Illinois Governor Temporarily Freezes $3.4 Million in Immigrant Integration Funding

Passport and US Visa
In an attempt to decrease the state’s $1.6 billion deficit, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner recently froze $26 million in government funding for social service programs; according to the Chicago Tribune. Gov. Rauner’s funding cuts will affect programs that provide aid for HIV and AIDS programs, smoking cessation programs, and immigration integration services.

Gov. Rauner was recently elected, and as a spokesperson for the office has explained to the Tribune that the Governor decided to make these cuts after “inheriting” a $1.6 billion debt. Rauner has refused to raise income taxes, and he has refused to borrow more money and increase the deficit even more; the sacrifices he has made, however, will be at the expense of many Illinois residents who already struggle with plenty of financial and legal problems.

Currently, Rauner has frozen $3.4 million in funding for immigrant integration services, although other programs benefiting immigrants, like the Latino Outreach program and the state’s transportation department, have also had state funds put on hold.

Following the announcement, Breandan Magee of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights stated that the lack of funding will likely have disastrous consequences for a substantial group of Illinois residents. Dozens of government-funded programs in Illinois helped about 102,000 legal immigrants apply for citizenship just in 2014 alone, and countless low-income immigrants depend on services like nutrition classes and English as a Second Language (ESL) classes — services which are likely to disappear without funding from the government.

“There are 299 jobs across 60 different immigrant-services agencies at risk,” Magee explained in response to Gov. Rauner’s announcement. The Governor also expressed his intentions to eliminate funding for immigrant integration programs altogether by 2016, meaning that these programs (previously operating on budgets of about $6.7 million) will have their budgets cut by about 50%.

According to a recent article by Newsweek, those 60 agencies are frantically trying to ameliorate the damage caused by Gov. Rauner’s decision. The state of Illinois has been providing extra funds for these programs since 1997, and many programs won’t be able to operate for much longer without help from the local government.

“Illinois is just one of many states forced to make cuts that really hurt families with what appears will be a disparate impact on the neediest of all persons, those with the challenges of managing HIV and AIDs, those who are addicted to life-endangering smoking, and those who are legal immigrants facing challenges unique to our country’s first generation,” said Susan Cho, Attorney at Susan Cho Figenshau, P.C.

Gov. Rauner’s office has since released a statement in defense of the budget cuts, arguing that although immigration “helped make America the greatest country in the world,” the previous Illinois administration left him with no choice but to make sacrifices concerning the $1.6 billion deficit. Rauner’s office stated that it will work with immigrant agencies and determine which “prioritized essential services” need to receive funds over the next year, although no promises have been made regarding state funds after 2015.

“The issue is whether this latest round of cuts causes a disparate impact for immigrants as compared to others among us who are coping with extraordinary hardships. As an attorney, I lack data and facts to know whether a disparate impact befalls immigrants in connection with these cuts,” said Cho.

Los Angeles Prepares to Test New Parking Signs

Retro Showtime Sign Vector
Los Angeles is infamous for its driving conditions, with millions of natives and nonresidents alike struggling with its terrible highway system and other issues every day. In this situation, parking is a lesser known but equally inconvenient problem, so much so that even parking authorities struggle with it. Take Ken Husting, a senior transportation engineer, for example: in 2013, he says he was circling downtown, looking for a space, when he realized he could barely understand the parking signs his own department had erected. Following this incident, Husting returned to the Los Angeles Department of Transportation and directed his team to find a way to make parking signs comprehensible.Now, more than two years later, LA is instituting a pilot program that intends to do exactly that. The city will install 100 of these new signs in the downtown area over the next six months, condensing a series of regulations into one easy-to-read grid.

The new design was inspired by the work of Nikki Sylianteng, a Brooklyn designer who quickly became internet-famous in 2014 for her day planner-like layouts. Currently, Sylianteng is working with transportation officials in Vancouver and is in talks with authorities in Columbus, OH, as well as a few cities overseas. Last fall, she was also contacted by LA councilman Paul Krekorian, who was also interested in her designs.

