Illinois Public Media News
Two social service agencies facing potentially drastic state budget cuts have delayed a decision to merge.
Last March Prairie Center and Community Elements said they were exploring a merger. Prairie Center provides substance abuse treatment and prevention while Community Elements, formerly the Mental Health Center of Champaign County, provides other mental health services.
Prairie Center director Bruce Suardini said neither agency is clear on their funding from the state for the rest of the fiscal year, not to mention the outcome of the fiscal year 2012 budget. At one point, Prairie Center and other substance-abuse treatment facilities were threatened with a total cutoff of state money.
"Because of the instability of the funding, merging the two agencies together just to merge is not a good business decision," Suardini said. "And not having the budgets in place to understand where we're going for Fiscal Year 2012 keeps that process from finalizing."
Suardini said all other indicators point to a merger as the best option for both mental health providers. But he said merger talks won't resume until the second half of 2011, with a decision possibly delayed until next January.
U.S. Rep. Mike Pence is running for Indiana governor in 2012.
The conservative Republican told supporters on a conference call Thursday that he will seek the office currently held by Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels. Most already expected Pence to run after he ruled out a White House bid and resigned his No. 3 GOP House leadership position.
Pence is considered the favorite in the race because he carries strong name recognition, a network of supporters and campaign cash that could help him clear the field of other Republicans considering a run.
Democrats still lack a candidate, but former House Speaker John Gregg says he is considering entering the race.
Daniels cannot seek a third consecutive term and is set to announce in coming weeks whether he'll run for president.
A panel assigned with re-drawing County Board districts in Champaign County essentially starts from scratch Wednesday night.
The board Tuesday rejected the design known as '1E' on a party line vote. County Board Democrat Michael Richards, who also sits on the panel, says the map was the worst design in terms of compactness. He also said the design disenfranchises black voters.
The board also voted 20 to 7 to recommend that the redistricting commission suggest multiple maps for the county board to consider. Richards says it's hard to predict what the commission will do at this point. And he says politics is only one thing to consider.
"Even if you take the straight party numbers out of it, both of the parties are going to have different priorities for a map," said Richards. "It's quite possible that we could find a compromised map that everybody thinks is okay, but not necessarily."
Mahomet Republican Stephanie Holderfield contends that a higher number of maps could become confusing at some point, saying the criteria set by the county board is more important.
"Let's make it work where the voting body is pleased with how it operates," she said. "I think the goal of the redistricting commission is not to muddy the waters, but give clarification and clear the waters a little bit." Holderfield says the ideal map will provide the opporutunity for any single person who wants to run for elected office
Republican Alan Nudo says he agrees with a couple of concerns cited by Democrats Chris Alix and James Quisenberry, who wanted to be clear a final map include so-called 'majority minority' districts as required by law, that breaking up precincts would be the last thing considered, and that Urbana not have too many districts. He says having an agreement between parties is 'big.'
"This has the ability, I think, if we can make something happen here, it could roll out to other counties or even go statewide," said Nudo. "But let me put it very blunty - there are people who are interested in not having this happen. I hadn't realized the pressures that individuals are under from a party standpoint."
The Champaign County Board has to sign off on a re-drawn map of 11 districts by July.
Chicago's outgoing mayor, Richard Daley, presided over his final city council meeting Wednesday. In more than two hours of speeches, the mayor was praised for his leadership - even by aldermen he often bickered with.
As he often does, Alderman Ed Burke started the speeches off - applauding the mayor for everything from his tree planting efforts to Northerly Island to the "museum campus, the remaking of public education, the Sox 2005 World Series Victory, the Blackhawks Stanley Cup."
Daley laughed and added, "The Bulls this year."
Daley occasionally joked during the meeting. But mostly he sat quietly, at times nodding or smiling while nearly every alderman there stood to speak.
With the big fights behind them, even some aldermen Daley was most often at odds with, like Bob Fioretti and Joe Moore, had nice things to say about him. Moore said he agreed with the mayor more often than he disagreed with him.
Daley was joined by two of his children at the council meeting. His ailing wife, Maggie, remains in the hospital, "recuperating," the mayor said.
Daley's last day in office is May 16th. He told reporters he has no regrets about leaving after 22 years in charge.
