When a worker is injured on the job, Illinois has a system in place to determine if, and how, a company should compensate its employee. But businesses say the workers compensation system is out of date and abused. They're campaigning for a major overhaul of the process. They may succeed. At a meeting of local chambers of commerce and independent business owners on Tuesday, April 12 in Springfield, Governor Pat Quinn and leaders in the Illinois General Assembly said changing the status quo is a top tier goal. But as Illinois Public Radio's Amanda Vinicky reports, it's a politically dicey task, considering the push backfrom unions, trial lawyers, and doctors.
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Businesses that have been clamoring for a redo of the workers compensation system liked much of what they heard from the state's political leaders who say it's also their priority. Chamber of commerce members and independent businesses owners met in Springfield on Tuesday.
Businesses say the workers compensation system is so expensive and abused ... companies don't want to locate in Illinois.
Governor Pat Quinn appears to have gotten the message.
"We've got to take on the need to reform our workers compensation system," Quinn said to applause from the gathering. "We can do it."
Another Democrat, Senate President John Cullerton, called it the most important piece of legislation that can be passed this spring to improve the state's business climate.
"We must act immediately to bring that system under control and make it competitive with that of other states," Cullerton said.
The GOP's General Assembly leaders signaled their support too.
"We need a dramatic overhaul of workers' comp," Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno said.
But Cullerton told the business leaders there's not enough support to pass any plan right now. He said it will take compromise to win approval from powerful interest groups representing trial lawyers, hospitals, unions and businesses. He said that a plan by Governor Quinn to cut costs and professionalize practices is a good first step, noting there is room for compromise on a key dispute ... whether employees should prove injuries were caused by their current job.
Businesses say paying for work-related injuries is too costly.
There will still be an event Wednesday night in Clinton to discuss a plan to store toxic substances in the city's landfill.
But the purpose of the event has shifted from an environmental hearing to an informational meeting hosted by a concerned citizens' group. The U.S. EPA had postponed the hearing Friday night out of concerns that the federal government would shut down, and has yet to reschedule.
The owners of Clinton Landfill are seeking a permit to allow for the storage of toxic substances called PCB's. A group called WATCH, or We Are Against Toxic Chemicals, is afraid they could eventually leak from the landfill, threatening the Mahomet Aquifer.
Group President George Wissmiller said he has had his share of questions over the proposal the past few years.
"There apparently is no agency that can react to the idea that this is just a bad idea," he said. "It's irresponsible to dump PCB's on top of the water supply for 750,000 people. But if the U.S. EPA regulations and the Illinois EPA regs and everybody else's regs allow it, they're going to do it in spite of the fact that it doesn't make any sense."
Wissmiller said members had already promoted the hearing, and didn't want residents showing up, only to find that Clinton High School was locked. He said Wednesday night's main function will be to tell the public that there are ways to block the plan locally.
"If local government has an ordinance or a regulation that limits dumping of this particular type of waste, the federal government can't permit the hauler to violate that ordinance," he said. "So they are, in fact, restricted by local ordinances."
Wissmiller said the group could also enact a DeWitt County ordinance that stipulates how landfills are set up. The informational meeting runs from 6 to 8 Wednesday night at Clinton High School, with an open house starting at 5 PM.
The head of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees says higher education in the state must do a better job forging relationships with business and political leaders.
Board Chairman Chris Kennedy says in the two years he's been a trustee, the university has begun reaching out more to those in business and government. Kennedy is in charge of Chicago's Merchandise Mart. He says the U of I has to show the impact investments in higher education can make on the economy. He adds colleges and universities in Illinois have failed to successfully convey the message. Kennedy says too few business leaders even know the names of Presidents and trustees at the state's colleges and universities.
"Even if we could name them, we probably haven't received a call or opened an invitation from them to join in building a relationship with someone like Duck Durbin or Mark Kirk," Kennedy said. "These university leaders are not pushing the business leaders to become engaged with federal officials or to try to improve funding for the research institutions in our state."
Kennedy says that lack of coordinated effort has had a devastating effect on the ability to garner a larger share of federal research dollars. He made his remarks at the University' Springfield campus.
Prosecutors in Rod Blagojevich's corruption case have asked a judge to bar defense attorneys from arguing at the former Illinois governor's upcoming retrial that playing all the hundreds of hours of secret FBI recordings would prove his innocence.
Blagojevich and his lawyers have complained for years that the government took the recordings out of context by playing on a small percentage of them. They argue that heard in their entirety the recordings would demonstrate Blagojevich never did anything illegal.
But in a 25-page motion, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Chicago, government attorneys say there are no grounds to suggest either that unplayed tapes would help exonerate Blagojevich or that prosecutors intentionally selected recordings that lacked necessary context.
"The court has also made clear that the court, rather than the government, is the final arbiter of what is, and what is not, presented to the jury," the motion says. "Yet the defense has continued to suggest otherwise."
Blagojevich faces 20 charges, including that he sought to exchange an appointment to President Barack Obama's old U.S. Senate seat for campaign cash or a top job. His first trial ended last year with jurors agreeing on just one count _ convicting Blagojevich of lying to the FBI.
Wiretap recordings were at the heart of the prosecution's case at the first trial and will be just as crucial at the second, which is set to begin April 20.
One of Blagojevich's attorneys, Sheldon Sorosky, declined to immediately comment on the motion Tuesday, saying attorneys expected to respond later.
An American flag flying upside down outside a museum in eastern Illinois has upset a few people but the man behind it says he means no disrespect.
Harold "Sparky'' Songer is director of the Vermilion County War Museum in Danville. He says he's flying the flag upside down because he's bothered by federal defense spending cuts and what he sees as diminishing military support.