Krekorian and Sylianteng had goals similar to the concepts Husting’s team was exploring. After Sylianteng’s designs were presented to the city council, the engineer embraced her images. The parking signs transform text-heavy restrictions into blocks of red and green, which also feature subtle diagonal striping for the color blind. The new signs seek to answer two important basic questions: Can I park here? And for how long?

The signs in the pilot program aren’t identical to Sylianteng’s original designs: the LA signs also feature arrows on the top and bottom (which she reportedly finds redundant), as well as graphical details that differentiate between “no parking”, “no stopping” and “passenger loading”. Husting also expects that the size of the signs will have to increase to account for minimum text size.

So far, Husting says feedback on the signs has been overwhelmingly positive. However, the Department of Transportation is reportedly finishing work on another concept that is markedly different from Sylianteng’s. After six months, the Department of Transportation plans to presents its findings to a regulatory committee, which will decide whether or not to use a new design across the city.

The decision to roll out new, improved signs has drawn praise from many around Los Angeles, especially local sign companies. But the possibility of a better system has also drawn attention from outside the City of Los Angeles.

“Parking and traffic signs in particular are one of those instances where simpler is better,” said Mike Butler, president of Landmark Sign Company. “Having a simple sign can mean fewer words, more recognizable symbols, larger text, or less clutter. The goal is to make signs easily and quickly readable for a driver.”

However, the city isn’t limiting itself to this one possible change: the Department of Transportation is also reportedly attaching Bluetooth beacons to every new sign, hoping to create an app that will verbally inform drivers whether or not they can park in a certain space. Such a possibility would dismiss the need for the redesigned signs, but with a considerable amount of time and funding needed to support this project, Sylianteng’s design might be the perfect short-term solution at the very least.

Ohio Man Sentenced to 59 Months After Extensive Roofing Scam

Man Examining and Repairing Rotten Leaking House Roof
Roof repairs are an unfortunately common service in the United States, especially in areas prone to storm damage from hurricanes, tornadoes and other meteorological events. Even worse, the need for this work often draws in con artists looking to scam residents when they try to fix their homes. However, victims and local authorities are sometimes able to band together and put an end to this prevalent type of fraud. In one example, a businessman in Ohio accused of swindling more than $150,000 out of state homeowners was recently sentenced to 59 months in prison after his victims joined forces with area law enforcement.James Twaddle, 42, was sentenced to 59 months in prison after pleading guilty to attempted engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, grand theft and theft from the elderly. Since 2012, Twaddle’s company, Restore It USA, is believed to have swindled money from more than 40 homeowners throughout central and southwestern Ohio, many of whom were elderly and paid thousands for work that was never completed. The victims were reportedly approached at home by company representatives and asked to request insurance funds to repair storm-damaged siding and roofs. But after they received the insurance money, the homeowners say Twaddle’s workers never returned to start the project.

In Union County Common Pleas Court on Tuesday, March 24, witnesses shared stories of the anger, embarrassment and resentment they experienced after being scammed by Restore It USA, emotions made worse by warped floors, mold and hail damage that was never fixed. One 71-year-old woman from Marysville lost more than $5,300 after trusting Twaddle’s employees. Another victim, a hospital chaplain, reported that he spent $4,100 in the scam even as Twaddle lived a lavish lifestyle.

The full extent of the company’s fraud was apparently discovered two years ago, when Union County Prosecutor David Phillips began investigating Twaddle. Phillips contacted the office of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine to find out if other state residents had made similar complaints. They soon realized that the swindle was widespread.

“The best protection against being taken by these fly-by-night companies is to do your homework before you hire a contractor,” said Michael Hariu, president of Paramount Roofing & Siding of Madison, Wisconsin. “First, be cautious of contractor’s that come knocking on your door — this is a standard tactic of storm chasers. Check with the Better Business Bureau for complaints and ask how long the contractor has been at their local address.”