(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
Opponents of the changes to Medicare proposed in the budget plan passed by the US House are gearing up their campaigns. The union-affiliated Alliance for Retired Americans made its case to a luncheon for retirees of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees in Urbana Wednesday.
The budget plan was proposed by Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan and passed by the House last month. It calls for switching the Medicare system over to vouchers used to help pay a choice of competing private health plans.
But the Alliance for Retired Americans argues the change will result in sharply higher out-of-pocket payments. Beatrice Stratton is the vice-president of the AFSCME retirees group that saw the Alliance's presentation. She says the increase would be too high for seniors like herself who are on limited incomes. "Those people, from what I understand, are going to end up paying anywhere from $5,000-6,000 a year for their healthcare," said Stratton. "I mean, they're only going to give them a voucher for so much money. And you know that older people are going to spend more money at the doctor's."
The Alliance for Retired Americans called on people at the AFSCME retirees' luncheon to contact Congressman Tim Johnson, who voted for the budget plan that includes the Medicare changes. A spokesman for Johnson's office could not be reached for comment on Wednesday. A website promoting Congressman Ryan's budget ideas says the Medicare payments under the new plan would be pegged to inflation and give higher payments to those facing greater medical risks.
A group representing nursing homes in Illinois says the governor's proposed budget cuts would leave many of them struggling to provide adequate care, or even to survive.
The Health Care Council of Illinois' membership is mainly privately-run nursing homes, but they accept many patients relying on Medicaid. For one home in Champaign where patients and staff rallied this morning, that amounts to 70 patients out of 118 paying for their care through Medicaid.
Governor Pat Quinn's plan to ease the state's budget deficit includes a 6% cut in Medicaid funding. Health Care Council director Pat Comstock said such a cut would further hurt a system that already provides the least nursing home assistance of any state in the nation.
"Every facility will be impacted differently, but facilities may more and more make a decision not to take Medicaid residents, and then the poorest of the poor and the frailest of the frail won't have anywhere to get services," Comstock said. "Some facilities are undoubtedly going to close."
Comstock acknowledges that state senators are considering less drastic cuts - 3-percent instead of 6-percent. But she says for each dollar nursing homes lose from the state for Medicaid patients, they lose another dollar in federal matching funds -- a total of $140 million less in reimbursements if the state follows through with its $70 million proposed reduction.
Republican Rep. Mike Pence plans to talk with supporters on an invitation-only conference call Thursday morning, when many political observers expect Pence will announce his intentions to run for Indiana governor in 2012.
Pence said this week that he's made up his mind about whether he'll run for governor. He planned to tell supporters about his decision during a call Monday, but delayed the announcement because of the death of Osama bin Laden.
In an e-mail sent Wednesday to supporters and obtained by The Associated Press, Pence rescheduled the call for 10 a.m. Thursday.
Most political observers expect Pence to run for governor after he ruled out a White House bid and resigned the No. 3 GOP House leadership slot after winning a sixth term in November.
The first city council meeting for Champaign's new mayor was an uneventful one. But Don Gerard will work to fulfill part of his campaign platform starting next week.
Gerard was sworn into office before the packed city council chambers Tuesday, a night where all votes were unanimous and the bills before the council prompted little conversation. But at next Tuesday's study session, the new mayor and council will revisit the cost-cutting proposals of ending overnight front desk hours at the police station, and reducing staff at one fire station. City leaders say $2-million in cuts are needed.
Gerard says he wants to look into spending some reserve funds and saving jobs. He says it's all in the interest of the taxpayer.
"I want to bring them all the services they deserve, and all the services they're paying for," said Gerard. "We have money in rainy day accounts, and I think it's raining. So I think it's time to decide if we can move some of that money around a little bit, and get us through as we meet the economic recovery here."
New District 5 Council member Paul Faraci, also sworn in Tuesday night, says he has no intention of cutting police or fire services. The state economic official says he was 'energized' by Tuesday night's crowd, and is anxious to get his feet wet.
"There's a lot of work to do, and we've got a lot of hard decisions to make in the future," Faraci said. "But I think the quality of the staff, the experience of the sitting city council and our new mayor, I look forward to getting a lot of things accomplished."
And Mayor Gerard wants to turn his attention to another group suffering from the poor economy - teenagers. He wants to start up a citywide teen summer job program.
