Abraham Lincoln fans have failed, again, to set a new world record.
State officials had hoped to break the record for the most people reading aloud at the same time. They organized a mass reading of Lincoln's Farewell Address two weeks ago, with people across the country taking part.
But as numbers come in, it's clear the event drew only a fraction of the people needed. Organizers tell The (Springfield) State Journal-Register that the total so far is about 13,000, while the world record is 223,363.
An attempt to break the record last year by reading the Gettysburg Address out loud also failed to set a record, but it came much closer. That event had about 180,000 people.
A group of Indiana Democrats with no plans to return their state have the backing of unions on both sides of the state line this weekend.
The House members staying in Urbana over a stalemate with Republicans over labor and education bills saw more than 100 supporters line Lincoln Avenue Saturday. They included Bret Voorhies, a coordinator for the United Steel Workers, who said the GOP's efforts are an attack on working people in general.
"We're the ones who go to capitol hill and fight bad trade deals," Voorhies said. "Bad trade deals are hurting every single worker. We're the ones that fight for increases in minimum wage. Obviously, most union people make more than minimum wage. We're the ones who fight for increases in workman's comp. All workers benefit from workman's comp."
A group of University of Illinois law students who were at Friday's rally also visited Madison, Wisconsin in the past week to back worker's rights in the protest there. The Indiana lawmakers have stayed at Urbana's Comfort Suites since Tuesday, where they also picked up the support of Mayor Laurel Prussing. She said the city has a long history of supporting working people.
"I told them that Urbana is in favor of collective barganing," said Prussing. "I think we treat our employees very fair. And that they're engaged in a very important fight for worker's rights that took hundreds of years to accomplish, and we don't want to see it undone."
Gary Democrat Vernon Smith called the support 'exhilarating' after spending their week developing hundreds of amendments in meetings. But he said there has been no indication their Republican colleagues are ready to negotiate.
Saturday's rally included a small contingent, three people, from a Tea Party group involving Illinois and Western Indiana residents. They say regardless of how the Democrats vote, they need to return to the capitol and do their jobs.
Social network invitations asking people to come to Champaign to celebrate the so-called Unofficial St. Patrick's Day on Friday, March 4 have prompted the city to take precautionary action.
One page on Facebook indicates more than 13,000 people are expected to show up.
Champaign Mayor Jerry Schweighart said the city will prohibit bars and package liquor stores in campus town from selling or serving alcohol before 11 AM. He also said bars will not be allowed to serve pitchers of alcohol or shots of pure alcohol. Instead all drinks must be served in paper or plastic cups.
"I wouldn't mind if it was just our local U of I students, and each bar had a celebration to celebrate St. Patrick's Day or something," he said. "But (it's different) when all the outside schools start coming here looking for a big blowout drunken affair, and don't give a care about damage they do to the city."
Schweighart's office will not be issuing multiple keg permits for parties, making it illegal to have more than one keg at each residence.
Meanwhile, University of Illinois officials are taking steps to minimize disruptions to classes and campus operations during the Unofficial St. Patrick's Day celebrations. The U of I also noted that if students drink too much alcohol, they should not be afraid to go to the hospital for care because they "will not get in trouble.
Talks this week between the University of Illinois and one of its employee unions gained no ground - and now the union is filing an unfair labor complaint.
But the head of the Service Employees International Union local said the two sides have agreed to have a federal mediator sit in on talks next month. Ricky Baldwin said that will head off any labor action for at least a month.
Baldwin claims U of I negotiators haven't been bargaining in good faith by asking for new concessions that moved negotiations further apart. He also accuses the University of replacing some union jobs with lower-paid workers, many of them students.
"It's not an us versus them in terms of the contingent workers," Baldwin said. "We love for these people to be hired full-time, get decent pay and benefits and union rights. But they're not treated very well," Baldwin claimed, saying employees were afraid to complain after one supervisor demonstrated bad behavior.
The SEIU represents nearly 800 food service and building service employees on the Urbana campus. A U of I spokesperson has not been available for comment as of Friday afternoon.
