Illinois Public Media News
School lunches and breakfasts are sometimes a lifeline for children whose families face problems affording healthy food. School officials understand that and are extending school meal programs into the summer.
Starting Monday, Champaign Unit 4 food service crews will bring breakfasts and lunches to four community centers - they'll be available free to children under age 18.
Unit 4 food service director Mary Davis says the federally-funded program is there to fill the gap when school lets out and children on free or reduced-price lunches still need food.
"Especially now where jobs are hard to find and so money isn't coming into a household like it was, this is going to help all those households," Davis said. "It'll take a worry off their mind because it's both breakfast and lunch. So it does help."
Davis said people at the sites won't ask for proof of need. She said she expects the nine sites across the Champaign area will give out about a thousand breakfasts and up to two thousand school lunches every weekday through the end of July.
Six of those sites are open to anyone - the sites at the Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club (201 E. Park Ave.), First Presbyterian Church (302 W. Church), Douglass Community Center (512 E. Grove) and Jericho Church (1601 W. Bloomington Rd.)open Monday. Sites at Carrie Busey and Stratton schools open June 13th.
On Friday, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin is expected to visit another school meal program funded by the Department of Agriculture. Decatur's Boys and Girls Club is one of several sites in that city where the Summer Food Service Program is also taking place.
Couples entering into civil unions under the new law that took effect in Illinois Wednesday may want the event published in the newspaper.
The Champaign News-Gazette is now ready to publish their announcement --- at the same rate it charges for engagement and wedding announcements. Previously, the News-Gazette would not publish announcements from same-sex couples, but Managing Editor Dan Corkery said the newspaper decided to to change that policy, now that civil unions are part of state law.
"There are definitely people --- some of our readers, loyal readers --- who this is going to rub the wrong way," Corkery said. "And on the other hand, had we not published civil union announcements, there would have been people who would have upset about that as well, whether they were personally affected or not, just out of a sense of fairness."
Corkery notes that civil unions in Illinois are open to both same-sex and opposite sex couples, and the News-Gazette will run announcements for both. But he said Illinois civil unions are the only announcements they will publish for same-sex couples, unless the event rises to the level of a news story.
Announcements of extralegal commitment ceremonies, and same-sex civil unions and marriages performed outside Illinois will not be accepted.
Meanwhile, another Champaign-Urbana media outlet, the online publication "Smile Politely," said it will now run same-sex couple announcements free of charge --- for civil unions, but also for weddings, anniversaries and births or adoptions.
Just hours after Illinois lawmakers adjourned late last night, hundreds of same-sex couples across the state stood in line Wednesday morning to get a civil union license.
Illinois is the sixth state in the United States to allow for some form of civil unions for gay and lesbian couples.
For many people, like Michael Hogue of Champaign, the civil union law is a long time coming. Hogue has been with partner, Bruce Rainey, for 22 years, and they were one of the first couples to get a license Wednesday at the Champaign County Brookens Center in Urbana.
"I think we procrastinated a little, getting everything ready for this day because in the back of our minds we didn't think it would come," Rainey said. "It's astounding that we can actually be recognized for our commitment to one another and for the years that we've been together."
But not every same-sex couple who came to Brookens showed up to get a civil union license. Susan Chapman and Lori Serb say while the law marks an important landmark for gay and lesbian couples, they say there are still other goals that need to be met.
"I think it's important not to let our focus as a community get so narrow because we think this is the end goal for everyone, " Chapman said. "I think there are a lot more things that we need to continue to work on in terms of protecting people who are outside of gender norms and equal housing."
Similar to getting a marriage license, couples must have a valid form of ID and be ready to answer some basic questions. The licenses require a one-day waiting period, and are then valid for 60 days. The group Equality Illinois says every state agency is required to comply with the law, but it says churches can opt out of conducting civil unions if they choose.
Rev. Keith Harris of McKinley Memorial Presbyterian Church in Champaign said he will be performing civil union ceremonies because "we understand that God sees it that way." But Harris said he won't perform any civil union ceremonies unless couples participate in up to five sessions of counseling, either at his church or somewhere else.
"We're not just contributing to the rate of broken relationships," Harris said.
The new law gives people many significant legal protections that accompany traditional marriage. That includes the power to decide medical treatment for an ailing partner and the right to inherit a partner's property. In order to share insurance benefits, couples must also obtain a separate document from the county clerk proving the ceremony happened.
State Representative Greg Harris (D-Chicago), who sponsored the civil union legislation, is credited with shepherding it through the General Assembly.