Over the course of his trial, Twaddle’s attorney claimed that Restore It USA had grown rapidly in other states, rendering its management unable to afford the salaries of its salespeople or pay workers to make repairs. However, prosecutors argued that Twaddle spent the money on expensive clothes, sporting gear and a $17,000 engagement ring. At his sentencing, Twaddle told the judge that he had failed in his responsibility to ensure that the contracts were fulfilled and apologized to the victims.

“One excellent method of checking a contractor’s history is through Angie’s List,” continued Hariu. “Contractor’s are not able to buy their way onto Angie’s List and reviews come from actual past clients. This will tell you what actual customers think of the work they have one.”

Twaddle was ordered to pay full restitution, an amount equal to more than $153,000. The amount has since been deposited to the Union County court clerk and will be distributed to the victims. Briefly, it appeared that this might work in Twaddle’s favor, leading to a shorter prison sentence. However, the judge announced that he had reconsidered after learning that arrest warrants had recently been issued for Twaddle in two other states.

Unfortunately, Twaddle and Restore It USA are far from the only con artists offering roof repairs. During tornado season, for example, Midwestern states are often flooded with companies from across the country, offering to make repairs despite having little or no knowledge on the subject. These scam artists often not only fail to correct existing damage, but may also cause further ruin, costing homeowners thousands of dollars their insurance may not cover.

“There are many local contractors who provide quality work for you and be there to stand behind their work for years to come. You just need to do your homework and make sure you are hiring one of them,” said Hariu.

Rhonda Rousey Visits Albany to Lobby for MMA Legalization

UFC 157: Rousey v Carmouche

Mixed martial arts is a popular sport, drawing the attention of millions of fans across the United States and around the world. Despite this popularity, the fights are currently prohibited in New York, the only state in the U.S. to hold such a ban. However, if Rhonda Rousey has her way, that could soon change: the prodigious female athlete is set to meet with lawmakers in Albany to discuss legalizing the controversial bouts.
On Monday, March 30 and Tuesday, March 31, the Ultimate Fight Champion bantamweight star met with Governor Andrew Cuomo and state legislators to lobby for MMA fights in New York. If she is successful, this could lead to bouts being held in a number of prominent state venues, including Madison Square Garden and Barclays Center. While previous efforts have ended in disappointment, Rousey’s visit could come at a pivotal moment: Cuomo and state lawmakers are reportedly close to adding a provision to the state budget that would legalize MMA. Moreover, Cuomo has hinted that the sport could be extremely beneficial to upstate areas after he decided to ban fracking in February. This decision was extremely controversial in New York’s Southern tier, with several small towns threatening to secede from the state and join Pennsylvania.
“This is a big sport, and it’s growing,” Cuomo said in a statement in early March. “It can create jobs and economic growth in the state of New York — and I’m interested in it.”
The UFC, which promotes and enforces MMA regulations in the U.S., is reportedly optimistic about Rousey’s chances: organization spokesman Steve Greenberg said he is hopeful that the star athlete will be able to start a conversation among the Democratic members of the Assembly, particularly female legislators who are worried the sport is too barbaric and violent. By discussing potential benefits and safety measures, including major fight gear, it is possible that Rousey will be able to sway some of these nervous lawmakers.
“Legalization of MMA will help bring the sport to further popularity, as  well as bring important safety requirements to the sport as well. MMA is  growing quickly, and it’s only going to get bigger,” says Amy Wang, Brand Manager at eeMore.com.
The president of the UFC, Dana White, was particularly excited about the sport’s progress when he visited Albany himself in mid-March. “We’ve been fighting for this for years,” he told the New York Post. “This has been a long time coming.”
The industry has long been suspicious that corruption was holding back their progress, with many alleging that former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver had ties to interests in Las Vegas who would have suffered from competition with New York City. Now that Silver has been replaced by Speaker Carl Heastie, who is a supporter of MMA and who has co-sponsored favorable legislation in the past, many believe that the sport could finally have its day in New York.
However, the players in Albany might not be the sport’s biggest obstacle: some have speculated the legislation will likely be part of a larger agreement that includes controversial issues like ethics reform, tax credits for private schools, and more. Will the combination of these contentious matters stall the various issues, or even block them for the foreseeable future? Only time will tell.