Baldwin said negotiations will resume March 8th, a week before a federal mediator will join the talks.
A Western Indiana Democrat says the caucus meet-up of House members in Urbana should be looked upon as a time out to reach some common ground.
Dale Grubb of Covington said there are other bills besides a contentious right-to-work legislation that spurred him and over 30 of his colleagues to leave the capitol Tuesday.
"The only opportunity a minority has for input is the quorum issue," he said. "And I'm staying at home, I'm trying to work with people and see how quickly we can find common ground on some of those issues - get down to the issues that are the real sticklers. You have to be talking in order to come to some conclusion."
Grub says there are a number of bills concerning public education that also prompted the move, including one that will allow tax dollars to fund private school tuition for some families.
"The one charge that we have as a General Assembly to pass a budget... and adequately fund public education," Grubb said. "We've only got so many dollars. I don't see how we can take money away from public schools and not hurt our kids."
And a House Democrat from Ft. Wayne says Republicans have a radical agenda that will mean lower salaries across Indiana. Win Moses is also staying at the hotel in Urbana. He says progress has made, since Governor Mitch Daniels has agreed the right-to-work legislation shouldn't be taken up at this time. But Moses says the measure is scattered in several bills, and Democrats need to know for sure it's off the table. He says his party expected to forward more than 100 amendments to the capitol by Wednesday night, but Moses is not willing to predict how long Democrats will stay in Urbana.
""We have the agenda - the house bill list, and we're working on that," said Moses. "So we're prepared when we do go back. I don't know how long we'll be here, it depends on how negotiations go. If anybody predicts a day, the other side will probably use that to their advantage and try to push it a day longer."
Moses says Friday is the deadline for bills to pass out of the chamber they originated. But he says that won't have much of an impact, since half the legislative session is left.
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels says Republicans will not be "bullied or blackmailed'' out of pursuing their agenda despite a boycott from House Democrats over contentious labor and education proposals. He told reporters Wednesday that Democrats will not keep him from pursuing his agenda even if it means calling special legislative sessions "from now to New Year's.''
Meanwhile, Indiana's Senate president says the House should have never taken up a contentious anti-labor bill that spurred the boycott by Democrats there, and he said the Senate won't push the issue this year. Senate President Pro Tem David Long said it was a "mistake'' for his fellow Republicans in the House to take up the issue. But he said it is water under the bridge now and he wants House Democrats to return to work.
Long said the Republican-ruled Senate won't push the"right-to-work'' bill that would prohibit union membership from being a condition of employment. Long said the Senate will instead propose a study committee to look into the matter over the summer. Most House Democrats are in Urbana, and their absence is preventing a quorum needed for House business.
The Democratic caucus of the Indiana House is holding court one state over.
Thirty-five state representatives left Indianapolis Tuesday. They're staying at a hotel in Urbana as they try to hold up bills they say would negatively impact organized labor and education.
Representative Craig Fry said they had few other options to block bills, including one that would prohibit union memberships or dues as a requirement for employment.
"It's been pretty obvious for about a week that we would have to do something pretty dramatic to make Republicans take notice," Fry said inside a conference room where the fugitive Democrats are holding caucus meetings. "Constitutionally this is all we can do, to deny quorum."
But Representative Charlie Brown said Democrats' anger goes beyond the so-called right-to-work bill. He said their walkout is also stalling bills to allow private-school vouchers and curtail collective bargaining rights for public-school teachers.
Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels has said he won't order state police to round up House Democrats, and he had asked Republican House leaders not to bring up the right-to-work legislation. He also told reporters yesterday in Indianapolis that he respected the Democrats' decision as part of the political process, though he wants them to return immediately to vote on the legislation, but Brown is skeptical.
"It's sometimes difficult to understand and appreciate whether the governor is playing good cop or bad cop," Brown said. "It would appear as though he's sincere, but then who knows for sure. I will leave that interpretation and judgment up to greater minds than mine, as to whether we should take him at his word."
