Senate Week in Review: October 13 – 17

Senate Judiciary Committee Hears Testimony on Police Body Cameras

Chicago – Members of the Illinois Senate Judiciary Committee are studying the idea of putting video cameras on police officers throughout the state. On Friday, October 17th, the committee met in Chicago to hear testimony from both proponents and opponents of the idea.

“This is a very intriguing idea, but at this point we are just trying to learn more about the possibilities,” said Judiciary Committee Minority Spokesman State Senator Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington). “There are a lot of potential benefits and issues that we have to study before taking the next step.”

The idea of police body cameras has been in the national spotlight recently after a police officer in Ferguson, Mo fatally shot a suspect.

Proponents of the camera idea note that it could provide evidence for both police and citizens, whenever questions arise over confrontations during arrests and questioning.

Opponents worry about potential issues of privacy, as well as the reliability of such devices and the problems determining when they would be turned on.

“At the end of the day, if this is something that could help law enforcement and Illinois residents, then we should explore the idea further,” said Senator Barickman. “But this is a very serious issue, and we need to ensure that our law enforcement officers are able to continue doing their jobs in an effective manner to keep our communities safe.”

The General Assembly is expected to soon craft a new eavesdropping law, due to a court that struck down the previous statute. Body cameras could become an issue during that process as well, as new the legislation could end up limiting their use. 

Senate Week in Review

More clouds gathered over the Quinn administration as a result of a controversial home weatherization program, while a new report from a major bond rating agency offered a grim forecast of the state’s job creation prospects.

Meanwhile, a bipartisan legislative committee put the state’s hydraulic fracturing rules on hold for another month and the state’s Hospital Association has issued a fact sheet about the deadly Ebola virus.

Weatherization Program Scandal

Another Quinn administration jobs initiative is drawing headlines for wasting taxpayer dollars and failing to provide marketable job training skills.

This time, it’s the Urban Weatherization Initiative, started in 2009 with the intent to train workers in predominantly African-American neighborhoods in weatherization and other energy efficiency trades.

Coming just days after a bipartisan legislative commission took two days of testimony on Governor Pat Quinn’s failed Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, a Chicago-based reform group is highlighting the failures of the massive weatherization training program that was supposed to create skilled workers and provide low-cost services to homeowners across the state.

A Better Government Association (BGA) investigation has found that five years into the program, more than $16 million has been spent, with just 183 homes upgraded and only a handful of persons actually working. The program is also the subject of a Chicago Sun-Times report, and the newspaper editorialized that the program is a “boondoggle.”

The investigation found $13 million of the $16 million spent went toward administrative costs and training.  The program claims to have trained 1,900 persons, but the state agency charged with overseeing the program says it does not have figures on how many trainees found jobs or are currently working. The BGA investigation found few former trainees who had obtained permanent work.

Hydraulic Fracturing Rules on Hold

Proposed rules for hydraulic fracturing, often known as “fracking,” have been put on hold until Nov. 6 by the bipartisan legislative committee that reviews state regulations.

The Joint Committee on Administrative Rules had placed the regulations on their Oct. 14 meeting agenda, but elected to push back any vote on the rules so that discussions can continue. The committee is charged with assuring that the rules adopted will reflect the language of Senate Bill 1715, which authorized hydraulic fracturing when it passed in 2013.

The legislation was painstakingly negotiated between energy companies and environmentalists and lawmakers want to make sure the rules that state regulators will operate under accurately reflect the language and intent of the original measure.

The Administrative Rules committee is facing a Nov. 15 deadline to adopt rules or force the process to start over again. With no rules in place, some have raised concerns that a court could order that hydraulic fracturing can begin in a virtually unregulated environment.

S&P: Illinois last in Job Creation

A new forecast of state and local government credit conditions ranks Illinois last in the region for job growth.

The report, from rating agency Standard & Poor’s looks at economic growth by region. Illinois is included in the East North Central area, along with Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin.

Region-wide, the report predicts a slight improvement in unemployment rates, but warns that the projected 6.61% average for 2014 is likely to remain above the national average and that the area is likely to experience slower growth than other regions.

The analysis predicts manufacturing job growth through 2014 of 1.63% for the region, but then declares, “Illinois, despite being the least manufacturing-reliant state in the region, ranks last in job creation.”

Hospital Association Issues Ebola Fact Sheet

Although no cases of the deadly Ebola virus have been reported in the state, the Illinois Hospital Association has compiled a fact sheet on the disease and the risks associated with it.

While the disease has ravaged countries in West Africa, as of Mid-October just eight cases of the disease have been reported in the United States, most involving persons who contracted the disease in West Africa and returned to the United States for treatment. One person died, four are in treatment and three have recovered.

In addition to the Hospital Association Fact Sheet, information on Ebola is available from the Centers for Disease Control and the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Fire Truck Loan Program Accepting Applications

Loan applications are now being accepted for fire department and fire protection districts wishing to purchase fire and brush trucks.

Thanks to bipartisan legislation approved this year (SB 2690), loans will be available for up to $350,000 – an increase of $100,000.

The Fire Truck Revolving Loan Program application period began Oct. 15 and will run until Dec. 12. The program offers zero percent and low-interest loans for up to 20 years. More information on the loan program and an application form can be found on the State Fire Marshall website.

Chicago No. 1 – in rats

Pest control company Orkin has released its list of the 20 “rattiest” cities in the nation and Chicago beat out all others for the dubious title.

Or, maybe not.

The ranking is based on the number of rodent control treatments performed by the company during the previous year. While it stands to reason that the cities where the most businesses and individuals sought rat control are the cities with the most rats, it’s also possible that it just means Chicagoans are more vigilant in rooting out the rodents.

That’s our story and we’re sticking to it.

At any rate, the top five cities after Chicago were Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., New York and San Francisco. While Illinois often loses out to Indiana in job-related rankings, Indianapolis came it at 19 on the list. Take that Hoosiers!

Seriously, the rankings serve as a reminder to home and business owners that fall is a prime season for rodents to move indoors.

Orkin warns that a rat can slip inside using a hole the size of a quarter, while a mouse needs only a dime-sized hole to get inside. They also warn that rodents are known to chew around smaller holes to make them large enough to get indoors.

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