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Grassley, Issa Seek Clarification of ATF Acting Director’s Message to Employees on Reporting Agency Concerns PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Grassley Press   
Friday, 20 July 2012 13:38
WASHINGTON – Sen. Chuck Grassley and Rep. Darrell Issa today urged the acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) to clarify his remarks to employees about reporting concerns within the agency.  Grassley and Issa expressed concern that the remarks are likely to chill whistleblowers from reporting legitimate problems and undermine a necessary function for making improvements.  The concern is significant because whistleblowers recently put their careers on the line to expose the operational tactics in Operation Fast and Furious that might have led to the murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.

In a video message released to ATF staff on July 9, 2012, ATF Acting Director Todd Jones says, “… if you make poor choices, that if you don’t abide by the rules, that if you don't respect the chain of command, if you don’t find the appropriate way to raise your concerns to your leadership, there will be consequences. …”

Grassley and Issa wrote to Jones, stating that the essence of whistleblowing is reporting problems outside of an employee’s chain of command, and whistleblowers were instrumental in exposing the shortcomings of the government’s botched gun-walking operation, Fast and Furious.  Grassley and Issa wrote to Jones, “Your ominous message – which could be interpreted as a threat – is likely to have a major chilling effect on ATF employees exercising their rights to contact Congress.  Therefore, it needs to be clarified.”

Grassley and Issa also wrote, “On numerous occasions, we have stressed to ATF and the Department of Justice the importance of protecting whistleblower disclosures and preventing retaliation against whistleblowers.”

The context for Jones’ remarks and the intent behind them are unclear.  Grassley and Issa asked for a response by July 25.  The text of their letter is available here.  The video is available here.

 

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Governor Quinn Takes Bill Action Wednesday, July 18, 2012 PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Nafia Khan   
Friday, 20 July 2012 13:31

CHICAGO – July 18, 2012. Governor Pat Quinn today took action on the following bills:

 

Bill No.: SB 3514

An Act Concerning: Government

The law amends the Illinois Medical District Act to expand the authority of the Illinois Medical District Commission in order to generate and maintain revenue, and requires the commission to be audited by the Auditor General.

Action: Signed                        

Effective Date: Immediately

 

Bill No.: SB 3621

An Act Concerning: State Government

The law amends the language of the Department of State Police Law of the Civil Administrative Code of Illinois to bring it into compliance with federal regulation.

Action: Signed                        

Effective Date:  Immediately

 

 

 

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Iowa Farmers, Gardeners Battle Dry Conditions, Japanese Beetles as Crops, Plants Feel the Heat PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Heather Lilienthal   
Friday, 20 July 2012 13:13

IOWA FARMERS, GARDENERS BATTLE DRY CONDITIONS, JAPANESE BEETLES AS CROPS, PLANTS FEEL THE HEAT FROM MOTHER NATURE

WEST DES MOINES, IOWA – July 18, 2012 – Gardeners and farmers across the state aren’t only worrying about the effects of the scorching sun on their plants, they’re also taking stock of the damage caused by hordes of iridescent insects that are chewing away produce and profits.

The culprit: Japanese beetles. They’re taking a bite out of Iowa gardens and farmers’ fields.

According to Iowa State University (ISU) Extension (http://www.extension.iastate.edu/article/yard-and-garden-japanese-beetles-0), the beetles feed on 300 different types of foliage and they are difficult to control. For gardeners with small plots, one of the best ways to combat the bug is to shake them off of the plants. ISU Horticulturalist Richard Jauron says the best time to physically remove Japanese beetles is early morning when the beetles are sluggish. Collect or shake beetles into a bucket of soapy water and discard the carnage.  If that doesn’t work, using an insecticide is the next step.

For farmers with hundreds of acres of soybeans, the small insects represent an even bigger problem. Steve Swenka, a farmer in Tiffin, says the Japanese beetles are a result of the dry conditions.

