Illinois Public Media News
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Radio)
Indiana's governor Monday morning signed the state's first-ever anti-smoking bill into law at a public ceremony at the statehouse in Indianapolis.
Smoking won't be welcome at Indiana restaurants, but smokers need not to worry - there will still be plenty of places to light up in the Hoosier state, and restaurants have time to prepare for the change; the ban doesn't go into effect until July 1. Smokers will still be able to get their fix in Indiana casinos, bars, cigar shops and private clubs.
Gov. Mitch Daniels said he understands the bill won't please critics who wanted a stronger law, but he said it was important to get something on the books while lawmakers were in the mood.
"Indiana has wrestled for a long time in how to protect public health, employees in particular and public spaces against the hazards of second-hand smoke," Daniels said. "It's been a very, very long march. Lots of interests that need to be balanced."
Daniels credited state Rep. Charlie Brown (D-Gary) with getting the measure past the finish line. Brown had spent six years advocating for a smoking ban.
"Got to say, Charlie, I'm really happy for you. You have worked so long and so tirelessly on this and never gave up," Daniels said. "I hope you feel you've achieved a really great thing here."
The number of exemptions has proven to be a controversial issue, though, especially among groups critical of smoking. Amanda Estridge, lobbiest and spokeswoman for the American Cancer Society of Indianapolis, said her organization did not support the final legislation.
"It's much harder to change a bill once it becomes law," Estridge said. "We don't agree that something is better than nothing."
Estridge said the law does not protect the 17,000 people who are employed by Indiana's gambling industry. She added Indiana spends $3.8 billion a year on smoking-related health care costs, with 11,000 annual deaths being attributed to the habit.
John Livengood is the president of the Indiana Restaurant Association. He said for most restaurants, the smoking ban is a good thing.
"I've always encouraged (businesses) to try because for most restaurants, it does not hurt their business," Livengood said. "In fact, it may help their business."
Livengood also heads the Indiana Hotel and Lodging Association. He said hotel rooms may have a tough time enforcing the smoking ban since it's difficult to control what goes on in a hotel room.
The ban takes effect in July.
A tax on strip-clubs was approved Tuesday by an Illinois Senate committee.
The legislation would boost the cost of admission into clubs that serve alcohol by $5 per person. Revenue from the tax would support groups that work to prevent sexual assault.
State Sen. Toi Hutchinson (D-Olympia Fields) said her proposal would address some of the violence toward women that she attributes to alcohol and nude dancing.
"I understand that this is a pretty contentious subject, largely because it's difficult to talk about in open conversation," Hutchinson said. "We are talking about something that is pretty easy to watch devolve into snickers and jokes about what it is we're trying to do here."
Hutchinson said there's a link between alcohol, strip clubs and crime, particularly violence against women.
However, club owner Michael Ocello said such studies are flawed and outdated. Ocello owns five clubs in the Metro East area, on the Illinois side of the river across from St. Louis. He said a majority of the state's 50 or so strip clubs would not survive the proposal, leaving 2,000 dancers, bartenders and other workers out of work.
"Many of these clubs have been impacted by the worst economy the country's ever seen in years, and a tax of $5 per person will kill most of these small business operations," Ocello said.
The measure was approved unanimously in committee and advances to the Senate floor. But several legislators who voted for it say they want more information before the final vote.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel have appointed eight members to the board that runs the McCormick Place convention center.
State law gives them each four appointments to the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority.
Quinn's appointees include attorney Carmen Lonstein and union leaders Ronald Powell, Bob Reiter and Becky Strzechowski.
Emanuel is appointing former state Comptroller Dan Hynes, retired ComEd CEO Frank Clark Jr., Bank of America executive Julie Chavez and Roger Kiley Jr., an attorney who was Mayor Richard Daley's chief of staff in the 1990s.
In a news release Monday, Emanuel says it is important to have a good team in place because McCormick Place is essential to Chicago's economic future. Quinn says the appointees have the experience need to attract new tradeshows.
The Salvation Army of Champaign County says it has to cut some of its spending after holiday fundraising fell short of the charity's goals.
Mike Fuqua of the Salvation Army of Champaign County told The News-Gazette newspaper in Champaign (http://bit.ly/y7PqOE) the group fell about $46,000 short of the $430,000 goal for its annual Red kettle campaign.
Fuqua said some employees will have hours cut while the group will hold off on some planned maintenance and equipment purchases.
The Salvation Army operates an emergency shelter for men and helps needy families get food.
This is the first year the religious-based social service group has fallen short on its fundraising goal.
Indiana House Republicans have approved $1,000-a-day fines against Democratic legislators who are boycotting over a right-to-work bill.
The Republicans approved the fines in a voice vote Wednesday morning as most of the Democratic representatives gathered in the Statehouse Rotunda for what they called an open caucus meeting to discuss the bill to ban union contracts with mandatory representation fees.
The Democrats began their meeting surrounded by hundreds of union supporters, with more watching from the balconies above.
