SPRINGFIELD, IL - The Illinois Senate met in Springfield Nov. 10, amid a flurry of bipartisan agreements and political maneuverings. An upcoming meeting between the four top legislative leaders and the Governor could give further insight into the stakes of the budget struggle, although attendees are downplaying expectations for a comprehensive resolution in the immediate future.
Report cards are ready for pickup throughout Illinois, but likely not the kind you’re thinking of. Schools themselves are graded on class sizes, graduation rates, and a wide range of demographics and finances, available online. School-by-school results of Illinois’s PARCC tests are expected later this month.
And farmers are busy preparing for next year, as this year’s harvest comes to a close.
November legislative session: Progress and politics
Both houses of the Illinois General Assembly met in Springfield Nov. 10. The stage was set the day before, with the announcement of bipartisan agreements on three significant subjects.
· Child-care assistance program: Gov. Rauner and a bipartisan group of legislators announced an agreement that would significantly expand eligibility for the state’s child-care program, which had been in limbo pending movement on the state budget. As a result of the agreement, eligibility was raised from 50 percent of the federal poverty level to 162 percent – or about $32,500 for a family of three.
· Unemployment insurance: Gov. Bruce Rauner, legislators from both sides of the aisle, business groups, and labor organizations announced an agreement to reform and improve Illinois’ unemployment insurance system. The agreement introduces new standards for eligibility, including a denial of benefits in the case of consumption of alcohol or drugs during work hours; damage caused through grossly negligible conduct; falsification of information during application; and several other standards.
· Determination of Need for seniors: Following the earlier agreements, Gov. Rauner announced the withdrawal of emergency changes to the state’s Determination of Need score, which determines which senior citizens are eligible for specific state-provided assistance.
“This is what we can accomplish through bipartisan negotiations,” said Senator Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington). “We can continue this progress moving forward if everyone remains committed to good-faith negotiations.”
More political games in the House
On Nov. 10, Democrats in the House of Representatives attempted a series of runarounds to the bipartisan agreements. The chamber’s leaders held roll-call votes on Senate Bill 570, a bill to increase the eligibility in the child care program to 185% and prevent the Governor’s ability to make rule changes in the future; and a veto override attempt on Gov. Rauner’s changes to House Bill 2482, affecting the Determination of Need score.
Both attempts failed – by a single vote – to gain the supermajority needed to pass.
House Democrats also pulled a procedural maneuver on another important piece of legislation: House Bill 4305. That bill would have designated funding to pay lottery winners and release motor fuel tax funding to local municipalities and 911 centers. The maneuver means despite the legislation passing overwhelmingly in the House, the legislation cannot be placed on the fast- track to the Senate without the House’s consent.
Republicans in the House called those actions “bad-faith” and needlessly antagonistic after bipartisan agreements had been reached and a clear step in the opposite direction of a wider agreement on the state budget.
Back in business? Two pro-jobs tax programs getting back on track
On Nov. 10, as a result of the bipartisan compromises between legislators and the Governor, the Rauner Administration announced it is moving forward on two pro-jobs tax initiatives: Illinois’ EDGE Tax Credits and Film Tax Credits. Both programs had previously been suspended indefinitely as a result of the ongoing budget impasse.
With this change, Illinois’ Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity will once again be able to make EDGE offers to companies, and Film Tax Credits can be green-lighted to approved projects in Illinois. Offers for new projects, however, will still not be able to be certified or claimed until a Fiscal Year 16 budget is enacted.
Leaders’ meeting scheduled for December 1st
The Governor’s meeting with the leaders of the four legislative caucuses has been re-scheduled for December 1, due to a death in Speaker Madigan’s family.
Republican leaders remain hopeful the Democrat majorities in the House and the Senate will negotiate in good faith to address important reforms needed to turn Illinois around and make progress on righting the state’s fiscal ship.
Illinois school report cards available at IllinoisReportCard.Com
Parents probably know when to expect their children’s report cards, but they might not know their local schools are graded too.
New public data was just released as part of the annual Illinois Report Card, including information about student and teacher demographics, ACT scores, class sizes, graduation rates, college readiness, and financial information.
Statewide, Illinois averages a class size of 21, an 85 percent graduation rate, and total enrollment of more than 2 million students across 3,764 schools.
School-by-school results of Illinois’s PARCC tests (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career) are expected later this month.
Be alert: It’s deer season on Illinois roads
According to the Illinois Department of Transportation, nearly half of all deer-vehicle crashes occur in October, November, and December.
Illinois drivers were involved in more than 15,300 crashes involving deer in 2014, including four fatalities and 570 human injuries.
The traffic-heavy counties of Cook and Madison led the state for the number of crashes, with 428 apiece. The counties with the most accidents after Cook and Madison are: Will (401 crashes); Sangamon (394); Fulton (350); Peoria (340); Lake (324); Kane (319); Rock Island (290) and Jackson (288).
IDOT offers the following tips to avoid deer collisions:
- Reduce your speed near water, farm fields, and wooded areas; be prepared to stop.
- Deer will often cross roads and double back; make sure deer have moved away from the road before proceeding.
- If you see one deer, be aware that others may be close behind.
- Alert other motorists to the presence of deer by tapping your brakes.
- Don’t swerve into traffic or off the road if you see a deer; instead, slow to a stop.
USDA updates crop yield numbers, farmers preparing for next year
American farmers raised 4 percent less corn in 2015 than the record crop of 2014, according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s November crop report. Total US corn production is estimated at 13.7 billion bushels. Soybeans however, are now forecast to set a new record at 3.98 billion bushels, a 1 percent increase from the preceding year. Both crop estimates were higher than the previous USDA report, though it wasn’t necessarily good news for farmers. The higher than expected yields sent corn and soybean prices tumbling lower.
The 2015 harvest is now almost entirely complete. With soil temperatures dropping, farmers are shifting their attention toward fall tillage and fertilizer application. Typically they will wait until soil temperatures drop below 50 degrees to apply nitrogen fertilizer, because cooler soils will retain the fertilizer better.
Farmers have welcomed recent rain, which helped end near-drought conditions in several areas of the state. According to the USDA, topsoil is now rated at 69 percent adequate and 5 percent surplus, with subsoil moisture at 61 percent and 4 percent respectively. Soil temperatures are ranging from 48.8 degrees in southern Illinois to 38.8 degrees in the northern part of the state.