Government

Government and Legislature

Susan Stephens/WNIJ

Sexual harassment and assault allegations against high-profile entertainment and news executives have surged over the past few months. They spurred the “#MeToo” movement, in which people took to social media to disclose their own stories as victims. The campaign sparked questions of how sexual harassment in the workplace is handled.

In this week Friday Forum, WNIJ’s Jessie Schlacks examines the prevalence of sexual harassment on a smaller scale – and how local officials are working to amend their own policies.

State of Illinois

Illinois State Democrats recently released their list of top ten laws going into effect after the New Year.

More than 200 Illinois laws will go into effect after January first. That includes sale stickers having to be removed from car windshields before going on the road. 

City Wi-Fi To Come To DeKalb By Early Summer

Dec 20, 2017
City of DeKalb / Northern Illinois University

DeKalb is on track to have a better public Wi-Fi setup by early summer.

The City of DeKalb and Northern Illinois University approved an intergovernmental agreement in September to expand NIU’s free public Wi-Fi use for city visitors. The project will add more access points along DeKalb’s downtown area.

Marc Thorson heads the city’s information technology department. He says Digital Lobby, the company that would provide the access, has worked with other cities and companies before but never with a city and university combined.

A referendum proposing that the Winnebago County Clerk and Recorder offices be combined will appear on the March ballot.

The Winnebago County Board voted 14 to 4 last week to put the question on the March primary ballot. County Board Chairman Frank Haney says merging the offices might save the county money over time.

He says the idea hasn’t been controversial, and the board’s priority is to serve residents in the best way at the best possible cost. Generally, the County Clerk handles election responsibilities whereas the County Recorder keeps property ownership records.

Katie Finlon / WNIJ

A DeKalb County judge ruled on an e-mail subpoena Wednesday in a libel suit by the DeKalb Police chief against a Crystal Lake man.

DeKalb Police Chief Gene Lowery sued Dr. Thomas Salvi for more than $300,000 last year. Salvi sent e-mails to then-mayor John Rey claiming Lowery was an “aggressive thug” and “fraud” and should be fired.

Lowery’s attorney previously filed the subpoena requesting Salvi’s employer to provide all e-mails sent or received by him since May 2013. Salvi's lawyer filed a motion to block the subpoena due to privacy concerns for his patients.

Jenna Dooley / WNIJ

Community input played a role in keeping the DeKalb Municipal Band operating at normal capacity for now.

The DeKalb City Council held a special meeting recently where they addressed potential budget cuts for the next year. That included the possibility of reduced funding for the DeKalb Municipal Band.

DeKalb Alderman David Jacobson says the band currently gets $60,000 annually when they usually only spend $50,000. He says the city agreed to cut just the $10,000 difference during the special meeting.

www.cheribustos.com

An Illinois Congresswoman helped unveil a new bill this week that would prohibit lawmakers from using taxpayer dollars to pay for sexual harassment and assault settlements.

U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-East Moline, says she was among co-sponsors of the bill to help bring transparency to harassment-claim payouts under the Congressional Accountability Act.

Bustos says her office initially sent out a statement about it because of similar allegations coming to light across the country lately.

Guy Stephens/WNIJ

The City of DeKalb has begun a project to revitalize a troubled area of the city. In the past, “renewal” often meant “removal and replacement,” but not these days. WNIJ’s Guy Stephens looks at recent efforts toward neighborhood revitalization.

  Guy Stephens' report on neighborhood revitalization (Friday Forum, Dec. 1, 2017)

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

The DeKalb County Economic Development Corporation celebrated its 30th year Thursday night with a dinner featuring a keynote address by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Rauner praised the crowd for being part of what he called one of the best economic development organizations in the state. He also said the area could do a lot better if federal courts rule in his favor by rolling back regulations on businesses.

“​I promise​ ​that ​within​ ​6​ ​months,​ ​I​ ​will​ ​get​ ​literally​ ​dozens​ ​of​ ​manufacturing​ ​plants​ ​to​ ​come​ ​here,” Rauner said.

