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President Nixon visits the Apollo 11 crew as they sit
in quarantine after returning to Earth, 1969. 
Three weeks after their historic mission to the moon, the three astronauts of Apollo 11 were honored with a ticker tape parade through Chicago attended by as many as two million people. They were formally welcomed by Mayor Richard J. Daley with a celebration in a jam-packed Civic Center Plaza.

It was part of a day that began with a similar parade in New York, and ended with a dinner in Los Angeles hosted by President Richard Nixon, at which they were each presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom

For two of the Apollo 11 astronauts, it was also a homecoming of sorts.

Neil Armstrong had first set foot on the moon at 8:56 p.m. central time on July 20, 1969. It was the culmination of a career in flight which had started in the Midwest, and included some time in Illinois.

Armstrong was born in Ohio, and graduated from Purdue University in Indiana. His studies at Purdue were interrupted in 1949 when he went into the Navy, where he became an aviator. He was assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Essex, flying Grumman F9F Panther fighters, among the earliest jet aircraft operated by the U.S. Navy. In 1951, his plane was damaged in action, but he was able to keep it airborne long enough to reach friendly troops before bailing out. Armstrong returned from Korea in 1952 and went into the Navy Reserve.

He was assigned to Fighter Squadron 724 at Naval Air Station Glenview, Illinois, on Lake Michigan just north of Chicago. The posting to Glenview allowed him to resume his studies at Purdue, and while there he met Janet Shearon of Wilmette, Illinois, at a party. In January 1956 he and Janet were married at the Congregational Church in Wilmette. The wedding came just months after Armstrong graduated from Purdue with a degree in aeronautical engineering.

Armstrong became a test pilot, and his career took him first to California, and eventually into space as part of the crew of Gemini VIII and, as the whole world knows, Apollo 11.

Michael Collins in a command module simulator, 1968.
Just a year after Armstrong left Glenview, an Air Force pilot named Michael Collins was reassigned from a base in West Germany to Chanute Air Force Base near Rantoul, Illinois, just north of Champaign. There he was a student in a course on aircraft maintenance, though he did not enjoy it much. Collins wanted more flight time, and the maintenance course just did not provide enough. Once he was finished at Chanute, Collins was assigned to a unit which trained Air Force mechanics around the world. It was his last assignment before test pilot school. A decade later, he would be the pilot of the Apollo 11 command module, orbiting the Moon as his fellow astronauts Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on its surface.

As Armstrong and Aldrin approached the moon, among those anxiously watching from Mission Control in Houston was 40-year-old Illinois-born astronaut Jim McDivitt, who had commanded the Apollo 9 mission four months earlier. McDivitt’s mission had been the first flight to test all of the necessary equipment for a lunar landing and was crucial in making the Apollo 11 mission possible. Apollo 9 was McDivitt’s last space flight. He was named Manager of Lunar Landing Operations a few weeks later, and headed the planning effort for the exploration of the lunar surface. He was the program manager for the five Apollo flights which followed the initial moon landing.

On the night after the Chicago parade, August 13, 1969, the Apollo 11 astronauts spoke at that dinner in Los Angeles where they each received the Medal of Freedom. Collins recalled the tumultuous welcome they had received in Chicago.

“As I looked at it from nearly a quarter of a million miles away, three weeks ago, the people of New York, or Chicago and of Los Angeles were far from my mind, frankly,” Collins joked. “But tonight, they are very close to my mind. I wish that each and every one of you could have been with us today to see their enthusiasm and the magnificent greeting which they gave us upon our return.”

Chicago's ticker tape parade for the Apollo 11 astronauts.
A significant role in their return was played by another Illinoisan. The Apollo 11 spacecraft returned to Earth and splashed down in the Pacific Ocean a few days after the moon landing. Waiting for them were helicopters from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet. The choppers recovered the crew and flew them to the ship where television cameras and President Nixon were waiting to greet them. At the ship’s wheel as it made the recovery was Central Illinois native Kenneth Hoback.

“After I did that, my mission was kind of done, because we were alongside the capsule,” Hoback told the Peoria Journal-Star. “We picked it up, then I ran down below and took pictures.”

Apollo 11 paved the way for five more successful moon landings between 1969 and 1972. Two Illinoisans flew to the moon in those subsequent missions. The first was Apollo 16 command module pilot Thomas K. “Ken” Mattingly in April 1972. Mattingly had been scheduled to be part of the crew of the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission in 1970, but was removed from the crew days before launch due to a health concern. After Apollo 16; during which he orbited the moon 64 times; Mattingly would go on to fly two Space Shuttle missions aboard Columbia in 1982 and Discovery in 1985.

Gene Cernan and Snoopy during a press conference.
Eight months later, the final manned moon mission, Apollo 17, was commanded by Chicago-born astronaut Eugene “Gene” Cernan. Cernan was a spaceflight veteran, having flown on Gemini IX in 1966 and piloted the lunar module of Apollo 10 in May 1969, the dress-rehearsal for the moon landing in July. As the crew of Apollo 17 finished their work on the lunar surface and prepared to start for home, Cernan keyed his radio microphone and said the last words spoken on the moon. “America’s challenge of today has forged man’s destiny of tomorrow. And, as we leave the moon at Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return: with peace and hope for all mankind. Godspeed the crew of Apollo 17.”

Cernan then stepped off the moon’s surface and onto the lunar lander. He was the last man to set foot on the moon.

This week, the nation and the world will mark the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. The flight was made possible by thousands of Americans spread throughout the country who played some role, whether they had a front-row seat at mission control in Houston, designed or engineered some of the technology involved in the mission or its buildup, or whether they worked on the assembly line somewhere in America putting together some of the equipment which would send the astronauts to the moon and bring them safely home.

Throughout Illinois, museums, libraries and other institutions will have their own commemoration of Apollo 11. Illinoisans old enough to remember July 20, 1969, will share their recollections of a day which changed the world forever. And like communities all around the nation, a few places in Illinois will be able to claim the pride that comes with having played a part in that giant leap for mankind.
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Rosemont Mayor Brad Stephens appointed to serve as 20th District State Rep. At a public meeting on June 29, local, city and suburban leaders across the 20th legislative district unanimously selected Rosemont Mayor Brad Stephens to serve as their state representative. On June 17th, longtime State Representative Michael McAuliffe announced his resignation, initiating a process set by state law that requires the appointment of a successor within thirty days to fill out the remainder of the term. State Representative Brad Stephens was surrounded by his family, friends and supporters and was sworn into office by former Democratic state senator now Cook County Judge John Mulroe.
“It is an honor and a humbling experience to be selected to serve my neighbors as State Representative for the 20th legislative district,” Stephens said. “I intend to bring the same passion and results-oriented mission to this position that I have to every job I’ve ever held. With my experience and the bi-partisan relationships I’ve developed, I can hit the ground running in Springfield. As state representative, I’ll take those lessons and relationships that I’ve built as mayor and continue to champion fiscal responsibility, lower taxes, and vital services for our families and seniors. I will continue to fight for working men and women across the 20th district.”

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin welcomed Representative Stephens to the GOP caucus and said he would be a valuable addition. “Brad Stephens will be able to deliver for his district on day one. His deep knowledge of state policy and its impact on local communities will be valuable to the Illinois state legislature and a welcome addition to the House Republican Caucus,” said Durkin.

As Rosemont’s Mayor for the last dozen years, Stephens’ track record of fiscal responsibility and economic development has resulted in balanced budgets, and fully funded pension funds. Under his leadership, Rosemont has become an economic development engine and destination for tourism and hundreds of businesses both large and small. Rosemont is also well known for delivering top-flight municipal services and great schools all while returning property tax dollars to homeowners every year.

Before serving as mayor, Stephens began his career as a carpenter and remains a card-carrying member of that union. In addition, he is a member of Chicago Stagehands Local 2, a labor union representing technicians, artisans and craft persons working in Chicago’s entertainment industry. He worked in nearly every major department in the Village of Rosemont, served as Trustee and later as a supervisor of Leyden Township. In 2007, Stephens was sworn in as mayor following the passing of his father. He has subsequently been reelected three times to the post.

Retiring State Rep. Mike McAuliffe whom Stephens replaces said his successor was well-equipped to step into the job. “In the 20th district, partnering with local officials, police and firemen, unions and business, is incredibly important. Brad Stephens understands effective leadership, and reaching across the aisle to benefit constituents. I am proud to support him as state representative for the 20th district,” said McAuliffe.

