Illinois Public Media News
The cost of farmland in central Illinois increased by almost a third in 2011, land sales professionals say, continuing a trend of the past few years.
The average price of land in the 15 counties around Decatur rose from $8,000 an acre in 2010 to $10,500 last year, Dale Aupperle, president of the Heartland Ag Group in Decatur, told The Journal Star newspaper in Peoria (http://bit.ly/yyGV1Y ).
Continued high prices for corn and soybeans and investor demand are driving the trend, Aupperle said, one that he said doesn't represent a bubble ready to burst.
"There are people who didn't buy (farmland) in July 2010 when the average price was $7,000 an acre. They were shocked that it had gone up from $6,000 an acre the year before," he said. "Now (prime land) is selling for over $11,000. This is driven by investor demand, it's not a bubble."
University of Illinois farm economist Gary Schnitkey agrees that price increases aren't like those seen prior to farming's economic collapse in the 1980s.
"In the 1980s, when prices declined, you had high interest rates and high inflation," he said. "Interest rates are expected to remain low, and low levels tend to support land prices."
But Schnitkey thinks increases in both crop and farmland price will ease this year.
Growing tension among defiant House Democrats facing stiff fines and sparse resources threatens to disrupt a no-show effort aimed at blocking a bill that would make Indiana the first state in more than a decade to enact right-to-work legislation.
Democrats stalled business Wednesday, the first day of the 2012 session, when they did not report to the House floor. They continued Thursday to block action on a right-to-work measure that would make Indiana the first state in more than a decade to bar private unions from collecting mandatory fees.
Inside the 40-member caucus, lawmakers are split over how much they can afford to keep stalling in order to block the bill. Some strode out of Thursday's caucus meeting saying that if they suffered through last year's five-week stay in Urbana, Ill., they can stand on principle now.
But others said new $1,000-a-day fines established by Republicans after last year's walkout have raised the stakes much higher than some can afford.
"Last year they were taking my bank account, this year they're taking my home," said Rep. David Cheatham, D-North Vernon. Cheatham was one of three Democrats who has joined Republicans in the House chamber each day. They say they oppose the right-to-work measure but don't agree with the stall tactics.
House Democratic Leader Patrick Bauer said Thursday that Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma told him in a private meeting he would begin fining Democrats on Friday.
"It's a significant issue. We think it's another assault against free speech," Bauer said as he walked into the House Democratic caucus meeting.
But Bosma said he had not decided whether to begin implementing the fines Friday and that no legal paperwork had been started.
"We're just counting on folks having some common sense and showing up for work eventually," Bosma said.
Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, joined the three Democrats Thursday for a quorum vote that placed Republicans very close to getting the numbers they need to push the bill forward. He said he is asking Republicans to give them more public hearings on the issue.
He also noted there is little Democrats can do to stop the measure.
"That's the quandary, and we have to decide: What we can we do?" DeLaney said. "We have limited resources and we have a limited number of votes."
National right-to-work advocates say they see Indiana as their best shot at passing the labor bill into law. Despite a slate of statehouse wins across the nation in 2010, Republicans have been unable to move the measure yet. They came closest in New Hampshire, but lawmakers could not find the votes to overturn Democratic Gov. John Lynch's veto.
Bauer and other Democrats would not say Thursday how long they planned to stall. Instead, Bauer said, they plan to hold public hearings on the proposal around the state as soon as this weekend. The first hearings could happen in Fort Wayne and Evansville.
The new law levies a fine of $1,000 per day against each lawmaker who sits out more than three days in a row. Republicans established the new penalties after Democrats left the state last year to block the right-to-work measure.
The House Democratic caucus meanwhile opened an account on the Democratic fundraising website ActBlue and sent out an appeal Wednesday on Facebook seeking donations of between $5 and $250. "The Indiana House Democrats NEED YOUR HELP! Please support our caucus as we fight another battle against the Republicans as they try to push RTW legislation through without listening to working Hoosiers," the Democrats wrote in their appeal.
