Final Farm Bill Shows Hemp’s In, Food-Aid Work Requirements Are Out

The long-awaited final version of the farm bill was unveiled Monday night, and it hews somewhat closely to the previous piece of massive legislation — aside from legalizing hemp on a national level.

The farm bill has been in conference committee for months, with the sticking points being stricter work requirements for federal food aid and a last-minute request from the White House to change forestry rules in the wake of the deadly wildfires in California. Congress blew past the Sept. 30 expiration date of the last farm bill and didn’t pass a stopgap measure.

The Congressional Budget Office’s score wasn’t immediately available, but staff members of the House Agriculture committee said Monday that the overall cost is expected to be $867 billion over 10 years.

Senate Ag Committee leader Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, said in a statement that the bill “provides much needed certainty and predictability for all producers — of all crops — across all regions across the country.” Collin Peterson, the ranking Democrat on the House Ag Committee, said it invests in things like “local and organic food production, bioenergy, and access to new markets.”

Here’s a breakdown of the main components of the bill, which is headed for a vote in the lame-duck House and Senate before it lands on President Donald Trump’s desk.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

The federal food aid program for nearly 40 million Americans was the main thing holding up the final round of negotiations on the farm bill.

The compromise bill is closer to the Senate’s version than the House’s version, which would have required 3.5 million more adults to maintain eligibility for SNAP by either working 20 hours per week or attending job training.

Currently, only so-called able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) from 18 to 49 years old fall under those work requirements. Harvest reported earlier this year that the House’s proposal would have upped the age to 59 years old and added parents of children over 6 years old.

Republicans said extending work requirements would push more people into the job market, and the changes had Trump’s support. But it appeared to be a political necessity to remove them from the farm bill, as Senate Democrats had made it clear they would block the bill if the work requirements were included.

But the SNAP program didn’t avoid any changes. Once the farm bill is passed:

  • It’ll create a “National Accuracy Clearinghouse” database to prevent people from signing up for SNAP in multiple states at the same time.
  • There’ll be more money for workforce development programs for SNAP recipients.
  • States will be required to beef up case management in work programs.
  • The USDA will be directed to expand incentives to spend SNAP benefits on nutritious foods.

Forestry

California’s been rocked by three large fires recently, including its deadliest and its largest judged by the burned area. After touring the region, Trump said there’d be about $500 million in the farm bill for “management and maintenance.”

The White House also threw its support behind a proposal in the House version of the bill that would allow forest-thinning projects up to 6,000 acres to be exempted from the usual public input and environmental review.

“Heretofore, we’ve been really litigated into paralysis about being able to do the common-sense thinning and underbrush cleaning that needs to happen to prevent these amazing, awesome forest fires,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told NPR’s Morning Edition on Nov. 21.

But the idea was opposed by Senate Democrats on the conference committee and environmental groups, such as the Sierra Club, arguing that the exemptions favored the timber industry at the expense of wildlife and endangered species.

The compromise farm bill instead allows forest thinning and salvage projects up to 3,000 acres to proceed without public review in cases of disease and infestation. Projects up to 4,500 acres aimed at clearing vegetation to maintain mule deer and sage grouse habitat also are exempted from public review rules.

Conservation

The bill increased the amount of land the government is willing to pay farmers to set aside for conservation, but the House and Senate did disagree on other parts of the conservation section — how to deal with fast-increasing costs of conservation programs that are supposed to spur environmentally friendly farming practices.

Once the farm bill is passed:

  • There’ll be an increase in the amount of land eligible for the Conservation Reserve Program, which pays farmers for taking environmentally sensitive farmland out of production. The acreage cap would climb from 24 million acres to about 27 million acres between 2019 and 2023. As of July 2018, 22.64 million acres were enrolled in the program.
  • The Conservation Stewardship Program, which pays farmers to use conservation-minded practices like cover crops and field rotation, was not fully eliminated, but its funding was cut.
  • At the same time, there will be increasing payments to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), which incentivizes similar practices through a different method. That would start at $1.75 billion in 2019, increasing to $2.025 billion by 2023.

A hemp plant. CREDIT ESTHER HONIG / HARVEST PUBLIC MEDIA FILE PHOTO

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, made it clear from the get-go: It was time to legalize hemp. His wish didn’t see much pushback, as at least 35 states already allow the cultivation of hemp.

Legalizing hemp growing means the crop would be removed the list of controlled substances, where currently it’s lumped in alongside drugs like heroin.

Unlike its close cousin, marijuana, hemp contains very little THC — and it has lots of industrial applications, from textiles to construction materials and livestock feed. It’s also made into CBD oil, or cannabidiol: a tincture that’s become increasingly popular for medicinal use despite a debate over its effectiveness. The growing CBD industry is estimated to be worth $22 billion by 2022.

Once the farm bill is passed:

  • Hemp will be removed from the list of controlled substances and defined as all plant of plant, including seeds and extracts, as long as they contain no more than 0.3 percent THC (or Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol) on a dry-weight basis.
  • States will have control over regulating hemp cultivation.
  • Hemp growers in states that currently permit its cultivation, thanks to the 2014 farm bill, will be able to transport the product over state lines.
  • Growers will have access to federal crop insurance, but are excluded from other federal safety-net programs because hemp will not be considered a widely produced and traded commodity like corn or soybeans.

Crop insurance

Certain crop insurance premiums for farmers will still be subsidized, as well as some of the expenses incurred by private companies that underwrite the policies. The House and Senate versions of the crop insurance title were very similar, so it didn’t generate big controversies.

Once the farm bill is passed:

  • Crop insurance will remain the primary safety net for most farmers, as established in the 2014 farm bill.
  • The Price Loss Coverage and Agriculture Risk Coverage programs remain substantially the same but signing up for them has changed. Under the 2014 bill, farmers had to choose one program and commit to it for the life of the farm bill. Now, they will be able to select a program each year.
  • Subsidies will be available to extended family members: first cousins, nieces and nephews. And stricter rules around who is eligible to receive farm program payments, which were heralded by Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, did not make it in. He said Tuesday morning that he plans to vote against the bill, like he did in 2014, because of that.

It’s also important to note that while the farm bill can modify crop insurance, the overall program is managed through a separate federal law.

This story has been corrected to show that the Conservation Stewardship Program was not cut, but had much of its funding stripped. 

For more information about what’s in the farm bill, listen to NET Nebraska’s podcast On the Table.

Follow Grant on Twitter: @ggerlock. Follow Esther on Twitter: @estherhonig. Follow Amy on Twitter: @agamyinames. Follow Madelyn on Twitter: @madelynbeck8. Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @JonathanAhl.

Copyright 2018 Harvest Public Media. To see more, visit Harvest Public Media.

New Report Says Illinois Schools Need More Sexual Violence Response Guidelines

A new report says Illinois lacks comprehensive guidelines when it comes to dealing with sexual misconduct cases in elementary and high schools.

Wendy Pollack heads the Women’s Law and Policy Initiative of the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law. She authored the report, based on a series of interviews with students and service providers across the state.

Pollack says the lack of guidance leads too often to problems like school employees mishandling survivors’ confidentiality, and survivors being revictimized by having to explain the abuse repeatedly. Pollack says when situations are mishandled it can even lead to bullying, and some students interviewed dropped out of school as a result.

In the midst of the #MeToo movement, there are more conversations about the existence of problems resulting from sexual violence. But Pollack says not enough of those conversations involve young survivors.

“There’s a lot of challenges when it comes to children and youth. And so that’s why we have focused for so many years on elementary and secondary students because there’s never been much attention paid to that group,” says Pollack, who has worked on legislation and other policy initiatives related to this issue for several years.

Pollack says it’s especially urgent for the state and local districts to bolster their policies, as the Trump administration has been planning to change Title IX guidelines.

“The proposed regulations are not good, they really roll back some of the protections that the survivors have now. So, for example, schools wouldn’t be obligated to really do anything for students if the violence happened off campus,” she says.

Pollack says the experience Alisa Hill had as a student at a Chicago high school exemplifies the complexities of sexual harassment and assault in schools. Hill, now a Northern Illinois University student, says she was hit on by a teacher, who insisted she give him her personal cell phone number. She says she went to a school administrator after she learned several of her peers had similar experiences.