Extensive work to rebuild Illinois infrastructure this summer. “Horizontal infrastructure” includes roads, bridges, railroad expenditures such as safety barriers, and docks and ports for river barges. As a result of the new Rebuild Illinois Capital Plan, extensive work is beginning this summer on what will be the multi-year work of repairing and expanding Illinois’s concrete infrastructure. Illinois’ location, close to the population center of the U.S. and our nation’s center of economic activity, creates hundreds of thousands of Illinois jobs. This location, however, also creates substantial wear and tear on Illinois roads and bridges.

The Illinois Department of Transportation has prepared an expandable online chart of major Illinois road and bridge closings, including projected dates for each project to be completed. State and local police stand ready to enforce safety rules, including speed limits, in and around Illinois road work projects. Work zone safety, including the life and health of Illinois’ tens of thousands of road construction workers, is one of our State’s highest priorities.

COGFA issues budget report to end FY19. In an optimistic end to the fiscal year, which ended June 30, Illinois base receipts – the “cash flow” used to cover expenses classified as general funds – grew $750 million – year-over-year, in June 2019. The nonpartisan Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA), attributes the bulk of the overall increase to an increase in federally-funded reimbursements to Springfield. Increases of this type are often connected with changes in the cash flows that fund the State’s Medicaid program. Medicaid matching funds are the largest category of moneys that the State receives under the category of overall federal aid to Illinois.

The June 2019 COGFA numbers closed out FY19. With State-sourced tax revenues of $38.0 billion, fee transfers of another $2.0 billion and non-state transfers-in of an additional $3.6 billion in federal aid, total general funds from all sources totaled more than $43.6 billion in the fiscal year ended June 30, 2019. This was an increase of $1.2 billion from the more than $42.4 billion brought in during FY18. Individual income tax payments rose $1.8 billion in FY19, accounting for the overall annual increase. Illinois has already begun FY20, in which appropriated spending is scheduled to come in below revenues to create a balanced budget. The new fiscal year began on July 1, 2019.

Crop reporting deadline extended. The decision was announced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which coordinates relationships between farmers and crop insurers. Farmers have been given until Monday, July 15 to report which fields they had been actively prevented from planting. Some farmers have “prevented planting” policies that give them standing to file crop-insurance claims for fields in which weather conditions made it impossible for them to plant.

The filing deadline extension came as wet conditions continued to affect Illinois corn and soybean fields. In June 2019, Downstate Illinois counties averaged five inches of rainfall, well above average and a burden upon already-saturated farm fields. Most Illinois fields have been planted, but crop progress is well behind average. While Illinois corn silking was at 71% at this point in July 2018, this year’s corn silking rate is 4% as late-planted sprouts struggle to pull up out of the mud.

State to expand work on Medicaid backlog. About 100,000 patients have applied for Illinois Medicaid status and have not yet received it. Many Medicaid applications are filed by senior citizens and their loved ones as part of the process of transitioning into life in group care. The Department of Healthcare and Family Services (DHFS) and the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) are responsible for large chunks of this application backlog. The State now says they will hire more than 300 paperwork specialists to speed up work on the backlog.

Medicaid is one of Illinois’ largest taxpayer-funded programs. Nearly 3.0 million Illinois residents, almost one-quarter of the State’s total population, are eligible for Medicaid. Federal matching funds cover some (but not all) of this Medicaid expense, and efforts to speed up the eligibility process could lead to flows of federal money with positive effects on the State’s budget.

Push to expand number of children vaccinated for measles, allied diseases. The measles outbreaks of 2018-2019 are leading to expanded efforts by public health professionals to universalize the practice of vaccinating all children for highly contagious, preventable viral diseases such as measles. From January 1 through July 3, 2019, 1,109 individual cases of measles have been diagnosed and confirmed in 28 separate U.S. states, including Illinois.

This number has shocked many doctors and teachers who thought that, because of the measles vaccine, American schools were safe places for children to learn and play. The count of measles cases is moving back towards levels not seen since the first vaccination drive starting in 1966. Prior to the invention of measles vaccine, each year saw an average 48,000 cases of U.S. measles hospitalization and 400 to 500 U.S. measles deaths. Public health professionals strongly support measles vaccinations.

Two Illinois sites added to World Heritage list. The sites, the Robie House in Chicago and the Unity Temple in Oak Park, are buildings designed as path-breaking structures by architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The sites were honored by UNESCO, an international organization not affiliated with the U.S. government that keeps global list of sites of important human heritage. In a move announced on Sunday, July 7, UNESCO has selected eight key Frank Lloyd Wright buildings for the World Heritage list.

The Robie House and Unity Temple join Iconic Wright structures such as Fallingwater and the Guggenheim Museum on the global list. Buildings, parklands, and sites of human interest and habitation on the World Heritage list can be in the public or the private sector. Existing U.S. World Heritage sights include Yellowstone National Park, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, and the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site near Collinsville, Illinois.

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Illinois State Capitol under construction in 1871
Photo from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum
Illinois has had six capitol buildings in three cities. The first three capitols met untimely fates. Our first capitol building, in Kaskaskia, was lost to the shifting course of the Mississippi River, which has taken most of our first capital city over the past two centuries. Illinois’ second statehouse; the first one to stand in Vandalia; did not last long. On the night of December 9, 1823, the building was destroyed by fire. The third statehouse was torn down by desperate local citizens who thought they could retain the seat of government in their city if they built a more stately-looking building.

Those civic boosters in Vandalia failed, but the structure they ultimately built; our fourth capitol; still stands today. So does our fifth capitol: at 6th and Adams in Springfield. It was replaced starting in 1868 by the sixth and current Capitol building at 2nd and Monroe. But on one summer afternoon in 1933, it seemed the run of bad luck for statehouses in Illinois might claim another victim.

On Sunday, July 9, 1933, a fire broke out in a store room on the 5th floor of the Capitol’s south wing. It quickly spread to the 6th floor office of the division of oil inspection, and the nearby offices of the division of agriculture and the state supervising architect.

Firefighters rushed to the scene to fight the blaze, while state officials hurried to the building to protect important papers and priceless artifacts. Meanwhile, a large crowd of spectators gathered to observe the fire and the efforts to counter it. A photo shows a group climbing on the Lincoln statue on the east steps of the Capitol for a better view. The next day’s Illinois State Journal featured a front page photo of smoke billowing from the building’s south wing, and noted that members of the public, “preferred to watch the flames from a vantage point outside, where more could be seen than dripping water.”

Secretary of State Edward Hughes, custodian of the Capitol, directed efforts to protect other parts of the building from damage, while Governor Henry Horner arrived minutes after the first firefighters and ordered the portraits of Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas three floors directly below in the House chamber to be covered with tarps. A portrait of George Washington on display in the chamber was removed, but action could not be taken fast enough to prevent the Speaker’s podium and a large part of the chamber from becoming soaked with water falling from above.

For three hours, firefighters battled the blaze, with Chief William Funderburk summoning “almost every piece of firefighting apparatus in the city,” according to the Journal. Their task was made more difficult by the presence of scaffolding and equipment which were part of a re-roofing effort then underway. Late in the afternoon a section of the roof collapsed, narrowly missing a group of firefighters who dove for cover under tables.

Firefighters finally succeeded in getting the flames under control around 5:30 in the evening. So much water had been used that it was reported to be cascading down elevator shafts and stairwells, causing damage on the floors below. Committee rooms on the 4th and 5th floors, the House chamber and Speaker Arthur Roe’s private office on the 3rd floor, offices of the Secretary of State and the old Supreme Court chamber on the 2nd floor all reported water damage. Lighting on the 2nd floor took on a ghostly effect as water dripped down into the bowls of the fixtures surrounding the still-shining bulbs. Eventually, the water made it all the way into the basement.

One Springfield firefighter, Harold Huckey of Number 1 Engine House, was injured when he fell through a weakened floor and suffered broken ribs. Due to the fact that the fire occurred on a Sunday afternoon, there were very few workers or members of the public in the building. Damage was estimated at just under $100,000.

Governor Horner poses with three dogs
Photo from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum
The next morning’s Journal remarked if Governor Horner ever chose to leave politics he could, “stay in the public service by applying for a job as a fire fighter. He lost no time in climbing the stairs back of the House chamber to the scene of battle near committee rooms.”

The state did not have insurance on the Capitol building or any other state property in 1933, instead relying on a standing appropriation; which was $175,000 that year; to pay for fire damages in state buildings. Hours later, the scene was declared safe from fire, and inspectors began looking over the building to determine what kind of repairs would have to be made.

