Illinois Public Media News
Indiana authorities say at least 14 people have been killed in violent storms that spawned tornadoes across a wide swath of southern Indiana. The twisters were spawned by powerful storms that stretched from the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes. The death toll in Kentucky and Ohio, as well as Indiana, is at least 31.
Indiana State Police Sergeant Rod Russell said late Friday that four people had been killed in Washington County. He didn't have details about where they were or how they died.
Earlier, authorities said four people were killed in the Chelsea area, three people died in Scott County, two people were killed in nearby Ripley County and one person had died in Henryville.
Authorities say three schools in Henryville have been destroyed. The roof of the high school has been sheared off. Sara Reschar of West Clark Community Schools says only a handful of students were in the high school when the tornado struck. The rest had been sent home for the day. Had more students been in the school, Reschar says, "they all would have been gone.''
Images from WLKY showed a mangled school bus protruding from the side of a one-story building where it appeared to have been tossed by a tornado.
Officials warn the death toll could rise once search and rescue crews begin to comb through the town in daylight.
The Congressman who represents Henryville and Marysville, Indiana is working with the federal government to help areas ravaged by severe storms Friday.
Staff for U.S. Representative Todd Young held a conference call with FEMA officials Friday. They've also been consulting with U.S. Representative Billy Long's office on disaster response. Long represents Joplin, Missouri which was virtually destroyed by tornadoes last year.
One of Young's top aides also spent Friday night in Henryville working with local law enforcement.
Young spokesman Trevor Foughty said his staff will also likely set up a mobile office to help victims file property damage assessment forms. The forms are used to help determine the federal relief that is sent to the area.
Meanwhile, Gov. Mitch Daniels traveled southern Indiana Saturday morning to assess the damage from tornadoes that raked the region Friday. A release from Daniels' office said he was surveying the damage in Henryville at around 9:30 AM, Eastern Time.
Daniels said that "Mother Nature has dealt harshly with Indiana'' in a statement Friday. He says humans "are no match for Mother Nature at her worst'' despite advances in disaster preparedness, warning systems and responder communications.
The governor's office said Daniels didn't t travel to the area Friday night because he didn't want to interrupt the rescue efforts.
Jolette Law has been released as the University of Illinois' Women's Basketball Coach.
Law finished with a record of 69-93 in five seasons, including 11-19 in the just completed 2011-2012 campaign. The season ended Thursday with a 68-53 loss to Michigan in the first found of the Big Ten Tournament.
Law's Big Ten Record in five seasons was 27-59, with a highest conference finish of 8th place in 2009.
"Really, we need to be at a point where we're competing at a high level - the same expectations I have for the other 18 sports," U of I Athletic Director Mike Thomas said in an afternoon press conference. "And at the end of the day from a competitive standpoint, I just didn't feel that we were trending that way. Not having a history of winning in recent times or at a high level certainly affects other things with the program."
Thomas says the decision was difficult based on the fact that she's a 'terrific person, and tremendous role model for her students.'
He says a national search will begin for Law's replacement. She had two years remaining on her contract, and will receive a $620,000 buyout over that time.
Thomas says the criteria for a replacement won't necessarily mean someone who's held the same job elsewhere.
"I don't think I want to go into a situation and paint myself into a corner," he said. "I think certainly having head coaching experience is attractive in a lot of ways, but I certainly wouldn't restrict it to those who are head coaches only."
"I would like to thank (former athletic director) Ron Guenther and the Illini Family for the opportunity to represent the people of the state of Illinois as their Head Women's Basketball Coach," Law said in a statement released today. "I have found great joy in coaching, teaching, and guiding a group of remarkable young women. We have laid a good foundation for great things to happen in the near future. I wish nothing but the best for Mr. Thomas, the program, the University, and of course my student-athletes."
In her first season, she guided the Illini to a 20-15 record, including an historic run in the 2008 Big Ten Tournament, winning three games and advancing to the championship game before losing to Purdue on a buzzer-beater. After earning at WNIT bid, Law led the Illini to the third round in the tournament. But none of her teams had a winning record in the Big Ten and none made it to the NCAA tournament.
In 2011, the Illini fell back to 9-23 overall, finishing last in the Big Ten with a 2-14 mark.
