Illinois

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A Democratic candidate for Illinois governor says he would commute prison sentences for low-level drug offenders.

In a policy speech Tuesday in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood, Chicago Alderman Ameya Pawar put a lot of the blame for today’s violence and criminal justice issues on poverty and the war on drugs.

“The war on drugs was a success because the war on drugs was never actually about drugs,” he said. “It was against black people.”

A website that popped up this month asks a question as its URL: arethereanywomenrunningforilgovernor.com.

It then very simply answers it with a bright red "NO." A group of professional women in the state are behind the effort to draw attention to the issue.

Among them is Kady McFadden. She helped create a new website to highlight the lack of women candidates for governor. 

facebook.com/dekalbpolice

July 26 is recognized as "Speed Awareness Day" in the state.

More than 360 people died in 2015 as a result from speeding. 

The DeKalb Police Department is posting awareness signs and bumping up its patrols for the campaign. 

Commander Steve Lekkas said the extra efforts are meant to bring attention to the risks of driving too fast.

"help wanted" by Flickr User Alachua County / (CC X 2.0)

The Illinois unemployment rate increased slightly in June while nonfarm payrolls increased by nearly 9,000 jobs.

The Illinois Department of Employment Security reported the preliminary data Thursday from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Unemployment inched up 0.1 percentage point in June to settle at 4.7 percent.

Employment Security Director Jeff Mays also revised May job-growth numbers up sharply. They were reported at just over 11,000 new jobs rather than 2,400 as earlier reported.

BRIAN MACKEY / NPR ILLINOIS

A major credit rating agency says Illinois won't see its rating lowered to "junk" but warns the state still faces serious financial challenges and long-term risks.

On Thursday, Moody's Investors Service affirmed the current Illinois rating with a negative outlook, saying a downgrade remains possible in the next two years.

Lake County Sheriff's Office

A suburban Chicago sheriff's department says it has fitted Dennis Hastert with the kind of electronic monitoring that's typically used when recent convicts are placed on home confinement.

The Lake County Sheriffs' Office said Wednesday that authorities attached the device Monday shortly after the ex-U.S. House Speaker was released from a federal prison in Minnesota.

Flickr User Staffan Vilcans/CC 2.0

It’s much easier to pay energy bills in Illinois compared to much of the country, according to a recent survey by WalletHub. 

The survey examined the average monthly amount each state’s residents spent for natural gas, electricity, home heating oil, and gasoline and compared that with the average monthly consumption of each resource.

Flickr user Brent Hoard "ECU School of Education Class Room" (CC BY 2.0)

A northern Illinois community college is taking steps to make textbooks more affordable for students.

McHenry County College said the school could save the student body an estimated $400,000 on textbooks per school year.

This follows a week-long Textbook Cost Reduction Camp held for faculty members in all areas of study.

The camp set out to educate faculty members on textbook alternatives and prepare them to introduce new technology into the classroom.

The faculty-led initiative analyzed 13 courses to find high-quality resources for students at a lower cost.

Katie Finlon / WNIJ

There are several posts circling around social media about cell phone chargers becoming fire hazards. Two area fire officials say there are ways to address that kind of fire prevention.

DeKalb Deputy Fire Chief Jeff McMaster says a plugged-in cell phone charger can become a fire hazard if it keeps drawing power, overheats, and it’s charging in a place where there’s a lack of ventilation – like underneath your pillow or blankets. He says the hazard is still there even if the phone is plugged in.

More Staff Cuts To Rauner's Administration Reported

Jul 14, 2017
Brian Mackey

Crain’s Chicago Business is reporting that four more advisers to Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner are out Friday.

It marks the end of a week in which there’s been big turnover in Rauner’s office.

Rauner has a new chief of staff and a few other top advisory positions in his office who come from the hard-line advocacy group Illinois Policy Institute, which has a legal arm that’s sued over same day voter registration and union work rules.

Photo Provided by University of Illinois Police

The family of missing Chinese scholar Yingying Zhang has increased the amount of reward money for information about her location to $50,000.

By the time authorities arrested a suspect for her kidnapping, they had come to believe that the visiting scholar at the University of Illinois was dead.

