New texting-while-driving law; latest unemployment report

Tougher texting-while-driving law takes effect

Over the years, Illinois drivers have seen the dangers that come with distracted driving, especially the sending and receiving of text messages while behind the wheel. A new Illinois law took effect on Monday, enacting tougher penalties for first-time offenders who are pulled over or ticketed for driving while operating a handheld mobile phone. Under the previous law, such a citation led to a $75 fine plus court costs and fees, but it was not considered a moving violation. As of this week, driving while using a hand-held phone will be a moving violation and will appear on the person’s driving record – starting with the first offense. The fine still stands at $75, plus court costs and fees which add substantially to the cost. The fine increases upon the second and subsequent offense.

It is not an offense to use a hands-free phone or one that is connected to the car’s sound system. It is hoped that these tougher penalties might serve as further encouragement for Illinois drivers to put their phones down while behind the wheel.

Unemployment rate unchanged in May

Illinois’ unemployment rate is still hovering just outside the “full employment” status (unemployment below 4%) enjoyed by many of the other 49 states. The month of May saw a slight decline in total nonfarm payrolls: a decline estimated at 2,400 fewer workers than in April. Specific sectors of the economy showing weakness were construction, leisure and hospitality, and financial activities. Those sectors were down by a total of 4,700 jobs from the month before. In May the education sector created 2,100 jobs new jobs during the month.

Broken down by region, our area is among those with some of the lowest unemployment in the state. The region centered around Bloomington had the lowest unemployment rate in the state, at 3.3% and the region around Champaign stood at 3.4%. The Danville area’s rate was slightly higher, at 4.5%, but this represents an improvement from its 5.5% unemployment figure a year ago. The Rockford area continued to have the highest unemployment in Illinois, coming in at 5.2%.

How much do we owe?

As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $6,154,309,764 in unpaid bills to state vendors. One year ago, the backlog stood at $6.7 billion. 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 subject to a wide range of factors and has been estimated to be approximately $130 billion.

Highway renamed for local fallen firefighter

It was a great honor to be part of the ceremony to recognize Firefighter Dana Schoolman and his family. Dana was killed in the line of duty on the way to a fire call 1988, and last week Senator Jason Barickman and I joined with Dana’s family and many local residents in designating the Firefighter Dana Schoolman Memorial Highway.

Our condolences and support go to his wife Anne, the Schoolman family, and the Ashkum volunteer Fire Department. The entire community is grateful to Dana and the Ashkum Volunteer Fire Department family for their commitment and dedication to the safety and well-being of our community!

Wetter than average June continues to affect Illinois farmers

Data from the Illinois State Climatologist confirms that the month of June was far wetter than average. While the average statewide temperature for the month was slightly cooler than usual, precipitation was up: coming in at 5.39 inches, or 1.18 inches more than the average June. Flooded rivers throughout the state crested earlier in the month, but the decline has been slow, with many still above flood stage and soil moisture in the 90th to 99th percentile, causing renewed concern about flash flooding in the event of a sudden heavy rain. June was the 7th month in a row in which Illinois had above-average rainfall, and the 8th month in a row in which no part of the state was considered to be in drought or even in the “abnormally dry” category.

The wet conditions continue to affect Illinois agriculture, as some farmers here and in other parts of the state have not yet been able to get into the fields to plant their crop for the year. Last week I told you about emergency assistance which has been made available from the Illinois Department of Agriculture for farmers who have suffered losses because of the unusually wet spring and early summer. Information about that assistance remains available at https://www2.illinois.gov/sites/agr/Assistance/Pages/Flood-Assistance.aspx.

Happy 4th of July!

I hope you and your family have a very happy celebration of Independence Day! Be sure to put safety first with fireworks, around the grill or out on the lake. On our nation’s birthday, please remember those who sacrificed so much for our freedom and those who are far from home today defending it.

Did You Know?

July 6 is the birthday of our state flag. The flag design was developed from a contest sponsored by Illinois chapters of the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1914. Lucy Derwent won the contest and earned a prize of $25. The next year, the General Assembly approved her design, and the flag became official on July 6, 1915.