Visiting a Southern Illinois coal mine. Jason will fight for quality Southern Illinois jobs

COVID 19 - Useful Information


On March 13, Governor Pritzker ordered that all K-12 schools (both public and private) close from March 17 through at least March 30. The order also includes early childhood programs located in public and private schools. Internships, experiential learning opportunities, and behind-the-wheel driver’s education are included as well. 

According to executive order, all school days that are missed will be counted as Act of God days. While he recommended that schools provide students with learning opportunities or schoolwork during the closure, the work completed will not count toward or affect students’ grades. Schools aren’t required to provide meals to students during the closure, but districts have the option to offer programs to provide food to needy students.

The U.S. Department of Education has indicated that it will make waivers available for assessment and accountability issues caused by the closure order. At this time, the Illinois State Board of Education is awaiting direction from the College Board regarding how to handle issues with Advanced Placement exams.

Schools may be allowed to open on March 31, but further school closures could be ordered as well.

For more information, visit this link:


In light of ongoing health concerns surrounding the coronavirus/COVID-19 health crisis, a number of Illinois’ utility companies have announced measures being taken to help alleviate unnecessary stress and burdens for Illinois residents.

As of March 17, Illinois American Water, Ameren, ComEd, Nicor, and AT&T have all announced holds on shutoffs during the coronavirus outbreak. Ameren Illinois, ComEd and Nicor each will suspend service disconnections and forgive late payment fees for non-payment through May 1.

On March 13, AT&T took the “Keep Americans Connected Pledge” promising not to terminate the service of any wireless, home phone or broadband residential or small business customer because of their inability to pay their bill due to disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic for the next 60 days. 

In addition to their announced moratorium on disconnecting services, Illinois American Water plans to restore services to customers whose service was previously shutoff prior to March 12.

Ameren customers who need assistance with paying their bill can contact their customer care team at for payment options.

ComEd customers who are experiencing financial hardship can visit or call 800-334-7661.

For information about Nicor energy assistance programs, visit

To view AT&T’s full pledge, visit

Small Business

All restaurants and bars will close tonight through March 30, but you can still support these small businesses by utilizing drive-thru, delivery and curbside pickup where offered. Also, consider buying gift cards online to use later. This small step can help these local businesses get through this difficult time.

Most banks are staying open, but following social distancing recommendations by closing their lobbies and providing drive-up services or online banking. They are committed to work with those experiencing unforeseen hardships. Also, during this time, bankers are reminding customers to protect their personal information. A bank will never ask you for sensitive information over the phone.

More information is available at,1,qNLlm1ekHVtFQmO7FpvTjKhmk8OYzYpa_Rm8Xf3BSAR70A4DCs-b-uxT0GPRxWp7IQC8oFXSFQK3X3R8XUJBrdH7jx04sx36hx9YXu4rX1l2XbKkpwLN7RzfkNo,&typo=1

Under Executive Order 2020-03, some licensing-application requirements for cannabis sales have been changed, and some deadlines pushed back. Some dispensaries are taking precautions and enforcing social distancing recommendations. At least one Chicago-area dispensary has ceased recreational-cannabis sales to protect its medical cannabis customers.

If you’re a small business in need of help, the Small Business Administration will provide disaster assistance loans for small businesses impacted by COVID-19. More here:

If you’re looking for ways to help local businesses, consider the following options:

  • Order delivery or curbside pickup from restaurants offering it
  • Buy gift certificates online for later use
  • Shop local online
  • Buy what you need – but avoid stockpiling
  • Sign up for virtual community experiences
  • Follow your businesses and chamber of commerce on social media to hear more about how you can support small businesses in your area

Unemployment Issues

Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES)

To protect employees and the public through social distancing, Illinois Department of Employment Security Offices are closed until further notice. 

To file an Unemployment Insurance claim, go to:

If you have questions about Unemployment Insurance, please call the IDES Customer Service Center at 800-244-5631 or 866-488-4016 TTY.

