A legislative panel has voted 8-1 to authorize the state to negotiate health insurance contract extensions through the end of June 2012.
All vendors providing health insurance coverage for state workers, including Urbana-based Health Alliance, will be able to negotiate nine-month extensions following Tuesday's decision by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA). State Senator and COGFA member Mike Frerichs said the extension should provide relief for a lot of people.
"I think for now the legislature has done its part," Frerichs said. "It's now up to the health insurance providers, and the (Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services) to work out the terms of the deal."
Orland Park House Democrat Kevin McCarthy cast the only dissenting vote.
The state health contracts have been operating for the last few months under a 90-day extension that is due to expire at the end of September. A state appellate court recently upheld a Sangamon County judge's ruling, preventing the state from moving ahead with new health contracts for state employees and retirees. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn's administration has argued the so-called 'open access' plans will save the state about $100 million a year.
"We are very happy to been given the opportunity to negotiate a longer-term contract to continue serving state workers and their families," Health Alliance CEO Jeff Ingrum said in a statement. "Every day we receive calls from our state members wanting to know if they'll be able to stay with Health Alliance."
But insurers may not get a rate increase from the state over what they're getting currently. In addressing the panel Tuesday, Ingrum compared his provider's rates with that of another provider.
"We are looking at the rate increase and just seeing in this environment to extend a rate from FY 11 to a full year," he said. "If that would be the ultimate terms, it would be a bit unreasonable given the fact that Blue Cross (Blue Shield) got an increase."
Print reports indicate Ingrum is seeking a rate hike of around 5-percent. A company spokeswoman, Jane Hayes, said she understands the state's needs to save money by dropping Health Alliance. However, she said she has a great deal of confidence that Health Alliance will be able to reach a deal with the state.
State Senator Shane Cultra (R-Onarga) praised the vote by COGFA.
"Finally, thousands of central Illinoisans can breathe a sigh of relief," Cultra said in a statement. "We must fix the current process now, so we are not sitting here next May without a permanent solution in place for the 100,000 state workers and retirees who have faced this uncertainty since this process began."
The state is scheduled to argue before a Sangamon County judge later this week to argue whether COGFA has the authority to extend the current health insurance contract. However, Sen. Frerichs said Gov. Quinn's office recently filed a motion to dismiss that case.
A convicted influence peddler remains on track to be sentenced weeks after his one-time benefactor, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Prosecutors said at a status hearing Tuesday that they want to stick with an Oct. 21 sentencing date for Tony Rezko.
The government has portrayed Rezko as the ultimate insider who pulled strings in Blagojevich's administration.
A jury convicted Rezko in 2008 of squeezing kickbacks from businessmen eager to land state contracts.
The 56-year-old appeared at Tuesday's hearing in jail clothes and chains binding his ankles. He smiled weakly and waived at relatives on courtroom benches.
Jurors convicted Blagojevich for corruption in June. His sentencing date is Oct. 6.
Rezko's sentencing was repeatedly delayed to leave the possibility he could testify at Blagojevich's trial. But the government never called him.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin is making a rare endorsement in a primary election. The Illinois Democrat is backing Tammy Duckworth's 2012 campaign for Congress.
Durbin recruited Tammy Duckworth for a 2006 congressional bid, but the Iraq War veteran and Purple Heart recipient lost to Republican Rep. Peter Roskam. After that, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich appointed her to lead the state Department of Veterans Affairs, and then Duckworth took a job at the federal VA in Washington, DC.
She's returned to Illinois to run again, and Durbin is again backing her.
"I'm going to help Tammy Duckworth in any way that I can," Durbin said Monday. "By endorsing her today, campaigning for her, helping her raise money. It's an expensive undertaking."
Duckworth begins the money race well behind another Democrat running in the 8th Congressional District, former deputy state treasurer Raja Krishnamoorthi - who reported raising more than $400,000 dollars in the second quarter.
