Understanding Illinois: Ballot Petition Drives in Home Stretch

NowlanBy Jim Nowlan
Outside Columnist

The young man was shivering from the bitter cold. He stood at a busy entrance to Union Station in Chicago, competing for good space with newspaper boys and panhandlers. Busy commuters rushed by him, preoccupied with getting back to the suburbs.

The fellow asked politely when he could fleetingly make eye contact with a passerby: Mister, would you like to sign a petition to reform redistricting in Illinois? Read More

Understanding Illinois:Specialty Crop Growers Boost Rural Economy

NowlanBy Jim Nowlan
Outside Columnist

Rural Illinois is hurting. Rural and small town Illinois lost 12 percent of its population of persons under age 44 in the decade 2000-2010, according to the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs!

Neighboring state rural populations declined as well, but only by half as much as in Illinois. No one seems to know why Illinois’ rural population fell by so much, but I am guessing one reason is that our big flatland farm operations grew significantly in size, as 24-row corn planters reduced the need for farmers.

I visited recently with Lyndon and Kimberley Hartz of Wyoming, IL about their 10-acre, intensively farmed specialty crop operation, which supports them and pays for five full-time employees in the summer. Read More

When “Storms” Hit, Social Security Has You Covered

By Gerald Tilley
Social Security District Manager

You’ve probably noticed the unusually cold and stormy weather we’ve been experiencing this year. That makes it more appropriate than ever to recognize National Umbrella Month this March.

National Umbrella Month is a time to celebrate a useful invention used by most everyone. It’s no coincidence that the month comes at the beginning of the rainy season. April showers may bring May flowers, but the rain starts pouring in March. When the rain pours, an umbrella has you covered. Read More

Understanding Illinois: Education in Illinois About to Change

NowlanBy Jim Nowlan
Outside Columnist

New Common Core State Standards and a revamped teacher evaluation process portend significant changes in Illinois education, for the better, I think.

I tried to learn more about the changes in a recent visit with Tessa Samuelsen, the Stark County (IL) Elementary School principal, in my home territory.

I know conservatives who are adamantly opposed to the Common Core as well as conservatives who are passionately supportive of the new standards. Read More

LTE: Judicial Elections Important Too

On Tuesday, March 18, Illinois voters will have a chance to cast their ballot in the primary election for national, state and local offices.

Sadly, voters often overlook the many candidates running for retention or election as judges. This is unfortunate as judges make critical decisions that directly affect our daily lives. Learning about the qualifications of judicial candidates and voting for those who are most qualified will help ensure that we have a quality judiciary. Bar association evaluations and newspaper endorsements are a reliable, independent and relevant source of information about the candidates’ qualifications.

As a way to help inform and educate voters outside of Cook County, the Illinois State Bar Association conducts an advisory poll in the circuit or district from which a candidate seeks retention or election. Polls are sent to ISBA members and non-ISBA lawyers who request a ballot. The poll reflects the opinion of those lawyers who choose to respond and not the opinion of ISBA. The ratings are readily available to the public at www.isba.org/YouBeTheJudge. (In Cook County, an ISBA Judicial Evaluations committee uses the results of a questionnaire, background investigations, and in-person interviews to rate candidates for judicial offices.)

We encourage voters to download all these poll ratings and take them into the voting booth. The ratings provide guidance in selecting the most qualified persons as judges.

Hon. Thomas L. Brownfield, Chair
ISBA Judicial Advisory Polls Committee

Understanding Illinois: Gladiators of Gridiron Seek Union

NowlanBy Jim Nowlan
Outside Columnist

Northwestern University football players recently filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board that seeks certification of the College Athletes Players Association as a union.

Players in elite football programs do deserve a larger share of the megabucks being generated solely because of their superb athleticism.

Programs such as Alabama, Texas and Ohio State each generate $100-150 million a year and pay their coaches $3-5 million each.

Players receive free tuition, a bounteous training table, and the distant hope of playing professional ball. Yet scholarships leave athletes without money for necessities, and only a small fraction of the athletes ever play professional ball, and then only for an average of two or three years. Read More

The ABC’s of the ACA

by Angela Hogan, RN MSPH
Admin. Mo. Co. Health Dept.

It’s finally March 2014, and in less than 30 days, we will have already experienced 25 percent of the year. In the healthcare arena, March 31 marks much more than the first quarter of 2014. It is also the end of the Open Enrollment Period for the newly implemented Affordable Care Act.

With the “MARCH 31” deadline looming the following are some last minute tidbits of information that most individuals should know about how the ACA will affect access to care, and the options that still exist up to and beyond March 31 for individuals still in need of healthcare coverage: Read More

Understanding Illinois: Political Campaigning Dissected

By Jim Nowlan
Outside Columnist

Several readers have asked me to comment on the increasingly nasty campaign for the Republican nomination for governor.

As a member of the Illinois Executive Ethics Commission (appointed by state treasurer and gubernatorial candidate Dan Rutherford), I am prohibited from participating in politics. My observations here are about the nature of campaigns and of how such may be affecting the present gubernatorial race. Read More

Understanding Illinois: Parole–Eliminate Some, Focus Other Efforts

NowlanBy Jim Nowlan
Outside Columnist

Should Illinois prison parolees be granted legal counsel in cases where their parole officers have recommended they be sent back to prison?

That is the nub of a case filed recently in federal court by a justice center at Northwestern University School of Law titled Morales v. Monreal (the chairman of the state Prisoner Review Board) that seeks to require legal counsel for those charged with violation of parole.

The bigger issue is that of how can we reduce the high numbers of men and women who end up back in prison. Read More