Unemployment benefits may be available to some individuals whose unemployment is attributed to COVID-19.  IDES recently adopted emergency rules to try to make the unemployment insurance system as responsive to the current situation as possible.   To keep up with any changes or updates please visit:

IDES has answered a number of frequently asked questions on their website including:

What if I’m temporarily laid off because the place where I work is temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 virus?

Answer: An individual temporarily laid off in this case could qualify for benefits as long as they were able and available for and actively seeking work.*

What if I quit my job because I’m generally concerned over the COVID-19 virus? 

Answer:A person who leaves work voluntarily without a good reason attributable to the employer is generally disqualified from receiving Unemployment Insurance (UI).

What if I’m confined to my home for any of these reasons?

  • A medical professional has diagnosed me as having COVIID-19
  • I must stay home to care for my spouse, parent or child, whom a medical professional has diagnosed as having COVID-19
  • A government-imposed or government-recommended quarantine

Answer:An individual in any of those situations would be considered to be unemployed through no fault of his or her own. However, to qualify for UI, he or she would still need to meet all other eligibility requirements, including the requirements that the individual be able and available for work, registered with the state employment service, and actively seeking work from the confines of his or her home. The individual would be considered able and available for work if there was some work that he or she could perform from home (e.g., transcribing, data entry, virtual assistant services), and there is a labor market for that work.

*Please check the IDES website for more FAQ’s and updated information

Federal Guidance for State Unemployment Benefits

Federal law permits significant flexibility for states to amend their laws to provide unemployment insurance benefits in multiple scenarios related to COVID-19. For example, federal law allows states to pay benefits where:

  • An employer temporarily ceases operations due to COVID-19, preventing employees from coming to work.
  • An individual is quarantined with the expectation of returning to work after the quarantine is over.
  • An individual leaves employment due to a risk of exposure or infection or to care for a family member.

In addition, federal law does not require an employee to quit in order to receive benefits due to the impact of COVID-19.

For the full U.S. Department of Labor Press release, please go to:

For the full U.S. Department of Labor Press release, please go to:


According to the Department of Healthcare and Family Services, the federal emergency declaration has added flexibility to the Medicaid system that will help cover costs involved with testing for and treating patients for COVID-19. 

The flexibility includes covering testing and treatment for uninsured patients and current Medicaid members as well as speeding up the process for applying for Medicaid coverage for affected patients.

This flexibility will also help with healthcare providers who need to offer services at alternate sites, offering telehealth and telepsychiatry options, and providing certain services without prior authorization for therapy services. In addition, through at least June 1st, telehealth rules and requirements will be significantly broadened to help providers offer services in new places and through new methods of communication.

The Department of Healthcare and Family Services is continuing to update health providers as they learn more about what resources and options are available.

Some healthcare providers are waiving out-of-pocket costs for Covid-19 testing, and insurers may be temporarily halting the dropping of insurance coverage for specific reasons.

Healthcare providers can read updated bulletins from the here Department of Healthcare and Family Services:


Seeking to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, the Illinois Department of Corrections is suspending all prison visits until further notice. 

While no positive cases of the virus have been identified in the Department of Corrections system, IDOC officials believe suspending in-person visitations is necessary to protect the health and safety of both inmates and employees.

In place of in-person visitations, inmates will receive credits for both phone and video calls.

In addition to temporary visitation policy changes, the IDOC is taking necessary precautions to prevent an outbreak of COVID-19 within their facilities. 

The IDOC is making hand sanitizer, antibacterial soap, and cleaning supplies available to all staff and inmates. Meanwhile, staff and incarcerated individuals are being encourage to practice good health habits and being kept informed of the ongoing health situation. Any employees or inmates with symptoms are being screened by trained medical personnel.

Meanwhile, attorneys will be allowed access to their clients housed inside DOC facilities.


For individuals, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will postpone the April 15 federal tax-payment deadline for another 90 days. The IRS will also waive interest and penalties. This delay is available to people who owe $1 million or less.  Go to

For businesses, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will postpone the April 15 tax-payment deadline for another 90 days. This will apply to corporations that own $10 million or less.

Illinois has not yet announced if it will extend the state income tax deadline.

