Rep. Wheeler's Weekly Roundup: September 9

Chicago – Vista Tower Groundbreaking
·         Ground broken on residential skyscraper designed to be 1,186 feet tall.  When completed, Vista Tower will be the third tallest building in Chicago behind the Willis Tower (1,450 feet, plus antenna masts) and the Trump International Hotel and Tower (1,389 feet).   Although largely designed for residential use, the Chinese-financed tower will also contain luxury hotel space.  Designed by prizewinning architect Jeanne Gang, the Wacker Drive tower will be 95 stories tall.

The Vista Tower project is expected to take 3.5 years to complete.  The work will employ thousands of specialized construction jobs, in addition to the 500 personnel who will permanently staff the building upon the scheduled completion date of December 2019.   The project will cost its investors nearly $1.0 billion.

Children – Missing Children
·         128 Illinois children are missing.  This number reflects open police files on missing Illinois children.  An online file of Illinois children classified as missing, endangered/missing, or in non-family abduction status can be found here.  Cases as recent as August 2016 are included; but one open case, that of Mary Ann Switalski, dates back to July 1963.

The recent discovery of the body of 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling in Minnesota has concentrated U.S. public attention on ongoing missing-child cases.  Although Wetterling disappeared in 1989, his body was not found until 2016.  The discovery of his remains was announced on Saturday, September 3.  Here in Illinois, the Sex Offender Registration Act was enacted in 1995 as an indirect response to the Wetterling case.  Sex offenders, if released from prison, are required by this Act to register with local law enforcement in their places of residence and employment.  The Illinois law remains in effect to this day.

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children oversees the dissemination of identification information for missing children nationwide, and provides hints on how to report possible sightings of missing children and how to reduce the incidence of child sexual exploitation and child trafficking.  The Center operates an online reporting tip line for observant citizens.    

Guns – Illinois Sales Hit Record
·         185,912 Illinois gun purchase background checks performed in August 2016.  A background check is performed upon most gun purchases and transfers throughout the United States.  The identity of the purchaser of the gun is not public information, but the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) will reveal consolidated figures showing the general location where the request for a group of background checks took place.  The cumulative total of more than 180,000 background checks requested from Illinois in August 2016 made this a record month for Illinois firearms transfers.  The FBI stated that no previous month’s Illinois activity had topped 100,000 checks.  94,314 background checks were requested from Illinois in August 2015, the parallel month one year ago.

The FBI operates the National Instant Criminal Background check upon prospective gun buyers as a mandated check upon the sale or transfer of firearms to persons who are forbidden to possess a gun.  In many cases, persons who have committed felonies or other serious criminal offenses are forbidden to purchase a firearm.  The growth in Illinois firearm background checks in August was accompanied by repeated news of gun-related violence and homicides in troubled regions of the State, especially the city of Chicago.       

Higher Education – Illinois State University
·         ISU fall enrollment hits 21st century high21,039 students are enrolled at ISU in Bloomington-Normal.  The 3,638 freshmen marked the largest freshmen class in 27 years.  Strength was also seen in transfer undergraduate student enrollment (1,955) and in the number of graduate students (2,396). 

Some other state universities are seeing declining enrollments.  Fall 2016 enrollment at Southern Illinois University (SIU) is down 7.6% to 15,987 students.  Interim SIU Chancellor Brad Colwell blamed State of Illinois budget pressures, including a decline in the number of teaching assistantship positions.  The TA headcount cut led to a decline in graduate student enrollment at SIU; grad students left its Carbondale campus to pursue opportunities elsewhere.        

Higher Education – ITT Technical Institute
·         Private-sector school shuts down four Illinois trade campuses.  The campuses taught workplace skills and crafts such as information technology and data systems management.  The shutdowns were part of a nationwide cessation of operations by parent firm ITT Educational Services, Inc.  Illinois campuses were located at Arlington Heights, Oak Brook, Orland Park, and Springfield.  The shutdown was announced on Tuesday, September 6.

The shuttered Illinois class spaces were part of a U.S.-wide network of ITT campuses that had enrolled approximately 40,000 students for the fall quarter.  ITT Educational Services had about 8,400 instructors on its payroll, including 4,100 full-time instructors.  All were laid off when ITT closed its 130 campuses.  The shutdown came after the U.S. Department of Education, citing alleged operational and financial risks in maintaining its student-aid ties to the ITT Institute, stopped payment on federally-funded student aid to the Institute on behalf of eligible enrollees.  This move was described by analysts as creating a cash flow crisis that led to the almost immediate shutdown of the Institute.    

Human Services – Medicaid Revamp
·         Springfield hearing shows $2.7 billion in new federal funds could be five-year possibility.  The Department of Healthcare and Family Services (DHFS), Illinois’ lead agency for Medicaid reimbursement and services, testified at hearings on expanded services this week.  The Rauner administration’s 88-page draft plan, which was discussed in public hearings in Springfield and Chicago, is an application for a federal waiver to coordinate various state services to challenged clients.  The federal government has taken steps to offer incentives to some states that provide these coordinated services to certain at-risk groups of people, and the Rauner administration plan is aimed at getting Illinois into a position of eligibility for additional reimbursements from Washington.  The projected $2.7 billion would be passed through over a five-year period.