Indiana Democratic Party spokeswoman Jennifer Wagner said her group did not pay for any of the penalties accrued last year and did not plan to pay any fines this year.
A lawsuit challenging fines from last year's session filed by Rep. Bill Crawford, D-Indianapolis, is still being weighed by a Marion County Superior Court judge.
(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
The long-time head of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois is being remembered as an ardent defender of freedom of speech. Jay Miller passed away Tuesday in Evanston due to complications from emphysema.
Before spending four decades with the ACLU, Miller served in the Army and worked as a reporter.
Colleen Connell succeeded Miller as the executive director of the Illinois ACLU. She said his legacy on human rights is profound on both a local and national level.
Miller landed on President Richard Nixon's enemies list in part for defending protestors arrested during the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago.
"Jay was a lion in every meaning of the word. He was among the most courageous human beings in defending other people and defending constitutional principles," Connell said.
Services are planned for Friday at Chicago Jewish Funerals in Skokie. Miller was 83.
A new push is under way in the Indiana Legislature for a statewide smoking ban a year after the failure of a similar bill that health advocates assailed as too weak.
The bill announced Thursday by Republican Rep. Eric Turner of Cicero would prohibit smoking in most public places and workplaces, including bars. The only exemptions it includes are the gambling floors of casinos and pari-mutuel betting parlors, private clubs and cigar and hookah bars.
The House last year approved a bill that exempted bars from the smoking ban. Health advocates argued that was too great an exemption, but a Senate committee chairman argued it was needed to win Senate passage.
Turner says he believes greater public support and Gov. Mitch Daniels' support will help the broader ban this year.
Indiana's House of Representatives is entering its second day at a standstill as House Democrats dig in against a divisive labor bill.
Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma and House Democratic Leader Patrick Bauer spoke briefly for the first time since Democrats announced Wednesday that they were stalling business in the chamber because of the labor bill.
Bosma spokeswoman Tory Flynn said the two spoke Thursday morning during a taping for a television program but didn't agree on a meeting to resume work.
Bauer said Wednesday his party members would stall business until Bosma agrees to more public hearings on "right-to-work'' legislation.
That proposal to bar unions from collecting mandatory fees from all workers at a private business drew hundreds of union protesters to the Statehouse on Wednesday's opening day.
Gov. Pat Quinn has signed into law pension reforms aimed at fixing some loopholes in the system.
The law takes effect immediately. It aims to end the practice of so-called double dipping for public employees.
In some cases, employees took leaves to work for their unions but continued to build benefits in government pension systems based on union pay.
The law also closes a loophole made possible by a 2007 law that allowed two lobbyists for the Illinois Federation of Teachers to qualify for teachers' retirement benefits by spending a single day teaching.
Quinn signed the bill Thursday. Illinois House Republican Leader Tom Cross was a sponsor of the bill. He says the law means that pension abuses can't run rampant.
The law doesn't address Illinois' grossly underfunded pension system.
It's a new year with a new legislative session, but an all-too-familiar story is recurring in the Indiana Statehouse, at least from the Republican viewpoint: House Democrats once again held up any work because they oppose a GOP proposal to make Indiana a right-to-work state.
Wednesday was to have been the start of the new legislative session, but House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) couldn't even call the session to order. While Republicans were ready and seated, only a few Democrats arrived to the chambers as the roll call was read about 12:30 p.m. CT.
A Democratic representative told Bosma that the party was caucusing, but something else was actually going on - Democrats were staying away.
Democratic House leader Patrick Bauer of South Bend described the action as a filibuster, not a protest or a walkout.
"We refuse to let the most controversial public policy bill of the decade be railroaded through with the public being denied their fair and adequate input," Bauer said. "What's the urgency? Are they ignoring the public input? They have not made the case that Indiana is in dire need of an anti-paycheck bill."
Bauer said unless GOP leaders agree to hold hearings throughout the state on the right-to-work bill, Democrats won't be coming back anytime soon.