Neither Brown nor Fry will say how long they expect to stay in Urbana. Brown said in a couple of days they may have less-weighty issues to deal with, like clean clothes. He is also not sure whether the delegation would have to leave the hotel if rooms are reserved for a future event in town, such as an Illini basketball game.
As protesters flock Wisconsin's capitol in response to legislation to strip most public employees of bargaining rights, a group held its own rally on the University of Illinois campus.
About 125 people made up of university students and staff, and nearby residents stood in front of the Alma Mater statue chanting: "The workers united will never be defeated. The workers united will never be defeated. The workers united will never be defeated."
The Graduate Employees' Organization, a labor union representing 2,500 U of I teaching and graduate assistants, helped organize the event. Union member Stephanie Seawell said workers in Wisconsin and all across the country should be able to negotiate for better contracts, a right she criticizes Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker for trying to take away.
"That fundamental right is being challenged in Wisconsin, and if it can be challenged in Wisconsin, it can be challenged here," Seawell said. "Workers should join together and say this is enough."
At the close of the rally, participants marched to the YMCA on campus to hold a 24-hour-a-day vigil, which Seawell said will last until Governor Walker backs down from his proposal to eliminate collective bargaining rights for most of Wisconsin's public employees.
Amid the highs and lows of Illinois' uncertain economy, a new report says Champaign County has followed a decade-long trend of increased childhood poverty.
The "Great at Eight" report, released by Voices for Illinois Children, focused on the resources children up until the age of eight need to succeed. The report's authors say at this age "children should be ready to shift from learning to read to reading to learn."
The study finds from 1999-2000, the childhood poverty rate in Champaign County was 14.3 percent, slightly below the statewide average of 14.8 percent. In 2008-2009, the county's child poverty rate went up to 18.9 percent, compared with 17.8 percent statewide.
Meanwhile, math and reading scores for 3rd graders on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test in Urbana and Champaign Schools last year were below the state average.
The authors of the report say the state fiscal crisis threatens an array of services, including early childhood education, mental health care, and family support. Beverley Baker, the director of Community Impact with the United Way of Champaign County, said she agrees that programs critical to a child's development are at risk, which is why she said state funding is making it more difficult to rely on Illinois for support.
"Each local community is going to have to look inward," she said. "There's no way we can replace what the state government does, but I think we're going to have to be creative, and we're going to have to pool our local resources to see what we can do."
The report acknowledges that there will likely be more spending cuts, as the recent income tax increase is not enough to close Illinois' budget gap.
In the last year, low-income students represented more than half of the enrollment at Champaign Unit 4 and Urbana School District 116. Unit 4 School board member Sue Gray said the school district is looking to trim up to $2 million from its $100 million budget, a task she said will not be taken lightly.
The School Board plans to hold a public meeting Tuesday, February 22 at 6pm at the Mellon Building in Champaign to seek community input on how to make those cuts.
(Graphic courtesy of Voices for Illinois Children)
Getting more revenue for the state was the main goal of Governor Pat Quinn's previous budget addresses. But this year, with a new income tax hike in effect, Quinn on Wednesday made no such pitch. The Governor mentioned a few new initiatives ... such as efforts to attract start-up companies to Illinois, and to double the state's exports. But the governor says the main focus of his proposed spending plan is exercising spending restraint. As Illinois Public Radio's Amanda Vinicky reports ... for some, the cuts Quinn has proposed don't go far enough. Others call them devastating.
Part of Market Street in downtown Champaign was closed Wednesday morning, after the pavement collapsed.
The section of Market Street between Logan and Bailey runs past the Illinois Terminal Building, and is heavily traveled by both buses and motorists using the Terminal Building's parking lot.
City Operations Manager Tom Schuh said the collapse was due to the failure of the material packed underneath the street's original brick pavement. He said the collapsed produced a series of depressions in the street, cracking and displacing the asphalt surface.
Schuh said it will take until Friday for a crew to rebuild the roughly 50-foot section of Market Street. Until then, he says that section of Market Street is closed to all but parking lot traffic.