Teacher licensing bill becomes law; flood prevention group convenes

Governor signs teacher licensure bill into law
Governor Rauner has signed into law my bill to help ease Illinois’ teacher shortage. The legislation, House Bill 5627, makes it easier for teachers who hold out-of-state teaching licenses to become teachers in Illinois as well. It also eliminates a requirement that someone who already holds a teaching license in Illinois must go through the long and costly process of getting a separate license to become a substitute teacher.

Lastly, the bill makes some adjustments to the Illinois Pension Code to allow a retired teacher to spend more days in the classroom as a substitute without harming the pension they have earned. This change benefits both the retired teacher who is willing to substitute and the school district which often has trouble finding substitute teachers.

Eight other bills which I sponsored this spring are awaiting action this summer by the Governor. I will keep you posted on the progress of each of these as the summer continues.

Local flood prevention group holds inaugural meeting
In recent years we have seen communities in our area affected by floods, most recently the February flooding that caused so much damage in Iroquois and Vermilion Counties. Unlike some disasters which strike with little or no warning, most aspects of a flood can be prepared for long in advance and the damage mitigated or in some cases prevented entirely. It just takes education, coordination and preparation. But while individuals can prepare a tornado shelter in the basement or stock up on groceries before an ice storm, flood mitigation and prevention requires entire communities and all levels of government to work together to prevent a disaster.

Hoping to be of some assistance in mitigating the next major flood in our area, I have convened a group of local leaders and state officials to create the East Central Illinois – West Central Indiana Flood Alliance. This group of concerned local leaders from throughout the area held its first teleconference meeting last week to discuss the goals of our new flood-prevention alliance. Illinois has had long experience with flooding around the state, and the Department of Natural Resources provided us with some very helpful tips on how to get started.

Our goals will include encouraging each community to target priorities and develop a strategy for mitigation. We will seek to have someone in each community become trained in floodplain management and become a Certified Floodplain Manager. The alliance will encourage each community to adopt and enforce higher regulatory standards within their floodplains. We also discussed each community joining the National Flood Insurance Program’s Community Rating System and pursing the flood insurance discounts that can come with it. Lastly, we learned about the Illinois Association for Floodplain and Stormwater Management and the benefits for each community which joins.

This is a long process with many details to be worked out at the municipal, county, state and even federal level. But it makes sense that we should get started now, before the next time flooding threatens our area. More information on how you can prepare for and protect yourself from a flood is available on FEMA’s website.

How much do we owe? 
As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $6,695,953,353 in unpaid bills to state vendors. This figure represents the amount of bills submitted to the office of the Comptroller and still awaiting payment. It does not include debts that can only be estimated, such as our unfunded pension liability which is estimated to be more than $100 billion.

Unemployment rate continues to decline throughout Illinois
According to preliminary data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Illinois Department of Employment Security, unemployment rates in all of Illinois’ metropolitan areas during May. Data also show an increase in nonfarm jobs in 11 of the state’s 14 metropolitan areas.

Private employers in 11 metro areas of the state added jobs, with two of the largest increases coming in our general area: Kankakee was up 3.9 percent or 1,800 jobs and Champaign-Urbana increased by 1.2 percent, or 1,300 jobs. Illinois businesses lost jobs in three metro areas including Danville, which declined 1.4 percent, or 400 jobs. The leading industry sectors in job growth in the majority of metro areas included Transportation, Warehousing and Utilities, Professional and Business Services, and Manufacturing.

Discussing flood recovery in Iroquois County
I was glad to attend the meeting of the Iroquois County Long Term Recovery Committee as they continue to focus on issues around the flooding in Iroquois County. I had a chance to talk about the recent disaster recovery tax credits which Governor Rauner signed into law and made available to flood victims in Iroquois and Vermilion Counties. This committee has great leadership and great participation by people from all over the county. Thank you so very much for your efforts!

Did You Know?
According to figures from the Illinois Department of Agriculture, there are 72,200 farms in Illinois, growing more than 70 different crops. In total, there are 26.7 million acres of farmland in Illinois – amounting to roughly 75% of the state’s total land area. Most of that acreage is used for grains, specifically corn and soybeans. Almost a quarter of the state’s farms have beef cows, and 10% have swine. In addition to those common products, Illinois farms produce everything from pumpkins to alfalfa to Christmas trees.