Both Duckworth and Krishnamoorthi are hoping to take advantage of new, Democratic-drawn boundaries for the district. Republicans, including the current 8th District congressman, Joe Walsh, are challenging that map in a federal lawsuit.
(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File)
The summer evening at the Indiana State Fair turned strangely cold. The wind blew hard, then harder still, tearing the fabric from the roof of the wobbling grandstand stage.
The crowd, waiting under a thunderous sky for the country duo Sugarland to perform Saturday, had just been told over the loudspeakers that severe weather was possible. They were told where to seek shelter if an evacuation was necessary, but none was ordered. The show, it seemed, was to go on.
None of the phone calls workers had made to the National Weather Service prepared them for the 60 to 70 mph gust that blew a punishing cloud of dirt, dust and rain down the fairground's main thoroughfare. The massive rigging and lighting system covering the stage tilted forward, then plummeted onto the front of the crowd in a sickening thump.
Five people were killed, four of them at the scene, where dozens ran forward to help the injured while others ran for shelter out of fear that the devastation had only begun. Dozens of people - including several children - remained hospitalized Sunday, some with life-threatening injuries.
"Women were crying. Children were crying. Men were crying," fairgoer Mike Zent said.
The fair canceled all activities Sunday as officials began the long process of determining what happened and fielded difficult questions about whether the tragedy could have been prevented.
"We're all very much in mourning," Cindy Hoye, the fair's executive director, said during a news conference Sunday. "It's a very sad day at the state fair."
Gov. Mitch Daniels called the accident an "unthinkable tragedy" and said the wind burst was a "fluke" that no one could have foreseen. Dan McCarthy, chief meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Indiana, said the burst of wind was far stronger than gusts in other areas of the fairgrounds.
The seemingly capricious nature of the gust was evident Sunday at the fair, where crews placed a blue drape around the grandstand to block the view of the wreckage. A striped tent nearby appeared unscathed, as did an aluminum trailer about 50 yards away. The Ferris wheel on the midway also escaped damage.
First Sgt. Dave Bursten of the Indiana State Police said the lack of damage to structures on the fair's midway or elsewhere supported the weather service's belief that an isolated, significant wind gust caused the rigging to topple.
"All of us know without exception in Indiana the weather can change from one report to another report, and that was the case here," he said.
The stage toppled at 8:49 p.m. A timeline released by Indiana State Police shows that fair staff contacted the weather service four times between 5:30 and 8 p.m. At 8 p.m., the weather service said a storm with hail and 40 mph winds was expected to hit the fairgrounds at 9:15 p.m.
Bursten said fair officials had begun preparing in case they needed to evacuate visitors for the impending storm. At 8:30, additional state troopers moved to the grandstand to help in the event of an evacuation, according to the timeline.
Meteorologist John Hendrickson said it's not unusual for strong winds to precede a thunderstorm, and that Saturday's gust might have been channeled through the stage area by buildings on either side of the dirt track where the stage fell, at the bottom of the grandstand.
Fair officials said the Indiana Occupational Health and Safety Administration and state fire marshal's office were investigating. Bursten said the investigation could take months.
The owner of Mid-America Sound Corp., which installed the rigging, expressed sympathy for the families of those killed or injured. Kerry Darrenkamp also said the Greenfield, Ind.-based company had begun "an independent internal investigation to understand, to the best of our ability, what happened."
Zent, of Los Angeles, said the storm instantly transformed what had been a hot, sunny day.
"Just everything turned black. ... It was really cold, it was like winter, because I had been sweating all day. Wind blew over the ATM machine," Zent said.
He and his girlfriend, Jess Bates, were behind the grandstand when the heard a noise - the stage collapse. They began running as the wind buffeted them.
Bates said a woman who had been in the second row of the concert with her teenage daughter grabbed her and sobbed as she recounted pulling her daughter to safety while others rushed forward to try to help those pinned beneath the scaffolding.
"She was gripping me very tight, and I could just feel her shaking," Bates said. "She said, 'My daughter is all I have in this world and I almost lost her tonight,'" Bates said.