"I know all kinds of couples personally," Harris said. "There are people across the state who've invited me to their ceremonies to say thanks for helping get the bill passed. I will go broke buying toasters and punch sets, I believe, if I go to all these events."
Speaking to reporters Wednesday morning, Gov. Pat Quinn praised the start of civil unions in Illinois. The Illinois Democrat signed the legislation in January. He said the law makes Illinois "a place of tolerance and welcoming to all.''
(Photo courtesy of Laura Leonard Fitch)
The children of immigrants, both legal and illegal, would be able to obtain private college scholarships and enroll in Illinois state savings programs under legislation approved Monday.
A 61-53 vote in the Illinois House sent the measure to Gov. Pat Quinn's desk because it already passed the state Senate. Quinn said in a statement that he looked forward to signing it.
Supporters praised the legislation as a much-needed way to offer financial help to undocumented immigrants who graduate from Illinois high schools and want to continue their studies in college but can't afford it.
The Illinois Dream Act would create a panel to raise private money for college scholarships and let the children of immigrants join programs that help them invest money and save for college.
"These students deserve an opportunity. They work hard. We send them through grade school, we send them through high school, then we slam a door in their face and say `Oh well, all the hard work is for nothing. You can't go to college,"' said state Rep. Edward Acevedo, D-Chicago.
To qualify for the college savings pool, students must have a Social Security number or taxpayer identification number. Scholarship recipients must have at least one immigrant parent and the student must have attended school in Illinois for at least three years.
Carla Navoa, a 22-year-old student at the University of Illinois at Chicago who is in the country illegally, lobbied for the bill because it will help others like her pay for college. She said she currently isn't enrolled in college because of the financial stress on her family with a younger sister in college, too.
"Having access to this Dream Fund would really help us," Navoa said.
Opponents have criticized the legislation as improper because it provides benefits that could help people who violate immigration laws. They also have complained it's confusing because of proposed federal legislation by the same name that would give some illegal immigrants a path to citizenship.
The Illinois Dream Act has no impact on a person's immigration status and it doesn't offer a path to citizenship.
Lawmakers in Springfield have passed legislation to expand access to higher education for undocumented immigrants. It now heads to Gov. Pat Quinn, who has said he would sign the measure into law. As Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers reports, this isn't the first time the state has considered how far it should go to accommodate people who have come to this country illegally.
(AP Photo/Jason Redmond)
Same-sex couples in Illinois can start obtaining civil union licenses Wednesday, June 1.
The Champaign County Clerk's office says it will be fully staffed to issue the licenses, which will cost four dollars. Kevin Johnson of the Up Center of Champaign County said he is planning a large gathering at the clerk's office when the civil union law goes into effect.
"You know, a lot of people feel it's not truly equal because it is not marriage," Johnson said. "However, for many of us, it is the first step of being recognized by the government as couples."
Couples are required to get the license from the county clerk's office in the area where the ceremony takes place. Both people in a relationship have to show up to get the license. Johnson estimates anywhere between 20-to-30 people will immediately get the licenses in Champaign County on Wednesday.
Similar to getting a marriage license, couples must have a valid form of ID and be ready to answer basic questions like parent's names. Couples are encouraged to call their county clerk's office if they have questions about civil unions. They cannot take part in a ceremony until the day after the license is issued. They also have 60 days to use that license or it expires.
Kathie Spegal, 67, of Champaign has been with her partner, Lynn Sprout, since 2002, and she said she never thought she would live to see the day when civil unions would be legal in Illinois.
"It's not going to change how we live," Spegal said. "We still pay taxes. We still do everything that we've always done. It's just that we know how that it's all legal."
Spegal said her civil union ceremony will take place at McKinley Memorial Presbyterian Church, where he exchanged vows with her partner as part of a "holy union" in 2004.
But churches can opt out of performing civil unions, according to Bernard Cherkasov, president of the group Equality Illinois.
"No religious institution will be required to officiate or perform civil unions," Cherkasov explained. "But every agency performing state functions - accepting public funds to perform that function - will be required to comply with all existing laws and statutes, including respecting the civil unions law."
Civil unions share many of the rights that accompany traditional marriage, including the power to make medical decisions for a partner and being able to share insurance policies. In order to get insurance benefits, a couple must obtain a separate document from the county clerk proving the civil union happened.
When the law takes effect, Illinois will become the sixth state in the United States to allow for some form of civil unions for gay and lesbian couples.
Sunday's devastating tornado in Joplin Missouri underscores the sudden nature of storms and the challenge that emergency management officials face in sending out warnings.