Week-in-Review: March 2-6

Illinois lawmakers received an update March 5 on the status of Coronavirus (COVID-19) from state Public Health officials who are encouraging the public to help prevent the spread of the virus.

In other action, residents across Illinois will soon begin receiving invitations to fill out the 2020 census forms. This count of our nation’s population provides critical data that is used to provide resources to communities and determine the number of seats each state will have in Congress.

Also during the week, the Senate approved legislation to let teachers buy back lost retirement benefits, and legislation has been introduced to reduce costs for volunteer firefighters and Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTS).

And March is Severe Weather Preparedness Month.

Officials encourage public to help prevent spread of COVID-19

The Illinois Department of Public Health briefed lawmakers on COVID-19 on March 5, providing an update about what the department is doing to monitor the situation in Illinois.

So far, only four patients in Illinois have tested positive for COVID -19. The Illinois Department of Public Health, CDC and the Cook County Health Department are proactively reaching out to anyone who may have had contact with these individuals to test for the virus.

Symptoms of COVID-19 include mild to severe respiratory illness with fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Currently, the virus has not been found to be spreading widely in the U.S., and the risk to the general public remains low. Residents are encouraged not to alter their daily routines.

However, public health officials are encouraging the public to remain vigilant about keeping germs from spreading. The CDC has some useful tips to help prevent the spread of respiratory diseases like COVID-19:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • Stay home when you are sick, except to get medical care.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

For more information visit the Illinois Department of Public Health or CDC website.

Census starting soon

With less than a week to go until homes across Illinois begin receiving invitations to fill out the 2020 census, Sen. Jason Plummer (R-Vandalia) is reminding constituents what the census is, and why it is essential. Residents will receive an invitation to respond online to the 2020 census between March 12 and 20.

Mandated by the United States Constitution, the census is a count of the United States population that takes place every ten years. The 2020 Census will be the 24th census conducted since 1790.

Billions of dollars in federal funding goes to schools, hospitals, roads, public safety, and other vital programs each year. Not only is participating in the census required by law, but a complete count is important to ensuring your community has funding for these resources.

This year, for the first time, you can take the census online! Links to census resources, including how to respond and a sample questionnaire, are available at this link.

Let teachers buy back lost retirement benefits

The Senate has approved legislation that would help teachers who have made the jump from teaching in a private school to teaching in a public school buy back their pension time.

Under current law, when teachers move from private schools to public schools, their years of private teaching don’t count toward their pension benefits. Under Senate Bill 3027, teachers would have the option of paying into the system to cover both the employee and employer pension contributions for their years of private teaching.

Proponents of the legislation say that with public schools struggling to recruit teachers, this bill provides an incentive for private school teachers to consider taking these positions, helping to reduce teacher shortages at little to no cost to the taxpayers.

Senate Bill 3027 passed by a 55-0 vote, the bill now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Sen. Plummer welcomes FFA students to the Capitol

FFA  students and agricultural advocates from throughout Illinois descended on the Capitol for Illinois Agriculture Legislative Day (IALD) on March 3.  

As part of the day’s activities, FFA students reached out to their local elected officials to discuss issues important to the agriculture industry. State Senator Jason Plummer (R-Vandalia) welcomed FFA students from across the 54th District. Sen. Plummer met with Highland FFA, South Central FFA and Edwardsville FFA.  

IALD brings together farm, agricultural commodity organizations and agriculture interest groups to advocate to lawmakers about the importance of agriculture and agricultural education.

Reduce costs for volunteer firefighters and EMTs

New legislation has been introduced in the Senate that aims to support volunteer firefighters and EMTS with expenses they incur as part of the public service they provide their communities.

Senate Bill 3224 creates a $500 tax credit that qualifying volunteer firefighters and EMTs can claim when they file their Illinois income taxes. Because it is a credit and not a deduction, it will provide a direct reduction in the amount of taxes owed, and could potentially increase their tax refunds.

Supporters of the measure note that volunteer firefighters and EMTs put their lives on the line to serve their communities. However, as volunteers, they often have to pay out of pocket for training costs and some equipment.

