Illinois Public Media News
The wait is nearly over for the four Illinois counties hoping to be the FutureGen clean coal project's carbon dioxide storage site.
The FutureGen Alliance will announce its selection Monday. The alliance is a group of coal companies and other firms working with the U.S. Department of Energy on FutureGen.
The sites in contention are in Christian, Douglas, Fayette and Morgan counties.
Leaders hope the project could bring 1,000 construction and 150 permanent jobs to their communities.
The carbon dioxide would be generated by a power plant in Meredosia the project aims to refit with low-emissions technology. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas linked to climate change.
The project was announced last year after the Energy Department scrapped plans to build a new experimental coal plant in Mattoon.
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.
(Additional reporting from the Associated Press)
Indiana House Minority Leader Patrick Bauer has confirmed that he and more than 30 other Democrats are staying in Urbana for the weekend.
Speaking with reporters Friday, Bauer said his party is committed to fight for the thousands of demonstrators that have flocked to the capitol in Indianapolis. He said Republicans aren't willing to compromise on legislation like the controversial 'right to work' measure and others that drove his party across the state line.
Bauer admits the trip is costing the Democratic Party, who's been paying for rooms at the Comfort Suites, and legislators have incurred personal expenses, like clothes and food. But he said it is a small price to pay when looking at the big picture.
"The workers are sacrificing," Bauer said. "These people - 10,000 on Thursday. They have given up their salaries. They're fighting for their very existence if you will, they're fighting for their families. They're fighting to be able to put food on the table. Our sacrifice is small for what they face."
Bauer said this legislative session is 'the most partisan session in modern Indiana history', noting that just 29% of the bills that went out of the House were bipartisan. The Democratic leader says he would be willing to change his tune if House Speaker Brian Bosma was willing to negotiate, but there has been no word of it so far.
Bauer said that he expects a group of supporters from Indiana to arrive Saturday at the hotel in Urbana where Democrats have been staying, though he was not sure how many people were coming. Neither Republicans nor Democrats have budged since the stalemate began Tuesday. The House is in recess until Monday, but protesters on both sides staged small demonstrations Friday at the Statehouse.
Bauer has said there had been discussions about commiserating with Wisconsin Democrats, who have left their state over similar issues, but he said that's not likely given the weather.
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
Republicans in the Wisconsin Assembly took the first significant action on their plan to strip collective bargaining rights from most public workers, abruptly passing the measure early Friday morning before sleep-deprived Democrats realized what was happening.
The vote ended three straight days of punishing debate in the Assembly. But the political standoff over the bill - and the monumental protests at the state Capitol against it - appear far from over.
The Assembly's vote sent the bill on to the Senate, but minority Democrats in that house have fled to Illinois to prevent a vote. No one knows when they will return from hiding. Republicans who control the chamber sent state troopers out looking for them at their homes on Thursday, but they turned up nothing.
"I applaud the Democrats in the Assembly for earnestly debating this bill and urge their counterparts in the state Senate to return to work and do the same," Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon, said in a statement issued moments after the vote.
The plan from Republican Gov. Scott Walker contains a number of provisions he says are designed to fill the state's $137 million deficit and lay the groundwork for fixing a projected $3.6 billion shortfall in the upcoming 2011-13 budget.
The flashpoint is language that would require public workers to contribute more to their pensions and health insurance and strip them of their right to collectively bargain benefits and work conditions.
Democrats and unions see the measure as an attack on workers' rights and an attempt to cripple union support for Democrats. Union leaders say they would make pension and health care concessions if they can keep their bargaining rights, but Walker has refused to compromise.
Tens of thousands of people have jammed the Capitol since last week to protest, pounding on drums and chanting so loudly that police providing security have resorted to ear plugs. Hundreds have taken to sleeping in the building overnight, dragging in air mattresses and blankets.
With the Senate immobilized, Assembly Republicans decided to act and convened the chamber Tuesday morning.
Democrats launched a filibuster, throwing out dozens of amendments and delivering rambling speeches. Each time Republicans tried to speed up the proceedings, Democrats rose from their seats and wailed that the GOP was stifling them.
Debate had gone on for 60 hours and 15 Democrats were still waiting to speak when the vote started around 1 a.m. Friday. Speaker Pro Tem Bill Kramer, R-Waukesha, opened the roll and closed it within seconds.
Democrats looked around, bewildered. Only 13 of the 38 Democratic members managed to vote in time.
Republicans immediately marched out of the chamber in single file. The Democrats rushed at them, pumping their fists and shouting "Shame!" and "Cowards!"