But the story doesn’t end there. The fire also affected Illinois’ role in a critical moment in the nation’s history. Earlier that year, Congress had started the process of adding a 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, an amendment which would repeal the 18th Amendment enacting prohibition. Illinois had enthusiastically embraced the cause.

The General Assembly adopted a joint resolution calling for a state convention to meet and discuss ratifying the repeal amendment. In April both houses and the Governor had enacted House Bill 441, setting by law the time and place for the repeal convention to meet: 12 noon, Monday, July 10, 1933, in the House chamber. That is, the very chamber which was now full of water and crumbling, falling plaster.

Elections for delegates to the convention had been held on June 5, and all 50 delegates were members of the “wet” slate, delegates who favored repeal of Prohibition, defeating their “dry” counterparts.

“Before a galaxy of distinguished visitors in the crowded House of Representatives, the 50 wet delegates to the repeal convention formally will place Illinois in the procession of states knocking out the dry paragraphs of the constitution,” the Illinois State Register had predicted on the day of the fire.

They were right about everything but the location.

While water was still dripping into the chamber, the jokes had started floating around: wet chamber, wet delegates.

“The hall had been all arranged for the repeal convention, but became sadly ‘wet’ before its time,” quipped the Journal.

Jokes aside, though, the convention did face a very real problem. The time and place of the convention had been specifically set by law. Convention delegates were arriving in the capital city while the smoke was still rising from the statehouse. The designated location was clearly unsafe. In the hours after the fire, a plan began to come together.

At noon on Monday, Horner called the convention to order in a chamber, “where great pools of water stood on the floors,” according to the Register. Wet plaster continued to fall from walls and ceilings in the building as delegates cautiously entered.

Horner made his way to the front of the wrecked chamber and called the convention to order, followed by a roll call and a comment from the Governor.

“You are all familiar with the fact there was a disastrous fire in this wing of the Capitol Building last night, and it is apparent that this Chamber is unsafe as a location for the holding of this Convention, by reason of the damage resulting from fire and water and the danger from falling plaster and fixtures,” Horner said.

He then recognized Delegate George Barrett of Chicago for a resolution. The resolution stated that, “the State Architect of the State of Illinois has declared the said Hall of Representatives to be in a dangerous and unsafe condition for the holding of this Convention and would jeopardize the lives of the delegates and the public in attendance,” and resolved that the convention recess and re-convene across the rotunda in the Senate chamber. Not surprisingly, the resolution was adopted unanimously, and the convention “repaired to the Senate Chamber to continue its session,” in the words of the convention journal.

The move across the rotunda turned out to be the only moment of drama in the convention. Delegates heard a speech from the Governor, adopted procedural resolutions and then moved to the heart of the matter. They voted unanimously to make Illinois the 10th state to ratify the 21st Amendment. Its business done, the convention adjourned less than an hour after it convened. The fire, at least as it affected the repeal convention, turned out to be a minor inconvenience.

Two days after the blaze, the State Fire Marshal, Sherman Coultas, blamed spontaneous combustion for the fire. A cause was never officially determined. The Register also reported that day that he had, “launched steps today to forestall future fires in the state house.”

Two years later, those steps were put to the test.

On July 4, 1935, another fire broke out in the Capitol, near the same spot as the 1933 fire. It was almost a perfect re-enactment of the blaze from two years before: the 5th floor of the south wing, architectural papers and office furniture destroyed by fire, water damage in the House chamber, and “big puddles stood around the Speaker’s desk,” according to the Register.

Once again, Horner “was one of the spectators and after checking the damage said that it would not be heavy and that immediate repairs would be made,” said the paper.

Horner was correct, the 1935 was much less severe than 1933, causing about $2,000 in damage. This time, the fire started in a committee room and was under control within a half an hour.

“Firemen arriving at the scene immediately set about to keep the flames from spreading and were successful,” reads the Journal’s account. The building staff knew the drill: “hurriedly covering the speaker’s rostrum in the House of Representatives and other desks, remembering the situation two years ago when the House sustained heavy damage from water.”

The fire happened a short time after Horner signed legislation appropriating $1 million in state and federal funds for a new State Arsenal just across Monroe Street from the Capitol, replacing the arsenal that had burned down on February 4, 1934. The General Assembly had also just passed legislation appropriating $45,000 to the Secretary of State to repair damages from the 1933 fire. Wire netting had been installed over seats in the front rows of the House chamber to protect members from falling plaster which had been weakened by water in 1933.

Once again, residents flocked to the Capitol to see the dark smoke billowing out of the top windows of the south wing, but this time the newspaper reported that tourists in the Capitol building itself did not know there was fire. The damage was repaired, and business returned to normal.

For more than a century and a half the Illinois State Capitol at 2nd and Monroe has endured its share of challenges: fires, severe weather and ice storms, just to name a few. It has been the scene of ongoing renovations and restorations for years now, all in the name of preserving this great, historic capitol building as the seat of Illinois state government for generations to come.
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Gov. Pritzker Signs Historic Bipartisan $45 Billion Rebuild Illinois Capital Plan. By Fixing Crumbling Roads and Bridges, Plan Will Support and Create an Estimated 540,000 Jobs in Every Corner of the State.

Surrounded by lawmakers of both parties and representatives from the business community and labor movement, Governor JB Pritzker signed Rebuild Illinois into law, the most robust capital plan in Illinois history and the first in nearly a decade.
The historic plan was passed with vast bipartisan supermajorities and will make $45 billion worth of investments in roads, bridges, railways, universities, early childhood centers and state facilities like the crime lab and veterans’ homes over the next six years, creating and supporting an estimated 540,000 jobs over the life of the plan and revitalizing local economies across the state.

“With this historic $45 billion capital plan, we’re fixing decades-long problems, creating good jobs, improving communities for the next generation – and doing it together, across party lines,” said Gov. JB Pritzker. “The Rebuild Illinois plan transforms our state’s approach to transportation infrastructure, finally treating our roads, bridges, and railways like 21st century investments and not relics of the past. We’re also making critical investments in our higher education institutions, our crime lab and veterans’ homes, early childhood centers, and expanding broadband access to communities across Illinois. With these investments, we’re creating and supporting hundreds of thousands of new jobs in our state. This is more than an infrastructure plan. This is a job creation plan the likes of which our state has never seen.”

“One of the most important things we can do for the future of Illinois is to maintain our place as America's transportation center,” said Rep. Margo McDermed, the House Republicans’ capital point person. “This capital bill ensures we remain a vital hub in the nation's network of highways and bridges by injecting much-needed resources to bring Illinois' infrastructure into the 21st century.”

The Rebuild Illinois package consists of four bills: HB 62, appropriations for capital projects; SB 1939, revenue for horizontal construction; HB 142, bond authorization; SB 690, gaming expansion, including revenue for vertical construction.

House Bill 62Rebuild Illinois makes critical investments in infrastructure across the following areas, many of which will be subject to a rigorous process for determining projects and providing grants:

Transportation: $33.2 billion
  • Over $14 billion for new roads in bridges: 
    • $10.4 billion for state roads and bridges
    • $3.9 billion for local governments to rebuild their roads and bridges
    • Nearly $11 billion for IDOT’s Multi-Year Plan for roads and bridges
  • $4.7 billion for mass transit, including the RTA (CTA, Metra and Pace)
  • $1 billion for passenger rail, including Amtrak and other inter-city rail projects 
  • $558 million for aeronautics
  • $492 million for the Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency Program (CREATE)
  • $312 million for grade crossing protection
  • $150 million for ports
  • $679 million for other transportation projects

Education: $3.5 billion
  • $2.9 billion for higher education, including deferred maintenance and new projects at public universities, private universities and community colleges
  • $415 million for pre K-12 school maintenance
  • $111 million for early childhood education
State Facilities: $4.4 billion
  • $4 billion for deferred maintenance and new projects at state facilities, such as the decrepit state crime lab
  • $350 million for the State Capitol

Environment/Conservation: $1 billion
  • $867 million for environmental, conservation and recreation projects, including: 
    • $290 million for hazardous waste
    • $110 million for water revolving fund
    • $100 million for unsewered communities
    • $92 million for ecosystem restoration
    • $75 million for park and recreational facility construction
    • $40 million for well plugging
    • $35 million for land acquisition
    • $31 million for flood mitigation
    • $29 million for Illinois green infrastructure grants
    • $23 million for Open Space Land Acquisition and Development
    • $22 million for dam and waterway projects
    • $20 million for conservation reserve enhancement
  • $140 million for renewable energy projects, including solar and energy efficiency upgrades at state facilities and transportation electrification in low-income communities

