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CHICAGO (AP) - The Illinois Department of Employment Security says the state's unemployment rate dropped in November for a fourth straight month. But the 8.6 percent rate is still one of the highest in the country.
 
The department said Friday that the state lost a net 3,200 jobs in December. Officials blamed brutal cold for decreases in, among other areas, construction jobs.
 
But Department Director Jay Rowell says Illinois' economy remains on track for moderate expansion.
 
The unemployment rate fell from 8.7 percent in November. The national unemployment rate for December was 6.7 percent. That's the lowest figure since late 2008.
 
Construction jobs were reduced by 4,500 in December. Government, labor and hospitality and educational and health services employers also all cut jobs.
 
Trade, transportation and utilities firms added a net 4,500 jobs.
Published in Local News
   CHICAGO (AP) - More than $6 million in federal money will be available in May for low-income Illinois homeowners to use for household maintenance such as roof repairs and heating system upgrades.
   The Illinois Housing Development Authority announced the program Tuesday. The money has been allocated to 31 public and nonprofit organizations throughout the state.
   Homeowners can apply to those groups for forgivable loans of up to $40,000. Homeowners must repay the money if they sell the home before the loan expires.
   It's estimated the loans will help 148 homeowners keep up with needed repairs. The work will generate an estimated 45 jobs, $4 million in income and wages for local businesses, and $338,600 in local taxes.
   More information is available on the Illinois Housing Development Authority website.
 
Published in Local News
CHICAGO (AP) - Hollywood is spending big money in Illinois.
 
The state said Tuesday that the film industry generated $358 million in spending in the state during 2013. Officials say that easily surpasses the previous record of $184 million in 2012.
 
Chicago officials say filming last year included six TV series, three studio feature films and 137 commercials. Some of those projects include TV series like "Chicago Fire" and movies like the upcoming "Divergent" and "Transformers 4."
 
Gov. Pat Quinn's office says "Chicago fire" spent $58 million in 2013. "Chicago PD" has spent $21 million in Illinois.
 
The Chicago Film Office and Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events cite a 20 percent increase in overall production compared with 2012. The city says 2012's numbers were 40 percent higher than 2011.
 
Published in Local News
   People in Illinois who want to use medical marijuana would have to be fingerprinted, undergo a background check and pay $150 a year for a special photo ID.  That's if the state health department's proposed regulations are adopted.  
   The nearly 50 page Draft DPH Medical Cannabis regulation document is now online, opening an informal public comment period.  
   Medical marijuana supporters are reacting to the proposed regulations unveiled Tuesday by the Illinois Department of Public Health.
   Chris Lindsey of the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington says the annual fee is burdensome for patients. He says states like Michigan charge less and generate big surpluses.
   But he applauds Illinois for proposing an advisory board to review petitions for adding medical conditions to the list approved for marijuana.
   Jim Champion is an Illinois veteran with multiple sclerosis. He says he's concerned that patients and caregivers can't get medical marijuana cards if they have firearm owners ID cards because of state and federal laws.
 
Published in Local News
CHICAGO (AP) - Illinois lawmakers are questioning the effectiveness of the state's system for giving tax breaks to corporations.
   Legislators held the first of several hearings on the issue Friday in Chicago.
   Dan Long is executive director of the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability. He tells legislators Illinois businesses benefited from about $1.5 billion in tax breaks in 2012.
 
   Yet lawmakers note Illinois has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation.
   Republican state Rep. David McSweeney says "What is clear is what we're doing isn't working."
 
   But Connie Beard of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce calls the state's main incentive program a "very valuable tool" for attracting and keeping business.
   The hearings could lead to legislation to change the state's incentive programs during the General Assembly's spring session.
Published in Local News
CHICAGO (AP) - The question of raising the minimum wage, both in Illinois and nationally, has emerged as a significant 2014 campaign issue. Gov. Pat Quinn and other Democrats are pushing to raise the state's minimum wage of $8.25 per hour, and most Republicans oppose the idea, arguing it could push employers to actually cut jobs. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.
 