USPTO Celebrates 225 Years of American Patents and Grants Its 9 Millionth Patent the Same Week

Law and Order

Already this month, the United State Patent and Trademark Office celebrated two incredible milestones.

On April 10, the USPTO turned 225, marking the number of years since the first patent act was passed in 1790.

The organization also granted its nine millionth patent on April 7.

Who was the lucky recipient? The product belongs to Matthew Carroll, an inventor from Jupiter, FL, whose product WiperFill filed for a patent in March 2013.

After more than two years to complete all the patent process steps, Carroll received his patent, which will be presented to him at a special event to mark the 225th anniversary of the Patent Act of 1790.

Although the U.S. Patent Act of 1790 was the first type of legislation of its kind in American history, other parts of the world have also protected intellectual property, according to Smithsonian Magazine.

The concept had existed in France and Italy before that time as guilds would exclusively practice a particular technique for their crafts. As far back as 500 BCE in Greece, historians have discovered a patent-like system that allow inventors to retain ownership of their ideas for up to a year.

In 1793, the first patent act was repealed and replaced with a more efficient system. It wasn’t until the later Patent Act of 1836, however, that the USPTO was established.

In recent years, the U.S. has altered its system to protect the first creator to file a patent, which is similar to the laws of other countries and helps to expedite the patent process.

It’s unclear whether the founding fathers would have foreseen nine million of such patents granted 225 years ago, but WiperFill’s patent is oddly appropriate for the times.

WiperFill is a “green” product that turns recycled rain, dew, melting snow and ice on a car’s windshield into windshield washer fluid. The inline-underhood device collects the water in a reservoir, then filters it and mixes it with concentrate pellets to make the cleaning fluid or deicer.

According to a WiperFill Holdings press release, Carroll designed the product with the goal of eliminating the need to manually fill the wiper fluid reservoir. The system consists of a cartridge with the concentrated fluids, which is designed to last up to a year and can be replaced during an oil change or other maintenance.

“We live in a world of advanced automotive technology and automated processes, but we still make drivers fill their own wiper fluid,” Carroll said. “WiperFill was designed to provide a convenient, more sustainable, hassle-free process to ensure your wiper fluid never runs out.”

WiperFill also offers several environmental benefits. It eliminates the need to filter hundreds of millions of gallons of water to manufacture windshield wiper fluid, it reduces carbon emissions by making shipments of the product 35 times more efficient than it is with traditional wiper fluid, and it replaces the plastic bottles used for wiper fluid with reusable and rechargeable cartridges.

Carroll, who is also president of WiperFill Holdings, is currently seeking a development partner to help market the product.

Smart Appliances are Shrinking

Modern cream coloured kitchen
Homeowners who wish to update their kitchens without breaking the bank should get ready to rejoice. Two separate devices are slated for release this fall that will help bring kitchen remodeling and design into the 21st Century without requiring costly renovations, like marble countertops and new appliances. Designed to make cooking easier and more integrated, the Meld Smart Stove Knob and the Orange Chef Countertop will change the way homeowners use their kitchens.

The Meld Smart Stove Knob comes with a temperature-sensing clip that attaches to pots and pans when placed on the burner that corresponds to the installed Meld knob. The clip and knob communicate via Bluetooth to discern the temperature of the pot — and to adjust the temperature of the burner accordingly. The Meld Knob also communicates with a smartphone app to control the burner in accordance with pre-programmed recipe requirements and automatically turn the heat off when the dish has finished cooking, making it safer than traditional stove knobs. The Meld is expected to retail at $149, making it a desirable alternative to investing in a new stove and an affordable option for kitchen remodeling and design choices.