Broadband Deployment: $420 million
  • $400 million for statewide broadband expansion
  • $20 million for Illinois Century Network

Healthcare and Human Services: $465 million
  • $200 million for affordable housing
  • $200 million for hospital and healthcare transformation
  • $50 million for community health centers
  • $15 million for human services grant program

Economic and Community Development: $1.8 billion
  • $594 million for community development
  • $425 million for economic development
  • $401 million for public infrastructure
  • $112 million for education and scientific facilities
  • $75 million for economically depressed areas
  • $51 million for museums
  • $50 million for libraries
  • $50 million for emerging technology enterprises
  • $50 million for the arts
  • $25 million for an apprenticeship program
  • $15 million for Minority Owned Business Program

Senate Bill 1939 provides revenues to fund the horizontal projects in the Rebuild Illinois capital plan.
  • Increases the motor fuel tax, which is sent to lockbox that exclusively funds critical transportation projects across the state:
    • Raises the motor fuel tax per gallon from 19 cents to 38 cents on July 1, 2019 and indexes it to the Consumer Price Index. If the motor fuel tax had been indexed to inflation the last time it was raised, it would be 38 cents – another indication of Illinois’ long failure to invest in needed maintenance of roads and bridges.
    • Increases the special fuels tax (on diesel fuel, liquefied natural gas, or propane) by 5 cents per gallon. The current tax is 2.5 cents per gallon, in addition to the regular motor fuel tax. This increase will generate $78 million in new annual state revenue, which is dedicated to the Road Fund.
    • Creates the Transportation Renewal Fund to receive the increased motor fuel taxes.
    • The revenue realized from the 19-cent increase in the motor fuel tax in SB1939 will be split between three purposes: 48 percent will go to the State Construction Account Fund for use on state roads and bridges, 32 percent will go to units of local government through the motor fuel tax formula, and 20 percent will go to local transit districts. 
    • Allows Cook County municipalities to impose an additional 3 cent local motor fuel tax.
    • Allows Lake and Will counties the same authority as DuPage, Kane and McHenry counties to impose a county motor fuel tax to be between 4 cents and 8 cents and indexes it to CPI.
This increase will result in an additional $400 million per year to local governments (municipalities and local road districts) for local roads and bridges, $250 million to transit districts, and $590 million to the state in FY20.

Title fees: Increases the title registration fee from $95 to $150 for regular title fees and $95 to $250 for mobile homes. Decreases the duplicate title fee from $95 to $50. Increases the salvage certificate fee from $4 to $20. Creates a new title fee for junk vehicles at $10. These increases are effective July 1, 2019 and will generate $146 million in new annual state revenue.

Vehicle registration fees: Increases the annual vehicle registration fee from $101 to $151 beginning with 2021 registrations and the electric vehicle registration fee from $34 every other year to match the registration fee for regular vehicles, plus $100 per year in lieu of motor fuel tax payment, effective January 1, 2020. Increases truck registration fees by $50 for vehicles 8,000 pounds and under and $100 for vehicles 8,001 pounds and over. Combined, these increases will result in $529 million in new annual state revenue.

Commercial distribution fee: Repeals the commercial distribution fee on July 1, 2020.

Sales tax shift: Beginning in FY22, one-fifth of the net 5% state sales tax on motor fuel purchases will shift per year from deposit into the General Funds to the Road Fund, with the full amount deposited into the Road Fund by FY26. This will result in $600 million annually at full implementation (shift of revenue only, not an increase).

Pedestrian and bicycle facilities: Sets aside $50 million in funding for pedestrian and bicycle facilities and the conversion of abandoned railroad corridors to trails.

Transportation Funding Protection Act: Creates this act, which requires local governments to use transportation revenues and fees for transportation purposes only.

House Bill 142 provides $22.6 billion in additional bonding authority, which will allow the state to fund much needed improvements in infrastructure in every region of the state. HB 142 increases that authority to $60.8 billion.

HB 142 creates the Multi-modal Transportation Bond Fund, Transportation Renewal Fund, Regional Transportation Authority Capital Improvement Fund, Downstate Mass Transportation Capital Improvement Fund, and Rebuild Illinois Projects Fund.

Gaming expansion will lead to thousands of new jobs in communities across Illinois and greater economic opportunity for Chicago and northern, central and southern Illinois. It will provide the state and local governments with hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue that will be dedicated to critical investments in infrastructure across the state, including affordable housing, hospitals, universities, and state facilities.

Through gaming expansion, Illinois will join 14 other states in legalizing sports betting while expanding other new opportunities for gaming, including the authorization of six new casinos that will create thousands of construction jobs and full-time, permanent jobs for Illinoisans and encourage project labor agreements. Gaming expansion will ensure Illinois remains competitive among Midwest states.

Senate Bill 690 legalizes sports wagering, expands gaming, and provides for the vertical revenues in the Rebuild Illinois Capital plan.

Legalization of sports wagering: Illinois is joining 14 other states, including Indiana and Iowa, in legalizing sports betting, allowing all casinos, racetracks, and sports venues that hold 17,000 people or more a brick-and-mortar license to operate a sportsbook. All licensees will be allowed to go online immediately upon being licensed by the Illinois Gaming Board. For the first 18 months after the first licensee is operating, all accounts must be set up at a licensed gaming facility. Within 540 days of the first license being awarded, the Gaming Board can accept applications for one of three online sports wagering operator licenses. Official league data will be allowed, betting on Illinois college teams will be banned, and a lottery sports wagering pilot program will be created. SB 690 also imposes a 15% tax on adjusted sports wagering receipts for each month, with an additional 2% tax for wagers in Cook County.

The Illinois Lottery will be granted a master license that will allow lottery sports betting terminals in 2,500 retail locations in the first year and 2,500 in the second year across the state. This license is for 4 years and must be competitively selected.

Sports betting is estimated to generate approximately $58-102 million annually, which will be dedicated to much-needed infrastructure projects across the state, including universities, affordable housing, and hospitals.

Authorization of licenses for land-based casinos: SB 690 authorizes licenses for six new casinos – in Chicago, Waukegan, Rockford, the South Suburbs, Williamson County (Walker’s Bluff), and Danville – and authorizes revenue-sharing with local municipalities. New casinos will be allowed up to 2,000 positions immediately, except for Walker’s Bluff, which is capped at 1,200, and the City of Chicago, which will be allowed up to 4,000 positions, including slots at Midway and O’Hare Airports. Horse tracks will be allowed 1,200 positions, and Fairmount 900 positions. Each of these casinos will be privately owned, and the Illinois Gaming Board will have oversight. SB 690 also implements a new tax structure for table games.

Casinos will create thousands of construction jobs and full-time, permanent jobs, including an estimated 4,000 jobs in Chicago, over 1,500 in Rockford, nearly 2,000 in Walker’s Bluff, and 1,000 in Danville.

Expansion of video gaming terminals (VGTs): This proposal protects small businesses and enables the state and local municipalities to gain much-needed capital revenue by raising the VGT tax by 3 percentage points, from 30% to 33%, in the first year and to 34% in the second year and beyond. The legislation also allows establishments to have up to six video gaming terminals, increases the maximum wager from $2 to $4, elevates the maximum cash award from $500 to $1,199, and authorizes an in-location progressive jackpot up to $10,000. Video gaming will be allowed on the Fairgrounds only during the Illinois State Fair and will be capped at 50 machines.

Expansion of gambling at horse tracks: SB 690 provides needed support to the Illinois horse racing industry, which will create jobs and keep the industry competitive. Fairmount will be able to increase their live racing dates to 100, up from 40.

Ethics: SB 690 makes administrative changes to the Illinois Gaming Board and Racing Board, including strengthening the ethics laws on members of the General Assembly, state employees, and members of the Gaming and Racing Boards, implementing a surcharge on the exchange of any gaming or racing licenses until 2027, and sourcing any non-resident gaming or racing winnings to Illinois if they are required to notify the IRS.

Parking garages: Introduces a 6% tax on daily and hourly garage parking and a 9% tax on monthly and annual garage parking. Parking garages are not currently taxed at the state level. This tax will generate $60 million in new annual state revenue.

Traded-in property exemption: Introduces a $10,000 cap per trade-in transaction on first division vehicles. Currently, traded-in property provides a sales tax exemption on the purchase of property up to the value of the property traded in. This cap will generate $40 million in new annual state revenue. Raises the documentary fee from $150 to $300 and indexes it to CPI, which may be imposed on buyers for the handling of closing documents of a sale of a motor vehicle.