This legislation would help volunteer firefighters and EMTs pay for expenses that often includes things such as medical and fire equipment, training, licensure, and even insurance. Supporters hope that by reducing the financial burden of volunteering, the legislation can help local fire departments to recruit new volunteers to bolster their efforts at protecting the public.

Be prepared! March is Severe Weather Preparedness Month

With spring just round the corner, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) is highlighting the importance of being properly prepared for severe weather during Severe Weather Preparedness Month.

In partnership with the National Weather Service, IEMA is underscoring the importance of having more than one way to receive emergency alerts and notifications. Illinois residents are encouraged to have a radio that can be programmed to receive alerts for specified counties, like a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration All Hazards Weather Radio with a battery backup. If an alert is issued for your area, the radio will sound the alarm and provide critical safety information.

Another resource to be aware of during Severe Weather Preparedness Month is a free app offered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency that provides notifications and updated information about severe weather when you’re on the go. The app can also help you locate resources near you in the event of an emergency.

For more information about what to do before, during and after a storm, please visit  

Sen. Plummer welcomes FFA students to the Capitol

FFA students and agricultural advocates from throughout Illinois descended on the Capitol for Illinois Agriculture Legislative Day (IALD) on March 3.  

As part of the day’s activities, FFA students reached out to their local elected officials to discuss issues important to the agriculture industry. State Senator Jason Plummer (R-Vandalia) welcomed FFA students from across the 54th District. Sen. Plummer met with Highland FFA, South Central FFA and Edwardsville FFA.  

IALD brings together farm, agricultural commodity organizations and agriculture interest groups to advocate to lawmakers about the importance of agriculture and agricultural education.

Edwardsville FFA


South Central FFA

Highland FFA

Sen. Plummer’s Week-in-Review: Feb. 24-28

State Senator Jason Plummer (R-Vandalia) continued his calls for a balanced budget during the week, seeking to ensure that K-12 education funding is not held hostage by a costly income tax.  

In other news, Senate Republicans are asking questions following concerns raised this week by the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association about a recent policy change within the Illinois Department of Corrections.

Meanwhile, Sen. Plummer was recognized for his pro-manufacturing voting record, and new legislation to regionalize the minimum wage was introduced.

Education funding held hostage

During the week, Sen. Plummer continued to raise concerns about a component of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed Fiscal Year 2021 budget that puts K-12 funding at risk unless the Governor’s tax hike is approved.

Since the new school-funding formula was enacted in 2018, Illinois has increased school funding by at least $350 million every year – as required by state law. However, if Gov. Pritzker’s costly tax increase is not approved by voters this fall, the formula will be underfunded by $150 million.

Sen. Plummer echoes calls from his Republican colleagues, arguing that lawmakers should be working toward a balanced budget that funds the state’s priorities, such as K-12 funding, without this priority being tied to a costly tax increase.  

DOC policy change comes under scrutiny

During the week, members of the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association sounded the alarm about a recent policy change in which non-citizen felons are being released from prison back into Illinois communities following their prison sentences without federal immigration authorities being notified. 

Previously, policy required the Department of Corrections to coordinate with ICE to transfer felons with this designation to Pontiac where they would begin the deportation process instead of releasing them into our communities.

In light of the Sheriffs’ Association’s concerns and noting the potential dangers to public safety, Senate Republicans are calling upon the Illinois Department of Corrections to answer the following questions:

  • Why was this policy changed?
  • Whose decision was it to change this policy?
  • Why weren’t lawmakers informed?

Republicans lawmakers have called upon the Senate President and the Chairman of the Senate Criminal Law Committee to call a special hearing on this matter. 

Senate Republican support for manufacturing gets high marks

Several Senate Republican lawmakers have been recognized for their support of Illinois job creators in the 2019 Legislative Scorecard released by the Technology and Manufacturing Association (TMA).

The annual scorecard recognizes how lawmakers in the General Assembly voted on bills important to the state’s manufacturers.

Sen. Plummer was proud to be one of only 15 state legislators with an 80 percent voting record or higher on the 2019 Legislative Scorecard.

Manufacturing is one of Illinois’ leading industries and plays a critical role in the success of our state’s economy, employing ten percent of the workforce.