Carlos Manzano Photos / CC BY-SA 3.0

The push continues to legalize recreational marijuana in Illinois. This time, support comes from a travel expert who wants to see the state adopt the European approach to cannabis.

pixabay.com

One of the primary ways that local governments get revenue is through property taxes. The amount of each property tax bill is determined by what various government entities need and the value of each home or business to be taxed. In this week’s Friday Forum, we look at how that value is determined and what you can do if you think they’re asking for too much.

Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza says state government has begun paying off a significant chunk of overdue bills.

Illinois owes vendors more than $16.7 billion dollars as a result of significant growth during the two-year budget standoff. Mendoza said $4.5 billion in payments – more than a quarter of the total -- went out Wednesday night. 

“Two billion of that will be spent on group health insurance payments," she said. "These are folks like dentists, who have been waiting often more than two years to get paid for services already rendered."

The Illinois General Assembly has enacted a new set of protections for people with student loan debt.

Gov. Bruce Rauner had vetoed the bill because, he said, it would encroach on the federal government’s responsibilities. But 32 Republicans in the House joined Democrats in voting Tuesday to override the governor's veto.

Bill sponsor Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, says the bill deserved bipartisan support.

spplawyers.com

The Illinois General Assembly finally has chosen someone to investigate ethics complaints against state legislators and staff. 

Julie Porter, a former federal prosecutor based in Evanston, was appointed as temporary legislative inspector general following a weekend telephone conference call of eight lawmakers assigned to oversee ethics in the legislature.

Katie Finlon / WNIJ

A very important election issue isn’t on the ballot. It involves finding enough judges or inspectors to make sure election days run smoothly. In this week's Friday Forum, WNIJ's Katie Finlon looks at the efforts involved in filling those seats.

County and municipal officials already are starting to recruit election judges (the Illinois title) or inspectors  (the Wisconsin term) for next year’s election cycle. Some say it can be difficult to fill those necessary roles in all of their precincts.

A crime-victims advocate told an Illinois House committee Tuesday that a powerful state senator sexually harassed her last year as they were working together on legislation, causing her so much mental anguish that she dropped 20 pounds and lost her hair.

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

The woman who blew the whistle on former Dixon Comptroller Rita Crundwell received a national award this weekend. Kathe Swanson was Dixon’s city clerk when she discovered accounting irregularities in 2011, which eventually revealed that Crundwell stole more than $53 million from the city.

Swanson was presented the Ethical Courage Award by the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy at a screening of the documentary All the Queen’s Horses, by filmmaker Kelly Richmond Pope, who featured Swanson in her film.

Illinois House Buries 'Bump Stock' Ban

Oct 27, 2017

The Illinois House today tried — and failed — to ban the gun modification known as a “bump stock.” The law was proposed as a response to the mass shooting in Las Vegas.

Bump stocks use a semiautomatic rifle’s recoil to make it fire more like a fully-automatic weapon. The devices can make semiautomatic rifle fire almost as quickly as machine guns.

The Las Vegas gunman used several bump stocks to maximize casualties among country music fans attending a festival.

Carter Staley / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Five DeKalb-area panelists took part in an Illinois Issues discussion earlier this week about the effects of the two-year Illinois budget impasse and the state’s financial future. That’s the subject of this week's WNIJ Friday Forum.

Illinois was without a state budget for two years. That ended in early July when lawmakers overrode Governor Bruce Rauner’s veto.  It was a huge relief to schools, social service agencies, and programs that rely on state funding. But celebrations were tempered by the reality of the state’s fiscal situation.

Flickr user Growinnc / "Practice makes perfect! #hairdo#school#perm#cosmetology" (CC V. 2.0)

Saturday is the last day for cosmetology professionals and teachers in Illinois to renew their licenses before the next cycle.

Renewal requirements include certain continuing education, but domestic violence training is not yet on the list. Those requirements start next year, but they still haven’t been explicitly outlined. 

Mary Ellen Schaid directs Safe Passage in DeKalb. She says the group already gave presentations to several local schools and salons on what to do if a client confides in them about domestic violence.

Page Limit Not A Problem For NIU Open Meeting Case

Sep 22, 2017
Katie Finlon / WNIJ

The usual length of a court document will not prevent either side from presenting its full argument in an Open Meetings Act case, according to a DeKalb County court ruling Friday.

