Victor Yehling

Managing Editor

Victor Yehling is Managing Editor for WNIJ News.  He coordinates the WNIJ news team, assigns stories, offers suggestions, develops project ideas, and generally harasses our outstanding news employees.  He's a relative newcomer, joining WNIJ in July 2010, but he has 15 years prior experience as a newspaper editor and reporter plus a couple of years in TV news.  He also spent time on the dark side, working in public relations and advertising; he claims he's recovering.  Away from the station, he enjoys theater, grandchildren, board games, Kansas City Chiefs football, and preparing for retirement in rural suburban Hagarstown.

rock.uwc.edu

The University of Wisconsin System would merge each of its 13 two-year campuses with a four year institution under a plan unveiled Wednesday by UW System President Ray Cross.

The UW-Rock County two-year campus in Janesville, for example, would become part of the University of Wisconsin—Whitewater under the restructuring plan.

The plan also would put the state’s public broadcasting networks under the auspices of the UW System administration.

State of Illinois

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has signed the controversial House Bill 40, which allows the use of taxpayer funds to pay for abortions. He announced his intention at a news conference Thursday in Chicago and signed the bill later that day.

An Illinois court case that challenges union “agency fees” for state employees will be heard this term by the U.S. Supreme Court. It is among 11 cases the high court added to its docket Thursday morning.

In Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, the lead plaintiff is Mark Janus, a child support specialist at the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services. He’s represented pro bono in the case by attorneys from the National Right to Work Foundation and the Illinois-based Liberty Justice Center.

Illinois Department of Insurance

Illinois residents shopping for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act marketplace for next year could see rate increases as high as 40 percent, under rate plans submitted through the Illinois Department of Insurance.

Illinois premium increases are, on average, lower in 2018 than 2017 for all levels, the department said in a news release.

NIU

Northern Illinois University has been named to the Safest Colleges in America 2017  Top 100 list by the National Council for Home Safety and Security.

The DeKalb campus was ranked 65 on the list, with only three other Illinois institutions ranked higher:

Dan Libman

“The first question,” bicyclist and WNIJ contributor Dan Libman asked, “is ‘What does it stand for?’”

RAGBRAI stands for Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa, and 2017 is the 45th year for the event, which began in 1973 with 130 riders. It was the brainchild of Des Moines Register reporter John Karras and columnist Don Kaul, who invited the public to join them on a week-long pedal across the state.

niu.edu

It’s all up to the Illinois House of Representatives.

Speaker Michael Madigan announced Wednesday that he will call a vote on whether to override the veto of the spending plan and supporting tax increase that both chambers approved over the weekend.

After Gov. Bruce Rauner’s swift rejection on Sunday, the state Senate came back and rejected the veto later that day. The House has not taken up the matter yet, due in part to member absences. But more on that later.

The issue of health is everywhere today, from national policy all the way down to what we do as individuals.

In this week’s Friday Forum, WNIJ’s Victor Yehling talks with Dr. Thomas Schiller, medical director of BetterLife Wellness at SwedishAmerican Health Systems, about what individuals can do to improve their health – and what support and encouragement is available.

The idea of a “better life” sounds very appealing, and Schiller makes it very clear that each person can have a profound effect on his or her own health.

pixabay.com

Banking in Illinois ranks fourth among all the states for choice, stability, best rates, and customer satisfaction, according to a recent survey by Money-Rates.com.

The survey compared the number of banks in each state, the number of bank failures, the interest rates for savings and deposits, and the JD Power ratings of banks to generate the list.

Diane Drake / WNIJ

Thirty current Northern Illinois University employees will lose their jobs next fiscal year as part of the university efforts to set aside $35 million in reserve for the next fiscal year, President Doug Baker announced Monday in a “Campus Update” email.

More than half the reserve fund -- $20 million – is being achieved through “increased support from the NIU Foundation and the re-examination of all university operating budgets,” according to Baker’s email. The remaining $15 million will come from “revenue enhancements” and cuts in various university divisions.

tammyduckworth.com

Tammy Duckworth is glad to be back working for the entire population of Illinois.

She has just completed her first three months as a U.S. Senator, following her defeat of Republican incumbent Mark Kirk last November.

Duckworth spent three years as director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs before moving to Washington D.C. as Assistant Secretary for Veterans Affairs under President Obama. She returned to Illinois in late 2011 and won the Illinois 8th District U.S. House seat the following year.

Flickr user / Images Money "Healthcare Costs" (CC BY 2.0)

Rockford residents who are getting their health insurance through the Illinois exchange under the current Affordable Care Act will lose an estimated average of $3,662 in subsidies under the proposed replacement American Health Care Act.

That’s a drop of more than 42 percent.

Moreover, Rockford would be the hardest-hit by the changes – and residents in only two other Illinois cities would see their subsidies shrink.

It’s a common complaint: “Illinois has the worst property taxes in the United States.”

That may be great for making political hay, but it isn’t entirely true – according to a recent study by WalletHub.com of all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Illinois ranked 50th in that study with an effective average annual property tax rate of 2.3 percent. But that’s one notch above New Jersey, which imposes an average effective property tax rate of 2.35 percent.

Some incumbents lost their seats in Tuesday’s primary election, which was marked by very low turnout in every race.

Some of Tuesday’s winners will be guaranteed victory in April because there are no qualified candidates to oppose them.

Rockford

Two Rockford City Council incumbents were pushed out of their seats by primary challengers Tuesday,

Flickr user / kristin_a (Meringue Bake Shop) "Vote!" (CC BY 2.0)

Primary elections are scheduled in a few places in northern Illinois today.