Orange Chef’s Countertop gadget relies a little more on connectivity. Something between a cutting board and a kitchen scale, the Countertop connects with various phone apps to learn when you exercise, how much sleep you get, and other information. The Countertop then uses this information to make recommendations on what to eat, providing recipes and step-by-step instructions on how to follow them. Countertop is able to connect with Vitamix blenders and Crock Pots as well. If you set the blender on the Countertop when you add ingredients, Countertop is able to sense if a deviation from the recipe has occurred, and will change the recipe instructions to account for it.

Orange Chef is currently in talks with other kitchen appliance manufacturers about connectivity options. The Countertop is currently available for preorder at $99.95, and will retail at $199.95 when it hits store shelves later this fall.

Minneapolis Issues Request For Proposals For East Side Property

Street of residential houses
The City of Minneapolis has recently released a request for proposals (RFP) on a long, narrow strip of land known as the “Guthrie Liner” parcel in the east side of the city.

The Minneapolis Star Tribute reported on March 18th that the city is opening bids for private developers who want to build property on the South Washington Street piece of land. The city plans on favoring proposals dedicated to housing from developers who will reserve at least 20% of their units to lower-class income earners. The city also wants the buildings to be four to eight stories high and to have a retail presence.

“Washington Avenue could be a happening, bustling boulevard teaming with vibrancy, people, and shopping,” said Jacob Frey, a member of the City Council. “To realize this potential, however, we need proposals that activate the street level in a big way, so substantial ground floor retail is an absolute must.”

The parcel is a narrow, 24,000 square foot strip of land and takes up roughly 33% of the city block. It already has a city-owned parking ramp with close to a thousand available spots — more than enough to accommodate new tenants.

The city’s RFP stated that the proposals “should contribute to this mix of activity by creating a unique place, providing services or experiences, and/or drawing in visitors, employees and/or residents.” The city had opened up development in the area as early as 2010. The “Guthrie Liner” parcel used to be L-shaped before the American Academy of Neurology, a non-profit organization, built its headquarters on the Chicago Avenue side that year. A real estate development firm, Artspace Projects, Inc., was supposed to build property on the Washington Avenue side, but the project fell through and the city took back the land.

The city hopes to revitalize the strip with the RFP, proposals for which are due by May 20th.

More Fences Will Be Installed in the Arkansas County Independent School District to Protect Students

industrial building

The trustees of the Arkansas County Independent School District decided to approve a bid for fencing replacement services at its term meeting on March 26th.

The Rockport Pilot reports that the board of trustees considered six proposals that night. The district’s director of operations, Preston Adams, recommended the lowest bidder, A to Z Fence Co., after presenting information about the six bidders to the board.

Adams recommended A to Z Fence Co. not just for the price but also for its previous work for the district, its reputation, and its capabilities for handling a considerably large project, according to the paper.

Fence construction around the district’s bus barn and high school building is already underway. The security gate will be put to use once completed and is intended to limit car traffic between the high school and middle school during school hours. Additional fencing will also be put in place on the high school’s east campus and in between the gym’s walkways.

Superintendent Joseph Patek has expressed concern — one that he claims many other administrators share — about the district’s security. He was especially weary about the number of doors in the high school, which he claims experience a lot of traffic after having reviewed security camera footage nearby.

The proposed fences will be able to shut down both human and vehicle traffic, depending on the school’s needs.

The construction projects are expected to cost approximately $51,142.

The motion for the construction was quickly introduced, seconded, and unanimously approved by the board of trustees.

Among the planned installations, the bus depot will see 700 feet’s worth of eight-foot chain link fencing. The fencing crews will have to remove 70 of existing fencing as well as clear out or trim the various bushes, trees, and debris around the depot.

In addition, the district high school’s east campus will receive 970 feet of eight-foot chain fencing around the campus; its gym space will receive 110 feet of chain fencing and two 12-foot double drive gates. Its soccer field will also see 450 feet of six-foot link fencing separating it from the local CNG Compressor Facility right next door.

