders, the Illinois State Police Sex Offender Registry.  The registry is sorted by each registrant’s name and address; and includes photographs posted online.  

Many sex offenders do not want to register, but if they are being released from prison they often have little choice.  Initial sex-offender registration is often performed, as part of the process of parole, in the course of a prisoner’s release from jail or imprisonment to a known home address.  Nearly 3,000 convicted sex offenders are registered with the Sex Offender Registry. 

However, these registered sex offenders often move from their first post-conviction address to a new address.  Many of these registered offenders fulfill their legal duty and re-register under their new address.  Currently, 455 of the 3,000 have failed to re-register.  They continue to be registered with their name, photograph, and other identifying information on file, but their current location is “unknown.”      

Domestic Violence – Patti Bellock
·         Bellock resolution recognizes Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  October 2016 will be Domestic Violence Awareness Month nationwide.  In Illinois the month is being marked by HR 1408, introduced by Representative Patti Bellock.  The resolution, introduced on Monday, September 12, supports and commends the efforts of people and organizations who work to help victims of domestic violence.     

The fight against Illinois domestic abuse is led by the health care and social service providers, court personnel and law enforcement professionals who enforce the Illinois Domestic Violence Act of 1986.  This law, which was enacted when laws against domestic abuse were not fully enforced in many parts of the U.S., governs the orders of protection and mandated access orders granted by courts throughout Illinois.   The Attorney General has posted a webpage to acquaint Illinois residents with their rights under this Act.  The State’s Department of Human Services (IDHS) operates a hotline for victims of domestic violence and those who care for them.  The hotline is toll-free and operates on a 24/7 basis.  

Education – flunking out
·         Illinois State Board of Education looks at repealing law that allows local schools to flunk out students.  The law, which is a descendant of policies that have been in place since the start of the Illinois public school system, allows school districts to drop a student age 17 and older from its enrollment roster for failing to meet minimum academic and attendance standards.  This policy is a classic example of a policy that helps the school but does not help the student, because few teenaged students that are classified as having “flunked out” ever recover their academic standing.  Many of them see themselves as high school drop-outs.  Aware of this, some Illinois school districts have already adopted policies on their own that either minimize or do not provide for ‘flunking out.’   Instead, they classify each challenged student and provide them with open-ended invitations to continue their schooling.   

Now, the State Board of Education is looking at a major change in overall Illinois educational policy.  A new law would replace the “flunking out” law.  Under what are expected to be major features of the proposed new law, each challenged teenaged student will be presented with what will amount to a perpetual series of invitations to get assessed, to get his or her challenges specifically identified, and to return to school work under conditions that will allow these specific challenges to be met. 

Under State and federal law and the policies of many individual school districts, many challenged students are already eligible for individualized assessments and modified educational trajectories, including educational pathways for students with behavioral challenges and pathways for young-adult special education.         

General Assembly – Redistricting
·         Illinois Supreme Court refuses to rehear case involving Independent Maps amendment.   By the same 4-3 partisan split as had marked the original “Hooker v. ISBE” decision, the state’s highest court this week reaffirmed its August 2016 decision to remove the Independent Maps popular initiative question from the fall ballot.  The high court’s decision was based upon a technical but very knotty question: how it is possible to obey the underlying Constitution’s order that any constitutional initiative that originates with the people, by petition, be limited to “purely legislative reforms only” when an essential element of true redistricting reform is to name nonpoliticians outside the General Assembly to help remap the Legislature. 

The Supreme Court’s reaffirmation of its 4-3 vote in the “Hooker” case left proponents of the Independent Maps amendment with no remaining options to get their initiative onto the November 2016 ballot.  Gov. Bruce Rauner responded to the high court’s announcement with a call for the General Assembly to address political reform, including term limits and independent redistricting, during the 2016 veto session.  The legislative branch can suggest changes to the Illinois Constitution at any time to limit its members’ own terms and to create independent redistricting.   

Health care – Hepatitis C – Mike McAuliffe
·         Pushed by Mike McAuliffe, Illinois expands Hepatitis C formulary for Medicaid patients.  A new drug offers hope for 3.2 million patients nationwide with Hepatitis C, a serious illness that threatens liver function.  After pressure from Representative Mike McAuliffe, Illinois has changed its policies to allow an additional subset of Medicaid patients to enjoy full access to the medication.   McAuliffe plans to continue his advocacy for patients with this deadly disease. 

Not all of Illinois’ estimated 12,000 Medicaid patients who have been diagnosed with hepatitis C will qualify for the new medication.  Under the old policy, eligibility was limited to patients with stage 4 liver scarring, signifying that the infection has caused organ damage that is immediate and life-threatening.  Under the policy change, access to the medication will be opened to persons with stage 3 liver scarring.  This additional group of patients are suffering from serious loss of liver function that directly affects their quality of life. 

