Rep. Wheeler's Weekly Roundup: September 14

HURRICANE FLORENCE
· Illinois prepared to assist states impacted by Hurricane Florence.  Governor Bruce Rauner announced Thursday that Illinois is prepared to provide personnel and other support to states that may be impacted by Hurricane Florence. 

Ten Illinois Army National Guard soldiers and two helicopters have deployed to support relief efforts in North Carolina. The crews left from Peoria's 238th Aviation Battalion and Kankakee's 1st Battalion, 106th Aviation Regiment. They will provide support for up to 10 days. All costs associated with the deployment will be paid for by the Tar Heel state.  

"We can never anticipate the scope of damage caused by these natural disasters and the impact they have on families," Rauner said. "We are proud to send our soldiers in to assist with emergency rescue and to transport supplies in and out of the disaster areas." 

"This hurricane has the potential to be devastating," said Maj. Gen. Richard Hayes Jr., the Adjutant General of the Illinois National Guard. "I am proud of our soldiers' ability to quickly respond to the requests of our fellow Americans in North Carolina, and I am thankful for the support of our soldiers' families and employers as they prepare for and execute this mission."

Requests for assistance are coordinated through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC), a mutual aid agreement that allows states to request assistance from other states during emergencies.  Officials from the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) have been in regular contact with EMAC representative this week and are currently reviewing the anticipated needs drafted by the states of Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina and South Carolina. 

Illinois has answered the call to assist other states with large scale deployments of personnel and equipment over the years, demonstrating the state's ability to respond to a major disaster, even when it's thousands of miles away. 

Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was the state's largest EMAC response to date, with more than 2,500 Illinois responders deployed to the Gulf Coast, including guardsmen, firefighters, paramedics, state emergency managers, law enforcement officers and medical personnel.  Most recently, the state deployed personnel from the Illinois National Guard to Puerto Rico to assist with recovery efforts on the island following Hurricane Maria.

AGRICULTURE
· Governor declares 2018 harvest emergency.  Last Friday, Gov. Rauner declared a harvest emergency to help level the playing field between Illinois farmers and crop haulers and those in neighboring states. 

The action bridges the gap between the 2018 harvest season and a new law the governor signed Aug. 25 that takes effect next year. Going forward, that measure will allow for an annual harvest-season easing of gross vehicle and gross axle weight limits for agricultural commodities haulers with a free permit.

“We have heard from Illinois’ trucking industry and from farmers who are operating on thin profit margins in today’s agricultural climate,” Rauner said before making his announcement at the Ladage Farm in Auburn. “Today’s harvest emergency declaration recognizes that the weight-restriction structure in place in Illinois put our farmers and truckers at a disadvantage.

“They cannot and should not be forced to wait until the 2019 harvest season to reap the economic benefits of eased weight limits,” he said. “Now they won’t have to as they take their crops to market, processing or storage.”

The emergency declaration is in effect from Monday, Sept. 10, to Dec. 31, 2018, and enables crop haulers to seek free Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) permits to exceed legal maximum gross vehicle and gross axle weight limits or the vehicle’s registered gross weight, whichever is less, by no more than 10 percent on state and federal highways under IDOT’s jurisdiction, except interstates. (Federal requirements prohibit inclusion of interstates.)

“We appreciate Gov. Rauner declaring an emergency situation for the 2018 harvest season, especially in light of the declining incomes and market turmoil which farmers are currently facing,” said Richard Guebert Jr., president, Illinois Farm Bureau. “This declaration opens the door for increased efficiencies for farmers and truck drivers hauling agricultural commodities and will help offset any uncontrollable effects of weather and commodity markets, allowing farmers the freedom to move what is projected to be a record-breaking crop.” 

Permits will once again be issued at no charge, but applicants must obtain a route authorization number every two weeks. The harvest emergency permit and other information on the permitting process can be obtained through IDOT’s automated permitting web application at https://webapps.dot.illinois.gov/ITAP

Rauner said the declaration will speed the movement of crops to market, adding that the importance of an economically healthy agriculture community in Illinois cannot be overstated. Illinois is home to 71,000 farms on 26.6 million acres. Marketing of Illinois’ agricultural commodities generates more than $19 billion annually, and the state’s food and fiber industries employ nearly 1 million people. The state ranks third nationally in the export of agricultural commodities, with $8.2 billion worth of goods shipped to other countries, according to the Illinois Department of Agriculture.
Meanwhile, the neighboring states of Kentucky, Missouri and Wisconsin automatically ease highway weight limits at harvest time.

“Our farmers feed the world, working tirelessly every harvest season to get their crops from the field to market as quickly as possible,” said Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) Director Raymond Poe. “We need to give Illinois farm families every advantage we can to ensure they stay competitive with farmers in neighboring states. We thank Gov. Rauner for recognizing the need for a quick change to help our farmers this harvest season without waiting until the new law takes effect next year.”

Legislators also welcomed the declaration.

“Gov. Rauner and Director of Agriculture Poe are enabling farmers a smoother, more efficient harvesting season, given the weather,” said Rep. Avery Bourne, who attended today’s ceremony. “I supported the governor last year with this announcement, and I stand with him today to ensure Illinois does its best to help this pillar of our economy — the agriculture industry.”  

“I applaud this decision to allow trucks hauling agricultural commodities to obtain a free permit to exceed the gross vehicle weight limit by 10 percent and help farmers harvest their crops more efficiently,” said Rep. Dave Severin, a member of the Agriculture and Conservation Committee. 