Cigarettes: SB690 increases the per-pack cigarette tax by $1, from $1.98 to $2.98, effective July 1, 2019. This increase will generate $160 million in new annual state revenue.

Casino Gaming, Video Gaming, and Sports Wagering: Ongoing revenues from the gaming expansions included in SB 690 are estimated to total at least $350 million annually at full implementation and will support expected vertical capital debt service. Upfront revenues from license fees are scheduled to support pay-go capital costs.

Sales tax parity: SB690 includes mechanisms to increase compliance for "remote" online retailers collecting state sales tax beginning July 1, 2020. Annual estimates for increased state sales tax collections are $200 million.

Data Centers: SB 690 allows an exemption from sales and electricity taxes for data centers that have or plan to make a $250 million investment in Illinois. If a data center is seeking an exemption for the construction or rehabilitation of its structure, the data center must require all contractors and subcontractors to comply with the responsible bidder sections of the Illinois Procurement Code. SB 690 also creates 20% income tax credit against wages if the investment by the data center is in an underserved area. The bill requires an annual report to the Governor and the General Assembly on the tax credit’s outcome and effectiveness.

Capital diversity provisions: SB 690 creates the Illinois Works Jobs Program Act, which includes the Illinois Works Preapprenticeship Program and the Illinois Works Apprenticeship Initiative.

Gov. Pritzker signs law legalizing the recreational use of marijuana in Illinois. On Tuesday, Governor Pritzker signed House Bill 1438 into law, which will legalize the adult use of cannabis in Illinois beginning January 1, 2020.

House Bill 1438 creates the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act. It allows for the recreational use of cannabis by individuals over the age of 21. Illinois citizens may possess up to 30 grams of cannabis and out of state individuals may possess up to 15 grams. Medical cannabis patients may grow up to 5 plants in their residence.

It expunges arrest records for possession of cannabis up to 30 grams. For individuals who have convictions for possession of up to 30 grams, the Governor will pardon those individuals and the Attorney General will file a petition to expunge. For those individuals convicted of possession between 30-500 grams, they may file a motion to vacate or expunge their records.

HB 1438 also creates the Recovery, Reinvest, and Renew (R3) grant program, which will invest in communities hit by economic disinvestment and violence. 25% of revenue generated by the Act will go to the R3 program.

It allows for additional dispensaries (in addition to medical cannabis dispensaries) and cultivators, and adds licenses for craft growers, infusers, and transportation organizations. Local governments may reasonably zone where craft growers and dispensaries may be placed. Local governments may opt out of having cannabis-related businesses within their borders.

Taxation on cannabis: 7% on cultivators, 10-25% on purchase of cannabis, up to 3% excise tax by municipalities, up to .75% for counties, and up to 3.75% for unincorporated areas.

As more and more states move toward legalizing the use of recreational cannabis, proponents argued that HB 1438 is a reasonable answer to the question how do we tax and regulate this emerging industry. While many are uncomfortable with the concept of legalizing cannabis, the fact is that this is the direction the nation is moving.

This legislation provides for public safety, taxpayer protections, workplace protections, and local control. It contains similar provisions to laws regulating the consumption of alcohol, like a prohibition on driving a car under the influence. It incorporates laws that will deter and punish use by minors – including a zero tolerance policy for those under 21 who drive under the influence of cannabis. Employers are given the strongest policy protections in the nation, allowing for a “drug free” workplace. Local municipalities and counties may opt out at any time and can tax cannabis up to 3.75%.

Opponents pointed out that nothing in this legislation changes the fact that cannabis is still a Schedule 1 Controlled Substance which remains illegal under federal law. They argued that the bill will not raise nearly as much revenue as proponents expect; instead, it will place additional burdens on taxpayer dollars to pay for drug treatment and the negative health effects of chronic marijuana use. Opponents believe that legalizing marijuana is a terrible way to raise money for the State and that it will cause more harm than good.

House Bill 1438 passed the Senate by a vote of 38-17-2 and on May 31, the House concurred with Senate Amendment 2 by a vote of 66-47-2.

U.S. Supreme Court decision adds to pressure for fair maps in Illinois. The decision in the case of Rucho v. Common Cause, handed down on Thursday, June 27 by the nation’s highest court, confirms the arguments of many jurists that federal courts do not have standing to remedy partisan, gerrymandered maps generated by the authorities of the separate states. A gerrymandered map is a map that is drawn to make some peoples’ votes worth less than others, typically by “packing” large numbers of common-minded people in a single district. The Supreme Court’s majority found in Rucho that the federal courts are improper and inadequate forums for the resolution of disputes involving the partisan mapping of voters. It asserted that these disputes are questions to be resolved on the state level.

The Rucho decision did not oppose fair maps. It let stand the constitutions of various states, such as our neighboring state of Iowa, which have enacted constitutional laws to provide for the drawing of fair, non-partisan maps to elect state legislators and members of Congress. Ruchomakes clear that gerrymandering will continue to be a constant feature of Illinois politics until Illinois amends its constitution to provide for fair maps. The laws of states such as California and Iowa show how this can be done. Illinoisans have no other recourse but a state constitutional amendment.

Illinois sheriff’s deputy killed. Deputy Troy Chisum was shot and killed on Tuesday, June 25 in rural Fulton County. The incident in west-central Illinois ended the life of a veteran officer of the Fulton County sheriff’s office. Chisum was also a trained paramedic with his county’s emergency medical response (EMA) team, and had been certified to perform a wide variety of special response challenges and tasks. His watch ended while responding to a battery and disturbance call in Avon.

A statewide monument for law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty stands on the southwest side of the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield. In an annual ceremony, the names of the officers killed during the previous twelve-month period are added to the monument’s granite plinth, and the survivors of the fallen officers are honored. Deputy Chisum is survived by his wife and three daughters.

JOBSStatewide unemployment rate held steady in May 2019 at 4.4%. The Illinois jobless rate continued to post numbers..
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Photo from the National WWII Museum
Earlier this month America and the world celebrated the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the morning that thousands of Allied soldiers splashed ashore in Normandy to liberate occupied Western Europe from Nazi Germany. Countless tales of heroism, ingenuity, sacrifice and bravery have been told from the events around June 6, 1944. But one story that has not gotten as much attention involves the development of an item that would save innumerable lives on D-Day and virtually every day after.

And it hinges on a Peoria market’s moldy cantaloupe.

Scholars of the American Civil War have noted that a large number of soldiers who were killed in the conflict; possibly even a majority; died not of battle wounds but of illness, specifically infections. Battlefield medicine was primitive, sanitation and infection were not very well understood, if at all, and precautions that today are taken without a second thought were unheard of in the 1860s. As a result, thousands of soldiers on both sides gave their lives due to conditions that today would be treatable if not avoided altogether.

By 1940, medical science had advanced by leaps and bounds, but the problem of non-life-threatening wounds becoming death sentences due to infection was still a serious challenge. The crisis became especially acute that year when German planes started raining death on British cities and their populations during the bombing campaign known to history as the Blitz. Wounded civilians were being brought into British hospitals only to become sick with infections that doctors seemed unable to prevent. The same was happening to British soldiers on battlefields around the world.

Most frustrating was the knowledge that a cure existed, but could not be produced rapidly enough.

In 1928, Scottish physician Alexander Fleming had discovered benzylpenicillin, the world’s first antibiotic. His studies were motivated in part by observations he had made a decade earlier on World War I battlefields of the ineffectiveness of antiseptic solutions used to treat wounded soldiers. The 1928 discovery was something of an accident, but it was clear that the source of the substance which had killed the bacteria in his laboratory was a certain fungus found in a culture which had inadvertently been left out to mold.

Thus penicillin was discovered. Producing it in amounts sufficient to do any good, however, would prove to be a difficult task.

Growing the mold was only the first step. The actual penicillin itself had to be isolated from the mold, produced in quantity, made into some kind of form that could be reliably administered to patients and survive long enough to attack and defeat the infection. An Australian scientist working at Oxford, Howard Florey, developed a more efficient way of producing penicillin, but more work needed to be done.

There was also the matter of the German bombs exploding around most of the laboratories in Britain.

Desperate, the British government reached out across the Atlantic to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for assistance. The USDA had a solution, and it involved a laboratory in Peoria, Illinois.