“If we had plentiful rains, those insects would be knocked down from the plants and washed away. Plus, it would encourage new plant growth to replace the damage caused by the beetles,” says Swenka. “This season’s dry weather has compounded that problem.”

Dustin Sage farms near Dunkerton and says the beetles are showing up in his corn and soybean fields, too. He says farmers are carefully applying insecticide to their fields in an effort to curb the damage. Protecting the crops will keep the plants healthy.

ISU Extension says Japanese beetles are present for about six to eight weeks every summer. Adult beetles usually begin to emerge from the ground in mid-June and new adults continue to appear through July. Each beetle lives from 30 to 45 days.

Farmers and gardeners alike are definitely counting down those days.

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Advocate Offers Tips to Prevent & Spot Child Sexual Abuse PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ginny Grimsley   
Friday, 20 July 2012 13:07

Instances of child abuse increase during the summer, with some shelters and child advocacy centers actually doubling their caseloads, according to anecdotal reports.

While these tragedies include everything from neglect to beatings, child advocate  Michelle Bellon, author of The Complexity of a Soldier (www.MichelleBellon.com), says parents and caregivers should be especially alert to one of the most easily hidden and underreported crimes: child sexual abuse. Her novel centers on this epidemic, and aims to raise awareness about it.

“Children may be less supervised during the summer, or they may be in the care of extended family members so their parents can save money on child care,” she says. “Both situations put children at risk; the former for obvious reasons and the latter because 90 percent of child sexual abuse victims know the offender.”

Child predators are terrorists, Bellon says. Like the terrorists we deploy armies to battle overseas, they prey on innocents and subject them to physical and emotional torture. The consequences can be devastating and lifelong, including post-traumatic stress disorder and separation anxiety, according to the American Psychological Association reports.

“Does this sound like anything else we have heard about since 9/11? To me, it is very similar to what victims of terrorism face, and what soldiers face after fighting wars,” Bellon says. “I think child predators should be called what they are – domestic terrorists.”

Bellon shares these guidelines from a number of sources, including the Centers for Disease Control, to keep children safe this summer.

• When choosing a summer program, ask about employee (and volunteer) screening and how interactions are monitored. A criminal background check is not sufficient to ferret out sexual abusers, since many have never been charged or convicted. Instead the program should look for warning signs in written applications and interviews. For instance, some predator adults spend all of their time with children and have no significant adult relationships. Policies on interactions between adults and children should include examples of appropriate and inappropriate conduct, and definitive steps for both monitoring and addressing concerns and complaints.

• Ask about the training. Staff and even temporary volunteers should undergo training to recognize signs of sexual abuse and to learn when it’s appropriate to report concerns. There should be a designated person to handle reports. Training should be required for staff and volunteers who come on board midway through the summer. Policies should include procedures for handling not just potential abuse, but also violations of the code of conduct for interactions.

• Ask about interactions between older and younger children. Some programs allow older children to serve as “junior counselors” or activity assistants. Ask about the guidelines for these situations, including whether and how long children may be unsupervised by an adult.

• Make sure children understand “personal boundaries.” Teach children the importance of recognizing and respecting the invisible barriers that separate them from other people. They should be able to recognize their comfort zone – and that of others! – and know that they can and should speak up about setting limits. Start at home by respecting a child’s right to say “no” to physical contact, such as tickling and hugs. Never force a child to kiss a relative.

• Recognize signs of a problem. Children often won’t or can’t tell you what’s happening, but there are signs to watch for, including changes in behavior such as withdrawal or unprovoked crying, night terrors, bedwetting, eating problems, unexplained injuries, suddenly avoiding a particular person, and unusual interest in or knowledge of sexual matters.

About Michelle Bellon

Michelle Bellon earned her associate degree in nursing, and lives with her husband and four children in Olympia, Wash. She is the author of four novels, including “The Complexity of a Soldier,” which deals with the issue of child sexual abuse.