The teacher was quickly let go, but Hill says no one followed up with her or offered counseling. And she remained worried that the man would come after her since he knew where she was working.

“I really just want to know, where is he? And … can I, as a survivor, move on from this knowing that the proper decision was made to ensure that this person won’t ever do this destruction again,” says Hill. She says she’s worried he may have moved on to another school or situation where he can victimize others.

In the interview above, we hear more from Wendy Pollack about the findings of the report, titled, Ensuring Success in School, Supporting Survivors: Illinois Schools’ Responses to Elementary and Secondary School Survivors of Domestic and Sexual Violence.

You can read further student accounts and more about the findings and recommendations of the report, here.

What Happens To Pot Convictions If Illinois Legalizes?

The push to legalize recreational marijuana in Illinois could get a jump-start early next year. State Sen. Heather Steans, a Chicago Democrat, said this week she plans to introduce legislation early next year to tax and regulate the use and sale of marijuana. Incoming Democratic governor J.B. Pritzker campaigned on a pro-legalization platform, and House Speaker Michael Madigan has expressed support for Pritzker’s plan. Democrats control both chambers of the state legislature.

At a recent News and Brews community event about what legalization may mean for Illinois, Illinois Newsroom received more than 100 questions from our audience. Several attendees asked what will happen to those who are currently incarcerated on cannabis-related charges, as well as those who have felony records for pot convictions.

Illinois Newsroom put the question to Steans. Below is a transcript of our interview that’s been lightly edited for clarity.

Illinois Newsroom: As someone who was a sponsor of the original bill [to legalize recreational marijuana], are you going to be continuing to advocate for this next year as well?

Steans: We are doing a new draft [of the legislation], and we’ve been talking to all sorts of folks and getting lots of input from variety of interest groups. And I have a new draft that we will be putting forth sometime early in the new session.

IN: OK, so the person who asked this question, and this is related to the criminal justice component of this, so they’re wondering if recreational marijuana becomes legal, they want to know what happens to the people who have already been negatively impacted by marijuana in the criminal justice system. Will they be released or their record be cleaned from any marijuana crimes? The reason I am reaching out to you is I’m wondering if anything that deals with either of those two components is going to be part of future legislation.

Steans: The plan is we will be including it in the draft of the bill on both fronts. One, there’s not that many folks that are in [prison] just for cannabis possession, and we also want to [release those in prison and expunge records] for very small level dealing up to Class 4 felonies. And then we also want to make it as easy as possible to expunge past records for that as well. You know we’re not a unified court system in Illinois. Every county operates its own court. So, some do paper, and some do it where they might have it on an electronic record. So it’s going to be easier or harder to try to make it automatic expungement. But we want to make it as easy as possible. We’re working through details on how to try to accomplish that. But, yes, the plan is to expunge people who have these records from the past as well.

And then the last thing I would say about it is you know in the current (medical) industry, if you have a background with cannabis possession you can’t work in the industry. We also want to change that. So for some reason, if they can’t get their record expunged, they can still get employed, if the employer wants to hire them, in [the] cannabis industry.

IN: What’s the rationale for that?

Steans: Because we’re going to allow people to expunge their records now that it’s legal.

IN: That kind of gets in to what I think is, tangentially, related to this issue, which is that people of color are disproportionately impacted by the criminal justice system, and specifically marijuana arrests.

Steans: You betcha. They’re over seven times more likely to have been arrested in Illinois if you’re African American. I mean it’s really been outrageous.

IN: There have been movements in California and in Massachusetts, both those states passed legislation or started programs to involve people of color and also people from lower income backgrounds in the marijuana industry.

Is that something that you would like to see in Illinois?

Steans: Yes. We see this as a three-piece process. One of them is the expungement, and two is inclusion and enabling people of color with backgrounds to be included in the industry now going forward.

We also want to ensure that anybody who is in the business has to have plans to do minority hiring. To the extent that we can do it, we want to encourage preference for minority-owned, women-owned and veteran-owned [cannabis businesses].

Then we also want to create new classes of licenses. You know right now we just have cultivation and dispensary [for medical marijuana], limited opportunities for people to get involved in the industry. We want to add additional license categories so that there’s more opportunities for people of color to get involved, and women and veterans.

And then the third piece is we think some of the revenue [from marijuana taxes] should be going toward neighborhoods that have been disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs.

IN: So, that would be areas that are low income or predominantly African-American neighborhoods?

Steans: High violence and [high] poverty. We’re looking at the best way of doing that. We’re looking at options for that right now.

IN: And I know that in a lot of places that have passed recreational marijuana, there wasn’t always a criminal justice related component tied to that ballot referendum. Do you think it’s going to be a tough sell to include some of these criminal justice reforms and equity initiatives?

Steans: I sure hope not, but we don’t know yet entirely. But, you know, the incoming administration has said that they care about that piece. So we’ll certainly be working with them on it. The Latino and Black Caucuses I’m hoping will want to work with us and make sure that we keep those pieces in there. Because I think it’ll be important.

IN: Are there any grassroots groups or activist groups that you’re working with on the marijuana legislation, but I wonder specifically with regard to this criminal justice piece?

Steans: Yeah, we’ve been working with you know all sorts of different kinds of community groups and special interest groups. I like to say, please anybody who wants to talk to us about the bill — Rep. Kelly Cassidy, my House compatriot in all of this — we want to sit down with any and everybody so we encourage them to reach out to talk about the bill.

You can reach Sen. Heather Steans at: http://www.senatorsteans.com/contact-us

And Rep. Kelly Cassidy at: https://www.repcassidy.com/contact/

Illinois Newsroom is committed to hearing what you need to know about the marijuana legalization debate and delivering public media content right to your fingertips. Join our text newsletter on the topic by texting WATCH to 217-394-5765.

Follow Lee V. Gaines on Twitter: @LeeVGaines

Showing Students College Isn’t The Only Option For Success

On a recent Tuesday afternoon, a few high school students are measuring and cutting siding.

They’re building a house in the trades class at the Capital Area Career Center in Springfield and learning construction skills, like putting on a roof or installing a window.

Shelby Landers is one of the students hammering siding on to the front of the house. The 17-year-old senior says he was happy to leave the classroom and get more hands-on experience.

“I’m learning this so I can go out and work for a construction company and do something with carpentry or pick up a new trade after high school,” he said.

Despite his excitement, he says his peers don’t get it.

“Even back at my home school – they think that we’re not very bright because we go to (CACC),” he said. “But we’re learning what’s going to help us – you’re learning what’s going to help you.”

He says he doesn’t plan to go to college, like many of his classmates. Getting the job he wants – in carpentry or machine operation – would mean getting a union apprenticeship instead.

Students at Capital Area Career Center in Springfield are building a house in the trades class. CREDIT MARY HANSEN / NPR ILLINOIS

College May Not Be The Best Option For Everyone

There’s increasing support from both the federal and state government for training in traditional careers, like construction trades, and new paths, like healthcare and information technology.

Governor-elect J.B. Pritzker touted his plans for funding vocational programs on the campaign trail. And over the summer, Congress reauthorized more than a billion dollars for training programs in high schools and community colleges.

The goal is to prep students for a job or more training after high school in fields that need skilled workers. For example, jobs in construction trades are estimated to grow by more than 13,000, or about 7 percent, between 2016 and 2026, according to numbers from the Illinois Department of Employment Security.

But supporters say one persistent challenge is the laser focus on preparing kids for college, and overcoming the idea that college is always the best option.

“Parents come in and say, my kid don’t want to go to college. And when they said that, they said it like it was a bad thing,” said Wes Aymer, principal at Capital Area Career Center.

He says he has to make the case that it isn’t, and there are good careers that require technical training after high school.

“Not every kid is cut out to go to college,” he said. “If this is what they want to do and this is their passion, we need to support that passion. And that passion can lead to a great career and no college debt, [and] typically, a $25 to $30 an hour job is going to be able to support a family.”

There is economic data to support the focus on earning a college degree. On average, workers with a college degree do make more than those without one. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median weekly wage for workers with a bachelor’s degree is close to $1,200, while the median for those with an associate’s degree or some college education is less than $1,000.

