Rep. Wheeler's Weekly Roundup: September 29

·        Governor Rauner signs law authorizing taxpayer-funded abortion on demand.  On Thursday, Governor Bruce Rauner announced that he would sign House Bill 40, highly controversial legislation that provides for taxpayer-funded abortion on demand for Medicaid recipients and state employees.

Governor Rauner’s decision to sign HB 40 came after he publicly stated back in April that he would veto the legislation if it reached his desk.  The Governor’s decision was met with profound disappointment by Republican legislators and pro-life groups opposed to HB 40.

·         Chicago business community unites behind push for $5 billion headquarters campus. has stated that they need additional workspace, not available at their current headquarters complex in Seattle, for management-level employees of the global retailing firm.  Amazon expects that the overall economic activity to be sparked by their new “second headquarters” could create as many as 50,000 new jobs.

Many Chicago leaders believe that the city’s workforce, with its skill set in logistics solutions, makes Chicago the best place for Amazon to choose.  A bipartisan panel of more than 600 Illinois business leaders is working to sell Illinois to the online retailing giant.  House Republican Leader Jim Durkin has repeatedly expressed his support for the push.    

·         Rep. Sosnowski bill signed into law at Rockford ceremony; will help adult learners attain high school diploma.  Governor Rauner signed legislation into law last week in a public ceremony at the Goodwill Industries of Northern Illinois headquarters, sponsored by State Rep. Joe Sosnowski to help the more than 40,000 adults in Winnebago and Boone Counties without a high school diploma attain their education and advance toward career success.

Representative Sosnowski’s legislation, House Bill 2527, allows a nonprofit agency, in partnership with the Illinois State Board of Education, to establish a school for adult learners that would issue high school diplomas and vocational training certifications to prepare students with career skills upon graduation. 

Goodwill Industries administers the schools through their Excel Center program. First established in Indiana in 2010, the program has since grown to include 12 schools across Indiana with additional ones in Memphis, Tennessee, Austin, Texas and Washington, D.C. Representative Sosnowski’s bill paves the way for an Excel Center to be located in Rockford.

“With the signing of this new law, adult students of all ages will have the opportunity to obtain a high school degree and climb the ladder of success,” Representative Sosnowski said. “This law paves the way for the creation of excel centers which will open doors to personal growth and career advancement for adult learners through the success of the program established by our friends at Goodwill of Northern Illinois. Students will be able to not only receive their high school diploma, but also the potential obtain a Career and Technical Education certificate.”

House Bill 2527 was approved by the Illinois House of Representatives by a vote of 114-1 on April 25 prior to advancing to the State Senate, where it passed by a unanimous vote of 54-0 on May 31.

·         Unemployment rates decrease in all of Illinois’ metropolitan areas.  The new figures for August 2017 were released by the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES).  While the statewide jobless rate was 5.2% in August, unemployment rates in individual regions within Illinois were higher or lower than this rate depending on overall economic conditions in various metropolitan areas.  The Illinois metro report was released on Thursday, September 21.

As in previous months, local jobless rates showed up with favorable numbers in metro areas oriented toward public-sector employment, higher education, and health-care, and less so in areas oriented toward industrial and factory work.   Two metropolitan areas within Illinois with the lowest jobless rates, 4.2%, were the higher-education center of Bloomington-Normal and the state capital of Springfield.  Within the Chicago area Lake County, with its concentration on private-sector health-care work including pharmaceutical and medical device research and development, scored highly at 4.3%.

Factory cities did not score as well on the Illinois report table.  The highest Illinois metro unemployment rate was posted by industrial Danville, at 6.9%.  Rockford, which has specialized for generations in the machining and assembly of transportation vehicles, components, and parts, posted an August 2017 jobless rate of 5.7%. 

More than three-quarters of the new jobs created in Illinois between August 2016 and August 2017 were created in the Chicago-DuPage County metroplex, and when Lake County is added to this mix the greater Chicago area created 25,300 of the 24,700 jobs created in Illinois as a whole.   Over this twelve-month period, when all of Illinois other than Chicago-Lake County is taken as a unit, almost 100 counties created no new net jobs at all.   

·         Chicago-based Outcome Health announces plans to hire 2,000 employees.  The plans were announced this week by Outcome Health’s CEO Rishi Shah.  The Chicago-based software/AI firm provides differential diagnosis/differential treatment options to medical care providers.  By going through their options on a screen, the medical care provider and the patient can achieve face-to-face collaboration on a treatment course of choice. 

CEO Shah believes his firm’s growth trajectory will lead to the firm taking on approximately 2,000 additional employees in the next five years, through 2022.  Many of these workers will need to have science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) credentials. Outcome Health currently employs about 600 workers, many of whom work in downtown Chicago.  The firm made its future-hiring announcement in the context of observing the opening of its new centralized office.

