Honoring our veterans; tourism spending up in Illinois

New legislation increases veterans services, honors Gold Star families
Several pieces of legislation to aid Illinois veterans have been signed into law over the past couple of weeks. The bills provide needed assistance to veterans and their families and honor to those who have sacrificed so much for our country and our state.

To honor the families of those who gave their lives for our nation, HB 4389, sponsored by Rep. Steve Andersson, designates the day after Gold Star Mother’s Day as Gold Star Family Day throughout the state. HB 4432, sponsored by Rep. Don Moffitt, allows a student musician between 6th and 12th grades to be absent from a public school for the purpose of sounding “Taps” at a military funeral held in Illinois for a deceased veteran.

HB 4344, sponsored by Rep. Mark Batinick, creates the Heroes Way Designation Program Act. It is a way to honor servicemembers who were killed in action by allowing a relative to apply to have an honorary sign with the name of the servicemember erected along designated Illinois roads.

The Governor also signed bills to assist veterans’ transition from the military to life as a civilian and increase the level of care within Illinois Veterans’ Homes.

Tourism brought $37 billion into Illinois in 2015
New numbers from the Illinois Office of Tourism, show that tourists spent more money in Illinois last year than the year before. The agency monitors visitor spending in Illinois in order to get a feel for the return on investments of the money from hotel/motel taxes spent to promote Illinois to potential out-of-state visitors. The estimated $37 billion in spending by out-of-state tourists in 2015, is a 2.6% improvement on 2014 when adjusted for inflation.

The Office of Tourism, which is part of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, reports that tourism generated an estimated 10,000 new jobs in 2015. Job creation is featured in the “Illinois Made” campaign for 2016, a multimedia promotion that centers on the attractive opportunities for visitors to buy goods and services produced by Illinois craftspeople and small businesses.

Traffic fatalities on the rise in Illinois
The National Safety Council, a private-sector group that works with local first responders and health providers to track accidents and injuries nationwide, including motor vehicle incidents, issued a troubling report this month about traffic safety in Illinois. According to the Council, as of August 12, there had been 629 traffic deaths in Illinois, which puts the state on a trend to reach 1000 fatalities this year.

This figure is attributed by traffic experts to several factors, including higher speeds, an increase in the total number of Illinois miles driven and a larger number of younger drivers. The increase was not just limited to Illinois, but was part of a nationwide trend.

In the past, the council has played a key role in injury-reducing changes to motor vehicle law, including mandatory child restraints and a standardized law to identify and sanction persons who drive under the influence.

State Board of Education to host listening tour
The Illinois State Board of Education is conducting a series of meetings around the state to hear from the public about the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The act was signed by the President at the end of last year and constitutes the reauthorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which has governed federal education policy for 50 years. Under the act, the state has put together a draft plan to advance educational opportunities for Illinois students, and is asking for input from the public.

In our area, the first meeting will be held Tuesday September 13 at Bloomington Junior High School, 901 N. Colton Avenue in Bloomington. Another is scheduled for Thursday September 22 at the Woodruff Career and Technical Center, 1800 NE Perry in Peoria. Both meetings run from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. More information about ESSA is available at www.isbe.net/essa.

LIHEAP applications available September 1
The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity has announced that it will begin accepting applications from seniors and people with disabilities for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) on September 1. The applications will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis.

LIHEAP assists qualifying households with paying utility bills. For more information on eligibility, where to apply, and what information to bring with you when you apply, please visit www.liheapillinois.com or call toll-free 1-877-411-WARM.

Did You Know?
Illinois’ state Constitution was the result of a constitutional convention which finished its nine months of work on September 3, 1970. The new Constitution was presented to the people of Illinois, who ratified it on December 15, 1970. It formally went into effect on July 1, 1971. The 1970 Constitution replaced a document enacted in 1870. Since its enactment, the Illinois Constitution has been amended thirteen times.