But, Kate Blosveren Kreamer – deputy director of Advance CTE – a national advocacy group for career and technical education programs like the one in Springfield – points out that demand for skilled workers is growing and expanding to new fields.

“The labor force is changing so rapidly, and there are so many new opportunities and new sectors and new careers that many years ago, we didn’t know how to prepare individuals for them,” she said.

Know Your Options

To help students find those new opportunities, the education system is trying to change, too. With the funding Congress approved last summer for career education, the Illinois State Board of Education is creating a new five-year plan for its career and technical programs across the state.

“[It’s] really getting these programs in schools to think about CTE as something that’s integrated, not something that’s separate from academics,” said board spokesperson Jackie Matthews. “But something that is critical to students who are going to college, who are going to community college, who are going to work right after school, maybe school later, for all those students.”

Eugene Phillips is one example. He’s studying computer networking at CACC — not to find a job right out of high school, but to help figure out which career path is right for him.

Eugene Phillips, a student in the computer networking class at Capital Area Career Center, checks wires connected to router his classmates are using. CREDIT MARY HANSEN / NPR ILLINOIS

“I have always been programming. I’ve always (been) messing around taking like PlayStation apart and things like that (since) I was in middle school, I built my computer and I still use it to this day,” he said. He says the CACC program has helped him figure out which jobs are available in the information technology field.

Those jobs continue to grow – and industry estimates put the number of needed workers in cybersecurity at almost two million worldwide by 2022. In Illinois, computer-related jobs are expected to grow by nearly 20,000 in the next eight years.

For Phillips, it’s not technical training or college – it’s both. He has already earned an industry-recognized certification that would qualify him for some jobs. And he plans to get a bachelor’s degree and maybe eventually a master’s.

“Having that degree will open up doors for me that I don’t have without a degree,” he said.

Kreamer, with Advance CTE, says providing a variety of choices is key. She says what’s important is for students and their parents to make an informed decision.

“The shift that needs to happen is why are you going to college? How does that fit into your career pathway? Which program actually makes sense for you and making the most of that,” she said. “So going to post secondary as an informed decision, not just defaulting into it.”

As parents and students think about what comes after high school, she says discussions need to include all the options, not just college.

Illinois Prison Monitor ‘Absolutely Convinced’ Mentally Ill Inmates Abused

The Illinois Department of Corrections continues to flounder in its efforts to care for inmates with mental illness, according to a new report authored by Dr. Pablo Stewart, a psychiatrist and court-appointed monitor on a 2016 settlement agreement on a class-action lawsuit.

The report says Illinois prisons have made improvements in some areas. For example, inmates are now screened for mental illness upon arrival, and prisons have implemented training protocols for all mental health staff.

But staffing levels remain “grossly inadequate” to provide adequate mental health treatment to all inmates who need it. The lack of staff “is the main contributing factor to the poor quality of the mental heath care provided to the mentally ill offenders within IDOC,” Dr. Stewart wrote.

“I have even encountered mentally ill offenders with newly missing teeth and physical exam evidence of recent trauma to their faces. If I had encountered these types of injuries with my own patients, I would be obligated to report them to the police.”Dr. Pablo Stewart, court monitor’s report

Court monitor: Pontiac prison staff assault mentally ill inmates

The report singles out Pontiac Correctional Center for having a “culture of abuse and retaliation” against mentally ill inmates.

The monitoring team found both an “informal use of force and retaliation system” and “evidence of intimidation of the mental health staff at Pontiac by the custody staff”—problems that have persisted since the lawsuit was settled 30 months ago.

“It is my opinion as Monitor that the Department has not done anything to effectively address this ongoing problem at Pontiac,” wrote Dr. Stewart, adding that he is “absolutely convinced” that staff are physically assaulting mentally ill inmates there.

Dr. Stewart said in the report that his assessment is based on hundreds of corroborating interviews with both inmates and mental health staff. Those accounts are further corroborated by inmates’ medical records, hundreds of filings to the Court regarding alleged incidents of physical abuse, and Dr. Stewart’s own observation of injuries to inmates’ heads and faces.

“I have even encountered mentally ill offenders with newly missing teeth and physical exam evidence of recent trauma to their faces,” Dr. Stewart wrote. “If I had encountered these types of injuries with my own patients, I would be obligated to report them to the police.”

Dr. Stewart also described an “elaborate system of retaliation perpetrated by the custody staff against the mentally ill offenders at Pontiac,” which include withholding food, visits, phone calls, restricting them from participating in required activities, setting up inmates for assault by labeling them “snitches,” providing them the means (staples, paper clips, other sharp objects) to perform self-injurious behaviors, and placing incriminating evidence in their cells, including weapons or other forms of contraband.

The reports states IDOC officials’ response has been: “the Department takes allegations of abuse seriously.”

In response to a request for comment on the new court monitor report and allegations of abuse at Pontiac, IDOC spokesperson Lindsey Hess wrote via email: “The Department is reviewing the report. Anytime the monitor makes the Department aware of allegations of excessive force, those allegations are taken seriously and investigated.”

“We take swift action to refer (any reports) we get to the state police or the state’s attorney. We will not tolerate that.”John Baldwin, IDOC Director

In an interview last month, Director John Baldwin said he would “be surprised” if mistreatment of mentally ill inmates in the form of physical abuse or retaliation were happening today.

“And whenever we get notification about something like that, we take swift action to investigate,” Baldwin said. “We take swift action to refer (any reports) we get to the state police or the state’s attorney. We will not tolerate that.”

But in the new report, Dr. Stewart said he has been relaying information about abuse of mentally ill inmates at Pontiac “to parties informally and in writing throughout my tenure as Monitor,” Dr. Stewart wrote. “Nothing has come of my reports. In fact, the staff at Pontiac are more strident in their actions and dealings with me since I have been formally reporting their abuse.”

According to the report, Dr. Stewart will be seeking outside legal consultation, at his own expense, “to determine what professional and ethical obligations I have to report this abuse to outside police agencies.”

“As Monitor, I do not make these allegations frivolously,” he wrote.

Inadequate treatment has ‘ripple effects’ throughout IDOC

Inadequate treatment caused primarily by IDOC’s issues with understaffing have “ripple effects” throughout the agency, according to the report, contributing to “self-injurious behaviors, staff assaults, use of force incidents, administration of involuntary medication, restraint use,” as well as excessively long stays in “Crisis Watch,” where inmates do not receive adequate emergency care.

“If you look at the misconduct as a symptom of an illness, the first reaction should be, ‘How do we up the amount of treatment that somebody is getting?’ Because clearly they’re not getting either enough or the right kind of treatment.”Alan Mills, attorney, Uptown People’s Law Center

Attorney Alan Mills, executive director of the Uptown People’s Law Center, represents Illinois inmates with mental illness in the class-action lawsuit that was initially filed in 2007.

He said when inmates with mental illness “act out” or have behavior issues related to lack of mental health treatment, it’s too often considered a “disciplinary problem” and may result in the use of force or the removal of certain privileges, including participation in therapy or out-of-cell activities.

But “if you look at the misconduct as a symptom of an illness, the first reaction should be, ‘How do we up the amount of treatment that somebody is getting?’ Because clearly they’re not getting either enough or the right kind of treatment,” Mills said, likening the behavior to withholding aspirin from a person who has a fever until their temperature goes away.

Dr. Stewart echoed this notion in his report by writing: “If a mentally ill offender, due to the mental illness, has a behavioral problem that results in a disciplinary infraction, this offender should receive a greater amount of mental health care and not be placed in segregation.”

The report notes that inmates with mental illness who get placed in segregation or “restrictive housing” do continue to receive treatment according to the treatment plan they had before receiving this disciplinary infraction.

However, the treatment most non-segregation offenders receive is limited to one 15- to 30-minute individual session per month “and timely medication followup if they are lucky.”

And at Pontiac, Dr. Stewart reports severe staffing shortages prevent inmates in segregation from receiving individual sessions at all.

The report states IDOC prisons are currently able to provide only a small number of seriously mentally ill inmates with the care they require, at facilities like the Joliet Treatment Center, which was housing 106 inmates as of November 24, 2018.