·         State leaders encourage donations for hurricane survivors.  Governor Bruce Rauner and Lieutenant Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti are encouraging Illinois residents to help the millions of Americans struggling to recover from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria by donating money or time to trusted voluntary, faith-and-community-based charitable organizations.

"Mother Nature has devastated Puerto Rico, Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. As we've seen whenever disaster strikes in Illinois, people are eager to help in any way possible," Gov. Rauner said. "Now, it's time for us to show that compassion and generosity to help our fellow Americans who have been devastated by hurricanes. We know recovery will take months, even years, so we ask you to please open your hearts to help those struggling to recover."

Rauner directed people to the website that directs them to a list of organizations where they can donate.

·         Illinois utilities send help after Hurricane Irma.  Repair workers from Springfield’s City Water, Light & Power joined linemen from Ameren, ComEd, and other Illinois and Midwestern utilities in providing help to Floridians lacking electrical service.  Tens of thousands of residents of the Sunshine State were still without power as the last full week of September began.

The Illinois volunteers are in Florida under the terms of the inter-utility compact maintained by the American Public Power Association to share resources in cases of natural disaster.  When Illinois is hit by a tornado, other states send utility workers to the Land of Lincoln under other provisions of the same agreement. 

·         Higher Education Strategic Centers of Excellence Plan is major overhaul of higher ed system.  In response to Illinois’ growing problem of more and more students attending college outside of the state and several public universities seeing steep enrollment declines, State Sen. Chapin Rose and State Rep. Dan Brady will file the Higher Education Strategic Centers of Excellence Plan, legislation that overhauls the state’s higher education system.

Their plan would make the state’s higher education system more efficient, having each university focus on its strengths and make applying for and getting into public universities easier for students, with the goals of getting more Illinois students to study at Illinois public universities and saving taxpayer dollars.

For example, from 1991-2014, enrollment at Illinois public universities and community colleges has declined by 50,000 students. Since the 1960’s, Illinois has been a net negative exporter of college students in the country, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

“The structural problems of higher education far transcend the last couple of years during the budget impasse,” Rose said. “Every student we lose is another student who will most likely take their talents and knowledge elsewhere, hurting Illinois in innovation, jobs, and economic impact. This drain of students is a direct drain on the state. This legislation is a thoughtful and methodical approach to reform, but make no mistake, higher education in America is facing unprecedented challenges and changes are needed for a strong and dynamic vision for our cherished institutions. We must carefully, but swiftly, move to protect our strengths.”

“Students deemed most ready for college - we’re talking high GPA and high ACT test scores - generally have higher outmigration rates. We are losing the best and brightest to other states. The consequences of this are devastating. Local economies are hurt. The state’s budget is hurt. Job creators aren’t attracted to locate here. Communities are not growing,” Rose concluded.

“We have world class colleges and universities in Illinois, yet more and more Illinois students choose to leave our state to continue their education. This ‘brain drain’ can’t continue,” said Brady, Spokesman on the House Appropriations-Higher Education Committee. “With this legislation, we’re offering real solutions that will help us keep our best and brightest here to get their degree and, hopefully, to put their talents to work in our communities.”

In 2000, Illinois lost 4,781 students to other states, an equivalent to an estimated lifetime loss of $776,400,930 in tax revenue to the state, according to the report, “Estimating the Economic-Impact of College Student Migration from Illinois.”

“If these statistics aren’t a wakeup call to the need to change how we advance higher education in Illinois, I don’t know what will,” Rose said. “We have some of the most talented professors, beautiful campuses – all strategically placed - and some of the nation’s top programs, yet for those who leave Illinois to attend college – 50 percent of them leave for good.”

Rose and Brady’s Higher Education Strategic Centers of Excellence Plan would enact sweeping changes that would help boost enrollment at the 12 public universities in Illinois, direct resources to the strengths of each institution, and give more opportunities to families. Specifically, the legislation would:

•  Create a uniform admission application to be accepted at all public universities in Illinois.
•  Any high school student with a grade of B or better average will qualify for automatic admission to an academically appropriate public university if they maintain their B average through graduation. This will extend an opportunity to all students in Illinois; while respecting individual institutions rights to admit students that are the best fit for their existing programs. 
•   Any student who is not offered admission to a public university must automatically be referred to the community college district where they live and provided with enrollment information.
•   If a public institution of higher education accepts a student, they will receive an acceptance letter from that institution setting forth any grants or scholarship offers extended by the institution at that time.

“All of these ideas will have a direct impact positive impact on both our universities, students and their families,” Rose said.