But her family and boyfriend have not given up hope that she is still alive. At a news conference, Xiaolin Hou spoke of his girlfriend in the present tense.

Katie Finlon / WNIJ

The DeKalb “flying corn” logo’s history was the subject for this month’s Local Lore adult lecture series. It’s the second year the Ellwood House Museum hosted the series with the help of other area history groups.

Patrons applauded as Donna Langford, with the DeKalb Area Agricultural Heritage Association – or DAAHA, walked to the podium to begin her lecture about the DeKalb Winged Ear logo. It's the familiar ear of corn with wings and the word “DeKalb” written across the ear.

Flickr user Pictures of Money / "Money" (CC BY 2.0)

A major bond-rating agency says the state's fiscal challenges linger despite approval of the first state budget in two years.

Moody's Investors Service issued a report Friday. It notes that an income tax increase approved this month will generate nearly $5 billion more a year.

It says the new revenue will ease the Prairie State's cash crunch. The political squabbling since 2015 between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democrats who control the General Assembly has contributed to a backlog of bills of nearly $15 billion.

EIU

Illinois has tapped nearly $700 million in existing funds to make the first payment to colleges and universities they've received in seven months.

Comptroller Susana Mendoza announced the payment Thursday.

It includes $327 million owed for the needs-based Monetary Award Program for 110,000 college students for the past school year.

The Democrat made the announcement in Charleston. She presented a nearly $6 million payment to Eastern Illinois University President David Glassman.

A faster response to reports of sexual assault and more sensitive treatment of victims are the goals of new Illinois guidelines for law-enforcement agencies issued this month.

It follows the state's Sexual Assault Incident Procedure Act, which requires specialized training and new polices to improve law enforcement to these incidents. 

Flickr user Gerry Lauzon / "Pulling out the stretcher" (CC v. 2.0)

Elevators in new structures built in Sycamore have to be wide enough to fit a two-foot by seven-foot ambulance stretcher in the laying-down position.

The Sycamore city council voted unanimously to pass the new elevator building regulation last week. The ordinance is effective immediately.

Sycamore Mayor Curt Lang says the regulations would only apply to future buildings that are two stories tall or higher. Older buildings are not required to comply.

A judge recently granted Eric Dannenmaier’s request to temporarily prevent records from being disclosed.

The former NIU law dean's resignation late last month followed an investigation into alleged "improper workplace conduct." Dannenmaier had been on administrative leave since February.

The Justice Department says a federal grand jury has indicted Brendt Christensen of Champaign with the kidnapping of visiting Chinese scholar Yingying Zhang from the University of Illinois’s Urbana campus.

Zhang has not been seen since June 9, when a campus surveillance camera spotted her getting into Christensen’s vehicle. Authorities assume she is dead.

Christensen was arrested June 30, and has been held since then in connection with Zhang’s disappearance.

Due to the grand jury’s indictment, a hearing for Christensen set for Friday in Urbana has been canceled.

A credit ratings agency has removed Illinois from a credit watch since legislators approved a budget and ended a more than two-year impasse.

S&P Global Ratings said Wednesday the outlook on debt ratings is stable. 

Illinois has the lowest credit rating of any state and agencies had warned of another downgrade to “junk'' status if lawmakers didn't approve a budget. The stalemate between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democrat-controlled Legislature began in 2015. This month, legislators approved a budget with an income tax increase over Rauner's vetoes. 

"cheque" by Flickr User Tina Franklin / (CC X 2.0)

The state of Illinois has officially given human resources departments the information they need to start deducting more from workers' paychecks.

The Chicago Tribune reports that the Illinois Department of Revenue on Tuesday issued a release with specific details of implementing changes that accountants and employers need to enact the income tax hike that lawmakers approved last week.

The individual income tax rate is now 4.95 percent, up from 3.75 percent. Corporations will pay 7 percent instead of 5.25 percent. It is retroactive to July 1 of this year.

University of Illinois Police

Investigators say surveillance cameras at the University of Illinois helped find a suspect in the disappearance of a Chinese scholar.