“They simply have not hired enough people yet in order to do the job. Therefore it’s not fair to blame the people who are there,” Mills said. “They’re being asked to do the impossible. They’re being asked to do two people’s jobs.”

In an interview last month, Director Baldwin said the agency is working to recruit on college campuses for corrections jobs, bring in medical residents from the University of Illinois at Chicago and Southern Illinois University to provide treatment, and is making “every effort” to comply with the terms of the settlement.

“I can understand the court’s frustration with us… This case was hanging on for a long time, and it was only in the last three-and-a-half years that Illinois decided we needed a response.”John Baldwin, IDOC Director

IDOC has created new facilities for mentally ill inmates, and has also trained and hired more mental health staff.

Late October, a federal judge issued a permanent injunction in the IDOC mental health lawsuit, which is now 11 years old, saying the agency has been “deliberately indifferent” to inmates’ medical needs.

Baldwin said that assessment is not fair.

“But I can understand the court’s frustration with us, as well,” he said. “This case was hanging on for a long time, and it was only in the last three-and-a-half years that Illinois decided we needed a response.”

Because of that, Baldwin said, there’s a lot of ground to make up.

Shortcomings persist with regard to segregation, backlogs & crisis beds

Among the areas of compliance highlighted in the report, the monitoring teams notes that IDOC has formed review committees—comprised of attorneys, security professionals and mental health staff—to recommend reducing or eliminating mentally ill inmates’ remaining time in segregation, in compliance with the lawsuit settlement.

IDOC facilities also appear to be compliant with the requirement that prison staff keep progress notes following contact with seriously mentally ill inmates and consult with mental health staff regarding housing recommendations for inmates transitioning out of segregation.

Despite progress in a few areas, IDOC facilities remain “very far from meeting its responsibilities regarding providing mental health care to offenders in segregation” and is “clinging to outdated custody notions regarding mentally ill offenders and segregation,” according to the report.

The monitoring team also found inmates are not consistently evaluated within 48 hours of being placed in segregation or provided with an update of their treatment plan. Neither are they receiving the required minimum hours of structured and unstructured out-of-cell time.

Some increased mental health staffing has led to a decrease in the backlog of psychiatric evaluations to 231, down from 500 at the time of the second annual report. The psychiatric appointment backlog stands at 734, as of November 16, 2018, down from 3,397 at the time of the second annual report, but up from 265 on October 26, 2018.

(T)he Department remains very far from meeting its responsibilities regarding providing mental health care to the offenders in segregation.” Dr. Pablo Stewart, court monitor’s report

Increased use of telepsychiatry may be cause for some of that backlog reduction. The monitoring team found telepsych services are being provided to inmates in the stable, outpatient population as recommended.

However, IDOC is also using telepsychiatry in a “non-evidence-based manner,” for all levels of care, including crisis, which Dr. Stewart notes in the report was never authorized. Furthermore, telepsychiatry providers are “not operating under a protocol or an Administrative Directive.”

There also remains an inadequate number of crisis beds for inmates. Twenty beds for male inmates and 20 for female inmates are required, but as of November 1, 2018, IDOC had only 10 beds for males and 12 for females, according to the report.

IDOC has also created “Crisis Intervention Teams” to intervene when an inmate shows a change in behavior signaling that they may endanger themselves or others if not treated immediately.

But the monitoring team found “very credible evidence” that custody staff “continue to insert themselves between the mentally ill offenders at the crisis intervention teams.”

The monitor wrote IDOC will not be rated in compliance on the requirement for crisis intervention until the agency can demonstrate these “potentially deadly” interferences are no longer occurring.

Read the full 105-page report from Dr. Pablo Stewart here:

2018 12 3, IDOC Prison Mental Health, Monitor Mid Year Report (Text)

This story was produced by Side Effects Public Media, a news collaborative covering public health.

Christine Herman is a recipient of the 2018-2019 Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism. Follow her on Twitter: @CTHerman

Copyright 2018 Side Effects Public Media. To see more, visit Side Effects Public Media

Neurosurgeon Tells NRA Gun Violence Is His ‘Lane’

Physicians across the country have a message for the National Rifle Association: Gun violence is our concern. It’s part of a battle being fought vigorously on Twitter in recent weeks.

In late October, the American College of Physicians published a position paper in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The paper recommended a public health approach to gun violence and called for funding research, criminal background checks for gun purchases and other policies that it says could reduce firearm injuries and deaths.

On Nov. 7, the NRA said on Twitter that doctors had overstepped: “Someone should tell self-important anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane.”

And doctors responded in kind. Thousands of tweets from medical professionals and others poured in, many with the hashtags #ThisIsMyLane and #ThisIsOurLane. A new account, @ThisIsOurLane, has been active in promoting tweets about gun violence—even a video posted by a trauma surgeon showing a bullet being removed.

Dr. Ben Rodgers, assistant professor of neurological surgery at the Indiana University School of Medicine, has been outspoken about gun violence both before and after the NRA controversy. Side Effects spoke to him about the NRA controversy.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What was your reaction to the NRA tweet when you saw it?

My reaction was, this is a medical problem. All the physicians that I know who take care of trauma patients or that work in emergency rooms strongly felt that they were well within their lane. This is exactly my lane. I see patients full of bullet holes all the time. This is where I belong. I have the right and the duty to advocate for prevention.

What do you see in your work as a neurosurgeon?

My role, if we have a patient with a gunshot wound to the head, is aggressive management of all of their normal bodily functions — airway, breathing, circulation. And the trauma surgeons are the ones aggressively helping with that. It’s one of the most devastating injuries you can have. Overall mortality is very high. The morbidity, as far as neurological deficits after such an injury, is incredibly high. Complication rates are terribly high. So they are difficult patients to manage.

And then the gunshot wounds to the spine, again, they’re neurologically devastating. Often patients with spinal cord injuries are quadriplegic or paraplegic, and we get several of those patients a year.

Can you tell me about a recent example where you know someone came in with an injury like that?

I’ve taken care of two police officers that were shot in the line of duty doing exactly what they’re supposed to do. Bad guy with a gun shoots the police officer. One of those cases, the officer died from his injuries. The other one made, I would say, a spectacular recovery — certainly markedly better than would be expected, but he still has neurological effects from his gunshot wound. It was one of the biggest events of my neurosurgical career.

How do these injuries affect doctors? Do doctors feel emotional effects from dealing with gun violence in the operating room or in the emergency room?

I think a lot of a lot of physicians are able to sort of shut off some emotion — some might describe it as being cold — at least to this specific event at the time, because our job is to do whatever damage control we need to do, and you can’t really get emotionally involved at the time.

If there’s emotion up front when we get called to the E.R. to see a gunshot wound, the first emotion I feel is a little bit on the angry side. It’s always some victim of violence or a victim of a crime. But it didn’t have to happen, right?

Here I am having a quiet evening of call or seeing other neurological things on call, and then this stupid thing comes in. It’s just senseless. I’m sure the trauma surgeons would say you know here I am taking care of a patient with a bunch of holes in his liver — again — when we should be doing something to prevent these kind of things.

Doctors obviously deal with the downstream effects of a lot of public health issues, and gun violence is one of them. When it comes to advocacy around an issue like gun violence, to the NRA’s point, why should we care what doctors think about the policy side of this debate?

Well, because gunshot wounds without a doubt are a medical problem. Physicians advocated for seatbelt laws and it turns out it’s a good thing because there’s fewer deaths in automobile accidents because people wear seatbelts now. What does a doctor know about how a car works?

If the physicians can’t advocate, at least on behalf of gunshot wound victims, then who’s going to?

Obviously, this controversy is still ongoing. Has this sparked action outside of Twitter?

Since this happened, the American College of Surgeons has put out their own recommendations on … common sense gun control. There were 20 some surgeons on a panel almost all of which were gun owners, and it was very similar to the other one.

There is a remarkable lack of funding for research into gun violence. So there’s a huge push to get that changed. These are things that take time, so I think we’re going to see something change over the course of the next year. It’s not going to be January but maybe the start of it will be coming in 2019. I don’t think this movement is going to die out.