“With this harvest emergency declaration, farmers have the ability to get more grain to the storage sites quicker. I appreciate Gov. Rauner’s action and IDOT for developing a user-friendly application process,” said Rep. Dan Swanson, a fifth-generation family farmer and member of the House Agriculture and Conservation Committee. 

“It’s that time of year when farmers have to harvest their crops with limited time,” said Rep. Charlie Meier. “The governor’s declaration will be very helpful to farmers as it can be difficult to estimate the proper amount of bushels loaded on a semi. Without this declaration, if a semi is determined to be overloaded, the fine can actually be worth more than the crop itself. I’m glad the governor declared the harvest emergency in order to help Illinois’ No. 1 industry, agriculture.”  

“Moving corn and other crops in a timely and efficient manner affects the bottom line of hard-working farmers,” said Rep. Terri Bryant. “This declaration is an appropriate response to an urgent need and I applaud the governor for taking this action.”

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
· $450,000 federal grant to Rockford to combat domestic violence and human trafficking.  The grant from the U.S. Department of Justice will be used to set up a family justice center.  The proposed family justice center will be a physical location where any victim of domestic violence or human trafficking can get one-stop locational services that will include medical provider services, counseling, social service personnel, and contact with law enforcement.

Law enforcement officers say that domestic violence makes up 34% of all violent crime in Rockford.  Advocates say that one-quarter of the city’s homeless population have a housing status that has been affected by domestic violence.  The Family Justice Center that will serve the victims of these crimes is scheduled to be built over a three-year period, with the first 18 months being oriented toward pre-groundbreaking planning and engineering.

HIGHER EDUCATION
· U.S. News ranking places eight Illinois universities in nationwide top 200.  Honors granted by the U.S. News and World Report 2018-19 ranking of U.S. colleges and universities included top-200 mentions of eight Illinois institutions, including five in the top 100.  Public universities listed included the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), which was tied with several other schools and ranked as the 46th highest-ranking university in the United States.  UIUC’s sister school the University of Illinois/Chicago (UIC) joined with other schools that were  ranked 129th, and the Bloomington-Normal-based Illinois State University was listed with other schools that were ranked 171th.

Several Illinois-based private universities were also mentioned in the U.S. News ranking.  The University of Chicago was listed as being tied for 3rd place nationwide, just behind Harvard and equal with Columbia, Yale, and M.I.T.  Northwestern moved up from 11th place to a tie for 10th.  Loyola was rated 89th, the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) was ranked 96th, and DePaul came in at 119th.  

OPIOIDS 
· Opioid prescriptions declining in Illinois.  The legal dispensing of opioid pain management medications, including OxyContin, declined in 2017.  The data was seen as evidence that steps are being taken to reduce opioid abuse in Illinois.  In many cases of opioid abuse and addiction, a patient is introduced to opioids through the legitimate use of prescription painkillers.  Physicians who provide treatment to persons with one-time pain management needs, such as post-operative patients, are being taught to prescribe lower doses of opioids in smaller quantities.  Programs approved by the Illinois General Assembly are being used to improve anti-opioid continuing education efforts for all medical caregivers, including physicians and pharmacists.

This week’s Illinois opioid data came from the statewide Prescription Monitoring Program, a database monitor operated by the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS).  The database monitor has been recommended to medical care providers since the 1970s, but in 2017 the General Assembly changed the law to mandate prescribing physicians to enroll in the Program.  Work done by the Illinois General Assembly, with the consultative input of the Illinois State Medical Society, now ensures that Illinois professional regulators and law enforcement have high-quality, universal data to use to fight against opioid drug abuse and addiction.  

TRANSPORTATION
· Renewed interest in issue of texting while driving.  A recent survey of Illinois high school students shows 42% of Illinois teens admit to texting while driving.  This number is even higher than the 38% nationwide teen average who admit to the same offense.  While texting-while-driving is banned in Illinois, many believe that the law is not fully enforced.  The Illinois General Assembly enacted legislation, signed by Gov. Rauner in August 2018, to increase penalties for the violation of texting while driving.  Under the new law, first-time convictions for texting-while-driving will be classified as moving violations and, like other moving violations, will be placed on the offender’s permanent driving record.  Three or more repeat offenses of texting while driving could lead to the suspension of a driver’s license.

During the “police training interval” between the signing of the law and its effective date (July 1, 2019), a public push is taking place to tell Illinois drivers about the new law and to train police officers on its enforcement.  Police officers are becoming familiar with the characteristic position and head posture of drivers who are looking at phones in their hands or in their laps.   The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that a distracted driver who looks down at his or her phone is carrying out conduct that is six times more dangerous than driving under the influence.

ILLINOIS 200 – BICENTENNIAL
· Online poll honors Walt Disney as top Illinois entertainer.  The honor came through the Illinois Top 200 Project, an ongoing online survey that asks Illinoisans to vote for winners in categories related to Illinois’ history and heritage.  Disney, who is also known worldwide for his connections to Hollywood and Orange County’s Disneyland, was born in the Hermosa neighborhood of Chicago.  The “Top Entertainer” poll also listed nine other Illinoisans with widespread fan support throughout the Internet.  Winners include Jack Benny, Bob Newhart, Richard Pryor, and Oprah Winfrey. 

By Illinois’s 200th birthday on Dec. 3, 2018, Bicentennial Day, voters will have chosen 10 favorites in 20 different categories, thus making up the Illinois Top 200.  Results for Illinois’ top scientist will be announced next week.  

WEEK IN REVIEW
· Get the Week in Review emailed directly to your inbox!  Sign up today to get a first-hand look at the continuing legislative and fiscal challenges facing policymakers in Springfield.
.

No comments :