How the Pure Michigan Tourism Campaign Is Helping Michigan’s Economy

Blue Bus on Parking Lot
New technology may not be the first industry that comes to mind when you think of businesses that can help increase tourism, but for the city of Detroit, some help from Google’s brand new mapping technology and from new start-up travel services, might just put Michigan’s once-popular tourist destinations “back on the map,” as the Detroit News describes it.

State officials have been organizing the Pure Michigan campaign for a while now, focusing on ways to increase tourism in the state, especially after the fall of the auto industry during 2007-2008 (which was the primary industry for the state, and which contributed to an overall decrease in the quality of living for residents).

By partnering with Google, the Pure Michigan campaign has made Michigan the first Midwest state to use Google’s 360-degree “Trekker” technology, which provides a complete navigable view of popular tourist attractions, including Mackinac Island and the Sleeping Bear Dunes. Although Google Street View already provides an up-close view of many regions throughout Michigan, the Detroit News explains that many popular tourist attractions have never been accessible on Street View.

The service is free for internet users, and the organizers of Pure Michigan are hoping that it will help convince more people to visit the state; with more planning resources available, travelers are more likely to find destinations online that they’d enjoy seeing in person.

And making those destinations even more feasible are small “peer-to-peer sharing sites,” which appear to be driving forces in the state’s tourism industry at the moment. These sites, like Airbnb, allow residents to rent out their homes to travelers who want “a more authentic living situation than what a hotel could offer.”

The Detroit News notes that these sites have come under increased scrutiny lately, particularly in regards to taxes but also because of questionable security policies. On one hand, these informal rental opportunities are taking some money away from conventional tourism-related businesses, like major restaurants and hotels.

On the other hand, however, it appears that more people are using such arrangements in order to take affordable vacations and avoid the major tourist traps that take away from a city’s authenticity.

Between the use of Google Trekker and independent peer-to-peer sharing businesses, one thing is clear: the tourism industry has changed a lot since the rise of the digital age. It’s possible to “visit” and learn about nearly any city or famous site, so in order to make trips worth the cost, travelers want to make sure that they’re getting the most individualized trip possible.

Trenchless Piping Part of Strategy For Old Town Temecula Restorations

black sewer pipes

Renovations of the historic Old Town Temecula district in southern California will need additional funding and time after construction crews discovered large boulders underneath the district as they were installing new sewer pipes.

PE.com reports that the construction crews will need $1.5 million in additional funding on top of the original budget of $12.4 million. The company orchestrating the renovations, the Eastern Municipal Water District, will need to utilize a heavy-duty piping technique know as “jack and bore” in order to plow through the boulders. Beginning in the fall of last year and originally slated to be completed by this December, the project will most likely extend into 2016.

District officials had met with Old Town businessmen and women to present photos and updates on the project. The district’s merchants, although not entirely thrilled with the increased level of noise and traffic caused by the construction, are grateful that the crews will not dig up the ground while doing so.

“They aren’t going to do an open trench,” said Kim Baily, a restaurant owner. “They’re keeping to their word by not tearing up the sidewalks.”

The renovations were implemented in part as a response to the noxious smells being emitted by the current sewer pipes. The pipes were known to “overload” during special occasions and busy weekends, among other times.

In order to avoid digging a giant trench in the sidewalks, which is something traditional construction methods would require, the construction crews will use a technique known as “trenchless construction.” The method involves digging shafts to enable workers to drill holes for the new pipes. Trenchless pipe construction uses the old pipe as a “guide” of sorts, directing where the new pipes should go. The new pipes will connect to the old pipes to handle overflow.

“By making the commitment to the community of not trenching up the street or sidewalks, one could expect to run into unforeseen difficulties under the ground,” says Bernie Tessier, CEO, New England Pipe Restoration. “However, the value of not tearing up property and keeping your commitments to the residents and business owners is vital.”

The renovations will be paid for by new businesses in the area as well as current businesses undergoing expansion. Existing businesses sans expansion project will not be financially affected.

Baily claims to have lost about 25% of business during the most stringent construction activities. However, her business has now returned back to normal.

“We want everyone to remember we’re still open during construction,” she said.