I think the push has been growing. When the Parkland school shooting happened, there was this really vocal group of what seemed like really sharp kids. They spoke well and they’re still out there talking. And the NRA said some negative things about these silly kids. And that really got a lot of young people energized and they said, “You can’t talk about us like that.”

And here we are later. It feels like the NRA definitely pushed the wrong button and pissed off the wrong group of people. Physicians don’t like to be told what to do or what to not do. And I think everybody says that is exactly what we’re supposed to be. So I don’t think this issue for physicians is going to go away.

This story was produced by Side Effects Public Media, a reporting collaborative focused on public health. 

Copyright 2018 Side Effects Public Media. To see more, visit Side Effects Public Media.

A Hands-On Look At Gene-Editing Technique CRISPR, Which Could Be A Game-Changer For Ag

In a lab at George Washington University, painted lady butterflies flutter in mesh houses. This is where assistant professor Arnault Martin and his research group use the new gene-editing technique CRISPR to unlock secrets about the colors and spots on the butterflies’ wings.

CRISPR has allowed them to isolate a precise gene that controls wing appearance, and they can shut it off at will.

Harvest Public Media’s Amy Mayer gets behind the microscope to test out the gene-editing technique CRISPR.

Butterflies live in a mesh house in the lab where researchers use CRISPR to change their wing patterns. CREDIT AMY MAYER / HARVEST PUBLIC MEDIA

“What we do with CRISPR is nothing fancy. We don’t do genome editing or detailed surgery, we just break genes,” Martin told a group of visiting science writers in October.

Martin’s lab explores questions of development and evolution, but CRISPR’s potential extends to new treatments for human diseases, crops engineered to withstand intense rains or long droughts and foods stripped of allergens. The ethical quandaries are also vast, as highlighted recently by a Chinese researcher’s claim to have used the technique with human embryos.

Hands-on experience

The other writers and I each got to try the CRISPR technique. We started with a small dish containing a bunch of butterfly eggs on a sticky surface. The eggs were visible to the naked eye as tiny blue-ish dots.

A look through the microscope revealed much more detail, showing they are, in fact, egg-shaped, with one end a bit flatter than the other. We were instructed to nudge them gently with a thin glass rod until they stood on that flat end. It’s harder than it sounds.

When I finally got a few eggs in the right position, I took my dish to a different microscope that was connected to an electric needle full of a reddish fluid. The liquid contained the CRISPR Cas9 protein tool and and something called “guide RNA.”

Researchers compare the gene editing process of CRISPR to a search-and-replace function in a word processor. First, the exact phrase, or genetic location, is identified. Then, it is cut out and other genetic material can be inserted.

Blue and green butterfly eggs are stuck to tape before they are injected with CRISPR. CREDIT AMY MAYER / HARVEST PUBLIC MEDIA

“The guide RNA is the specific directional vector that will direct the Cas9 to specific sites in the DNA, to cut there,” graduate student Vincent Ficarrotta explained, adding that the the DNA repairs itself around the cut, and the egg develops normally from that point forward.

It took some help from one of the research assistants before I managed to align my egg with the needle. When it was in the right place, I tapped a foot pedal and watched through the microscope as red goo oozed into the tiny egg. Experienced scientists can inject a hundred eggs in one sitting. I did barely a few.

CRISPR’s potential

There’s no outcry against this lab’s CRISPR work, which is primarily funded by the National Science Foundation. Compare that to last month, when a Chinese scientist announced at a meeting in Hong Kong that he’d used CRISPR to alter DNA in human embryos to protect a set of twins from AIDS.

Colleagues decried his disregard for the peer review process and questioned the truth of his claim. But scientists and ethicists were left fearing the pending arrival of designer babies, or children genetically altered in utero to suit their parents’ preferences.

Martin said he discusses bioethics and appropriate uses for the technology with his students, encouraging them to “think about several levels of consequences”; for example, how a genetic change will affect future generations of a species.

A needle is poised to inject butterfly eggs. CREDIT AMY MAYER / HARVEST PUBLIC MEDIA

If used responsibly, Martin said, CRISPR could help solve many challenges, including in agriculture.

“If you want to feed the planet, 9 billion people, I think we will benefit from accelerated domestication from engineering crops so they are less demanding in terms of resources, less vulnerable to pests or less waste, better use of land and so on,” he said.

CRISPR’s use in plant breeding is a bit less controversial than in humans or other animals as seeds can be manipulated so that genetic changes don’t persist into offspring. Agriculture companies already have their eyes on the technique.

“It’s a development that we’re very excited about,” Bayer Crop Science president Liam Condon said in October, when he was in Des Moines for the World Food Prize.

Companies want the public to understand up front the value of a new technology, he said, echoing what Harvest Public Media reported in 2017.

“One of the issues that we’ve always had with GMO technology,” Condon said, “is that the benefits are very clear for the grower, for the farmer, but they’re not so clear for the consumer.”

He’s confident that CRISPR’s potential to remove food allergens or boost nutritional quality will appeal broadly. What he’s more concerned about is how different governments will approach regulation, as GMOs taught the industry an important lesson after different approval timelines held up overseas deliveries of some U.S. crops.

“It is important that there’s kind of a consistent regulatory framework to ensure international trade with whatever is developed using CRISPR Cas 9,” Condon said.

For now, countries are on their own to determine whether new policies are necessary because there is no coordinated effort to establish international regulations. But the flurry of interest sparked by the announcement in Hong Kong may prove the catalyst for a seeking a global consensus sooner rather than later.

Follow Amy on Twitter: @AgAmyinAmes

These butterfly eggs, viewed through a microscope have been injected with the reddish CRISPR solution. The reddish globs are the CRISPR solution. CREDIT AMY MAYER / HARVEST PUBLIC MEDIA

Illinois Education Funding Fixes Still Top Priority

Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker and a new crop of legislators will take office come January. Those crafting state education policies say they will continue one of the biggest fights in recent years, finding more funding for teachers, students and schools.

With the change of leadership, the state returns to one-party rule – both legislative chambers and the governor’s office will be led by Democrats. Gov. Bruce Rauner’s term included a historic budget impasse that lasted about two years, affecting education funding across the board and inflicting “structural damage” to higher education, according to the state’s Comptroller Office.

Despite the animosity of the budget impasse, legislators on both sides of the aisle celebrated what they called a more equitable school funding bill, agreed upon in 2017. Rauner signed the final changes to the formula in the spring of 2018.

“The two sides can work together”

“For all of the negativity of the last few years, education was a bright spot, and I think within the education arena, we’ve proved that the two sides can work together,” says state Sen. Jason Barickman of Bloomington, who was a chief Republican negotiator on the legislation.

Jim Reed, with the Illinois Education Association – one of the state’s largest teachers unions, says one goal should be for the state to fund public schools at a rate above 50 percent, following the state constitution’s guideline that state government has the “primary obligation” for funding public schools. According to the Illinois State Board of Education, in 2017 state funding comprised 24.4 percent of school funding, with 7.5 percent coming from the federal government, and the majority – 68.1 percent – coming from local sources.

Reed says another issue related to funding that lawmakers urgently need to address is the teacher shortage, and declining “perceptions of the profession.”

The IEA helped craft legislation that it says would draw more teachers to the state, a $40,000 minimum annual salary for public school educators. Despite support in the legislature, Rauner vetoed the measure. Reed says plans are in place to give the idea another go in 2019, with the hope that Pritzker will be more sympathetic. “We anticipate that we will be moving (on this) very soon after the new General Assembly and new governor are sworn in,” Reed says.

While the measure passed both chambers, Barickman was one of the legislators to vote against it, echoing Rauner’s concerns that it would be an unfunded mandate that could hurt already struggling school districts. “It’s a dangerous game for the legislature to play, passing these types of mandates that are funded primarily by local property taxes,” says Barickman.

Still, Barickman agrees that as a whole, funding for public schools is the top priority for education policy going forward. “Now that we’ve got this new formula in place, we’ve got to invest in it.”

Given the state’s financial situation, that won’t be easy. “We all recognize the financial pressures, but there are thousands of schoolchildren in all areas of the state who are relying on us to do our job,” Barickman says.