Republican Speaker Brian Bosma had demanded that Democrats end their boycott and give the House enough members present to begin debating proposed amendments to the bill.
Most Democrats resumed their walkout after questions arose about the constitutionality of the statewide referendum they're seeking on the proposal. Bosma calls their action a delay tactic.
(Story updated and corrected at 2:06 PM, 1/17/12)
Kraft Foods Inc. says it will cut 1,600 positions in North America this year as it prepares to split its business into two independent companies --- one for groceries, the other for snack foods.
The suburban Chicago-based food company said Tuesday that it plans to eliminate the positions throughout the U.S. and Canada primarily from sales, corporate and other business units. About one fifth of the job eliminations are currently open positions.
Kraft spokesperson Joyce Hodel said the company has not yet made decisions about its manufacturing facilities, so the job cuts will not affect its facility in Champaign. The Champaign plant produces Kraft grocery products, including Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, Miracle Whip and Kraft salad dressings.
However, Kraft does plan to close its management center in the Chicago suburb of Glenview by the end of 2013. In addition, the company will move its Beverages unit and Planter brand to the Chicago area by December 2012. Both units are currently located in other states.
"Making these tough choices is never easy, and we recognize the impact these changes will have on many of our people and their families," according to a statement by Tony Vernon, the executive vice president and president of Kraft Foods North America and CEO of the future grocery company. "But our plan for a more nimble company, combined with the current economic and competitive pressures, led us to this point. Taking the necessary steps now will enable us to continue investing in our beloved brands to drive growth."
The corporation has approximately 127,000 employees across the world, including 46,500 in North America.
Kraft announced in August that it would split its snack and grocery business into two companies - a global snacks business and North American grocery business. Kraft said these moves are needed to help the businesses run more effectively.
A major Illinois union is accusing Gov. Pat Quinn of excluding the public from the process of deciding whether to close some state institutions.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is angry that Quinn aides have been meeting quietly with a handful of legislators to discuss closing facilities for people with mental disabilities and illnesses.
The Illinois League of Advocates for the Developmentally Disabled also complained about the meetings Monday.
Quinn tried to close several facilities last year but was rebuffed by lawmakers. Now he is working on a new proposal, which his office says will be announced soon. The Democratic governor says closing outdated facilities will save money and improve care.
Another group, Equip for Equality, supports the way Quinn is planning the closures.
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Radio)
Agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland Co. says it will cut 1,000 jobs from its company-wide work force of 30,000. The move will cut about 15 percent of the Decatur-based company's corporate staff.
The news is a blow to the central Illinois community. Decatur City manager Ryan McCrady said he learned about the layoffs the same way others did, through news reports. The town received no advance warning.
Decatur is home to ADM's world headquarters. The agribusiness giant employs 4,000 people in the city. McCrady said it is too soon to know how many jobs will be lost locally, but he said he expects the community will be able to handle the cuts.
"They've been through these situations before," McCrady said. "This announcement isn't great news for us. But when you package it with all the other things that have gone on, it's two steps forward, one step back. And we'll get through this."
At this point, the impact on Decatur is uncertain. ADM spokesman David Weintraub said the company will not announce any layoffs until February, after a number of employees have been offered a voluntary retirement incentive.
"Employees who are 57 or older and have seven or more years of service and are salaried can elect to retire early, and we're giving them an inventive to do so," Weintraub said. "That will reduce the number of people who are affected."
Weintraub says the impact on any specific community won't be known immediately. He said the cuts were brought on by increased competition in the global agri-processing business, and the company is now focused on ways to improve productivity, as well as reduced energy usage.
McCrady said he has been told by the company the cuts will not affect production in the city.
"That's good news because of course ADM is a big player in Decatur, but there are many other smaller businesses that supply and support them," McCrady said. "So when you have a cut in production, it's a compounded negative effect on your community."
McCrady said all the city leaders can do is wait to see which jobs ADM targets. He said the city has proven resilient in the past. He also said the Decatur economy is cyclical. McCrady points to cuts Caterpillar made in 2009 during the downturn. Since then, that company has rehired many workers and re-invested in Decatur.
ADM does everything from processing crops to make food ingredients, to shipping grain overseas. The past year has been a volatile one for agribusiness companies, with crop prices swinging wildly on global markets.
(AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
A California-based pharmaceutical company says it expects to hire 234 people by 2016 at a new operation on the site of a former Pfizer Inc. drug plant near Terre Haute.
The Terre Haute Tribune-Star and WTHI-TV report officials with California-based NantWorks LLC told the Vigo County Department of Redevelopment on Tuesday that they plan to invest $120 million at the site in a southern Vigo County industrial park.
Pfizer employed more than 800 workers there before shuttering its operations in 2008.
NantWorks officials say they expect the new plant to begin production of various drugs by 2015. It says the scientists, chemists and engineers employed by the plant will earn an average annual salary of about $51,000.
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.
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