Rep. Wheeler's Weekly Roundup: June 22


AGRICULTURE
·        $16 million in grants will help foster future of Illinois agriculture.  Gov. Bruce Rauner joined the Director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture Raymond Poe, local officials, and the Stremsterfer family at Stremsterfer Farms in Pleasant Plains last week to announce the release of $16 million in agriculture grants. The funds being released from the fiscal year 2018 budget will fund soil & water districts, county fairs and agriculture societies, and the University of Illinois Extension services. 

“These three entities provide services that are vital for the future of Illinois agriculture,” Rauner said. “From protecting our farmland for future generations to fostering agriculture careers and educating consumers, these organizations support Illinois agriculture, the backbone of our state’s economy.”

“Funding for these organizations comes at a critical time,” said Ag Director Raymond Poe. “We must continue to fund these organizations in order to sustain their key programs. I want to thank our agricultural partners for commitment to Illinois agriculture and for their cooperation in these fiscally challenging times.”

Soil and Water Conservation Districts, which protects our state’s farmland through strategic conservation efforts, will receive $6 million. The 97 districts around the state play a central role in efforts to protect and sustain the viability of Illinois soil and water resources in order to preserve our farmland for future generations. The Department will be issuing more than $61,000 to each of the districts to help fund operations. 

More than $54,000 will be sent to each of the 92 county fairs across the state. It will help operations at the fairs and may be used to support critical facility rehabilitation needs. Illinois county fairs are economic drivers for rural Illinois. A study from the University of Illinois shows county fairs generate more than $90 million annually and create more than 1,000 jobs each summer. In addition to providing family friendly entertainment, county fairs provide an outlet for our state’s youth to become involved and engaged in Illinois agriculture. 

More than 1.5 million Illinois residents take part in programs offered by the University of Illinois Extension Service. Extension provides educational assistance in the areas of energy and environmental stewardship, food safety and security, economic development and workforce preparedness, family health, financial security and wellness, and youth development. The Department of Agriculture will disperse $5 million dollars to assist the organization with its core mission.

DISCOVERY PARTNERS INSTITUTE
·        All systems ‘Go’ for Discovery Partners Institute: State secured funding accelerates signature research and economic development initiative.  Flanked by members of the Illinois General Assembly and leaders from the University of Illinois System, Gov. Bruce Rauner revealed this week key advancements in the plan to turn Illinois into the “next coast” for technology and enterprise creation. The progress report was occasioned by news earlier this month that the project was appropriated $500 million by the State of Illinois.

The anchor project in the plan is the Discovery Partners Institute (DPI), an innovation center led by the U of I System intended to be located within The 78, Related Midwest’s 62-acre planned development in downtown Chicago. Bordered by the South Loop, Chinatown, Bronzeville and Pilsen, DPI will be the centerpiece of the Illinois Innovation Network (IIN), a system of research centers across the state tailored to meet the needs of individual regions and lift their economies.

Since the initiatives were announced last fall, the U of I System has been working on implementation plans that will be ready later this year, including a construction timetable and other details. The U of I System has also continued to build its network of collaborative partnerships, adding its first corporate partner and the first academic partner from overseas.

“With state secured funding, all systems are ‘go’ for DPI,” said Rauner. “It can now get to work on world-changing ideas that investors will put money behind to create Illinois-based businesses and jobs. The state’s initial investment will be matched several times over by private sources of capital that form around our innovations. The end result will be an economic engine for Illinois and the Midwest that surpasses Silicon Valley.”

During the news conference, U of I System President Tim Killeen announced that the system has opened an office on Wacker Drive in downtown Chicago and plans to expand current DPI operating space to more than 20,000 square feet. The system is providing $6 million over the next four years to support start-up efforts.

Killeen also said the system has agreements with the first corporate partner for DPI and its first international academic partner. The corporate agreement with Peoria-based OSF HealthCare will build on its existing relationship with the Innovation Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago. OSF is sponsoring an interdisciplinary course for DPI that will work toward creating connected, precision-guided healthcare delivery for the State of Illinois.

According to Killeen, DPI will be home to hundreds of world-class researchers and top faculty from across the U of I System. They will work with thousands of students every year, with countless businesses large and small, and with entrepreneurs and investors to spur enterprise creation in Illinois.

“Illinois has long served as the nation’s leading transportation hub, moving goods and people across the country and around the world,” said Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago). “The Discovery Partners Institute seizes on that brand of leadership and will similarly push Illinois to the global forefront in moving ideas and innovation.”

"This investment will benefit every region of our great state," said Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady (R-Bloomington). "I want to commend the Governor for his leadership on this important issue, and I look forward to working with all parties to ensure this project's success."

"The University of Illinois school system is one of our state's greatest assets,” said House Republican Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs). “And the Discovery Partners Institute will be the lead effort in innovation opportunities that will boost economic growth in Illinois."

GERRYMANDERING
·        It's up to state legislators to stop gerrymandering.  By Rep. David S. Olsen (R-Illinois) and Sen. Frank LaRose (R-Ohio)

"By designing districts for partisan advantage, we send the message that winning elections is more important than upholding democracy."

On Monday, the Supreme Court kicked back to Wisconsin and Maryland state courts two gerrymandering cases that attempted to establish that legislatures that use gerrymandering to ensure partisan outcomes were acting with unconstitutional bias. In doing so, they have essentially ensured that any constitutional remedies to overly partisan gerrymandering will be years away, if they ever come.

We believe, then, that it’s up to us — state legislators — to act on behalf of the constituents that elected us and end partisan gerrymandering on our own.