Priorities under Pritzker

State Rep. Chris Welch, a Democrat from Hillside in Cook County who has been assigned to co-chair Pritzker’s education transition committee, agrees that funding will be key.

“We have to invest in our education. And if we do that, we’re going to really change Illinois. If you put education first you’re going to create the next generation of workers,” says Welch.

He says one way the new administration plans to increase funding is legalizing and taxing recreational marijuana. Welch also points to potential additional funding through a progressive income tax, something Pritzker campaigned on.

Welch says over the past year he was happy to see the success of the “Aim High Scholarship,” which he says public universities are already using as a recruitment tool, as well as the four-year MAP grant “guarantee” – developments in higher education Welch says he hopes to see the state build upon.

Jaclyn Driscoll contributed to this report.

Effort To Eliminate Medical Co-Pay For Prison Inmates Fails

Illinois prison inmates will continue to pay $5 for medical and dental visits, after the legislature tried and failed to get rid of the fee last week.

Prison reform advocates want to eliminate the co-pay, saying it deters inmates from seeking necessary treatment. An Illinois Department of Corrections spokeswoman emphasized that no one is denied care for not being able to pay.

The effort to get rid of the co-pay comes at a time when medical care in the correctional system is under scrutiny due to a class-action lawsuit in federal court.

A recent report from court-appointed experts in that case found poor medical care led to preventable deaths in Illinois prisons. The suit is set to go to trial in December.

Illinois lawmakers agreed to remove the co-pay in the spring with the bill passing both chambers. But Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner issued an amendatory veto over the summer, proposing to reduce the fee from $5 to $3.90.

Most states charge a co-pay for medical visits in prisons, and the average rate is around $3.50, according to a 2017 analysis from the Prison Policy Institute.

In Rauner’s veto message, he worried about the “potential abuses of a free medical system” that would overwhelm the already “overburdened” medical system.

Lawmakers in the Illinois House rejected the change early in November’s veto session. But the Senate didn’t take it up for a vote before the session ended, with the sponsor, Democratic state Sen. Elgie Sims, saying they didn’t have the necessary support to override.

Jennifer Vollen-Katz with the John Howard Association, a Chicago-based advocacy group, says she was disappointed with the result. She points out that most inmates who are able to work in prison earn very little money.

“People realistically, reasonably don’t have a whole lot of confidence in the treatment they’re going to receive, and they have to wonder if it’s worth that expenditure when they have so little money available to them,” she said.

The Illinois Department of Corrections filed a note with the legislature saying elimination of the fee could cost the department $59 million over 10 years. A department spokeswoman said the fee brings in around $400,000 a year.

The department is set to spend around $179 million on health care for inmates this fiscal year.

For now the medical co-pay stands, but backers say they’ll try again to convince lawmakers to eliminate the co-pay next spring.

USMCA: Trump Signs New Trade Agreement With Mexico And Canada To Replace NAFTA

Updated at 8:25 a.m. ET

President Trump, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto signed the new U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement — or USMCA — in Buenos Aires Friday, using the backdrop of the G-20 Summit to resolve a trade dispute between America and its closest neighbors.

“Let’s go,” all three leaders said as they sat alongside each other to sign multiple copies of the deal.

They then shuffled binders around in front of them, to finalize the deal that remakes one of the world’s largest free trade zones. When the signing was over, they paused for a photo-op. “Might as well hold that up,” Trump said, displaying the fresh signatures as the three leaders sat together.

Despite that and other prodding, Trudeau opted not to follow his peers in holding up his binder to celebrate — a sign, perhaps, of the lingering effects of the contentious process that was triggered when Trump imposed tariffs on Mexico and Canada earlier this year, which remain in place.

The signing event and the leaders’ remarks were livestreamed. You can watch the event here.

In the lead-up to the signing, Canadian officials had “made it clear they didn’t want to celebrate the end of a year of U.S. attempts to twist Canada’s arm with the tariffs still in place,” the CBC reports. But that wish ran counter to the desires of Trump and Peña Nieto, both of whom have preferred to portray the deal as a victory that helps to cement their legacies.

“This has been a battle, and battles sometimes make great friendships,” Trump said at the start of the signing ceremony.

Saying all three countries will benefit from the deal, Trump said of the USMCA, “It is probably the largest trade deal ever made.”

The USMCA (read the whole text here) replaces the North American Free Trade Agreement, which had created a free trade zone between the three countries back in 1994. The deal will require ratification by all three countries’ legislatures before taking effect.

“The biggest change this deal makes, really, is to the automotive sector,” NPR’s Scott Horsley reports, “where it does put higher requirements on North American content, and in particular high-wage content, for vehicles to trade duty-free.”

The USMCA deal emerged in early October, months after President Trump hit Mexico and Canada with tariffs on their steel and aluminum products. That move set off retaliatory tariffs and intense negotiations to create a new trade pact.

Calling the deal “the new North American Free Trade Agreement, Trudeau said it “lifts the risk of serious economic uncertainty that lingers throughout a trade renegotiation process — uncertainty that would have only gotten worse and more damaging if we had not reached a new NAFTA.”

There is more work to be done, Trudeau said, calling the recent announcement that General Motors will close plants in Canada and the U.S. “a heavy blow.”

Turning to address Trump, said “And Donald, it’s all the more reason why we need to keep working to remove the tariffs on steel and aluminum between our countries.”

“General Motors has said that those steel and aluminum tariffs robbed it of a billion dollars in profits in the last year,” Scott Horsley reports. In June, GM also warned the Trump administration that new tariffs could result in “a smaller GM.”

When it was his turn to speak, Peña Nieto said the trade agreement includes provisions for e-commerce and informational technology — subjects that he said made it necessary to update NAFTA.

“In fact, one-third of the agreement includes topics that were not included in the first agreement,” he said.

Peña Nieto also said the USMCA “is the first trade agreement that incorporates elements that address the social impact of international trade; it enables the participation of more sectors in the economy.”

Among those provisions, he said, are protections for workers’ rights and the environment, and elements that seek to extend the benefits of free trade more broadly.

The signing took place on Peña Nieto’s final day in office; Mexico’s newly elected president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, will be sworn in on Saturday.

Shortly before the signing ceremony, Peña Nieto awarded presidential senior adviser and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner with the Order of the Aztec Eagle, the highest honor Mexico gives to foreigners.

The move “shocked many in Mexico,” as NPR’s Carrie Kahn reported earlier this week, referring to the outrage and anger that has poured out online.

Later in the G-20 meetings, Trump will turn to another high-profile trade crisis, when he has dinner on Saturday with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Climate Report Says U.S. Cattle And Crops Will Be Stressed By Hotter, Wetter Weather

A changing climate has major implications for farmers and ranchers across the U.S., according to a federal report.

Here’s a select breakdown of the agriculture section of the fourth National Climate Assessment, which was released last week.

Heat and livestock

Summer days in the Midwest and Plains states used to be followed by cool nights; a respite for the region’s cattle, which become stressed under extended periods of hot weather.

Today, summer nights are more humid and temperatures don’t drop like they used to, instead hovering around 70 degrees, said Dennis Todey with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Midwestern Climate Hub.

He helped author the report, which called attention to not only higher temperatures, but also more extreme precipitation and the possibility that dairies and feedlots will need to move out of the southern Plains.

According to the report, U.S. farms contribute $136.7 billion to the economy (0.76 percent) of gross domestic product, and about half of that comes from livestock production.

But as recently as 2011 and 2013, heat waves in the Midwest killed thousands of cattle. Todey said ranchers and feedlot owners will have to experiment with how best to adapt to the weather extremes, considering heat stress causes animals to eat less.

“The economics don’t work out as well because you’re having to keep cattle for a longer period of time to try to get them to gain weight before you can market them,” he said.

Challenging weather conditions are nothing new for cattle producers, who work almost exclusively outdoors. Rick Stowell, an agricultural engineer with the University of Nebraska, carried out a focus group for cattle industry stakeholders on the impacts of climate change.

He said producers are already dealing with the impacts and are committed to finding solutions.

“Most of them will say that they’re seeing warmer conditions, drier conditions and then wetter conditions. So they have to be prepared for whatever comes their way,” he said.