The Republicans walked past them without responding.
Democrats left the chamber stunned. The protesters greeted them with a thundering chant of "Thank you!" Some Democrats teared up. Others hugged.
"What a terrible, terrible day for Wisconsin," said Rep. Jon Richards, D-Milwaukee. "I am incensed. I am shocked."
GOP leaders in the Assembly refused to speak with reporters, but earlier Friday morning Majority Leader Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford, warned Democrats that they had been given 59 hours to be heard and Republicans were ready to vote.
The governor has said that if the bill does not pass by Friday, the state will miss a deadline to refinance $165 million of debt and will be forced to start issuing layoff notices next week. However, the deadline may not as strict as he says.
The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau said earlier this week that the debt refinancing could be pushed back as late as Tuesday to achieve the savings Walker wants. Based on a similar refinancing in 2004, about two weeks are needed after the bill becomes law to complete the deal. That means if the bill is adopted by the middle of next week, the state can still meet a March 16 deadline, the Fiscal Bureau said.
Democratic Sen. Jon Erpenbach said he and his colleagues wouldn't return until Walker compromised.
Frustrated by the delay, Senate Republican Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, Jeff Fitzgerald's brother, ordered state troopers to find the missing Democrats, but they came up empty. Wisconsin law doesn't allow police to arrest the lawmakers, but Fitzgerald said he hoped the show of authority would have pressured them to return.
Erpenbach, who was in the Chicago area, said all 14 senators remained outside of Wisconsin.
"It's not so much the Democrats holding things up," Erpenbach said. "It's really a matter of Gov. Walker holding things up.
Democratic state Sen. Rickey Hendon of Chicago has resigned from the Legislature.
In a letter to Senate President John Cullerton, Hendon called yesterday a "wonderful day,'' going on to say he has enjoyed working in the Legislature.
While Hendon did not give a reason for stepping down, the assistant majority leader wrote he hoped supporters will accept his decision and allow him to move on with his life.
The 57-year-old Hendon was elected to the 5th District seat in 1993.
Hendon's name has come up in a federal grand jury investigation of how state money was handed out to various groups.
A number of them report receiving the grants with Hendon's assistance. But there has been no indication Hendon has been targeted by the investigation.
Twenty-first century technology makes it easy to record events throughout the world, but that ease of recording may violate the law. In Illinois, making audio recordings of conversations in public places without the permission of everyone in the recording is usually a crime. Under the Illinois Eavesdropping Act, recording police officers can lead to a class 1 felony, which can carry a four to 15 year prison sentence. Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers reports on efforts to soften the eavesdropping law for both the public and police officers.
(Additional reporting from the Associated Press)
Indiana House minority leader Pat Bauer said he wants to meet with Wisconsin state Senate Democrats who have also fled to Illinois to block action on Republican-backed legislation.
Bauer said the roughly 30 Indiana Democrats he led to an Urbana hotel to avoid votes on anti-union and school-related legislation could commiserate with their counterparts from Wisconsin.
The South Bend Democrat said such a meeting would be like a pair of crime victims meeting to talk about their attacker. One of the other Democrats staying in Urbana is Charlie Brown of Gary. He said he is intrigued by the idea, saying there are a lot of people that weren't aware of the odds faced by the party in each state.
"It's amazing the number of people that were not into the real minute points," Brown said. "They were trying to eliminate collective bargaining for public employees. They wanted to set up some kind of merit system for teachers and so forth. People say 'really?' Yes, that's what we're fighting for."
With the Indiana House now adjourned until Monday, Brown said it is likely the caucus will return home for the weekend to pick up clothes, and return to Urbana before the chamber convenes on Monday. But Brown said the caucus is staying in Urbana at least through Thursday night.
He said it is still possible Governor Mitch Daniels could use the state police to bring Democrats back to the capitol if they simply stayed home. Brown says he and colleagues who have been staying at a hotel in the area since Tuesday have also gotten their first look at some of the labor protests at the capitol in Indianapolis.
"That was a booster for us," said Brown. "We're isolated up here, and only get bits and pieces of what's going on. But that was really a plus for us, to see that our constituents are really concerned in these pieces of legisation."
Wisconsin Senator Tim Cullen says he and his fellow Democrats are focused Thursday on the situation in their state and didn't know of any plans to meet up.
Indiana's Democratic caucus will meet Friday morning at 10 a.m.
Illinois officials who promise to keep an eye on every tax dollar are trying to do it with 263 different systems for tracking money, including many that are old and incompatible, according to a report Thursday.