Only 17 minutes separated the first tornado sirens in the city from the onslaught of the tornado. Champaign County Emergency Management Agency director Bill Keller says the National Weather Service tries to give as much advance warning as possible, and it's up to agencies like his to decide exactly when to set off the sirens.
"A lot of it depends on the past history of the storm," Keller said. "Every once in a while, one just fires up unexpectedly so to speak, like the Joplin (tornado). 17 minutes sounds like a lot of time, but if you don't have a plan on what you're going to do and where you're going to take shelter, that's not very much time."
Keller says sirens go off when a tornado has been visually detected, or if there's other evidence a tornado may be hidden by darkness or heavy rain.
Keller says every household should designate a place to go in the event of a tornado warning, and people in stores and other public buildings need to follow staff instructions when the warning sounds. He assumes that some Joplin tornado victims decided to leave stores and try to beat their storm home in their vehicles, which he says was not a good idea.
The license of Chicago's only noncommercial Latino radio station is for sale.
The board of the National Museum of Mexican Art has decided to unload the broadcasting license of youth-run WRTE, 90.5 FM, better known as Radio Arte, according to museum President Carlos Tortolero. Tortolero said the museum also plans to sell an 11,000 square foot building in the city's Pilsen neighborhood that houses the station and another museum youth program, Yollocalli Arts Reach.
"The funding, especially in radio, is going south," Tortolero said. "We have a building that's costing us money. We tried to borrow some money to do some things and [banks] are saying, 'No, no. You can't.' The banks are looking at us and saying, 'Hey, you have to get rid of some of this stuff.'"
Tortolero is meeting with potential buyers of the license. Those include Chicago Public Media, the parent of WBEZ. The museum has also brought a real-estate appraiser through the building. Tortolero said the museum, which launched both youth programs in 1997, plans to continue them.
But his moves have sparked opposition from some current and former Radio Arte volunteers. They say they're forming a cooperative to try to buy the station.
"We want to keep the frequency, name, license and transmitter," said Martín Macías Jr., 22, who produces a weekly news show for the station.
Residents of flood-stricken Cairo were allowed to visit their properties Friday as a mandatory evacuation of the southern Illinois city remained in effect.
Residents could check on property, drop off or pick up items and check pets, said Cairo police chief Gary Hankins. They can't spend the night and the mandatory evacuation order from April 30 continues open-ended, he said.
Cairo is near the confluence of Ohio and Mississippi rivers. Most of the town's 2,800 residents left when the mayor ordered the evacuation, fearing the pressure from the high water in the Ohio River would burst the local flood wall and levees.
"The rivers are still at near-record highs," Hankins said. "It's just still not safe."
On Thursday, the Army Corps of Engineers completed its third and final explosion at the Birds Point levee in southeast Missouri. The Corps intentionally breached the levee along the Mississippi River to relieve pressure on the floodwall at Cairo and elsewhere nearby.
That initial blast allowed water into 130,000 acres of Missouri farmland. About 100 homes were evacuated.
Meanwhile a voluntary evacuation remained in place at Metropolis, on the Ohio River across from Paducah, Ky.
Water levels declined Friday on the Mississippi and Wabash Rivers, but were holding or slightly higher on the Ohio River, said Illinois Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Patti Thompson.
"We actually already are looking at trying to get in with our damage assistance teams," Thompson said. "With flooding you really have to wait until the water goes down."
(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing hopes to have a snow removal ordinance in place well before next winter.
And the initial plans call for something more stringent than what's on the books in Champaign, which covers only downtown and Campustown areas.
The current proposal for Urbana would cover sidewalks throughout the city. The draft going out to neighborhood associations for input would also give property owners 24 hours to shovel sidewalks, as opposed to 48, as the ordinance states in Champaign. Prussing will also give the draft to city council members on Monday. She says the proposal was developed with pedestrians in mind, specifically kids walking to school and mail carriers.
"It's a danger for pedestrians to have to walk in the street and get hit by a car," said Prussing. "My neighbor came to testify to the Urbana City Council, because she slipped and fell and got a concussion. So every time there are slippery sidewalks, I think you see a lot of people coming to emergency rooms for injuries."
Prussing says the draft ordinance was patterned after what other Big Ten communities are using. It doesn't suggest a specific penalty for those who don't comply. The city of Champaign bills property owners for the work, plus a $100 fee. Prussing says just appealing to residents just isn't enough.
"We tried the voluntary approach, and that did get more people to clear their walks," she said. "But it still is difficult, because you go down a block and maybe three people have their sidewalks cleared and two people don't. And it just makes it difficult to get around."
Prussing says the idea now is to get people talking, and exchange ideas. She hopes to have an ordinance in place by September.
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