Helping local governments and families of fallen firefighters, Agricultural Education award

Two more bills signed into law
I am proud to report that two more of my bills have been signed into law. House Bill 4603 helps local governments cut down on excessive paperwork by allowing county boards to have the option of requiring a report from their public defenders quarterly rather than monthly. It was an idea presented to me by the Livingston County Board and I was glad to see it make its way all the way through the process.

House Bill 5649, which helps provide scholarships to the children and spouses of fallen firefighters, was also signed into law recently. Illinois allows motorists to purchase a specialty license plate which directs its proceeds to the Fallen Fire Fighters’ Memorial Fund. This fund is used to provide benefits to the families of Illinois firefighters who lose their lives in the line of duty. Until now, however, the plate was not available for motorcyclists who wished to contribute to the fund. My legislation opens up this opportunity to motorcyclists, and will, I hope, make more benefits available for the families of fallen firefighters.

Leadership Council for Agricultural Education Legislative Award
I was honored this week to accept the Jim Guilinger Legislative Award from the Illinois Leadership Council for Agricultural Education (ILCAE). This award is presented by the ILCAE to a legislator who has worked to support, improve and expand Illinois Agricultural Education.

I believe agriculture is such an important part of our state that Agricultural Education should have its own line item in the budget to protect its funding from being diverted to other purposes. Agriculture provides critical jobs, products and services to our state. It is a vital part of our economy and our way of life. I am grateful for this recognition and will continue to work hard for our agricultural community.

State Fairgrounds Foundation unveiled
FFA members, local exhibitors and people from our district just looking for a fun day at the fair traveled down to Springfield over the past few days for the Illinois State Fair. While they were there, they may have noticed some facilities which sorely need repairs. The Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield includes over 170 buildings, some of which are more than 100 years old. Many of them need restoration or renovation: in fact, there is a deferred maintenance backlog of more than $180 million at the state fairgrounds right now according to the Capital Development Board. The State Fairgrounds are Illinois’ primary showcase for our state’s agricultural heritage, and they deserve the best upkeep possible. But with the state’s dire fiscal condition, taxpayers cannot be reasonably expected to pick up that tab.

This week we saw the launch of a not-for-profit Illinois Fairgrounds Foundation to help make these needed capital improvements at the State Fairgrounds in Springfield and DuQuoin. The Foundation will accept private donations and will coordinate with the Department of Agriculture, which runs the Fairgrounds, to help determine which projects need to be undertaken to improve the facilities. More information will be available in the coming weeks as a board is seated and the Foundation gets organized.

IDPH reports 46 Illinois Zika cases
The report from the Illinois Department of Public Health states that Illinois pregnant women are now counted on the list of people exposed to the mosquito-borne illness. The names of the Illinois patients have not been disclosed, as is standard in new disease outbreaks.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a series of warnings and travel advisories in response to the widespread appearance of Zika throughout the world. The virus has shown up in Miami and Puerto Rico, and has been reported in many countries south of the U.S. border.

Illinoisans are strongly urged to take standard precautions to avoid mosquito bites. The mosquitoes that carry Zika live in tropical and subtropical environments and mostly bite during the daytime.

Illinois trailing national average in cost of living
The results of a study carried out by the public-sector Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), are reported by the Tax Foundation. The study compared available consumer dollars with a selection of household necessities including housing, transportation, food and clothing.  The study found Illinois slightly trailing the nation as a whole, with $100 dollars in Illinois purchasing goods and services worth $99.30 nationwide. In the five states that neighbor Illinois, the same sum purchased goods and services worth at least $107.

The survey of the 50 states and the District of Columbia found a higher cost of living in all of the major U.S. metropolitan areas. While Illinois was the most expensive Midwestern state, it offers better value than California, the District of Columbia, New Jersey and New York. In Washington, D.C., $100 in consumer dollars purchased only $84.67 in goods and services. The cost of real estate and housing in the largest cities and metropolitan areas is a big factor in the differences in cost of living. High rental costs affect not only living space but also the expenses of retailers, health care clinics and other providers of goods and services to consumers.

A relatively low cost of living was posted by states without major cities, particularly in the south. The four best-performing states in the study were Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and South Dakota. In Mississippi, a standardized $100 in consumer dollars could be used to purchase goods and services worth $115.34 nationwide.

U.S. unemployment rate is 4.9%, Illinois stands at 6.2%
The U.S. Department of Labor announced on August 5 that approximately 255,000 new jobs were added in July, down from 292,000 in June. However, the nationwide unemployment rate of 4.9% remained well below the most-recently-posted Illinois jobless rate of 6.2%, with an even greater gap between nationwide unemployment numbers and the comparable figures posted in many Illinois cities. Places which have or had a focus on traditional manufacturing are significantly underperforming the economy of the U.S. as a whole.

Unfortunately, the new-job picture was better nationally than in Illinois. The most recent report by the Illinois Department of Employment Security showed that Illinois is actually losing payroll job positions. In June, Illinois payrolls supported an estimated 2,200 fewer nonagricultural workers than had been on payrolls in May.

Did You Know?
The first woman to serve in the Illinois House of Representatives was Rep. Lottie Holman O’Neill (R-Downers Grove), who was elected in 1922 and served in the General Assembly for 40 years, including several years in the State Senate. In 1976, Rep. O’Neill was recognized with a statue in the 2nd floor rotunda of the Illinois State Capitol building.