Judge Bradley Waller says Misty Haji-Sheikh’s attorney may exceed the page limit for her argument. She says the Northern Illinois University Board of Trustees violated the Open Meetings Act and did not notify the public of former president Doug Baker’s severance package, which was more than $600,000.

Public Comment Ends Soon On New DeKalb Transit Plan

Sep 22, 2017
Northern Illinois University

Residents can give input on the new DeKalb transit plan until Tuesday. It includes more frequent service overall, a line going to Cortland and more trips to the Elburn Metra train station throughout the week.

DeKalb Public Works director Tim Holdeman says the new plan suggests merging the Northern Illinois University bus line and the TransVAC lines, which currently serve Kishwaukee College students, DeKalb and Sycamore.

“There’s an inefficiency in having two bus systems serve generally the same population,” Holdeman said.

"AMZNbox_" by Flickr User Elvis Fool / (CC X 2.0)

Seattle-based online retailer Amazon has announced it is building a second headquarters for 50,000 employees. Cities all over the country -- including Chicago -- are bidding for the chance to get the headquarters.

Rauner says he’s involved in the Chicago bid, but also in the Saint Louis effort.

“Chicago is clearly the more important,” Rauner said, “but we've got to make sure that we’re positioned to benefit Illinois if St. Louis ends up being very competitive.”

State of Illinois

Illinois State Secretary of Education Beth Purvis will leave office on Friday. That's according to a news release from Governor Bruce Rauner's office.

Purvis will be joining a national nonprofit organization and overseeing educational philanthropy.

“Beth has been a tireless advocate for Illinois children and families,” Gov. Rauner said in the news release. “We are deeply grateful for her efforts.”

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

A lawsuit between the Northern Illinois University Board of Trustees and Misty Haji-Sheikh regarding former President Doug Baker’s resignation continues.

A DeKalb County judge extended the temporary restraining order barring NIU from taking further action on Baker’s severance package. The next hearing is scheduled for late November.

Brian Mackey

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner is embarking on an eight-day trade mission to Japan and China later this week.

Until now, Rauner has spent more time criticizing the Illinois business climate than promoting it. Rauner says he wasn’t traveling to aggressively promote Illinois because he thought it was inappropriate.

There was no budget for two years, and Democrats were blocking his anti-union agenda. Even though Rauner didn’t get that passed, he’s now going to personally recruit companies abroad anyway.

Jenna Dooley / WNIJ

About 20 Illinois lawmakers so far have announced they are leaving the state legislature. For some, it's effective immediately. For others, it means they will not run for re-election -- and the list keeps growing.

But is this kind of turnover normal in Springfield?

State Sen. Tim Bivins, R-Dixon, recently announced he will not run again this coming term. He served for more than a decade in the Illinois Senate after he retired from a 33-year career in law enforcement. So, Bivins says, he thought 11 years was long enough for him to serve as a state senator.

Katie Finlon / WNIJ

The libel case between the DeKalb police chief and a Crystal Lake man will continue Nov. 8.

DeKalb police chief Gene Lowery sued Thomas Salvi for more than $300,000 last year. Salvi sent e-mails to then-mayor John Rey claiming Lowery was an “aggressive thug” and “fraud” and should be fired.

Rey said he didn’t believe Salvi’s claims, according to court records. Salvi's legal team says there isn’t enough evidence that the claims ruined Lowery’s reputation or otherwise harmed him.

Wikipedia

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a bill into law Monday that some immigration lawyers say provides the strongest protections for immigrants of any state. 

The Illinois Trust Act says that local and state law enforcement officials will not detain immigrants solely because they may be undocumented.

The Republican governor signed it at a Mexican restaurant in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood.

“This bill takes us in a step continuing to be a welcoming state,” Rauner said. “This was not an easy bill to pass; let’s be clear.”

Katie Finlon / WNIJ

Illinoisians eligible to vote will now automatically be registered when they get their driver’s license or another state I.D.

Republican Governor Bruce Rauner signed the bill into law Monday. The measure received unanimous support from both Democrats and Republicans in Springfield.

Democratic State Senator Andy Manar sponsored the legislation.

“The bipartisan vote that was taken on this legislation was, when you think about it, quite stunning especially given the dynamic of what’s happening in Springfield today,” Manar said.

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