Senate Republicans argue that lawmakers should be working harder to advocate on behalf of Illinois’ job-creators, striving to not only retain current manufacturers but also do more to attract new businesses to the state.

New legislation filed to regionalize minimum wage

Recently-filed legislation to regionalize the minimum wage increase would provide some relief to Illinois’ job creators.

Senate Bill 3396 would provide for minimum wages based upon a percentage of the otherwise required minimum wage, depending upon the region of the State. The legislation establishes six regions for purposes of determining the minimum wage.

Under the legislation, specified units of local government would be allowed to opt-out of the state-mandated minimum wage rates and opt-into a regionally adjusted minimum wage, which will be statutorily-authorized and statutorily-approved. It provides a sliding scale type of rate – so areas with historically-low unemployment or higher costs of living must keep rates closer to the state-mandated hourly rate. 

The first wave of minimum wage increases took effect on Jan. 1, increasing the wage from $8.25 an hour to $9.25 an hour.

Sen. Plummer’s Week-in-Review: Feb. 17-21

State Senator Jason Plummer (R-Vandalia) voiced his concerns after Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker unveiled his budget proposal on Feb. 19. Sen. Plummer was highly critical of the budget plan which calls for $1.6 billion in new spending and holds funding for priorities, such as education, health care and public safety, contingent on the approval of his tax increase.   

As the spring legislative session gets underway in earnest, a number of new pieces of legislation have been filed including a bill that would change a process that too often leaves citizens waiting for treatment due to insurance coverage requirements. Other legislation recently filed includes a proposal to exempt overtime wages from the income tax and a bill that would recognize recipients of the Air Force Combat Action Medal.

Governor proposes $1.6 billion in new spending in budget address

Gov. J.B. Pritzker unveiled his budget proposal in an address before the General Assembly on Feb. 19, seeking $1.6 billion in new spending which relies on getting the Governor’s income tax increase approved.

“Governor Pritzker has proposed $1.6 billion in new spending predicated on a new tax increase that will harm those I represent in the 54th District,” said State Senator Jason Plummer (R-Vandalia). “The problem isn’t a lack of revenue. The problem is a lack of fiscal restraint.”

Lawmakers expressed concerns that in order to fund $1.4 billion for priorities like schools, health care and public safety, the Governor’s tax increase must be approved. Under the state’s revamped school funding formula from 2017, the state is statutorily required to increase school funding by $350 million a year. Under Pritzker’s proposal, only $200 million is guaranteed, leaving $150 million in school funding in jeopardy.

Sen. Plummer argued after the address that what Illinoisans need is more fiscal leadership and responsibility, not more reckless spending and unwarranted taxes.

New reforms would reduce medical care delays

New legislation has been filed that would change a healthcare process that currently leaves many Illinois residents waiting for medical treatment because of insurance coverage requirements.

Illinois patients often have medical care delayed or denied because of their health plans' use of a process called prior authorization.  Senate Bill 3822, also known as the Prior Authorization Reform Act, is a bipartisan solution that supporters say will bring much-needed transparency and streamlining to prior authorization requirements.

Health insurance companies and pharmacy benefit managers use prior authorization to cut costs, requiring health professionals to do extra paperwork before their recommended patient care is approved. Even when authorization is granted, too often insurance companies later deny payment for medical care they approved.

Prior authorization requirements are often not based on clinically valid criteria, and are administered by individuals who lack relevant qualifications. The Prior Authorization Reform Act would make sure prior authorization requirements are based on medical evidence and administered by qualified individuals.

Senate Bill 3822 has been introduced in the Senate and awaits assignment to a legislative committee where it will receive a public hearing.

Overtime wages not taxable under new bill

Illinois residents who work overtime would find some tax relief under recently filed legislation that would exempt overtime wages from the state income tax.

Senate Bill 3695 would create a deduction on any overtime wages earned in Illinois. Wages earned in excess to a taxpayer’s regular monthly or weekly salary would be exempt from the state income tax.