 
Governor Quinn Signs Laws to Increase Protections for Consumers PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Nafia Khan   
Friday, 20 July 2012 13:05

New Laws Protect Consumers from False Charges, Help them Resolve Billing and Credit Issues and Increase Utility Choice

CHICAGO - July 18, 2012. Governor Pat Quinn today continued his long history of fighting for consumers by signing four new laws that will increase protections for consumers. The new laws ban false phone charges known as “cramming,” lower utility costs for consumers and help them resolve billing and credit issues to improve their credit scores. The governor was joined by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, legislators and members of the Citizens Utility Board (CUB), the consumer rights watchdog group founded by Governor Quinn 30 years ago.

“When everyday people work together for the common good, we can improve our state,” Governor Quinn said. “We need to keep fighting for consumer rights in Illinois and ensure those rights are protected from those who would take advantage of them.”

House Bill 5211, sponsored by Rep. Kelly Burke (D-Evergreen Park) and Sen. Dave Koehler (D-Peoria), would ban third-party vendors from charging customers for unwanted services, a practice known as cramming, starting Jan. 1, 2013. The bill was an initiative of the Attorney General’s office, which found vendors using deceptive sales pitches and placing unauthorized charges on consumers’ phone bills for things they never intended to buy including calling cards, voice mail service, credit repair services, extended warranties and toll-free numbers for free long distance service.

Most often, these charges range from $10 to $45 dollars and go undetected because consumers do not pay attention to all the details in their phone bills. According to the Attorney General’s Office, phone bill "cramming" is a $2 billion a year business. An estimated 15 to 20 million American households receive at least 300 million third-party charges on their bills each year. Only about one out of every 20 cramming victims becomes aware of the charges.

“Today we can finally put an end to a pervasive scam that has allowed phone companies to rake in $2 billion a year by ‘cramming’ charges on subscribers’ bills for unwanted and unused services,” Attorney General Lisa Madigan said. “Far too many consumers have opened their monthly phone bills to find bogus charges they never authorized. I applaud the governor for his support of this law to stop to our phone numbers being used as credit cards by scammers.”

“This is an important measure to save consumers from hassle,” said Rep. Burke. “This new law will prevent lots of businesses, nonprofits and everyday citizens from encountering this practice.”

“No one should have to pay for services they don’t want and didn’t order,” said Sen. Koehler.  “The fact that ‘cramming’ scam artists target seniors and other vulnerable Illinois residents makes me especially proud that we are outlawing this practice.”

Governor Quinn also signed three additional laws to require utilities to notify credit-reporting bureaus when billing issues have been resolved and allow townships to aggregate power purchasing, which will increase competition and lower costs. The new laws are designed to lower utility costs for consumers and help them resolve billing and credit issues.

House Bill 5025, sponsored by Rep. Joe Lyons (D-Chicago) and Sen. John Mulroe (D-Chicago) will help consumers resolve negative action on their credit scores by requiring public utilities to notify credit reporting agencies when a customer has paid off their outstanding balances in full. This measure will allow utility customers to be more quickly relieved of pressure from collection agencies and help them improve their credit scores. The law goes into effect Jan. 1.

Senate Bill 3170 sponsored by Rep. JoAnn Osmond (R-Antioch) and Sen. Suzi Schmidt (R-Lake Villa), allows townships to participate in electrical aggregation the same way counties and municipalities can under current law. Aggregation allows for greater group energy purchasing, which increases competition and lowers costs for consumers. According to the Illinois Commerce Commission, more than 90 municipalities have become power aggregators since 2010, which has allowed for greater consumer savings. The law goes into effect immediately.

Senate Bill 3811, sponsored by Rep. Karen May (D-Highland Park) and Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) protects the ability of certain groups to continue to benefit from “net metering,” which allows customers who generate their own renewable energy to sell excess power back to an electricity provider. The new law takes into account the increased aggregation and alternative energy sources more Illinois communities are now using. The measure provides that net metering customers will be treated equally regardless of the competitiveness of their local energy market. The law goes into effect immediately.

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