"What are we doing with a generation of teenagers who have been displaced by adults who have taken part-time jobs and so forth just to make ends meet," said Gerard. "The job market in Champaign is really tough right now. The best way to keep our streets safe and our community healthy is have teenagers working."
In other business, Champaign's city council has gone on record opposing the state's decision to drop Health Alliance. The council Tuesday unanimously backed a resolution urging that the decision be re-examined. Company CEO Jeff Ingrum told the council that more than 30,000 state employees in Champaign County are covered by Health Alliance, and the state's decision could impact the local economy by more than $30-million. Ingrum says members would essentially be 'left to choose between their doctors and their wallets.'
A new recycling center is expected to open soon in Champaign. The council last night approved a special use permit for the drop-off facility operated by Green Purpose LLC located at 807 Pioneer Street, just to the south of where the city used to operate a facility of its own.
A measure in the Illinois General Assembly could loosen local health department regulations that prevent people who want to make their own food and sell it at farmers markets.
The legislation, which passed the state Senate, would allow people to sell home-baked "non potentially hazardous food," like cookies, breads, and cakes. These are goods with a lower risk and track record of a foodborne illness.
The measure also includes selling certain types of jam, jelly and fruit butter.
In Illinois, baked goods sold as part of a business have to be prepared in a kitchen that passes a state health inspection. However, there are exceptions when home-prepared goods are sold at a yard sale or during a fundraiser.
In most cases, people who want to sell their own homemade baked goods have to rent or purchase a commercially certified kitchen. Wes King, the policy coordinator with the Illinois Stewardship Alliance, said buying a kitchen that is up to code can cost thousands of dolars, an expense he said many people cannot manage. King said the legislation would provide a stepping-stone for small businesses to startup.
"Instead of having to invest all that money in a commercial kitchen, you can do it out of your home kitchen and sell it at farmers markets," King explained. "Ideally, if you have a really successful product, you'll then move into the level of maybe using a shared kitchen or purchasing your own commercial kitchen."
The measure could have a big impact in Urbana. Back in 2009, the Champaign Urbana Public Health District began enforcing the state's ban on homemade goods at farmers markets, like Urbana's Market at the Square. Lisa Bralts-Kelly, the director of Market at the Square, said the legislation could change that policy.
"Overall, I think it'll be a great thing for farmers markets," Bralts-Kelly said. "It'll bring us back to people being able to find special things that they can't find anywhere else. Also in an economy like this, it kind of boosts entrepreneurialism and gives people a chance to earn some additional money."
State Senator Shane Cultra (R-Onarga), a co-sponsor of the legislation, said he hopes the bill changes the way local health departments in the state regulate food sales.
"There's too heavy a hand of local health departments," Cultra said. "This law does a good job of dividing food products into ones that have potential to be hazardous and ones that aren't."
The legislation requires people to have a food sanitation license, and it states that they must clearly label goods that are prepared in a home.
At least 17 other states have similar policies in place, according to the Illinois Stewardship Alliance.
The measure now heads to the Illinois House of Representatives.
Governor Pat Quinn said Tuesday he would veto a bill allowing Illinoisans to carry concealed weapons, if it ever reaches his desk.
The measure now being considered in the Illinois General Assembly would allow registered gun owners with requisite training to carry hidden guns in public. Illinois is one of just two states that does not have a provision allowing residents to carry concealed weapons.
But Quinn cited a variety of scenarios, from violence against police to fatal road rage incidents, in saying he will not sign the measure if it passes through the legislature.
"The concept of concealed, loaded handguns in the possession of private citizens does not enhance public safety," Quinn said. "On the contrary, it increases danger."
Quinn's announcement comes as an Illinois House committee is considering the bill, which is sponsored by Democratic state Rep. Brandon Phillips of downstate Harrisburg. With a possible vote on the measure coming the next few days, the governor urged lawmakers to rally against the bill.
"It's defeat, I think, would be a good thing for our state," Quinn said.
The governor said it would be too complicated to allow some municipalities to opt out, saying Illinois "must have a law that applies to a whole state." That's one concession that had been forwarded by the bill's sponsor.
Gun rights advocates say letting Illinoisians carry hidden weapons could help them protect themselves from criminals. But opponents maintain having more guns on the street would only increase violence.
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