The USDA had built four research labs around the country in the 1930s for the purpose of researching additional uses for surplus agricultural products. One of these labs; called the Northern Regional Research Laboratory by USDA, but known simply as the Ag Lab; was built in Peoria because of its proximity to a large supply of corn. Peoria was also the home of the Hiram Walker Distilleries, making it the whiskey capital of the world. That combination made Peoria an ideal location for studying fermentation and its many uses, such as how to extract certain materials from microbes: exactly what the researchers were trying to do with penicillin. Now they just needed to find the right bacteria and a way to grow it fast enough. Until they did, the project was going to be stalled.

A worldwide search was launched. The U.S. Army instructed its pilots to bring back samples of dirt from every spot on the globe where they landed. The dirt was tested for the appropriate bacteria, but none was found. Instead, the hero of the search was not some dashing Army aviator, but a woman shopping in a Peoria market who had heard about the research effort and who wondered if the moldy cantaloupe in front of her on the store’s shelf might hold the answer.

Fortunately for humanity, it did. Unfortunately for historians, nobody thought to record the shopper’s name.

Planning for the Allied invasion of France had been going on since 1942, and while it was impossible to predict the number of casualties, all involved expected the number of killed and wounded to be horrific. If a vast number of wounded soldiers could not be saved from death by infection, not only would the war effort be in jeopardy, but the scope of the tragedy to a nation already bearing so much pain would be unimaginable. The scientists had to come through.

Dr. Andrew Moyer. Photo from the
National Inventors Hall of Fame
Back in Peoria, it turned out that the mold on the cantaloupe (designated NRRL-1951) was exactly
the right strain that was needed: one which could be rapidly cultured in the Ag lab. It grew in such a way that greater concentrations could be produced. Dr. Andrew Moyer worked to accelerate the process and yield more penicillin.

Scientists at labs and universities around the Midwest worked with different mutations of the strain, and experimented with one different growth medium after another. They hit the jackpot when they found the combination of corn steep liquor; which had come from the fermentation process used to make corn starch or ethanol; and the use of “submerged fermentation,” which involved growing the bacteria in a vat, rather than just on the surface of a petri dish or a pan.

American laboratories and more than 20 pharmaceutical companies were now able to churn out penicillin in larger and larger quantities. One of those companies was Schenley Laboratories, which produced an informational pamphlet calling penicillin, “the greatest healing agent of this war!”

“When the thunderous battles of this war have subsided to pages of silent print in a history book, the greatest news event of World War II may well be the discovery and development – not of some vicious secret weapon that destroys – but of a weapon that saves lives. That weapon, of course, is penicillin,” the pamphlet exclaims.

In 1942, penicillin produced in the United States was used for the first time: to treat a patient who was suffering from septicemia, or blood poisoning. The treatment was successful, but it used half the known supply of the drug. By 1943, the labs had produced enough penicillin to treat only ten patients. Soon America’s War Production Board began planning for the mass production and distribution of penicillin to battlefronts all over the world. Scientists worked to shape the substance into a pharmaceutical use in time for what everyone expected to be titanic clashes of armies in Western Europe.

In clinical trials in 1943, penicillin performed better than any other drug or antiseptic in treating infections. Trials on wounded soldiers in North Africa that same year were similarly successful. Now the process accelerated, and by the time of the D-Day landing, more than two million doses of penicillin had been produced, enough of the life-saving medication to satisfy the requirements of the Allied armies getting ready to hit the beaches of France.

Casualties were high on D-Day, and during the bloody fighting that followed. But the presence of penicillin made a meaningful difference in the numbers of Allied soldiers who came home alive. An estimate published in Military History Magazine in 2013 claimed that as many as 100,000 Allied soldiers benefitted from treatment with penicillin in Europe alone during the eleven months between the Normandy invasion and V-E Day.

By the time the war ended, a year later, more than 600 billion doses per year were being produced. Battlefield deaths and amputations due to infection declined once penicillin was readily available. Deaths from gangrene were cut almost in half in the last 12 months of the war as compared to the early years before penicillin was available. The drug was made available to American civilians early in 1945.

Dr. Fleming, along with Florey and another researcher Ernst Boris Chain, would share the 1945 Nobel Prize for their discovery. Another important figure in the research was Dorothy Hodgkin, a pioneer in x-ray crystallography who discovered the structure of penicillin and helped lead to its mass production, though her work was not published until after the war. She would be awarded a Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1964. Dr. Moyer earned a patent in 1948 for penicillin’s mass production.

Peoria's Ag Lab in 1942
Meanwhile, the Ag Lab went right on with its research. For its world-changing discovery, the Peoria Ag lab was named an International Historic Chemical Landmark. By the 1950s, it had discovered dextran, an important “plasma extender.” Research in Peoria has benefitted Illinois agriculture by advancing the study of ethanol, the use of soybeans and many other corn products. The lab also developed the absorbent material now found in many diapers. The Peoria Ag Lab’s discoveries have produced products that improve quality of life, and products that save lives.

That shopper in Peoria probably didn’t know it, but she played a crucial role in the development of antibiotics, an advance in medical science which has saved millions of lives.
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Through highly targeted student assistance programs, Illinois is helping college graduates minimize student debt while at the same time addressing the critical shortage of teachers, nurses and public defenders. Designed to meet specific needs in our state, these programs invest in college graduates who promise to work in Illinois in these areas of need.

College students who plan to enter one of the targeted fields or graduates who are working in one of these fields should take a look at these specialized repayments programs designed to keep them working and thriving in Illinois.

Learn more about the programs below:

Description: The Illinois Teachers Loan Repayment Program provides awards to encourage academically talented Illinois students to teach in Illinois schools in low-income areas. If these obligations are met by a Federal Stafford loan borrower who has qualified for the federal government’s loan forgiveness programs, Illinois may provide an additional matching award of up to $5000 to the qualifying teacher to repay their student loan debt.

  • Be a US citizen
  • Be an Illinois resident
  • Be a borrower who has had an amount of your educational loans forgiven under the federal government’s loan forgiveness programs
  • Have a remaining balance on your loans
  • Have fulfilled your five-year teaching obligation in an Illinois elementary or secondary school designated as a low-income school or have worked full time for 2 consecutive years in a child care facility that serves a low-income area in Illinois
Program Information

John R. Justice Student Loan Repayment Program
Amount: Up to $4,000 per year, maximum of $60,000
Description: The John R. Justice Student Loan Repayment Program provides for the payment of eligible educational loans (both Federal Family Education Loan Program [FFELP] and Federal Direct Loans) for state and federal public defenders and state prosecutors who agree to remain employed as public defenders and prosecutors for at least three years.

  • Must be a US citizen or legal resident
  • Have an outstanding balance on eligible loans
  • Be an attorney (or have accepted an employment offer) continually licensed to practice law, and
  • a full-time employee of the state of Illinois or unit of local government (including tribal government) who prosecutes criminal or juvenile delinquency cases at the state or unit of local government level, or
  • a full-time employee of the state of Illinois or unit of local government (including tribal government) who provides legal representation to indigent persons in criminal or juvenile delinquency cases, or
  • a full-time employee of an nonprofit organization operating under a contract with Illinois or unit of local government who devotes substantially all of the employee's full-time employment to providing legal representation to indigent persons in criminal or juvenile cases, or
  • employed in Illinois as a full-time federal defender attorney in a defender organization pursuant to Subsection (g) of section 3006A of Title 18, United States Code
Program Information

Nurse Educator Loan Repayment Program
Amount: Up to $5,000, for a maximum of 4 years
Description: The Nurse Educator Loan Repayment Program encourages longevity and career change opportunities. The program is intended to pay eligible loans to add an incentive to nurse educators in maintaining their teaching careers within the State of Illinois.

  • Must be a US citizen or legal resident
  • Must be an Illinois resident
  • Must have an outstanding balance on an eligible loan
  • Be a nurse educator who meets licensing requirements of the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation
  • Have worked as a nurse educator instructing practical or professional nurses in an approved Illinois institution for at least the past 12 consecutive months prior to the date of each application for this program
  • Not be in default on any federal guaranteed educational loan, nor owe a refund on any scholarship or grant program administered by the Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC)
Program Information

Veterans’ Home Nurse Loan Repayment Program
Amount: Up to $5,000 for a maximum of 4 years
Description: The Veterans' Home Nurse Loan Repayment Program provides for the payment of eligible educational loans as an incentive for nurses to pursue and continue their careers at State of Illinois veterans' homes.