Other potential solutions for livestock producers include moving production north to states where temperatures will be more moderate or selecting cattle breeds better suited to hot conditions.

Crop stressors

A mixture of early spring rain and late season heat won’t be kind to farmers, according to Illinois State Climatologist Jim Angel, the lead author on the report’s Midwest section.

A Japanese beetle munches on an ear of corn in a western Illinois field. CREDIT MADELYN BECK / HARVEST PUBLIC MEDIA

“One of the ways to adapt to a hotter climate is to plant earlier to beat the heat, but if it’s wetter in the spring, it prevents you from doing that,” he said, noting that corn yields could be especially affected because they’re more sensitive to late summer heat.

Angel added that the “corn belt” (prime corn weather) is already moving north into North Dakota and Canada. As that shifts, Angel said, weeds and pests may settle in the Midwest.

“The pests can overwinter like Japanese beetles, so then you have more of them in the spring. But also, with a longer growing season, you also have more life cycles of many of these pests. They can produce more times so you get longer headaches,” he said.

The report offered many ways for farmers to combat climate change challenges, including using cover crops to protect soil from heavy rains and using genetically modified seeds to withstand the changing temperatures. However, it noted that privately funded research into genetics won’t be enough, citing a 2015 Economic Research Service report.

“Private firms may find it difficult to market and profit from the largely social benefits of genetic resource collection, conservation, and prebreeding activities,” the ERS report stated. “With insufficient private-sector incentives, the public sector is left to play a major role in optimal development of genetic traits to aid climate-change adaptation.”

While there is no current way of handling challenges posed by both increasing rainfall and heat, the report said, it suggested that states adopt better ag weather networks.

“You can never have too many weather stations because a lot of times the weather is very local,” Angel said. “If you had avery robust, very dense network, you would have a lot more detail on what’s going on out there and make better decisions on irrigation and what to plant and when to plant it.”

Follow Esther on Twitter: @estherhonig

Follow Madelyn on Twitter: @madelynbeck8

Copyright 2018 Harvest Public Media. To see more, visit Harvest Public Media.

Beyond The Farm: A Look At The Wide World Of Ag Degrees

Fields, crops and farm animals are part of the agriculture-industry landscape, but an increasingly small one.

The number of farm and ranch managers shrunk by about 20 percent between 1996 and 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor statistics. At the same time, there are more students graduating from ag colleges, and, in many parts of the country, 80 percent to 90 percent of them find a job (or go for an advanced degree) within a few months of graduating.

But they’re not headed to the farm: Think tractor financing, food products and farm technology.

 

Iowa State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. CREDIT MADELYN BECK / HARVEST PUBLIC MEDIA

The ag-degree marketplace

Iowa State University is a major center for ag education, and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences saw its largest graduating class in the 2017-2018 school year — 1,124 students.

Mike Gaul, the college’s career service director, said that if trends hold true, only about 8 percent of those graduates will farm. Others will either focus on animal science, aiming to become veterinarians, or into ag business, where the majority of graduates at ISU already had jobs in areas like sales, lending or merchandising when they received their diplomas.

“Despite everything that’s going on out there right now with low commodity prices and tariff implications and all that stuff that’s going on, it’s still an incredibly good time to be a student in agriculture,” Gaul said.

Beyond those majors, he said there are some that companies can’t get enough of: horticulture (think landscaping and golf course grooming) and food science.

Kevin Kimle is the director of Iowa State’s Agriculture Entreprenuership Initiative. He encourages ag students to go out on their own, saying it’s likely that a third of them will start a business at some point in their career. CREDIT MADELYN BECK / HARVEST PUBLIC MEDIA

“If parents were to come in here and say ‘Here’s my son or daughter, they’ve got a strong interest in sciences, where should they go?’ I would definitely send them to take a hard look at anything in the food sciences side of things,” he said. “The bottom line is this: We all have to eat, right?”

Just down the hall from Gaul is Kevin Kimle, a former ag entrepreneur and current director of the college’s Agricultural Entrepreneurship Initiative. Kimle said the ag-entrepreneur market is “hot,” but acknowledges that a lot of people don’t think about ag in as “innovative” or “entrepreneurial.”

“But I think the nature of agriculture also means managing risk when you’re dealing with living plants and animals,” he said.

He pointed to an ISU survey of those who received bachelor’s degrees from the university between 1982 and 2006. Of those earned through the ag college, 20 percent have started at least one for-profit business.

Kimle’s eyes lit up  when he talked about former students and all the things they go on to do, like 2013 graduate Colin Hurd. Hurd already sold his first ag-related business called Agriculture Concepts, which used planting technology he developed, and is making headway in autonomous tractors with his second business, Smart Ag.

What’s algae got to do with it?

There’s a little greenhouse on ISU’s BioCentury Research Farm, that would be nearly impossible to find without help. The facility, which helps make students’ business ideas reality, is a maze of offices, warehouse areas and testing facilities.

Martin Gross is president and co-founder of Gross-Wen Technologies, which uses algae to clean wastewater. He’s standing in a greenhouse the company uses outside Ames, Iowa. CREDIT MADELYN BECK / HARVEST PUBLIC MEDIA

But once you’re through a little back door, you reach Gross-Wen Technology’s testing ground for its wastewater-cleaning system: a bunch of bright green, algae-laden belts cycling vertically up and down into wastewater.

Martin Gross is the co-founder and president of the company, which uses this process to clean water of nitrogen and phosphorus that can harm aquatic ecosystems. Traditionally, cleaning water requires chemicals or bacteria, which Gross said creates “a waste, bacterial or chemical sludge … it’s a cost to get rid of.”

His idea was to use algae to treat wastewater, which he said creates “algae biomass. And that algae biomass can be sold and made into a variety of products” — like the slow-release fertilizer his company is making. Gross-Wen’s water-cleaning algal process is being used in Chicago and a few towns in Iowa so far.

His idea began at ISU, where he obtained ag-affiliated degrees, like a bachelor’s in biology, master’s in food science and technology and Ph.D.s in food science and technology and agriculture and biosystems engineering. He started the business in 2014 with one of his old professors, Zhiyou Wen, and officially finished all schooling in 2015.

But it’s not just former students changing the face of agriculture.

New majors

College degrees are evolving as massive ag companies seek graduates who know not only about agriculture, but also business, finance and technology. The University of Illinois, for example, is offering a new degree that meshes computer science and crop science.

There are just three students enrolled in the major, including freshman Omkar Manoj Haridas.

When he was in 10th grade in Bangalore, India, he had to make a choice between studying biology and computer science.

“In the end, I decided on choosing computer science, but that was a very hard decision. And I was still interested in biology,” he said.

He’d already created a few of his own computer programs to play things like Battleship, and was looking at Illinois’ renowned computer science program when he spotted the new major.

Haridas’ goal is to capture the vast amounts of data gathered on the farm to create better seeds.

Sifting through the data and understanding it correctly will take a certain level of expertise, according to Adam Davis, head of the school’s Department of Crop Sciences.

“When people graduate from computer sciences with a straight computer sciences program, they may be able to ultimately learn some domain knowledge in other fields, but this gives them the head start by training in parallel, and there are many, many employers lining up very interested in students with this type of dual degree,” he said.

Davis stressed that ag degrees like the new one are for people who want to improve the global food system — no matter if they come from a farm background.

“(Agriculture) isn’t just driving a tractor and corn and soybeans,” said Davis, who grew up in New York City and didn’t realize ag was an option for him until his last year of undergrad. “That can be part of it, but there are many ways to think about it. Intersecting with the environment, with food security, urban agriculture. Thinking about water quality and energy.”

Ultimately, Davis said, agriculture is a field for students who are “idealistic and want to do something for society and to help make the world a better place.”

Follow Madelyn on Twitter: @MadelynBeck8

Copyright 2018 Harvest Public Media. To see more, visit Harvest Public Media.

IL Struggles With Lack Of Long-Term Addiction Recovery Options

Earlier this year, we covered the difficulties faced by Illinoisans in recovery – especially those who had successfully detoxed, and were hoping to change their lives and stay sober. One of the challenges people faced was finding help getting their lives back on track.