Partisan gerrymandering has plagued our democracy
since the days of the Founding Fathers: The jagged edges of many districts don’t reflect real-life boundaries, like rivers or mountain ranges, but rather exist because someone drew lines with the pernicious purpose of manipulating electoral constituency boundaries to favor one party. Read the entire opinion piece by Rep. Olsen & Sen. LaRose. 

If you agree, sign the petition to end gerrymandering and support independent maps.

GUNS
·        Gun owners urged to send in FOID card renewal applications.  The Illinois State Police, which issues Firearm Owners Identification (FOID) cards to gun owners, is warning the Illinois firearms community that 50,000 cards will expire during the 60-day period that began on June 1 and will end on August 1.  They are urging individuals to send in their FOID card renewal applications as soon as possible to reduce office congestion and increase response throughput.  Renewal applications require computerized background checks of State and federal databases before the new card can be mailed out.

The spike in FOID card renewals is connected to a change in the FOID law that occurred ten years ago.  Effective on June 1, 2008, the maximum lifespan of an Illinois FOID card was increased from five years to 10 years.  Many applicants took advantage in summer 2008 of the new, longer-term cards, and it is those cards from 10 years ago that are expiring now.

HEALTH CARE
·        Governor announces federal approval of plan to protect safety net and rural hospitals.  Gov. Bruce Rauner announced Thursday that the federal government has approved the state’s plan to protect safety net and rural hospitals while ensuring continued federal support for quality healthcare to more than three million Illinoisans.

“This is a critical step in the making sure our safety net and rural hospitals can keep their doors open in underserved communities,” Rauner said. “Our teams worked hard to build a more equitable model while making sure hospitals can offer more urgent and outpatient care in their communities.”

The plan was created with Senate Bill 1773, bipartisan legislation that Rauner signed in March. It ensures the state will continue to receive federal matching funds to offer services for Medicaid beneficiaries through the Hospital Assessment Program, which brings in $3.5 billion annually. The new program takes effect July 1.

A bipartisan group of legislators worked with the Illinois Health and Hospital Association and the Department of Healthcare and Family Services (HFS) to redesign the program, create a more equitable reimbursement process, and ensure more efficient use of taxpayer dollars.

“The Department is pleased that the federal government has approved this plan, which will mean that dollars follow services for Medicaid patients more closely,” said Teresa Hursey, Interim Director of HFS. “The new program reflects the reality that healthcare delivery has changed dramatically over the last ten years, and it draws down as much federal revenue as we believe is permissible.”

Prior to the new program, the state used old data sets, which were sometimes based on care that was provided as far back as 2005, to reimburse hospitals for Medicaid services. The new model applies updated data and also ensures that more of the reimbursements are based on actual services hospitals provide.

It also dedicates more than $260 million to help hospitals transform their operations to better serve their communities, such as offering more urgent and outpatient care.

ILLINOIS SUPREME COURT
·        Longtime Justice Charles E. Freeman retires; replaced by P. Scott Neville.  In line with the Constitution, Illinois Supreme Court justices serve 10-year terms.  In many cases, Illinois judges retire in office and their colleagues appoint a replacement.  In the case of the Supreme Court, the replacement is usually an appellate judge. 

State Supreme Court justice Charles Freeman was a member of Illinois’ highest court from 1990 onward.  When in 2018, Freeman told his colleagues that the time had come for him to step down from the bench, his fellow justices chose P. Scott Neville as his replacement.  A graduate of Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, Neville has served for 14 years as an appellate judge.  He took the Supreme Court oath of office on Friday, June 15.

TRANSPORTATION
·        New Illinois 104 bridge opens in Meredosia.  The Illinois Department of Transportation was joined by local officials and community leaders Thursday in Meredosia to celebrate the completion and opening of the new Illinois 104 bridge over the Illinois River.

“The new Meredosia bridge will improve safety, better connect communities and strengthen opportunities for commerce,” said Gov. Bruce Rauner. “This project is a perfect example of how investing in infrastructure can improve communities overnight while setting the stage for longterm economic growth.”

With an aging steel truss and increasing maintenance costs, the old bridge was not only costly to maintain, but also posed safety concerns due to its narrow lanes and lack of shoulders. The previous bridge, built in 1936, will be demolished late this summer.

Construction of the $86.2 million bridge began in 2015. The bridge was built on a new alignment while the old bridge remained open, resulting in minimal impact to traffic and local commerce during construction.

The Meredosia crossing is critical to regional mobility. The closest Illinois River bridge is 36 miles to the south on Interstate 72. The tied-arch style of the new bridge and its location, which is just north of the existing bridge, was decided during a series of public meetings and extensive input from local stakeholders.

The new, wider structure boasts two 12-foot lanes and two 10-foot shoulders, which will allow farm equipment and oversize loads to cross the bridge without stopping traffic heading in the opposite direction. Construction of a pump station and underground stormwater retention chamber will help manage flooding and stormwater runoff. In a final touch, improved streetscapes and park areas will enhance Meredosia’s business district.

·        Major bridge replaced in I-80 corridor.  The new $41 million bridge carries Illinois State Road 89 and connects Spring Valley with historic Putnam County.  With spans totaling 1,800 feet in length, it carries vehicles over the Illinois River.  The new bridge opened to public use on Monday, June 18.

Both sides of the river are close to Interstate 80 and are a current focus of Illinois economic development.  The bridge is located at the heart of the Bureau/Putnam County Enterprise Zone, one of Illinois’ approximately 100 Enterprise Zones that provide tax incentives and development advantages for job creation.  The new bridge replaces the old Spring Valley steel truss bridge, opened in 1934, which will be demolished.  Old bridges from this generation of U.S. public works represented the first generation of U.S. motor vehicle infrastructure.  The former bridge had not been built to have wide safety lanes with space for pedestrians or bicyclists.

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