"The public needs to be informed. The process [by the Republicans] is to avoid the public," Bauer said.
Bauer said the Democrats plan to remain in the Indiana Statehouse, unlike last year, when they fled to Urbana, Illinois. They returned some five weeks later, when Republican leaders abandoned their right-to-work proposals.
House Speaker Brian Bosma, a Republican, said Democrats shouldn't expect the same outcome.
"That was an accommodation that was made last year," Bosma said. "This is the number one jobs issue that we can address this session and the number one issue is jobs. These are middle class jobs that we're talking about. It's about personal freedom."
If adopted, right-to-work legislation would prohibit an employer from forcing an employee to pay union dues as a condition of employment if a union is already in place. About two dozen states, mostly outside the industrial Midwest, now have such laws in place. Democrats say the bill would undermine unions that, by federal law, must represent all employees - even ones who are not union members and pay no dues.
Wedneseday's action drew thousands of pro-union representatives to the Indiana Statehouse, many of whom chanted down Republicans and hailed Democratic efforts.
"It's a shame to think that we're going to lose our benefits and our health insurance," said Chris Roark, a Teamster union member from Gary, Indiana. "They think this bill is going to help Indiana. It's not going to help Indiana."
Northwest Indiana's Democratic contingent opposes the bill. They're joined by at least one Republican House member from the region: Ed Soliday of Valparaiso.
"I will vote against it," Soliday said. "I don't see what we get for it. I'm not convinced of what I've seen. I don't provoke labor. There's no point. I have an honest disagreement with some of my colleagues."
Republican Speaker Bosma tried three times Wednesday afternoon to gavel the House into order, but each time no more than five of the 40 Democratic members were on the floor.
Bosma said he'll try to have the House meet again Thursday.
Myke Henry made one of two free throws with 6 seconds left and Meyers Leonard blocked a shot just before the buzzer as Illinois pulled out a 57-56 victory over Northwestern on Wednesday night.
Leonard hit a free throw with 29 seconds left to put the Illini up 56-54, but Northwestern's Drew Crawford tied it on a tip with 17 seconds remaining.
After Brandon Paul drove but couldn't connect, Henry was fouled on a rebound follow-up. He made one free throw but missed the second.
Crawford rebounded and tried to drive the length of the floor, but the 7-foot-1 Leonard swatted the shot away. Leonard led the Illini (13-3, 2-1 Big Ten) with 12 points. Paul and Joseph Bertrand added 10 each.
Shurna, the Big Ten's leading scorer at 18.6 for Northwestern (11-4, 1-2), had 17 first-half points but just the three in the second under tough defense from Paul.
A federal grand jury has indicted former NFL wide receiver Sam Hurd on drug conspiracy and possession charges after he and another man were accused of trying to establish a drug-dealing network.
The indictment Wednesday accuses Hurd and codefendant Toby Lujan on single counts of cocaine possession and conspiracy to possess cocaine. It also seeks forfeiture of $88,000 in cash by Lujan and a 2010 Cadillac Escalade by Hurd.
If convicted, both could be sentenced to 10 years to life in prison. Hurd was arrested Dec. 14 outside a Chicago steakhouse after authorities said he agreed to buy a kilogram of cocaine from an undercover agent. The Chicago Bears cut the former Dallas Cowboys receiver Dec. 16, two days after his arrest.
The Illinois Department of Transportation is getting $186 million for its high-speed rail project.
U.S. Transportation Secretary LaHood awarded the money to IDOT on Wednesday. LaHood's office says the cash will be used to extend construction of the rail corridor to Joliet. That'll allow for 110-mph service along nearly 70 percent of the route.
Construction is already under way on the Chicago-St. Louis rail corridor. Work on the extension to Joliet will begin this spring.
LaHood says the Department of Transportation has invested more than $1 billion to create high-speed rail service in the Great Lakes-Midwest region. He says the project will ultimately reduce travel times and congestion while creating jobs and increasing business opportunities.
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