  • Must be a US citizen or legal resident
  • Must be an Illinois resident
  • Have an outstanding balance on eligible loan
  • Be a nurse who meets licensing requirements of the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation
  • Be a nurse who has completed the prescribed employment probationary period and whose employment is in good standing as determined by the Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs
  • For each year during which an award is received, fulfill a separate 12 month period as a registered professional nurse or licensed practical nurse in an approved State of Illinois veterans' home
  • Not be in default on any federal guaranteed educational loan, nor owe a refund on any scholarship or grant program administered by the Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC)
Program Information
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Iroquois Theater, 1903
In the days before television and the many opportunities Americans have for entertainment in the modern age, an afternoon or an evening at the theater was a prime diversion for many. Whether it was a lecture by a famed orator, an orchestra concert or a theatrical presentation, an audience could find a few hours amusement at the theater.

But over the centuries, theaters also were the scene of their share of problems. From the middle ages on, theaters were a prime source of disease outbreaks, and were often among the first facilities closed during the frequent epidemics of the Elizabethan age and onward. More recently; especially as theaters became larger and more complex; they were the scenes of terrible disasters caused by fires and large, panicked crowds rushing for the exits. Nowhere was this combination of factors more deadly than near the corner of Dearborn and Randolph in Chicago just a few days after Christmas in 1903.

The Iroquois Theatre had opened a month before, at the heart of a burgeoning theater district in Chicago which local boosters hoped would rival and even exceed that of New York. The elegant theater, with its marble staircases and rich furnishings had a capacity of around 1600. With the memory of the great Chicago fire still lurking in the not-too-distant past, the theater’s builder and owners promised a safe facility, advertising it as “absolutely fireproof.” They bragged about modern safety features, like an asbestos curtain to smother flames, and 30 exits which would make it possible to evacuate the theater in about five minutes. The architect, Benjamin Marshall, assured patrons that he had studied the causes of numerous theater disasters of the past, and had designed a theater that was safe from all of them.

None of these assurances were true.

Construction of the theater had fallen behind, and in order to make the deadline for opening day that November, many corners were cut, deficient materials were used, inspectors were bribed and safety regulations were ignored. The theater had a single grand staircase from the upper levels down to the main entrance. Vents above the stage meant to allow smoke to escape in the event of fire had been sealed. A fire curtain supposed to be made of asbestos was instead made up of cheaper materials which were actually flammable themselves. There was no fire alarm or sprinkler system.

The scene was set for tragedy a little after 3 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon, December 30, 1903. With schools closed for the holidays and shoppers descending on downtown Chicago, the owners of the spectacular new theater adjacent to the Loop shopping district had scheduled a special matinee of the family play “Mr. Bluebeard” that day. They had welcomed many parents and children from more than a dozen states throughout the Midwest into the auditorium for the show.

Seats sold out, but that did not stop hundreds more guests from crowding in. When the seats in the three-level theater filled up, patrons sat in the aisles or stood in the back of the balcony. Finally, to stop those who would try to sneak in without a ticket, the owners bolted outside doors closed, and put in place gates inside the theater to prevent those with cheaper tickets from moving into seats closer to the stage. According to some accounts at least 2100 people had crammed into the theater, blocking aisles and exits.

As Act II began in the jammed theater, a single arc light shone above the stage, simulating the moonlight for the scene. A spark popped from the lamp and struck a curtain, igniting it. Fire spread quickly above the stage while dancers continued to perform. The star of the show emerged onto the stage and called for calm. Meanwhile, the theater employee responsible for fire safety went into action, ordering the asbestos curtain dropped and the fire alarm pulled. But unbeknownst to him, the curtain was substandard and the fire alarm non-existent.

Now panic spread as fast as the fire. Patrons, many of them small children, rushed toward the exits. But in the darkness, the exits were nearly impossible to find, as theater architects had declined to place lighted exit signs, thinking them a distraction. Those who did find doors discovered they were locked or opened inward and were impossible to use as the panicked crowd pushed against them. Gates between sections of the theater trapped more people as the smoke and fire spread. Some supposed exits turned out to be decorative rather than actual doors, and more people found themselves trapped in paths to nowhere, while others were trampled.

An artists depiction of theatergoers escaping along a ladder 
Around this time, the fire curtain was finally lowered, but it snagged on a piece of equipment. Soon it too was in flames. Backstage, escaping cast and crew members forced open a large stage door, which let in a gust of cold wind. The fresh air hit the flames and caused a fireball which exploded into the crowd, killing many instantly, some still in their seats. Those who made it to the exits from the balcony found the fire escape did not reach them. Some jumped or fell to the alley below. A few survived. Others crawled to safety on the roof of a neighboring Northwestern University building when students rigged a crude ladder to span the gap over the alley.

Outside, the Chicago Fire Department raced to respond. A stagehand ran to the nearby Engine Company 13 firehouse to summon help. The firefighters rushed to the theater, activating a call box to alert other firefighters to report to the scene. These first responders were confronted by mobs of people escaping into the street, and found their path to the fire blocked. Firefighting efforts took a backseat to rescue and recovery. Once the flames were extinguished, the scene was horrific. Dozens of bodies, then hundreds, were brought out. Tragically, many of them were children who had only moments before been enjoying a cheerful musical.

The next morning’s Chicago Tribune carried on its front page seven columns of names of “the known dead,” a still-incomplete list that already numbered over 500. Firefighters told of finding bodies stacked ten high at locked exit doors. When the counting was done, an official death toll of 602 was reported, though speculation ran that the real number was even higher. Even with just the official toll; which was double the loss of life from the 1871 Chicago fire; the Iroquois Theatre fire was the deadliest theater fire in the United States and the deadliest single-building fire in American history.

In the aftermath, there was plenty of blame to go around. The theater’s owners and operators, city officials and even Mayor Carter Harrison shared some of the blame in the public eye. Theater owners tried to blame the manufacturer of the ineffective fire retardant chemical kept backstage, and when that didn’t work they sought to blame the audience for not heeding the initial call to remain calm. When everything was said and done, however, after three years of legal maneuvering, manslaughter prosecutions were unsuccessful and nobody went to jail. A judge, seeming to throw up his hands in futility, supposedly said that none of them could be held responsible for the placement of the light which had started the fire. The light is now part of the collection of the Chicago History Museum.

Marshall, the architect, later weakly conceded that in the future he would not include so much wood in the designs of his theaters.

The Iroquois was repaired and re-opened the next year as the Colonial Theatre. It was demolished in the 1920s to make way for a new theater, the Oriental, which still stands on the site. The city held a memorial service every year after the disaster until the last survivor passed away. A memorial to the victims of the fire, sculpted by Lorado Taft, stands at the LaSalle Street entrance to Chicago City Hall. The plaque was described in the Chicago Tribune in 1911 as depicting, “the Motherhood of the World protecting the children of the universe, the body of a child borne on a litter by herculean male figures, with a bereaved mother bending over it.”

Panorama of the Iroquois Theater after the fire

After the fire, city and state regulators made changes to building codes and safety laws to prevent the sort of disaster which had claimed so many lives at the Iroquois. Theaters around the nation immediately eliminated or reduced their standing room sections. In Europe and North America theaters closed their doors to be retrofitted with improved safety features. To prevent the deadly crush of people against inward-opening exit doors, all exits from theaters and other public buildings are now required to open outward. Lighted exit signs and “panic bars” are required for emergency exits.

Those reformed laws and procedures have likely prevented countless fatalities in the century since the Iroquois Theatre disaster, but they came too late for more than 600 people, mostly women and children, who sought an afternoon’s entertainment in a Chicago theater billed as “absolutely fireproof.”
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This is the time of year when students are receiving college financial aid award letters. And the hard decision of which college to choose begins.

With the rising cost of college tuition; and the increased student debt load that can ultimately follow; it is more important than ever to make the right decision. The Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC) provides a valuable free tool to help you compare financial aid awards and the total cost for up to three colleges.

Need additional assistance? Contact a local ISACorps Member to help you through the college planning process.
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Excerpt from Beth Kobliner's story on the PBS News Hour.

Here are four tips to help you and your kid sort through the 7,000 or so U.S. colleges and universities and get the biggest bang for your higher ed buck.

1. Money is a Factor: Level with your kid about how much you can spend and warn her against taking on too much debt. 
  • Make sure any loans are low-interest federal ones (not private). Federal student loans are at a low 5.05 percent interest rate and cap out at $31,000 for five years of college—plus, your kid can choose from a variety of repayment plans after she graduates. 
  • Avoid borrowing on your child’s behalf. The number of parents taking out pricier Parent PLUS loans for their children’s college costs is soaring. Some are even borrowing against their retirement plans. Don’t.
2. The sticker price is not the final price: The truth is, most students receive financial aid to offset the advertised cost of college. (And only about 10 percent of private college students pay full price.) Still, you need to try to get the best estimate of what your family will pay before you tell your kid he can go. To get a rough idea of what you’ll actually pay at a given school, start with the net price calculators from each institution you have in mind.