The state income tax on overtime wages would still be withheld from an individual’s paycheck; however, when that person goes to file their taxes for that year, they would receive a deduction equal to the amount of taxes paid on overtime wages.

Supporters of the measures say it’s the least that can be done for hard-working Illinoisans who already face high tax burdens.

Air Force Combat veterans would be honored under new bill

Recipients of the Air Force Combat Action Medal could be recognized on Illinois license plates under newly filed legislation.

Senate Bill 2518 creates the Air Force Combat Action Medal license plate and allows the Secretary of State to issue them to eligible drivers. The new plate would join numerous others created to recognize military service and awards, including the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and Navy Service Cross, among others. The existing Combat Action Badge plate is offered for Army recipients of that medal, which is very similar to the Air Force’s Combat Action Medal.

Sen. Plummer’s Week-in-Review: Feb. 10-14

This week, State Senator Jason Plummer (R-Vandalia) is continuing his push for independence in the legislative map-drawing process. Sen. Plummer has signed on as a co-sponsor of a new constitutional amendment, which would place a question on the ballot to allow for the creation of a new, independent commission, taking the process of drawing legislative districts out of the hands of sitting lawmakers.

In other news, a dozen historic sites in Illinois have been added to the National Register of Historic Places, including one in Alton, Illinois.

Additionally, nominations are now being accepted for the Senior Illinoisans Hall of Fame, and the Office of the State Fire Marshal is reminding older Illinoisans about the importance of fire safety.

Senate Republican lawmakers join bipartisan push to pass Fair Maps amendment

This week, it was announced that a bipartisan group of lawmakers are coming together to file a new constitutional amendment, Senate Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 18, which would take sitting legislators out of Illinois’ legislative map-drawing process and prevent them from drawing their own districts.

SJRCA 18 includes the following provisions:

  • Establishes an independent, 17-member commission appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court, who is charged with drawing the Congressional and General Assembly maps.
  • Seven commission members will be nominated from each political party and three commission members will not be affiliated with either political party.
  • Allows the public to provide comment and submit maps during the map drawing process for consideration by the Commission.

Senator Plummer, who is a proponent for changing the system for drawing legislative maps, contends that this proposal is the first step in rooting out government corruption and would send a strong message to Illinoisans that the status quo in Springfield is no longer acceptable.

In order for SJRCA 18 to be placed on the ballot this General Election, the full General Assembly must pass it no later than May 3, 2020.

Illinois sites added to National Register of Historic Places

A dozen sites in Illinois have been added to the National Register of Historic Places of 2019 based on recommendations from the State Historic Preservation Office.

The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of properties that merit special attention and preservation. Every Illinois county has at least one property or historic district listed in the National Register. To be eligible, properties must be more than 50 years old.

The 2019 additions are:

  • Chicago Municipal Tuberculosis Sanitarium District, Chicago, Cook County
  • Copley Hospital, Aurora, Kane County
  • First Congregational Church, Des Plaines, Des Plaines, Cook County
  • Louis Fredrick House Barrington Hills, Lake County
  • The Forum, Chicago, Cook County
  • Leaning Tower of Niles, Niles, Cook County
  • Lilacia Park Historic District, Lombard, Du Page County     
  • Alton Gas and Electric Powerhouse, Alton, Madison County
  • Downtown Urbana Historic District, Urbana, Champaign County  
  • Hunziker Winery Site, Warsaw, Hancock County   
  • Paris High School and Gymnasium, Paris, Edgar County  
  • Rollo Congregational United Church of Christ, Earlville vicinity, De Kalb County

Nominations open for Senior Illinoisans Hall of Fame

Nominations are now being accepted for the 2020 Senior Illinoisans Hall of Fame awards hosted by the Illinois Department on Aging.

The Senior Illinoisans Hall of Fame was created by the Illinois General Assembly in 1994 to honor Illinois residents ages 65 and older for their personal achievements in four separate categories; Community Service, Education, Labor Force and Performance & Graphic Arts.

The Illinois Department on Aging will be accepting nominations now through May 31.

For more information and to download a nomination form, click here.

OSFM stresses importance of fire safety for older Illinoisans

The Office of the State Fire Marshal (OSFM) is reminding older Illinoisans about the importance of fire safety.