He says he's flying the flag as a distress signal. An upside-down flag is considered a legitimate military distress signal.
Songer is a veteran of World War II and the wars in Korea and Vietnam.
Local resident Chris Perrault told The News-Gazette in Champaign that as he took pictures of the flag Monday he heard complaints from people passing by that the flag display was disrespectful.
An Indiana House committee is taking up a bill that would require nurses, doctors, dentists and other medical workers to pay for a national criminal background check when applying for a state license.
Bill sponsor Republican Sen. Patricia Miller of Indianapolis says current policy relies on the honesty of health workers to accurately report convictions when applying for licenses. About 198,000 people are currently licensed or certified in one of the 20 professions specified in the bill.
An Indianapolis Star investigation last year found several instances in which nurses failed to report arrests or convictions on their license renewal applications without the nursing board knowing about the incidents. The bill allows boards to require people seeking license renewals to submit to a national background check.
It appears the cause of the fire that shut down two restaurants and a clothes store in Champaign's Campustown district will remain undetermined.
City fire department spokeswoman Dena Schumacher says investigators removed a number of items while doing a physical inventory of the building in the 600 block of Green Street, and the specific origin of the fire remained undetermined.
The March 23rd fire started somewhere in the southeast corner of the ceiling of Mia Za's café. The building also houses Zorba's restaurant and Pitaya clothing.
The eastbound lane of Green between Sixth and Wright streets will remain closed through at least next Monday, while crews remove debris resulting from the fire. The adjacent sidewalk will remain closed during that time as well.
The bench trial of two Champaign County landlords continued Monday morning.
Bernard and Eduardo Ramos run the Cherry Orchard Village apartments, located outside of Rantoul in an unincorporated part of Champaign County. Cherry Orchard has been under scrutiny for the last three and a half years ever since state health inspectors discovered raw sewage seeping into nearby farmland. Champaign County officials say six out of eight apartment buildings on the property are in violation of the local health ordinance.
Acting as his own attorney and speaking through a translator, Eduardo Ramos called one witness during Monday's hearing - his son, Bernard.
Eduardo asked Bernard if it is possible to re-open the affected apartment buildings without clearance from a government agency.
"We have to fix them first before we open them," Bernard replied.
Bernard said he will take responsibility for the property, promising to have the six apartment buildings that are in violation of the county's health ordinance re-opened by this summer. There is typically an uptick in occupancy at the apartment complex during the warmer months due to an influx of migrant workers to the area. A 2007 migrant camp license application for the property reports there are at least 48 family rental units at Cherry Orchard.
Bernard said he and his father shouldn't get blamed for the sewage and septic issue since the Bank of Rantoul owned the property when health inspectors first noticed a problem in 2007.
"We got blamed for things other people did," Ramos said. "If anything was done to the property, we have nothing to do with it."
The property is currently owned by Bernard's sister, Evelyn.
Assistant State's Attorney Christina Papavasiliou says under the law, the Ramoses have a duty to maintain the property, which she says they have neglected to do.
"If you exercise possession or control," Papavasiliou explained. "Even as a landlord or in any capacity, you can be accountable under the ordinance."
Papavasiliou is pushing for an injunction that would prevent people from living in the apartment complex until the sewage problems are fixed. She is asking presiding Judge John Kennedy to fine the Ramoses $500 a day until the sewage and septic systems are fixed, and another $500 for everyday it takes them to vacate remaining tenants.
She says tenants are still living in buildings that are not up to code. Though occupancy at the property is unknown, public health officials estimate at least eight single men continue to live there and have noted several cars parked outside apartment buildings.
During Monday's trial, the Ramoses requested a motion of continuance, saying they needed 14 days to subpoena an official with the Illinois Department of Public Health who works on issuing licenses to house migrant workers. Judge Kennedy rejected the motion, calling the testimony of the official "marginal at best."
Once the request was denied, Eduardo Ramos filed a motion of prejudice against Kennedy.
"I have been a lawyer for many, many years and have not seen this type of verbal violence before," Eduardo said.
Eduardo explained he had studied law in his native Bolivia, but not in the United States.
Another judge, Jeff Ford, was brought in to take up the prejudice claim, and that motion was also denied.
The Ramoses have owned more than 30 properties in Champaign County, and have faced hundreds of code violations. Several of these properties, including Cherry Orchard, have been under foreclosure, according to the Champaign County Recorder's Office.
The Ramoses ignored a request for comment after the trial. In a 2009 interview with CU-CitizenAccess.org, Bernard Ramos said city housing inspectors have targeted him because he is Hispanic and rents to illegal immigrants. He said his financial problems were due to the decline in the economy and unemployment, which affected his tenants' ability to pay rent.
The prosecution rested its case last Wednesday. The trial will resume Friday, April 15 at 2:30 PM.
(Photo courtesy of the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District)
Last week's news that the state was going to stop offering a popular health insurance plan to government employees is being met with a backlash. On Monday, a bipartisan legislative panel heard testimony surrounding the decision, but details remain sparse.
Severing Illinois' 30-year relationship with Urbana-based insurer Health Alliance would save the state money. So says the Department of Health Care and Family Services, which last week announced state workers can instead sign up with Blue Cross Blue Shield's managed care. Savings is pegged at about $100 million per year.
But Health Alliance C-E-O Jeff Ingrum says the decision will "disrupt doctor patient relationships for ten thousands of state employees and their families."
Ingrum disputes the projected savings. Health Alliance has filed a formal protest. That puts the bid process under review, which means little information is being released.
Thousands of downstate state employees are caught in the middle. They could be forced to pay more for coverage or change doctors. The review could also push back the annual open enrollment period.
Once the review is complete, a legislative commission will have the final say over the health insurance contracts.