Law came to Illinois from Rutgers, where she was an assistant under C. Vivian Stringer for 12 years. That included a trip to the 2007 NCAA title game.
Illinois hasn't made the NCAA tournament since 2003 and hasn't been ranked since 2000.
Indiana authorities say six people have been killed by tornadoes that ripped through the southern portion of the state.
Spokesman Jet Quillen of the state Joint Information Center says three people died in Jefferson County and three were killed in Scott County as storms battered the state Friday.
Jefferson County Sheriff's Department dispatcher Shelly Jones says houses are missing near the unincorporated town of Chelsea, about 30 miles north of Louisville, Ky.
National Weather Service coordinator Bill Whitlock reports "extreme damage'' in Henryville, a town of about 1,000 people just north of the Kentucky border. Destruction can be seen for miles, and a school district spokeswoman says heavy damage has been reported at Henryville High School.
Clark County Sheriff's Department Maj. Chuck Adams says the nearby town of Marysville is "completely gone."
Meanwhile, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels says he'll travel to southern Indiana on Saturday to assess the damage.
Daniels said that "Mother Nature has dealt harshly with Indiana" in a statement Friday. He says humans "are no match for Mother Nature at her worst'' despite advances in disaster preparedness, warning systems and responder communications.
He says he hopes officials already knew the full extent of the damage but that wouldn't be certain until Saturday.
The governor's office said Daniels wouldn't travel to the area Friday night because he didn't want to interrupt the rescue efforts.
Gov. Mitch Daniels says he's prepared to accept a weakened smoking ban if that's what it takes to get something approved before he leaves office.
Daniels said Friday he still prefers a version passed by House lawmakers that would exempt Indiana's gambling industry, private clubs and tobacco and cigar stores from the ban. But Senate lawmakers greatly weakened the measure this week by cutting bars out of the proposed ban and expanding the exemptions approved by the House.
House and Senate negotiators are scheduled to meet Monday to hash out a compromise. The Senate approved a statewide smoking ban for the first time this week after years of House lawmakers approving bans only to see them die in the Senate.
Daniels included the smoking ban in his 2012 legislative agenda.
A Cook County judge says Illinois' law against eavesdropping is unconstitutional.
It's the second time this year a judge has ruled against the law, which prohibits audio recording conversations without the consent of everyone involved.
In his ruling Friday, Judge Stanley Sacks said the la in its current form could criminalize "wholly innocent conduct."
Sack's ruling came in the case of Christopher Drew, a Chicago artist who was arrested in 2009 for illegally selling his artwork without a permit. Drew was later charged in violation of the eavesdropping law after he was found to have recorded his arrest.
"This is what people all over the state have been contending, including members of the legislature, that this law is not constitutional, it does violate due process, and there needs to be a substantial change," said Joshua Kutnick, Drew's Lawyer.
"We welcome the ruling. We agree with its finding and we think this is yet another example of when people look closely at this law, it doesn't stand up to scrutiny," said American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois spokesman Ed Yohnka.
Meanwhile, the Illinois State House is considering an unrelated bill that permits the recording of police officers performing their official duties in a public.
Rep. Elaine Nekritz is the main sponsor of the bill, which is scheduled for a floor vote by the full House.
"This ruling demonstrates ... that citizens have the First Amendment right to record police officers. This legislation would make that very clear in Illinois and stop the prosecutions that I think are really inappropriate," said Nekritz.
Last Fall, a Crawford County judge ruled against current eavesdropping law.
The Cook County State's Attorney's office has not said whether it will appeal Friday's ruling to the Illinois Supreme Court.
With Illinois' pension debt climbing, the President of Eastern Illinois University suggests his school could handle those costs for retiring employees, if phased in gradually.
Governor Pat Quinn has floated the idea that pensions normally covered by the state could be shifted to universities and school districts.
The proposal was made as William Perry appeared before a Senate Committee in Springfield Wednesday. In EIU's case, that amounts to about $20-million. Perry says it would take at least five years, likely ten, for the university to phase in the state's contribution for pensions.
And he says that period would vary for other universities and their budgets, but each of them would have to hold open debates with state officials.
"The trust between the state goverment, the universities, and the university employees - that triangle of trust has to be strong," Perry said. "I think right now people are feeling like with change coming along, the trust they've put in the system for so long is at risk, so we have to be really careful on the trust side."