The News-Gazette reports the footage showed Yingying Zhang getting into a black Saturn Astra before she disappeared on June 9 in Urbana. The video was made public after Zhang was reported missing.

mikefrerichs.com

The state treasurer says Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner must go to New York to talk bond-rating houses out of knocking the state's creditworthiness into "junk" status.

Democrat Michael Frerichs said in Chicago Monday that the Republican governor should commit to the $36 billion spending plan the General Assembly adopted last week over his vetoes.

It includes a $5 billion income-tax increase. It's the first budget Illinois has had in two years because of political disagreements. Bond houses have threatened to knock Illinois' rating down to "junk" even with the budget deal.

Rockford PD

The Rockford Police Department is rolling out a new, five-week women's self-defense class, and it’s already reached capacity weeks before it’s scheduled to start.

The class aims to boost situational awareness. Deputy Rockford Police Chief Mike Dalke said it's half the battle in self-protection. 

Wikipedia

The controversial override vote Thursday was delayed by about two hours when the capitol was put on lockdown, due to reports of a woman throwing or spilling an unknown substance near the governor’s office and other locations.

The woman’s name has not been released, but she is well-known to several people in the statehouse, and is an education advocate.

That’s according to Letitia Dewith-Anderson, a lobbyist who says she has known the woman for a couple of years; she bumped into her being escorted by police out of an elevator.

Susan Stephens

Funding provided under the new Illinois budget plan will benefit Northern Illinois University in several ways, Acting President Lisa Freeman said in a campuswide email moments after the veto override was announced Thursday.

“I applaud our legislators for the bipartisan cooperation required to end a stalemate that has hurt our state, our university and our students,” she said in the message. “Their actions signal that they appreciate the important role of public higher education in building a prosperous future for Illinois.”

The Two-Year Illinois Budget Impasse Is Over

Jul 6, 2017
Jenna Dooley

The Illinois House has voted to override Gov. Bruce Rauner's vetoes of a budget package. The action Thursday gives Illinois its first annual spending plan since 2015. 

The House voted to override the Republican governor's veto of a $5 billion increase in income taxes and a $36 billion spending plan. 

The veto overrides mean the nation's longest state budget crisis since at least the Great Depression has ended. The budget is retroactive to July 1 _ the start of the fiscal year. That's also the date that the 32 percent increase in the personal income tax rate takes effect. 

The defense attorney for a man accused of kidnapping a University of Illinois scholar from China says his client deserves the "presumption of innocence."

Tom Bruno represents 28-year-old Brendt Christensen, who is accused of kidnapping 26-year-old Yingying Zhang and is jailed pending trial. Authorities believe she's dead, although her body hasn't been found. Christensen was arrested Friday.

Bruno said Thursday that he doesn't think "a negative inference" can be made from prosecutors' statements that Christensen marched in a vigil for Zhang a day before he was arrested.

Phil Masterton / WNIJ

Two key Republicans in the Illinois House say they will continue supporting an income-tax increase over their governor's veto.

Rep. David Harris of Arlington Heights and Rep. Steven Andersson of Geneva were among 15 Republicans who bucked Gov. Bruce Rauner and helped provide a veto-proof majority for an income-tax increase of 1.2 cents per dollar. The hike is intended to help Illinois dig out of the nation's longest budget crisis since at least the Great Depression.

Flickr user Brent Hoard "ECU School of Education Class Room" (CC BY 2.0)

More than a dozen school superintendents gathered in the statehouse today to thank lawmakers who went out on a limb to raise taxes and send more money to schools.

That gratitude was also their way of nudging lawmakers not to change their votes Thursday, when the House of Representatives will try to override Governor Bruce Rauner’s budget veto.

Jeff Craig, superintendent of Aurora West schools, admonished lawmakers with something a teacher might tell students about their classroom or playground.

Officials Still Investigating Two Major Rockford Fires

Jul 4, 2017
Susan Stephens / WNIJ

The Rockford Fire Department is still investigating the origin of two recent building fires.

A 7th Street structure caught fire Sunday, one week after a fire at the historic Hanley building, which was being demolished with the hopes of completing the task in time for the Rockford Fourth of July celebration. That deadline won't be met, but demolition has been moving quickly.

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