Â Dr. Dean Silas, a gastroenterologist from Deerfield, Ill., said it took about five minutes to work his way from the grandstands to the track after the collapse. He saw three bodies covered with plastic when he arrived.
He said it took about 25 minutes for volunteers and emergency workers to remove victims from beneath the rigging and load them onto makeshift stretchers.
"There had to be 75 to 100 people there helping out," he said.
Bursten identified those killed as Alina Bigjohny, 23, of Fort Wayne; Christina Santiago, 29, of Chicago; Tammy Vandam, 42, of Wanatah; and two Indianapolis residents: 49-year-old Glenn Goodrich and 51-year-old Nathan Byrd. Byrd, a stagehand who was atop the rigging when it fell, died overnight.
Sugarland singer Jennifer Nettles sent a statement to The Associated Press through her manager, saying she watched video of the collapse on the news "in horror."
"I am so moved," she said. "Moved by the grief of those families who lost loved ones. Moved by the pain of those who were injured and the fear of their families. Moved by the great heroism as I watched so many brave Indianapolis fans actually run toward the stage to try and help lift and rescue those injured. Moved by the quickness and organization of the emergency workers who set up the triage and tended to the injured."
Nettles and Kristian Bush, who perform as Sugarland, canceled their Sunday show at the Iowa State Fair.
Concert-goers and other witnesses said an announcer warned them of impending bad weather but gave conflicting accounts of whether emergency sirens at the fair sounded. Some fair workers said they never heard any warnings.
"It's pathetic. It makes me mad," said groundskeeper Roger Smith. "Those lives could have been saved yesterday."
Fair spokesman Andy Klotz said the damage was so sudden and isolated that he wasn't sure sirens would have done any good.
Indiana is prone to volatile changes in weather. In April 2006, tornado-force winds hit Indianapolis just after thousands of people left a free outdoor concert by John Mellencamp held as part of the NCAA men's Final Four basketball tournament. And in May 2004, a tornado touched down south of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, delaying the start of the Indianapolis 500 and forcing a nearly two-hour interruption in the race.
Daniels stood by the fair and its officials as they prepared to reopen Monday with a public memorial service to honor the victims.
"This is the finest event of its kind in America, this is the finest one we've ever had, and this desperately sad ... fluke event doesn't change that," he said.
Sunday's accident was the worst at the Indiana fairgrounds since a 1963 explosion at the fairgrounds coliseum killed 74 people attending an ice skating show.
(AP Photo/Jessica Silas)
President Barack Obama is headed to western Illinois during a three-day bus tour of Midwestern states this week.
Obama's itinerary is scheduled to include stops in Atkinson and Alpha in Henry County where he'll preside over town hall-style on Wednesday before returning to the White House.
The White House says President Barack Obama expects to get an earful from regular folks, including supporters, who are frustrated by Congress and some of Obama's decisions.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Friday that Obama expects to hear from people who are fed up with dysfunction in Washington and what he says is the willingness of some lawmakers to put politics ahead of the country.
Earnest also said Obama even expects some of his own supporters to challenge some of the compromises he made during negotiations with Congress to reduce government spending and trim the nation's debt.
Obama plans five events over three days in Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois. The tour begins Monday with a town hall-style event in Cannon Falls, Minn., followed by a second question-and answer session in Decorah, Iowa
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn wants to link college funding with student performance.
On Friday, he traveled to Western Illinois University's Moline campus to sign legislation designed to allocate state money based on how well students do in the classroom. Quinn says the law will help Illinois better compete in the global economy.
"In order to have a strong economy, you must have great education, including higher education," Quinn said. "Jobs follow brain power. We want to make sure we have plenty of engineers for John Deere and Caterpillar, and for our great agricultural businesses in Illinois."
Quinn says the legislation should boost the number of Illinois adults with college degrees from 41 percent to at least 60 percent by 2025.
Mahomet Republican Chapin Rose and Chicago Democrat Edward Maloney both sponsored the measure, which takes effect January 1st.