AP

The approval of controversial nominee Betsy DeVos as the next U.S. Secretary of Education took a historical twist Tuesday.

Vice President Mike Pence – barely over two weeks into his term – cast a tie-breaking vote in his Constitutional role as President of the U.S. Senate.

That was the 246th time that a vice president had to resolve a Senate deadlock, but it was the only time such a vote was cast to decide a cabinet appointment.

Declaring himself “frustrated by the slow pace of change here in Springfield,” Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner described the State of the State as needing compromise and additional reform to accomplish its goals.

He touted great “strides in ethics reform” since taking office two years ago and “modernizing and streamlining” state government and making information more accessible to citizens.

When Richard Schmack became DeKalb County State’s Attorney in December 2012, his plate already was full of cases.

The 2010 murder of Northern Illinois University freshman Antinette “Toni” Keller still was awaiting resolution, and nine NIU employees were facing charges in what was known as the “coffee fund case.”

Moreover, Jack McCullough was awaiting sentencing for his conviction a couple of months earlier in the 1957 murder of Sycamore schoolgirl Maria Ridulph -- and maintaining that he was innocent of the crime.

WalletHub.com

There is good news and not-so-good news about political engagement in Illinois.

The good news is that Illinois ranked first for Voter Accessibility Policies in the study by wallethub.com.

The not-so-good news is that the Prairie State only ranked 23 out of the 50 states and District of Columbia in overall political engagement.

Tuesday is Partisan Primary Day in Wisconsin, where the field of candidates for public office will be narrowed to one per political party for the November general election.

County, state and federal candidates are on the ballot.

What may be the most publicized race involves U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan of Janesville, who faces a challenge from fellow Republican Paul Nehlen of Williams Bay. Two Democrats – Ryan Solen of Mt. Pleasant and Tom  Breu of Janesville -- are seeking their party’s nomination. Libertarian Jason Lebeck of Janesville is unopposed.

WalletHub.com

Student loan debt in the United States stands at about $1.3 trillion, and it’s growing by more than $2,700 per second, according to a report by MarketWatch.

It’s been a political football in Congress and on the campaign trail as officeholders and candidates debate what should or should not be allowed in financing and refinancing student loans.

Brian Mackey/Illinois Public Radio

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner painted a bleak picture Monday morning of what could happen if a state budget is not passed before Friday.

But he gave some hope that a solution could be reached when the Illinois General Assembly returns to Springfield on Wednesday for the first time since the spring legislative session ended in May.

WalletHub

The Rockford area is well within the top 10 percent of metropolitan statistical areas, or MSAs, nationwide when it comes to reflecting the average American community.

The Forest City and its surrounding area ranked 35th out of 379 of the largest U.S. metropolitan statistical areas and 14th out of 164 similarly medium-sized MSAs in comparison to the national average.

That’s better than the Peoria area, which used to be considered the typical American community. Peoria came in at 73 in the medium-sized category and 140 overall.

Jack McCullough’s 2012 conviction in the 1957 death of seven-year-old Maria Ridulph should be thrown out, according to a filing by DeKalb County State’s Attorney Richard Schmack.

The filing made Tuesday is in answer to an amended petition filed Monday by McCullough’s latest attorneys, Gabriel Fuentes and Shaun Van Horn of the Chicago law firm of Jenner and Block.

McCullough was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison in 2012, and his murder conviction was upheld by the Second District Appellate Court in 2015.

  In what might be called a “Citizens United” uprising, voters in the Green County towns of Clarno and York and the cities of Brodhead and Monroe will decide whether to support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  

 

Although the wording varies among the four ballots, the basic propositions are these:

-Only human beings  -- not artificial entities like corporations, unions, and similar associations -- are endowed with constitutional rights.

Rockford residents approved – by a nearly 2-to-1 vote -- for the third time the imposition of a 1% sales tax that funds public infrastructure, including road and bridge repair for the next five years. This measure would maintain rather than increase the current tax rate. It is expected to yield about $60 million over the next five years.

In DeKalb County, voters in the Village of Waterman approved a 1% sales tax to fund municipal operations, on public infrastructure, or property tax relief with nearly two-thirds of the voters voting Yes.

Most races in Tuesday’s primaries for the Illinois General Assembly have been fully tabulated, but some that involve McHenrty County are still incomplete.

Only one State Senate primary affects the WNIJ listening area directly, and all the returns still had not been filed as of late this morning. A three-way Republican race in the 26th Senate District shows Dan McConchie with just under 36% of the vote, Casey Urlacher in second place with a little less than 34%, and Martin McLaughlin with just over 30%.

Results were mixed Tuesday for area fire-protection districts in their requests to increase property tax assessments on the communities they serve. One district actually increased its taxpayer base.

The Blackhawk Fire Protection District southwest of Rockford received approval for a special tax of not more than .05% of assessed property value to pay for emergency and rescue crews and equipment.

Finalists in the search for a new Rockford Police Chief will be announced early next week, according to the Rockford Board of Fire and Police Commissioners.

The new chief will fill the position left vacant by Chet Epperson, who retired last November.

With the help of search firm IOS Solutions, the board is winnowing the 26 qualified applicants. The board is scheduled to review applications and select three or four finalists at its meeting next Monday. 

WNIJ/Victor Yehling

Friday is the final day of sculpting for the artists in the 2016 Illinois Snow Sculpting Contest, and teams were hard at work bringing their works to fruition.

Designs this year are mostly fanciful, with the occasional more-serious work. The official competitors are complemented bay an array of high school teams.

Spectators were not in short supply, as a fairly steady stream of cars wended through Sinnissippi Park on North Second Street in Rockford.

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