Last Week in Illinois

Tornado Outbreak – Rochelle Area
Tornado that hit Rochelle and Fairdale classified as EF-4 twister. The classification placed the deadly April 9 Fairdale tornado in the next-to-the-highest category of storm severity. As of Wednesday, April 15, two persons were confirmed dead. Massive property damage was being inventoried assessed. Governor Bruce Rauner has mobilized the State of Illinois’ emergency-response efforts and declared DeKalb and Ogle Counties to be disaster areas.

EF-4 tornadoes are rare in Illinois, this being the first such since November 2013 in Washington, Illinois. The Fairdale tornado was the most severe of at least eight separate twisters that appeared on radar sets of the National Weather Service as the April 9 weather front passed through Illinois. Other tornadoes also caused property damage. With Belvidere, Cherry Valley, and other northern Illinois communities also affected, as of April 11 the injury count had passed 20.

For more information on ways to help the victims of this tornado outbreak, please visit The Caucus Blog.

General Assembly – Illinois House
First of two weeks of Illinois House floor action. The two weeks in mid-April ending on April 24 are the weeks set aside for floor action and final passage of House bills out of the House of Representatives. In many cases, including the fourteen House Republican members who are serving their first full terms, this is a time of intense participation in the lawmaking process as final questions are asked and answered, a bill is debated on the floor, and the final roll call taken that decides whether the bill will survive and be sent to the state Senate for further action.

House members spent long hours on the House floor this week. 444 bills had been advanced from House committees and placed on the chamber’s calendar for possible final action. The Illinois House streams live audio and video feeds of its floor action to the general public.

Abraham Lincoln – 150th Anniversary 
Illinois House observes 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination and death. The 16th president was shot in the head by an assassin on April 14, 1865 in Ford’s Theatre, Washington, and died on the following day. Lincoln’s assassination, which took place less than one week after the surrender of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Confederate army, marked the end of the Civil War and the start of a period of national mourning and reconciliation.

The Illinois House has a unique perspective on Abraham Lincoln; this legislative chamber was Lincoln’s first political home and elected position. The future President served central Illinois in the 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th General Assemblies, starting in 1835 and ending in 1842. These were key years in the history of Lincoln’s home town of Springfield, as the aggressive advocacy of Lincoln and his colleagues was decisive in the selection of the Sangamon River community to be Illinois’ permanent state capital. The “Old State Capital,” which still stands in Springfield’s central city, was built in response to Lincoln’s urgings. A legislator’s desk, believed to be Lincoln’s, has been re-installed in the chamber and is seen by tens of thousands of visitors annually.

Led by Representative Tim Butler of Springfield, who represents an Illinois House district that is descended from Lincoln’s district, the Illinois House held a commemorative observance of the sesquicentennial of Lincoln’s death on Wednesday, April 15. This was part of overall preparations for the 150th anniversary of the return of Lincoln’s body to Springfield and reenactment of his funeral which will take place on May 2 and 3, 2015. 1,100 reenactors, and thousands of visitors from all over the United States, are expected to join in the observance.

College of DuPage – Severance Agreements
McDermed pushes bill through House. One of the elements of the College of DuPage scandal is a severance agreement reached between the former College board (since changed by a new election) and departing college President Robert L. Breuder. Efforts to seal the terms of this agreement led to overall attention being given to the issue of sealed severance agreements throughout the Illinois public sectors.

Representative Margo McDermed, starting with her experience on her township board and the Will County Board, has paid close attention to issues of openness in government. HB 303 provides that all severance agreements entered into or on behalf of a public body are public records subject to inspection and copying by the public. The documents may be redacted to remove information that is specifically exempted from the Freedom of Information Act by case law. The House vote on McDermed’s HB 303 was 114-2-0. Action taken by the House on Wednesday, April 15, sent the measure to the Senate for further discussion and action.

College of DuPage – Investigation 
Intensifying investigative action surrounding the College of DuPage. This week, a federal grand jury issued two wide-ranging subpoenas asking for a wide range of documents surrounding the embattled community college’s budgeting and spending. Typically issued on the advice of federal prosecutors, the grand jury subpoenas were revealed on Wednesday, April 15.

Sources told the Chicago Tribune that the subpoenas ask for information that could be used to scrutinize three key areas of College budgeting: administrator expenses reimbursed by public funds, contracts with the college’s fundraising foundation, and credits issued to police recruits at the college’s law enforcement academy. In recent years, the College of DuPage has increased its emphasis on the training of police officers and security professionals.

Education – State Superintendent Appointed
State Board of Education names Tony Smith. The State Superintendent of Education is the supervisor of public schools and publicly-supported charter schools throughout Illinois. Dr. Tony Smith has experience in educational management in both the public and the private sector. He is a past superintendent of the Oakland Unified School District, operating public schools in one of the largest cities in California.

The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), a nine-member panel appointed by the Governor with the advice and consent of the Senate, is the statewide school board that oversees distribution of state school aid and compliance with state and federal educational mandates. Departing State Superintendent Dr. Christopher Koch was thanked for his 21 years of educational leadership at ISBE, particularly his advocacy for students affected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Tony Smith, in his career as an executive educator, has often specialized in issues of math and science achievement. He is the holder of a doctorate from the University of California, and began his executive pathway as the head of the Math, Science and Technology Initiative in Emeryville, California.

Local Government Consolidation Task Force
Sanguinetti Task Force continues meetings. The Task Force on Local Government Consolidation and Mandate Reform, chaired by Lieutenant Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti, continued to hold meetings this week dedicated to the cause of reduction of burden on Illinois local governments. At a hearing in Carbondale on Monday, April 13, Sanguinetti and her colleagues continued to learn that many of these burdens are caused by mandates imposed on local governments and school districts from Springfield.

The General Assembly may well be asked, before the end of the 2015 spring session, to look at specific legislative proposals aimed at reducing these burdens. These proposals could include not only mandate reductions, but also suggested changes on local governmental labor-management relations and the consolidation of specific units of local government into efficiency-sized units.

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