Perry says if the employer contribution to pensions was to change, the next logical step is finding a stable base of funding.
"If you kept your general revenue funding equal or even increased it a bit, if you're having to take money from other places in the university or from the general revenue appropriation to use to take care of employer contribution, it's still going to be a cut on your budget and a strain on your budget," Perry said. "We know that we can't just pass this off on the students in tuition."
For the long term - Perry says a sustainable model for pension could be achieved through a hybrid - a defined benefit and contribution - a model suggested by two University of Illinois faculty members.
Perry says an overhaul of the State Universities Retirement System, making it more like the private sector holds merit.
The model was recently proposed by Robert Rich and Jeffrey Brown with the U of I's Institute of Government and Public Affairs.
The Illinois Department of Revenue says it's prepared to move swiftly on decisions about which not-for-profit hospitals deserve tax breaks.
Those hospitals waiting for a decision include Carle and Provena Hospitals in Urbana, and Decatur Memorial Hospital.
The state had held off making any decisions since fall while it, hospitals, and consumer health advocates negotiated how much charity do not for profit hospitals have to provide in order to get out of paying property taxes.
But they failed to reach an agreement by Governor Pat Quinn's March First deadline.
So the department is going to resume issuing rulings. Revenue spokeswoman Sue Hofer says a backlog of up to 18 cases has built up in the interim. She says that will decrease, as decisions are made by the end of this month.
"We look forward to doing our job and making decisions, so that both the entities that we're determining about, and the local governments will have closure on how much money they can expect to gain in taxes, or how much money they may have to pay in taxes," Hofer said.
Hofer says the constitution and court precedence establish what hospitals have to do to qualify. But the state hospital association's Danny Chun says the standards aren't clear, even though big money's at stake.
"In some cases it could be millions of dollars a year, it just depends on the property that's being looked at," said Chun.
He says money spent paying a local tax bill is money that's not going to health care.
After taking a dip in January, the Flash Index of the Illinois economy continued to show improvement in February. The monthly index from the University of Illinois showed a reading of 99.2 in February --- its best showing since November of 2008. The index is a weighted average of growth in Illinois income and sales taxes.
U of I economist Fred Giertz says the Flash Index will have to rise back to 100 to show economic growth. He's expecting continued to improvement, but says the economy in Illinois is hampered by a state unemployment rate that's been higher than the national rate for some time.
'It's a recovery and things are going in the right direction", says Giertz. "And it's unlikely we're going to have a double-dip (recession). But we're not really back to what more people consider a normal healthy kind of situation, of 5 or 6 percent unemployment."
New unemployment figures for Illinois show the jobless rate falling .3% during January, to 9.4%. The national unemployment rate is 8.3%. The Illinois Department of Employment Security says the state saw a net increase of 3800 jobs. The strongest gains were in Professional and Business Services, and the Leisure and Hospitality industry.
Illinois lawmakers are considering whether to end a benefit that lets university employees send their kids to state colleges for half-price. The Illinois House Executive Committee sent a measure (HB5531) to the House floor on Wednesday, on a 9-2 vote.
State Representative Luis Arroyo (D-Chicago) is the bill's sponsor. He says the waivers contribute to the high cost of higher education.
"Tuition rates in our universities keep going up because we are paying for children ... to educate children of other state employees", says Arroyo.
Arroyo says the tuition waivers cost $387 million dollars in 2011.
But a spokesman for the Illinois Board of Higher Education says the cost was actually much smaller: about $8 million.
Dave Steelman lobbies for Western Illinois University. He says at that school, the majority of employees using tuition waivers are relatively low-paid workers, like clerks.
They have to work in the university system for seven years before they're eligible.
And Steelman says when employee tuition waivers are compared to similar programs, they don't cost very much.
"At Western last year, our employee dependent waivers totaled about $240,000", says Steelman. "Veterans' waivers for the same year totaled $2.2 million."
State Representative Mike Tryon (R-Crystal Lake) serves on the House Executive Committee, and supported the bill on Wednesday.
"It's almost like saying if I work at the building department, I get my building permit for half price", says Tryon. "I don't know of any other part of government where employees get to pay less for something than the taxpayers or the general public."
Those who want to end the perk say they would consider a compromise, like a salary cap that limits the benefit to lower-wage employees.
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