Here are edited excerpts of what Illinois' six gubernatorial candidates told The Associated Press about where they stand on the issue:
DEMOCRATS:
GOV. PAT QUINN, CHICAGO: "People are making $8.25 an hour in Illinois. That's not enough in my book ... How are we going to treat folks in our society who do some of the hardest jobs imaginable, get paid very, very modest wages we need to raise?"
 
TIO HARDIMAN, HILLSIDE: "The minimum wage should be raised to at least $12.00 per hour. However, we have to eliminate the (corporate) Head Tax or cut the Head Tax by 50 percent in Illinois before increasing the minimum wage."
 
------------------------
REPUBLICANS:
STATE SEN. BILL BRADY, BLOOMINGTON: "I believe the state and federal minimum wage rates need to be paired. I support a moratorium on increases in the Illinois minimum wage until such a time that the federal rate has caught up with our state rate."
 
STATE SEN. KIRK DILLARD, HINSDALE: "In an environment where jobs could possibly be negatively impacted, increasing the minimum wage is unwise ... Illinois cannot take the chance that more people will be out of work because of a minimum wage increase. Small businesses will be impacted the most and these are the very businesses that employ the bulk of Illinois residents."
 
BUSINESSMAN BRUCE RAUNER, WINNETKA: "Without action from Washington (to raise the federal minimum wage), I would favor increasing Illinois' minimum wage if we also adopt creative solutions to avoid further damage to our state's already shattered business climate. That can be done by providing incentives to small businesses to help offset the added costs. It can be done through workers' compensation reform, tort reform and elimination of other impediments to job growth."
 
STATE TREASURER DAN RUTHERFORD, CHENOA: "I believe every American should be able to make as much money as possible, legally and ethically. State government should not put an artificial cost of doing business, increase on a business, church or local unit of government."
Published in Local News
Thursday, 16 January 2014 13:26

Softball record set in eastern Illinois

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) - Talk about a fly ball.
 
A Champaign man has set the new Guinness World Records Book mark for catching a softball from the greatest height.
 
The Champaign News-Gazette reports 53-year-old Chris Shields managed to catch a softball tossed out of an ultralight plane hovering 250 feet above the ground.
 
Shields said he decided to go for the record after his 10-year-old daughter, Olivia, suggested the idea after watching him catch a pop-up.
 
He checked with Guinness officials who agreed to create the category.
 
Shields was able to catch the ball in his mitt last July on the second try.
 
He says the record is for fun, but adds it gives him a "street credential."
Published in Local News

   Illinois residents are applying for permits to carry concealed weapons at a rate of more than 1,000 a day - leaving local police agencies worried they won't be able to identify applicants with a history of violence.    

   Illinois law gives the State Police 120 days to investigate applications and issue permits. But at the beginning of the process, the law gives local police agencies 30 days to do their own investigations and ask a state panel to deny a request.  

   State Police officials say their checks are thorough enough to prevent unqualified applicants from slipping through the cracks.

Published in Local News
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Illinois is creating a statewide system to regulate access to firearms by people who have mental health problems.
 
The Department of Human Services unveiled an online database Monday that will be used to compile information about people a professional deems a "clear and present danger" to themselves or others.
 
Human Services Secretary Michelle R.B. Saddler says Illinois' new concealed-carry law broadened the requirements of who must report information and kind of details must be shared.
 
Mental health professionals must report people in Illinois who've been declared in court to be mentally disabled, developmentally disabled, or meet qualifications for posing a "clear and present danger."
 
That information is checked against a list of those qualified to own a gun. The Illinois State Police then investigate the matter.
 
Published in Local News
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Illinois residents have just begun applying for licenses to carry concealed weapons. But lawmakers have already begun tinkering with the new law.
 
The Arlington Heights Daily Herald reports Monday that legislators have introduced bills to increase penalties for carrying guns where they're not allowed; punish instructors who don't carry out training; and lower the legal age for carrying.
 
Illinois became the last state in the nation to allow concealed carry last July. It allows anyone with 16 hours of training to pay a $150 fee to get a license.
 
Villa Park Democratic Rep. Deborah Conroy wants to increase criminal penalties for taking a gun into a school. Republican State Rep. Ed Sullivan of Mundelein (MUN'-dih-lyne) wants instructors who commit fraud to go to jail.
 
Published in Local News

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