Editor's Note: This article was created by aggregating news articles from Illinois Statehouse News that were written by various Illinois Statehouse News reporters.
SPRINGFIELD — In an election year where jobs and the economy are front and center, Illinois’ economy is starting to make a comeback, researchers said this week.
Also this week, the state Supreme Court handed a small victory to gun-rights advocates, while the state’s biofuel industry cleared a final hurdle to sell more ethanol.
Signs of growth
For the first time since the Great Recession began in 2008, Illinois’ economy is showing signs of growth.
Compiling the monthly Flash Index, University of Illinois economist Fred Giertz measures the state’s economic health by analyzing corporate earnings, consumer spending and personal income. An index above 100 means the economy is growing, as it did this past month at 101, the highest since September 2008.
All three economic factors were up in March, with corporate profits showing the most gains, Giertz said.
“This doesn’t mean things are wonderful again, just that we’re doing better,” Giertz said.
But Illinois’ recovery is still struggling, with an unemployment rate of 9 percent in February, the latest month for which state numbers are available. On Friday, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the national unemployment rate in March was 8.2 percent, down from 8.3 percent in February.
Some areas are lagging more than others. Brown and Adams counties, homes to strong manufacturing sectors, have unemployment rates of 5.2 percent and 7.1 percent, respectively, while Boone and Calhoun counties have unemployment rates at or above 15 percent. Of the state’s 102 counties, 49 have unemployment rates above 10 percent.
Lawmaker, resigning for another job, gets replaced
The Republican chairmen of eight western counties found a replacement for state Rep. Roger Eddy, R-Hutsonville, who’s leaving two well-paying public jobs — as a lawmaker and superintendent of the Hutsonville School District — to become CEO of the Association of Illinois School Boards, a voluntary, private organization of local school boards.
Brad Halbrook, the Shelby County GOP chairman and owner of a fence building company, will serve out the remainder of Eddy’s term. Halbrook also won the March primary for the Illinois House District 110 seat. No Democrats have filed yet for the Nov. 6 general election.
Gun rights challenge
The Illinois Supreme Court decided unanimously Thursday that a Cook County assault-style weapons ban can be challenged in lower courts, which had dismissed lawsuits that argued the ban is unconstitutional.
“We’re ready to present the evidence,” said Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association, a gun rights advocacy organization.
Officials in Cook County banned “high-capacity, rapid-fire” weapons in 1993, arguing that assault weapons were 20 times more likely to be used in violent crimes, and there was “no legitimate sporting purpose” for urban and suburban residents to own such firearms.
The Illinois State Rifle Association filed a lawsuit, arguing that the ban violates the Second Amendment and that national law prohibits ownership of the most dangerous firearms such as machine guns. Cook County Circuit Court dismissed the lawsuit without hearing any evidence, as did an appellate court.
E15 gets tentative green light
Illinois drivers soon could have the choice of filling up their cars with gasoline that’s 15 percent ethanol.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is allowing ethanol companies to register as E15 suppliers, while the agency finalizes labeling requirements that could come as early as this summer.
Almost all gas sold in the United States is E10, or 10 percent ethanol. With more ethanol in the U.S. than American drivers are buying, biofuel companies have been pushing for E15 approval for years.
“E15 offers American drivers a cleaner, renewable alternative to traditional gasoline while positively contributing to our country’s energy security, rural economic development and environmental improvement,” said Matt Bruns, vice president of corn processing at Archers Daniels Midland, a Decatur-based company that produces at 1.72 billion gallons of ethanol a year at six plants in the Midwest.
E15 will be available for cars and trucks made after 2001 and sold at separate pumps.
Before drivers have the choice of E15, the biofuel industry has to convince gas stations to sell the stuff. Illinois lawmakers, anticipating the EPA's decision, are proposing offering grants to gas stations to install pumps for flex-fuel — gas that's up to 85 percent ethanol and can offer custom blends, such as E15.
— Anthony Brino