The legislation would also help identify the most successful academic programs in the state so that the legislature can insure that it is using taxpayer dollars wisely in supporting our strengths, it will perform a study on successful merit based aid programs to be used as an inducement to keep Illinois’ best and brightest in state, and it provides greater teeth the Illinois Board of Higher Education when it comes to costly programmatic expansions. 

“Today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders,” Brady said. “Working together with our universities, we can change the system and encourage more Illinois students to consider continuing their education here at home. I look forward to helping advance these needed changes in the Illinois House.”

·         Case from Illinois could produce significant U.S. Supreme Court case law.  The case of “Janus v. AFSCME” reflects the belief of many Illinois public-sector workers, including plaintiff Mark Janus, that their free-speech and free-association rights are violated by being forced to pay union dues as a condition of their employment.  All of Illinois’s neighboring states have enacted right-to-work laws that emancipate their workers, including public-sector workers, from the forced payment of union dues, but Illinois has not done so.  Janus has told the press he does not want to be associated with labor unions and wants the same rights as are enjoyed by workers in right-to-work states throughout the U.S.

Now, Janus’s lawyers will share these arguments with the United States Supreme Court.  The nation’s high court agreed on Thursday, September 28, to grant writ of certiorari to Mark Janus and his lawyers to enable this case to be argued before the Supreme Court.  A decision could come before the end of the 2017-18 session of the high court.  Legal observers believe that the current membership of the court is likely to split 5-4 in favor of the rights of workers as opposed to the rights of labor unions.  Any decision, however, is likely to be limited to public-sector workers only.  The points of law to be argued before the high court are not seen as directly affecting workers in the private sector.           

·         Conor’s Law will train law enforcement to best ensure safety of impaired young people.  Gov. Bruce Rauner has signed into law SB 2185, known as Conor’s Law, legislation that increases public safety by requiring law enforcement to develop policies regarding the response and care for intoxicated young people after an arrest, including attempts to contact a responsible adult. This will ensure the safety of impaired underage individuals by preventing them from harming themselves or others.

“Following an arrest, it is critical that we protect impaired young people while they are still at risk for dangerous decision-making,” said Gov. Rauner. “Ensuring law enforcement has thoughtful policies related to the care of individuals under the influence that focus on reaching out to responsible adults will help prevent tragic situations and protect all Illinoisans.”

The legislation is named after Conor Vesper, a 20-year old college student from Macoupin County who committed suicide hours after a drunk driving arrest. Vesper was the valedictorian of Staunton High School and an active campus leader at Blackburn College where he had earned a full ride scholarship. Vesper was released after posting bail following the DUI arrest. Tragically, he proceeded to drive home and take his own life. Blackburn College will memorialize Vesper with an honorary degree at Spring 2018 graduation.

By properly training law enforcement on the appropriate responses to those under the influence of alcohol or drugs, SB 2185 will also increase the safety of the surrounding community. This law will help decrease impaired young people’s opportunity for self-harm, suicide, or the endangerment of others.

"The passage and signing of Conor's Law has been a long and emotionally painful journey. We as a family, community and state are grateful for the passage of Conor's Law,” the Vesper family said. “It is our hope in the State of Illinois having this law in place to provide guidelines will protect and direct law enforcement in cases involving underage drinkers. We want to keep young people, communities and law enforcement officers safe.”

“Conor’s Law will mean that the way law enforcement releases minors will be uniform throughout the state,” said Rep. Avery Bourne. “This change in current law will hopefully ensure that this situation never occurs again. I thank the family who brought the idea forward. Their hard work and dedication to bring change from tragedy will ensure that Conor’s life will continue to impact people’s lives in a positive way in the future.”

·         New private partner selected for Illinois State Lottery.  Gov. Bruce Rauner has previously pledged to increase the productivity of the State’s gaming draw games by contracting with the private sector.   When the Illinois State Lottery was first created in 1974, it was a 100% public-sector enterprise.  However, the experience of other U.S. state lotteries indicates that the aggressive selling of Lottery game purchasing opportunities, especially through chain-retailer ticket counters, sales on the Internet, and sales by mobile app, can typically best be done by executive salespeople whose compensation can be determined by marketplace standards.  The private sector can also turn its expertise toward the development of new scratch-off ticket ideas, new retail-counter displays, and innovative advertising to sell more tickets in existing games.  Illinois State Lottery ticket sales have stagnated for years.

The Rauner administration put the Lottery private-partner opportunity out for bids under the provisions of State procurement law.  The selection of Camelot Illinois was announced on Friday, September 22.  Approximately $2.2 billion in ticket-printing expenses, sales expenses, and management fees are expected to be taken in by Camelot Illinois over the 10-year life of the contract.  Camelot Global, an experienced multinational gambling holding company operator, operates the national lottery of the United Kingdom and the state lotteries of four other U.S. states. 


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