Auditor General William Holland said auditors found state agencies 24 different systems just for handling payroll.
Half of state government's financial reporting systems are more than 10 years old. Many are more than 20 years old, which Holland called "archaic.''
More than half the systems cannot share information. Dollars and cents have to be entered manually when transferring data, which increases the risk of mistakes.
State legislators were stunned by the audit's findings.
"I think it's disastrous. What private company with revenues of $33 billion wouldn't have a unified accounting system?'' said Sen. Chris Lauzen, R-Aurora, an accountant. "It's obvious that state government fiscal matters are in chaos.''
Rep. Jack Franks, head of the House State Government Administration Committee, called it "critically important'' for Illinois to track money carefully. He said the accounting systems are probably contributing to massive budget problems.
"It sounds almost Soviet-style, where nothing works,'' said Franks, D-Marengo.
State spending is under more scrutiny than ever as Illinois tries to climb out of the worst budget hole in its history. Officials passed a tax increase last month, but still face a deficit that could approach $10 billion.
A list in the audit shows agencies using everything from huge computer systems to personal finance programs such as Quicken to paper ledgers. One agency had a process labeled "egg inspection receipts.''
"We've got multiple systems that do not deliver in an efficient way, and they need to be replaced. There's no question about it,'' Holland said in an interview with The Associated Press.
The report did not estimate how much the financial systems cost the state because of errors or confusion. But auditors did note that 17 percent of agencies provided figures on what it costs to enter duplicate data in different systems. The cost just for that portion of state government was $11.3 million.
It takes Illinois more than a year to compile a final spending report after each budget ends, auditors said.
Bond-rating agencies, who help determine how much the state pays to borrow money, object to financial reports coming out late, the report said. One agency, Moody's, has twice cited late reports as part of the reason it lowered Illinois' rating.
Late financial reporting also can endanger the state's federal funding or trigger increased federal scrutiny of Illinois programs, the audit said.
Auditors recommended that state agencies under the governor's control work with the Illinois comptroller to improve financial reporting.
Bradley Hahn, spokesman for new Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, said they "wholeheartedly agree with the recommendations, and we look forward to working with the governor's office to implement them.
Many Indiana House Democrats who came to Illinois to deny a quorum to the House Republican majority chose Urbana as their resting spot.
On Thursday morning, it was easy to spot the hotel where they were staying. The Comfort Suites on North Lincoln Avenue had several TV news trucks in its parking lots, and people carrying signs standing along the sidewalk. Two groups of demonstrators hailed passing motorists outside the hotel, letting everybody know they welcomed the lawmakers --- or thought they should go home.
University of Illinois student Devin Mapes was among about 20 demonstrators lined up to support the Indiana House Democrats. Mapes, who is president of the U of I Illini Democrats, said Indiana Democrats are right to use a boycott to block the majority Republicans from passing bills he says would hurt unions and teachers.
"These individuals here in the hotel are trying to push democracy forward as opposed to unilaterally forcing things down the throats of the individuals in the state of Indiana," Mapes said.
Champaign County Democratic Chairman Al Klein was among the demonstrators supporting the lawmakers. He charged Republicans with trying to promote a hidden agenda.
"No one ran on this as a platform," Klein said. "They ran on austerity, shared sacrifice, solving budget problems. And then suddenly, they arrive in their state capitols, they take off their jackets, and --- what is it? --- 'We're going to bust the unions, we're going to bust the state employees'. Where did that come from?"
But the view was different a few yards away, for Frank Barham, chair of the Champaign Tea Party, which organized about a dozen demonstrators who thought the Indiana Democrats should go back to Indianapolis. In Barham's view, Republicans won the majority in the Indiana House, and Democrats need to accept that.
"These people didn't win," Barham said, whose advice for the lawmakers staying at the Comfort Suites was, "Go back to do what you were elected to do, what you're getting paid to do. You're not getting paid to hide out in Urbana.
Another demonstrator, Urbana resident Robert Dunne agreed. He said Indiana House Democrats need to go back home and make the tough choices needed to keep their state fiscally sound.
"They were elected to be in the state of Indiana --- not hiding out in Urbana, Illinois," Dunne said.
Barham said they held their demonstration at the request of the Tea Party group in Fort Wayne Indiana --- Fort Wayne lawmaker Win Foster was among the Indiana House Democrats staying at the Comfort Suites. Barham said he hadn't seen any of the Indiana Democrats during the demonstration --- although some on his picket line voiced suspicions about a stretch limo that pulled out of the hotel parking lot.
(Photo by Jim Meadows/WILL)
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