The decision to open the door to new hepatitis C patients will affect the State and its budget.  The new drug, which must be taken extremely conscientiously by the patient over a 12-week period, will clear most patients’ bodies of the virus that causes hepatitis C.  The full course of treatment bears a list price of $94,500 per patient, although the current sole manufacturer (Gilead Sciences) offers significant discounts to some purchasers.  Pharmaceutical discounts are typically offered on a basis of confidentiality, so there is no way of knowing what the Illinois Medicaid system and its case managers are paying for the drug.  It is expected that the price for this course of medication may further decline in the future as competing drugs are allowed onto the market. 

Representative Mike McAuliffe has made the fight against hepatitis C one of his key priorities as a legislator.  After losing his father-in-law, brother-in-law, and uncle to complications of the deadly illness, he formed the Hepatitis C Task Force and became its chairman.                   

Health care – Zika virus
·         Case count reaches 60 in Illinois.  The Zika virus has received heavy coverage in the U.S. press in recent months because of the correlation of the infection with severe potential consequences to unborn children.  The number reflects nine new cases reported to the Illinois Department of Public Health since September 7.

IDPH’s Zika website reports that the epicenter of the illness continues to be the Caribbean, Central America and South America.  The species types of mosquito capable of carrying and spreading the virus can live in tropical and subtropical environments.  IDPH urges all Illinois residents who have returned from a country in these regions where Zika virus is circulating and who have symptoms of Zika in the two weeks following their return to call their doctor and report their travel history and symptoms.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a webpage that describes Zika symptoms.  They include fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes).  These symptoms may last from several days to one week. 

Higher education – U.S. News ranking
·         Illinois public colleges sport national rankings.  In the widely-cited U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Colleges List,” the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign once again scored highest among Illinois public colleges and universities, notching the 44th spot nationwide.  The numerically-based “Best Colleges List” utilizes data that includes graduation rates, sophomore retention rates, class sizes, proportion of faculty that is full-time, student SAT/ACT scores, and survey data from peer admissions directors and student-supplier high school counselors.

Other Illinois public colleges were also nationally ranked, with Illinois State University (ISU) tied with the University of Illinois-Chicago for the 152th ranking.  Northern Illinois University was #214.  Three colleges affiliated with Illinois private universities were ranked among the top 100 colleges in the U.S., with the University of Chicago being ranked #3 nationwide, Northwestern credited with the 12th spot, and Loyola rated #99.    

Illinois State Fairgrounds – new foundation
·         Foundation in place to remediate Illinois’ aging state fairgrounds.  The places of annual gathering in Springfield and in southern Illinois’ Du Quoin have been under-maintained for decades.  An inventory has revealed approximately $180 million in long-term costs needed to retain or rebuild the two fairgrounds’ buildings and infrastructure.  Problems include electrical wiring, plumbing, paving, roofing and many other issues of constructed infrastructure. Illinois’ already cash-strapped budget cannot support this expense.

Other states have faced similar problems.  With a glance at Iowa, a neighboring state that has operated a successful state fair foundation for 23 years, Gov. Bruce Rauner has put together a new Illinois State Fairgrounds foundation to enable the private sector to make donations to begin a multi-year  rebuilding program.  It is expected that some of these donations will include opportunities for naming and intellectual property recognition.  In contrast to many Illinois sports arenas, the State Fair places where presenters and their animals offer themselves to Illinois viewers and fight for championships do not carry brand names.  Other State Fairground assets may be renamed in honor of individual families with longtime ties to particular locations within the State Fairs.        

Labor – Family sick leave and bereavement leave
·         New Illinois laws expand employee leave in family situations.  The Child Bereavement Leave Act was signed into law on July 29.  The new law requires Illinois employers with 50 or more employees to grant up to 10 days (two work weeks) of unpaid leave to eligible full-time employees who have lost a child.  The leave most be preceded by 48 hours of notice, except in emergency situations, and most be completed within 60 days after the child’s death.  In many cases, Illinois employers are choosing to voluntarily pay workers who take bereavement leave.  

A separate bill, the Employee Sick Leave Act, was also signed this summer but will not go into effect until January 1, 2017.  The new law concentrates on employers who voluntarily provide their employees with paid sick leave.  It expands the permissible use of this sick leave to cover time needed to care for the employer’s immediate family members, including parents-in-law and grandparents. Employment law consultants are informing Illinois employers of the two new laws.  

Fall in Illinois – Monarch butterflies
·         Migratory insects are favorites of many Illinoisans, but numbers dwindle.  Illinois volunteers, who number how many migrating orange-and-black fliers return to feeding patches each year, say the 2016 count of monarch butterflies is less than half of what it was last year. The sad news has reminded Illinoisans that the far-flying insects are dependent on conditions outside of Illinois, including breeding grounds in Canada and along the U.S. northern border, as well as the butterflies’ wintering grounds in Mexico.  The Illinois Department of Natural Resources has convened a Monarch Butterfly Summit to call attention to the possible re-dedication of eligible patches of Illinois land to migratory habitat and to build international publicity for further efforts to save the increasingly threatened species.  The Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Network, a volunteer group, tracks and monitors butterfly numbers throughout the State.

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