Legislation affects farmers, state park to honor vets with PTSD

Lots of action affecting agriculture in the spring session
The stopgap budget passed by the General Assembly, as well as some other legislation passed by both houses and expected to be signed into law this summer will affect agriculture in Illinois. Among the items in the budget was funding to make sure that important functions such as health and safety inspections of meat and eggs will not be interrupted. The budget provides $5 million for Soil and Water Conservation Districts and conservation programs. It includes the same level of funding for county fairs as did the FY15 budget. There is also $13 million for the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension program.

Some non-budgetary items include Senate Bill 3130, which allows seed libraries to put in place certain record-keeping or labeling standards and provide information on seed swap events to the Department of Agriculture. These events are important for food security and biodiversity because they make it easier to save or share seeds so that in the event that someone has a crop failure it is less likely that a particular plant strain’s genetics will be lost. Another piece of legislation we passed is House Bill 4318, which recognizes agribusinesses that have been in operation for more than 100 years or more than 150 years. Another bill to improve the State Fairgrounds is still pending.

State Park installation will honor veterans who struggled with PTSD
The monument, to be called the Forgotten Warrior Memorial Wall, will pay tribute to the sacrifices paid by veterans who contracted PTSD and then ended their lives.  The wall itself will be made of granite and will be ground-framed by concrete pavement bricks.  Sponsors of the Memorial Wall will be able to work through the project’s organizing agency, K9s for Warriors, to install individual name-etched bricks in the pavement.   

Channahon State Park is located just north of the 106th district, right outside Joliet near Interstate 55.  The memorial wall is slated to be dedicated on or around Veterans Day 2016.

Sharp increases in ACA premiums disclosed for coverage year 2017
A few weeks ago I told you about the likelihood of premium increases for Illinois residents who purchased health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. Now the amounts of those increases are becoming known. The increases, disclosed by federal law, will fall with special force upon Illinoisans who are required to buy health insurance in the individual marketplace. Hundreds of thousands of Illinoisans have worked their way through the Get Covered Illinois website to purchase the mandated insurance. However, premiums for 2017 are expected to increase by as much as 45% for some customers and patients.

The status of ACA-covered patients in Illinois deteriorated in recent weeks with the financial failure of a health insurance co-op, Land of Lincoln Health, which specialized in writing policies for individual Illinois residents. Approximately 49,000 Illinoisans had been covered by Land of Lincoln. The current primary surviving writer of individual ACA-compliant health insurance policies, Blue Cross Blue Shield, has disclosed that it will propose premium increases ranging from 23% to 45% in 2017. The insurer blamed rising medical care costs, particularly for mandated care and branded pharmaceuticals.

In some cases, depending on household income, some Illinois residents may be able to file for a federal tax credit that may partly offset the costs of their premiums. Some financial advisors may be able to advise Illinois residents on health-care insurance options.

Summer road construction season is well underway
The annual peak period of road-and-bridge construction and reconstruction is well underway in Illinois.  Special traffic laws, such as reduced speed limits, govern motorist activity in work zones.  Safety is strongly advised, with enhanced fines for moving violations in work zones.  Police can issue work zone citations during times when workers are not present.  Construction and road maintenance vehicles are among the motor vehicles protected by “Scott’s Law,” the law familiar to most Illinois motorists that strongly encourages motorists to change lanes (if they can do so safely) and slow down for emergency, construction and maintenance vehicles.

New postage stamp honors Illinois’ state bird
Even though winter snow may not be the first thing on our minds right now, the U.S. Postal Service is rolling out its Songbirds in Snow stamp series, which includes a stamp celebrating the Northern Cardinal, Illinois’ state bird. The Postal Service says the series celebrates “birds that brighten winter days.”

The cardinal has been Illinois’ state bird since 1929 after a local branch of the National Federation of Professional Women’s Clubs proposed a contest for children in the state to choose a state bird.

Did You Know?
Vermilion County native Joseph Cannon served as Speaker of the U.S. House for eight years, 1903-1911, encompassing most of the Presidencies of Theodore Roosevelt and William H. Taft. Cannon, known as “Uncle Joe”, was one of the most powerful Speakers of the House in the institution’s history, and today he is honored by having one of the House office buildings in Washington named for him. Cannon was the first of three Illinoisans to serve as Speaker of the U.S. House.