We reached out to the Illinois Department of Human Services and found out that there are 42 licensed residential extended care facilities in the state. These are classified by the state as residential facilities providing some form of treatment for residents. While all of these facilites provide treatment for individuals recovering for addiction, they may only offer those services to specific populations. Some facilites are segregated by gender, for example, and others only serve individuals leaving the prison system.

These 42 facilities are located in 16 counties, leaving 86 counties without a single long-term residential facility for recovery. For many Illinoisans, this makes recovery difficult to access locally.

Most of the counties on the list have only one facility, with some notable exceptions.

Ten of these recovery facilities are located in the city of Chicago, with another ten across Cook County. That leaves only 22 facilities for the entire rest of the state. Dupage County, the second most populous in the state, has just two centers.

Additionally, DHS was unable to supply the number of beds in each facility, because the information is not reported to them. They did say there is no limit to the number of beds any facility can have, and that it changes regularly.

Explore our interactive map of long-term recovery centers to see what options are available near you.

Editor’s Note: This post has been updated to correct a discrepency with the list provided by DHS. One of the facilities included has since closed.
Copyright 2018 WSIU Public Radio. To see more, visit WSIU Public Radio.

Can This Tiny House Solve Senior Housing Shortage?

If you’re a Baby Boomer, here are a couple of statistics that should concern you. By 2030, one in five Americans will be 65 and over. Yet a Harvard study says the nation has a serious shortage in accessible housing, the type that helps seniors age in place.

Joanne Artz is 66 and just retired from working as a librarian at the University of Southern Indiana. On a recent day, she was packing up her office after undergoing hip replacement surgery in the spring. She said she hoped to spend the next chapter of her life in a house that might allow her to stay connected with multiple generations in a community.

“I think that in a microcosm, my years of experience and little bit of wisdom, whatever I have accrued, could be useful to people of a different generation than I am where in turn they can teach me things,” she said.

Geriatrician Dr. Bill Thomas has a possible solution for Artz — building tiny homes. After working in nursing homes, he realized there was something else he could do to help the elderly and disabled live independently.

He calls it the Minka house, after a Japanese word for modest, rural homes.

“The Minka offers people a chance to maintain independence and autonomy longer,” said Thomas.

The report from the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University finds that only 1 percent of U.S. housing has the key design elements for accessibility. That includes zero-step entries, single-floor homes, wide halls and doorways, and lever-style faucets.

Those features are important in a country where the number of seniors who have limited movement or another disability is expected to increase dramatically.

The small compact house is comparable in size and cost of other tiny homes, with the price starting at about $75,000. But Thomas says it’s anything but the same.

“We looked at tiny houses, and man some of them are so cute, but they’re not really good for older people because they tend to require a lot of, like climbing up the bookshelf to get to the loft,” Thomas said.

About a year ago, Thomas built the first of his Minka houses in upstate New York for his daughter. She has a rare neurological disorder that leaves her unable to speak or communicate with her hands.

After tweaking the design, Thomas and his team opened a factory last summer to craft parts for the homes. The house is built through printers and machines, limiting the manpower needed to pre-assemble the parts before they are shipped to the building site.

“We’re building a new building technology that has no nails and no studs,” Thomas said. “That’s actually all cut on computers and assembled like Lego blocks.”

The first one from the factory went up in Evansville, Ind., recently. It’s on the University of Southern Indiana campus as a part of a multi-aging community project.

Officials from other communities have come to Evansville to see Thomas’ creation.

The Housing Authority and Habitat for Humanity from Loveland, Colo., took a look watching the the first beam go up for a one-bedroom house. It’s about 640 square-feet, comparable to a three-car garage. They see it as an affordable housing option for seniors and disabled low-income residents.

Jeff Feneis of the Loveland Housing Authority is looking at the Minka as a possible solution in helping address the housing shortage in Northern Colorado.

“Right now we have a lot of support from our local jurisdiction, city council and the planning department,” he said. “And they’ve even changed their code to allow for this.”

In fact, Thomas says hundreds of Minka homes have already been ordered, leaving him to consider opening a second factory, possibly in the Midwest for a more central location in the U.S.

“We’re looking at expanding the number of Minka’s right here in Indiana. And one of the ways we can help do that would actually be is set up a Minka printer in Indiana, and that’s something we’re going to be looking at in 2019,” he said.

Thomas wants to compete with the success the Sears Catalogue Homes had in the 20th century.

“Sears sold 70,000 houses in their kit home era and we want to beat that record,” he said. “So we think we can do it because our system is really lightweight, flexible and easy to put together.”

On the day of the ribbon-cutting, Artz explored the one-bedroom home. There are things she liked, including the wide doorways and the bathroom that features a shower without a high step. That would be better for her with her back problems.

“I only need a shower,” she said. “I don’t need a tub because I can no longer get in or out of a tub.”

But she’s not sold on it, and says maybe if it were bigger with a second bedroom, she would be interested.

“Yes I should be downsizing, but I’m not ready to downsize that much just yet. And I don’t want to wait until I was to move into a Minka,” she said.

Thomas says the reluctance of Americans to downsize is the biggest obstacle to the success of the Minka house.

“Since the end of World War II, Americans have been told to get the biggest house they can,” he said. “So the number one obstacle we face is people believing the need the biggest house they can afford.

“And our argument is people should have the biggest house they need, not the biggest house they afford. And that’s going to be a struggle for us.”

This story was produced by Side Effects Public Media, a reporting collaborative focused on public health. 

Copyright 2018 Side Effects Public Media. To see more, visit Side Effects Public Media.

Illinois Students Act In Response To Proposed Title IX Changes

Students across Illinois are calling for tougher campus policies on sexual harassment and misconduct as the Trump administration proposes changes to federal law that victims’ rights advocates say would weaken guidelines that are already lacking.

U.S. Dept. of Education head Betsy DeVos announced plans last week to implement the changes to a federal civil rights law known as Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on account of sex at schools that receive federal funding. DeVos said the changes would restore fairness to the way campuses conduct sexual misconduct investigations.

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, more sexual harassment scandals on college campuses have come to light, including several in Illinois. Many students have said the allegations offer further evidence that campus policies against harassment are flawed.

In one recent case, law professor Jay Kesan, of the University of Illinois’ flagship campus, will take an unpaid year-long leave of absence after sexual harassment allegations from multiple students and faculty members – charges he initially denied but has since conceded are correctNews of those claims and a related campus-led investigation broke at a forum on #MeToo and academia hosted by the U of I law school in October.

Campus investigators determined Kesan’s actions, which included unwarranted references to sex, as well as unwanted touching and “ogling,” did not rise to the level of a violation of campus sexual misconduct policies. Because of that, campus officials have said they were unable to remove Kesan from teaching responsibilities or impose harsher sanctions.

Ashley Kennedy, president of the U of I Student Bar Association, said the situation with Kesan is indicative of a larger problem.

Sexual harassment perpetrated by professors “is actually, unfortunately, rather commonplace within universities across the country,” Kennedy said. “So we’re really trying to push for a systemic change versus just piecemeal for individual cases.”

Kennedy calls the proposed changes to Title IX guidance “ironic.”

“Because here … the college of law and university are trying to expand the definition of sexual harassment,” she said, referring to recent campus-wide efforts to change sexual misconduct policies to better protect students. “And then at the national level, they’re trying to tighten it and have a higher scrutiny level.”

While Kesan will take an unpaid leave of absence for the coming year, U of I law students and others are still calling for his resignation. U of I President Tim Killeen has called for a systemwide task force to look at policies and prevention efforts.

Earlier this month, students at the University of Chicago met to discuss sexual misconduct on college campuses. That was partially in anticipation of the recent Title IX announcement, as discussions around it had long been circulating.

Malay Trivedi, U of C student body vice president, said those changes would make it harder for survivors to seek justice.

“By allowing universities to change how they deal with different cases, they’re creating different types of environments where students could be more predisposed to sexual misconduct,” said Trivedi.

Trivedi and other students have drafted an open letter to state officials asking that they uphold state guidelines, per the “Illinois Preventing Sexual Violence in Higher Education Act”–regardless of any federal changes that may come.

Mary Hansen and Christine Herman contributed to the reporting of this story.

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