3. The answer might be closer than you think: Research what your local and state colleges have to offer. Several states, such as Tennessee, Oregon, and Minnesota, offer free community college programs—and New York guarantees certain in-staters free attendance at four-year state schools, too. Another plus: If your kid can commute to campus from home, you can save a bundle.

4. Make a post-graduation plan for paying down debt: One great rule of thumb from Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of Savingforcollege.com: Don’t borrow more than your expected first-year salary out of school. To make sure your kid is actually drawing a salary after graduation, she should take the advice of Amanda Sale, an admissions officer at the University of Georgia.

“Get connected with the career center early on,” Sale told me. “Don’t wait until you’re a senior, because the resources are fantastic.” Among them, guidance on how to write a resume and interview effectively, and connections to jobs or internships. Because the best way to pay for college is to turn that pricey degree into a healthy paycheck.

Read the entire article by Beth Kobliner, one of the nation’s leading authorities on personal finance for young people

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Governor Pritzker approves massive abortion expansion law. Governor JB Pritzker signed legislation Wednesday that will massively expand abortion access in Illinois.

Senate Bill 25, the so-called “Reproductive Health Act,” makes many sweeping changes to Illinois’ abortion laws, establishing abortion as a fundamental right in Illinois. It further provides that a fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus does not have independent rights under the law. It repeals the Illinois Abortion Law of 1975, the Partial-birth Abortion Ban Act, and the Abortion Performance Refusal Act, which specifies that a medical professional who declines to recommend or perform an abortion procedure cannot be held liable for damages. The new law contains intentionally vague definitions that will provide for a significant expansion of post viability abortions. Establishing abortion as a fundamental right means Illinois will not be able to enforce its parental notification law that requires parents of minor children to be notified if their daughter seeks and obtains an abortion.

Representative Avery Bourne led the debate against Senate Bill 25 when the Illinois House of Representatives voted on it on May 28th. After the signing Wednesday, Bourne released this statement:

“When Governor Pritzker took office he promised to make Illinois the most progressive state in the nation on abortion. Unfortunately, today he followed through on that promise and signed into law legislation that will mean a massive expansion of late term abortions in Illinois. This extreme legislation repeals a number of important safety prohibitions and regulations, putting mothers and viable unborn babies at risk. The bill further removes any rights for unborn babies and establishes abortion as a fundamental right. This extreme expansion is out of step with the beliefs of a majority of Illinoisans. Proponents of this bill dishonestly sold this bill as a way to keep abortions legal in Illinois if Roe v. Wade is overturned; however, this legislation does so much more than that. Illinois is now one of the most radical states for abortion access. Today is a win for the abortion industry, and a devastating loss for Illinois and the rights of all unborn babies.”

Senate Bill 25 passed the Illinois House of Representatives by a vote of 65-50-4, with every Republican voting ‘No.’ Governor Pritzker signed the bill into law as Public Act 101-0013.

Illinois planting season affected by wet weather. The exceptionally wet spring 2019 season made work in many fields very difficult during the usual planting weeks of April and May. Days suitable for fieldwork finally appeared through much of Illinois in early June, with farm observers reporting a mean of 4.5 days suitable for fieldwork during the week ending Sunday, June 9. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that as of June 9, 73% of the Illinois corn crop had been planted; this compares with 100% planting at the comparable date one year earlier. The report for Illinois soybeans shows a similar picture, with 49% of the Illinois bean crop planted as of June 9 as compared to 96% on the comparable day one year earlier.

The slow planting progress has created a developing picture of a challenging grow cycle and possible challenging harvest conditions. As of June 9, 53% of the Illinois corn crop was ranked as fair, poor, or very poor, with only 47% of the crop ranked as good or excellent. With regard to Illinois farm fields, 42% of the acreage was ranked as having surplus topsoil moisture, a condition that can include patches of persistent mud and crop death in low-lying stretches of the fields. Dry, sunny conditions could create some improvements in these numbers.

Flooding conditions continue along Illinois, Mississippi Rivers.
High water marks not seen since the Great Flood of 1993 are straining levees and forcing the sandbagging of riverfront properties up and down Illinois’ largest waterways. Some of the levees that protect the Illinois River and Mississippi River bottomlands have given way, creating property damage and forcing evacuations. Areas where two or more rivers come together, such as Alexander County in far Southern Illinois where the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers meet, face particular challenges.

In addition to losses of some bottomland homes and businesses, Illinoisans are affected by the closure of key roads and bridges. The Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA), which has jurisdiction over Illinois disaster relief, has been mobilized since mid-March, and has focused an increased level of disaster relief operations in East Cape Girardeau in hard-hit Alexander County. On May 31, Gov. Pritzker issued a flooding disaster declaration in response to the emergency. The disaster declaration covers human and property damage in 34 listed counties within central, western, and southern Illinois. Some flood relief may come over the next few weeks, as water levels farther up the Mississippi River have begun to drop back towards normal levels. The welcome relief affects towns and cities in eastern Iowa and northwestern Illinois.

Free Fishing Days declared for Friday, June 14 through Monday, June 17. The no-license-required declaration was posted by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). IDNR often celebrates the end of the school year with a family-friendly holiday from fishing license requirements to encourage families to take up the sport and to bring young people into the fishing experience. Many lakes, ponds, and streams are publicly stocked with fish to catch and keep or to return to the water. IDNR has posted a list of recommended lakes and ponds for youth fishing.

The St. Louis Blues win their first-ever Stanley Cup. The Blues join the Chicago Blackhawks as National Hockey League (NHL) champions with many fans in Illinois. Many northern Illinoisans may not know that greater St. Louis is the second-most-populous metropolitan area in Illinois. The eight counties of southeastern Illinois that make up the Illinois part of what the U.S. Census calls the St. Louis “combined statistical area” have more than 700,000 people living in them. Even outside this area, many residents of southern and central Illinois are fans of St. Louis sports teams.

The St. Louis Blues, which had not played in a Stanley Cup finals match since 1970, defeated the Boston Bruins by a finals total of four games to three to win the Cup in 2019. The deciding Game 7 was broadcast on national television on Wednesday, June 12.

MetroSouth Medical Center, key Blue Island health care provider, could close. The Chicago-area south suburban hospital supports over 1,000 Cook County jobs. Its owner, which has asked for permission to close the hospital on December 31 of this year, said the facility lost $8.4 million in 2018. Further losses exceeding $10 million are expected in 2019.

The MetroSouth Medical Center in Blue Island has 314 beds licensed for overnight patients, but on a typical night only 100 patients are staying there. The hospital has to support all of the fixed costs of a facility with 314 billed beds, but less than a third of the beds are filled with patients for whom the hospital can send a bill for payment. Furthermore, the hospital faces the financial challenges common to all Illinois hospitals with a significant Medicaid patient load. The hospital’s CEO, John Walsh, says that one path forward for MetroSouth would be to close its inpatient wards, but maintain the status of part of the complex as a freestanding emergency department (ER) and outpatient treatment center. The proposal may soon be discussed at a public hearing of the Health Facilities & Services Review Board.

Under this plan, patients who present at the MetroSouth ER after the closure, could be transported by ambulance to other hospitals if they require inpatient treatment. Walsh says that several unnamed organizations are doing due-diligence inquiries to research whether they should make a bid for the complex as an ER/outpatient center. MetroSouth’s closure request will have to be approved by the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board, a state panel that has authority over hospital closure requests in Illinois.

Twelve-year-old Illinoisan creates Facebook page in support of Scott’s Law. The Facebook page of 12-year-old Lucy Kuelper shares the meme “#MoveOverForMyDad” and pays tribute to her father, a member of the Illinois State Police. Many facets of the Illinois press have worked with Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms to spread awareness for Scott’s Law.

The Illinois General Assembly joins Lucy Kuelper in urging Illinois drivers to “Move Over” when they see a stopped emergency vehicle by the side of the road with its lights flashing. A two-bill package passed by the House and Senate in 2019, SB 1862 and SB 2038, contains new provisions of Illinois law. The new “Move Over” laws, also referred to as “Scott’s Law” in honor of fallen Chicago first responder Lt. Scott Gillen, increase penalties for violations and add a “Move Over” question to the mandatory drivers’ knowledge tests given by the Office of the Secretary of State to applicants for drivers’ licenses in Illinois.

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