Under current federal law, several groups of at-risk Americans – headed, in size, by persons with mental health challenges and persons with substance abuse problems – are defined as people who need more help from the public sector.  Here in Illinois, people in these groups are eligible for treatments for all of the strictly medical conditions that they present to caregivers, but they are not necessarily eligible for support for their housing and employment needs.  As being homeless or unemployed is highly correlated with contracting a cascading number of health conditions, helping some of these people find jobs and housing is supposed to be a good, forward-looking Medicaid policy.  The goal of the hearings, which were held in Springfield on Thursday, September 8 and in Chicago on Friday, September 9, was to set forth a draft plan for the coordinated provision of federally encouraged services to at-risk Medicaid patients.

The lack of behavioral health services coordination in Illinois has created a growing gap between what Illinois could apply for in Medicaid aid and the reimbursements in fact received by the State.  Increased coordination between State agencies, including compatible or consolidated data-management platforms and data-security systems to share eligibility information and coded behavioral diagnoses on Medicaid patients, could be a key step towards closing this gap.  The Rauner administration is currently carrying out budget planning based on the possibility that the new federal funding and coordinated services will move in FY18, the fiscal year that starts July 1, 2017.     

Medical Cannabis – PTSD
·         Department of Public Health moves to implement PTSD lawSB 10, enacted in June 2016 as P.A. 99-519, made several changes to Illinois’ medical cannabis law.  These changes aimed to speed up the issuance and re-issuance of registry identification cards to qualifying patients and to add terminal illnesses and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to the list of qualifying conditions. 

The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) has promulgated an administrative rulemaking action to rapidly implement many of the features of SB 10.  The new rule, which grants cannabis-card eligibility to PTSD patients and to patients with terminal illnesses, was allowed onto the fast-track “emergency rule” process.  A General Assembly panel, the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR), scrutinized the new rule on Tuesday, September 6 and accepted it for continued status as an emergency rule on file.  IDPH will be required to follow up this emergency rule with a new permanent rule that will be subject to public comment.  

Outdoor Sports – New Hunting, Fishing Opportunities
·         Four new laws take effect.  The new state laws affecting Illinois hunting and fishing opportunities center on youth trapping; bow hunting for catfish; and simplified landowner hunting permit procedures for deer and wild turkey.

The landowner bill, SB 3003, affects owners and resident tenants who control at least 40 acres of Illinois land.  Under the amendment to the Wildlife Code, hunters enjoying this status will be able to apply for and receive a deer permit, a turkey permit, or (for the first time) a combination deer/turkey permit that will cover both types of game.  As with the separate landowner deer and landowner turkey permits issued in previous years, the permits will be issued without fee.   Members of hunting clubs, hunting partnerships, and hunting cooperatives are included if the group owns its land.  After unanimous approval by the Illinois House last spring by a vote of 112-0-0, SB 3003 was signed into law by Governor Rauner as P.A. 99-869. 

Paralympic Games – University of Illinois (UIUC)
·         UIUC becomes leading national site for training of U.S. ParalympiansUSA Today reports that of the 72 members of the U.S. Paralympic team currently competing in Rio de Janeiro, 12 trained in Illinois.  The Paralympic Games, which are played every four years, are the world’s chief forum for the display and celebration of athletic talent by persons with physical challenges.  The University of Illinois’ status as a ley location for Paralympic training makes Urbana-Champaign a place comparable to Colorado Springs as a focus of training attention for athletes.

The USA Today report depicts the recent application of kinesiology technology to the competitive training of athletes in wheelchairs or who face other mobility challenges.  Newly-invented machines apply the core principle of scaled resistance to challenged athletes.  The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign welcomed the new technology, which it sees as a continuation of its longtime mission statement of providing increased opportunities for challenged athletes.  The University believes it fielded the world’s first wheelchair basketball team in 1948, originally designed as part of a rehabilitation and morale program for many veterans of World War II.       

Transportation – Traffic-Stop Safety
·         New state law sweeps traffic-stop safety training into drivers’ education.  Mandated elements of the drivers’ education courses taken by many young adults will now include instructions on what to do if the driver is stopped by law enforcement.

HB 6131 (P.A. 99-720) was signed into law last month and is becoming active during the back-to-school season.  A typical Illinois high school student will take drivers’ ed in a school setting, but increasing numbers of students enroll in private drivers’ education.  In a typical year, 40,000 students are enrolled in a private-sector drivers’ education program at a public high school.  The new law applies to all drivers’ ed students, including students in the private sector.    

Standard instructions on how to respond when “Being Pulled Over By Law Enforcement” typically advise the driver to be courteous, unemotional, and helpful to the officer.   Law enforcement professionals often supplement this general advise with instructions that a pulled-over driver keep his or her hands in view at all times, avoid any sudden movements, and stay in or get out of the car upon request.  

Fall in Illinois – Pumpkins
·         Pumpkin harvest looks good.  The good growing conditions in 2016 for pumpkins followed a bad year in 2015.  Relatively dry weather in early summer, followed by adequate rainfall starting in July, is encouraging full production of pumpkins and other edible squash.  The world’s largest infrastructure for the grading, shipping, and canning of pumpkins is concentrated in Illinois, with a particular focus on Morton in central Illinois’ Tazewell County.  A Morton canning plant, owned by global food giant Nestle, specializes in canning pumpkin for the year-round production of pumpkin pies and other confections.  Cannery manager Jim Ackerman told the Peoria Journal Star this week that he sees “average to above-average yields” of Illinois pumpkins this year.    

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