People over the age of 65 face the greatest risk of dying in a fire. In 2018, 44% out of the 118 fire deaths in Illinois were people over the age of 60. According to the United States Fire Administration (USFA), on average, over 1,000 Americans 65 and older die in home fires with the leading cause of these deaths is careless smoking. 

OSFM says to keep these tips in mind to create a fire safe home:

  • Know two ways out of every room. Practice using both ways.
  • Remove any items that may block your way out of the room or your home.
  • Discuss your fire escape plan with family and neighbors. Contact your building manager or fire department to discuss your plan if you need extra help escaping.
  • Keep eyeglasses, keys, hearing aids and a phone within reaching next to your bed.
  • Practice your home fire escape drill twice a year.

Group wants you to pick coolest things made in Illinois

In addition to filling in college basketball brackets, Illinoisans can pick winners for another March tournament that will determine the "coolest thing made in Illinois."

IMA President and CEO Mark Denzler wants to showcase the wide range of items made in the state. He said most people don't realize what all is made in Illinois.

Manufacturing accounts for 12 percent of Illinois' gross domestic product and a $304 billion economic output — the largest of any industry in the state, according to the IMA. More than 592,000 people are employed in the industry.

"We have to attract the next generation of workers to Illinois," Denzler said. "By showing the products and companies that are here, hopefully we can also help provide that next pipeline of workers."

First round of funding in statewide broadband expansion announced

On Jan. 5, it was announced that $50 million in funding is being released for the first round of matching grants of Illinois’ $420 million statewide broadband expansion. Applicants for the grant are anticipated to include Internet service providers, rural cooperatives, nonprofits and local governments.

Grant responses for the first round of funding can be submitted through April 3, with up to $5 million available per project. Interested applicants can find more information about the Notice of Funding Opportunity at

The Rebuild Illinois capital plan has slotted $420 million toward broadband expansion — $400 million for the grant program and $20 million to strengthen the Illinois Century Network. The matching requirements in the grant program will leverage state funds to attract at least an additional $400 million from Internet service providers.  

Legislation eliminates FOID card

Those wanting to purchase firearms would no longer need to possess a FOID card under legislation filed recently. Senate Bill 2535 would repeal the Firearm Owners Identification (FOID) Act, which supporters of the bill say is outdated and redundant.

“The reality is, the requirement of FOID cards was a bureaucratic push to make it harder for Illinois residents to exercise their Second Amendment rights,” said State Senator Jason Plummer (R-Edwardsville). “We should be seeking ways to prevent criminals from accessing firearms, not adding to the red tape, costs and hurdles placed on law-abiding gun owners.”

The FOID Act was created in 1968 as a way to identify people who were eligible to own firearms as part of a public-safety initiative in Illinois to meet the requirements of the federal Gun Control Act of 1968. However, with updated technology allowing for the use of instant background checks, the bill’s sponsors say the FOID card serves no real purpose.

While Senate Bill 2535 would eliminate the need for a person to own a FOID card, it would not change any of the other requirements for purchasing a firearm. Those who buy a firearm would still need to undergo strict federal background checks at the time of purchase.

Illinois reminds taxpayers to take advantage of Earned Income Tax Credit

Tax season has begun as federal and state W-2 forms arrive in the mail, but according to the Illinois Department of Revenue (IDOR), thousands of eligible taxpayers fail to claim both the Illinois Earned Income Credit (EIC) and the Federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).

IDOR acting Director David Harris says those taxpayers are missing out on thousands of dollars.

Anyone eligible for the federal EITC automatically qualifies for the Illinois EIC, which is a refundable tax credit worth up to 18 percent of a taxpayer's federal claim. However, IDOR says nearly 20,000 Illinoisans claimed a federal EITC credit without also claiming the state EIC, leaving more than $5 million unclaimed.

To be eligible for the tax credit programs, taxpayers must meet certain income and residency qualifications and file a tax return, even if they do not owe any tax or are not required to file. To find out if your family qualifies for the credit, visit the Internal Revenue Service's EITC Assistant.