Illinois Public Media News
Opponents of a plan to locate a coal mine in Southern Vermilion County will take their concerns before the County Board this week.
Sunrise Coal, which is in the process of buying mineral rights, wants to build on the county line, reaching into Eastern Champaign County. The group 'Stand Up to Coal' is led by retired farmer Charles Goodall of rural Sidell. He contends that a mine would devastate water quantity and quality, as well as public health.
"They (Sunrise) actually started sending out land agents well before there was any public discussion of the issues that inevitably affect everyone, not just a few people who are leasing," Goodall said. "The community in that sense was heavily disadvantaged. I happen to think that in a democracy, we all ought to be involved in these big discussions."
Vermilion County Board Chairman Jim McMahon said it's good to get these issues out in the open, but he says there are no zoning regulations in place to prevent the mine.
"Homeowners should be well informed of what is trying to be built in your community, and whether you support it or not." he said. "And that's when you come to your land usage people and say, 'You know what? The best interest of us might not be coal. Or the best interests of us might not be a hog farm.' That's when the public gets to stand at the plate, but when there's no zoning, there are no regulations that says they can't do any of that stuff."
McMahon said it would take two years before a land usage plan could be developed in Vermilion County. Champaign County Board members learned last fall that the Illinois Attorney General couldn't block Sunrise from locating in the area.
McMahon said there are no agenda items addressing coal at Tuesday night's Vermilion County Board meeting, but least two opponents to Sunrise's plan are expected to speak. The meeting begins 6 p.m. in the board room in the Vermilion County Courthouse Annex building in Danville.
Chicagoans are paying steep prices at the gas pump lately. It's prompted one Chicago congresswoman to call for action against the oil companies.
U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Chicago, said Monday gas prices are so high, they could create another recession.
"I think we need to put on the table everything, including dipping into the reserves, in order to avoid that," Schakowsky siad. She said the U.S. government should end its subsidies to oil companies because their profits are so high.
Meantime, new statistics from AAA show Chicagoans are paying an average of $3.72 per gallon at gas pumps. That's 37 cents higher than last month.
"We're seeing very, very high oil prices for, really, any time of the year," Beth Mosher, a spokeswoman for the organization, said. "The situation in Libya, the unrest in Libya, has prices very, very high."
Mosher suggests commuters stick to public transit - since prices aren't expected to come down for at least the next few weeks.
(Photo by Tony Arnold/IPR)
Union groups plan to continue rallying at the Indiana Statehouse to protest several bills supported by Republicans.
The Indiana AFL-CIO says it expects thousands to attend a "We Are Indiana" rally Thursday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the west side of the Statehouse. Tuesday, unions are planned to mourn the "death of the middle class" with a New Orleans-style funeral procession.
Members of the AFL-CIO and other unions have been gathering at the Statehouse to protest what they consider anti-union legislation backed by Republicans who control the House and Senate. House Democrats are boycotting that chamber in an effort to derail some of the proposals.
Democrats say they won't come back until Republicans negotiate, but Republican House leaders refuse, saying they won't be bullied into dropping bills.
The Indiana House of Representatives could consider abortion legislation this week. The Indiana Senate approved two bills dealing with reproductive issues. Now, the House could take them up.
One bill would prohibit the state from making contracts or grants with organizations that provide abortions. Hospitals would be exempt.
Another bill would require a doctor to tell any woman who is seeking an abortion that life begins at conception, and that her fetus might feel pain. Planned Parenthood of Indiana says the bills amount to a legislative assault on women. The group's planning a rally at the statehouse Tuesday that's meant to kill the proposals.
It's not clear whether there will be debate, though. Indiana Democrats are in a legislative boycott related to labor unions.
About 80 Champaign employees, most of them in public works, are being asked to begin scheduling furlough days to reduce the impact of salary increases that went into effect last July.
City human resources director Chris Bezruki said the AFSCME union workers are being asked to take six furlough days between now and the end of August. He said the salaries of non-union city employees were frozen this fiscal year, but AFSCME received a 3-and a quarter percent raises. The union has responded to the furlough mandate by filing an unfair labor practice charge against the city of Champaign, alleging leaders negotiated in bad faith. Their complaint will go before the Illinois Labor Relations Board.
City negotiations with AFSCME Council 31 started in December. Bezruki said the two sides started to discuss the impact of furlough days.
"How many we need to take, and how we're going to do that?" Bezruki said. "How we're going to schedule it? What employee input should there be? Should they schedule a furlough day next to a holiday if they want, or things like that? They refused to make a counterproposal at all, and so we had declare an impasse just last month. And so now we're proceeding with implementing this process."
Michael Wilmore, a Staff Representative with the AFSCME union, said the city chose to ignore a number of other cost saving options, including a pay freeze, removing the cap on overtime pay to comp time, and starting a four 10-hour day schedule for public works. He contends the moves could have saved more than $200,000 additional dollars.
Bezruki said the complaint filed by AFSCME means the Labor Relations Board will request information on negotiations between the two sides, the proposals that were exchanged, and whether a hearing will take place. He said that process can be drawn out as long as six months.
A leader of University of Illinois graduate workers said the Urbana campus is actively working to soften the blow on those affected by a computer problem that meant taxes weren't withheld for seven years.
The payroll glitch on tuition waivers means 17 graduate employees will not see a paycheck for three months as the U of I owes thousands in back taxes. More than 250 other graduate assistants will be taxed for part of their tuition waivers starting this month, which could mean more than half of their pay.
Graduate Employees Organization co-president Stephanie Seawell said the U of I is actively meeting with the union to find solutions, but the two sides have yet to come up with a concrete plan.
"Hopefully we can find some sort of solution where they could spread out how they have to pay it," Seawell said. "Or in some cases, if they do a lot of teaching work, they might be able to be teaching assistants instead of the classifications that generate these sort of taxes."
The GEO said the deepest impact may be felt on international students, some of who have spouses who aren't eligible to work in the U.S. U of I spokesman Tom Hardy said the only apparent solution now for the graduate workers is taking out a loan.
"We are obliged to make these withholdings," Hardy said. "And we greatly appreciate the patience and cooperation on the part of these graduate students."
Hardy said graduate assignment classifications for many of the students vary on the Urbana campus, making it difficult to find a uniform solution. The U of I's change to the Banner computer system was only made in Urbana, and graduate workers in Chicago and Springfield were not affected.
Your old TV sets, tape decks, VCR's and computers are all welcome at Saturday's electronics recycling event on the north side of Champaign. It's one of four recycling collections held each year in Champaign County.
Bart Hagston is the environmental sustainability manager for the city of Urbana, which co-sponsors the event. He said he hopes that people will get into the habit of recycling their old electronic gear. He cautions that next year, simply throwing the items into the trash will not be an option. Starting Jan. 1, 2012, computers, computer monitors, printers and televisions will be banned from Illinois landfills.
"People will no longer be able to set those out with the regular trash," Hagston said. "So we're trying to help people get rid of any backlog of these items that they have in their home."
Hagston said the contractor they've hired to perform the recycling follows all state regulations on data security, to ensure that no data is stolen from the old computer hard drives that are dropped off at the event.
If it's a reusable computer hard drive, they have software approved by the Department of Defense to erase that, and then they can reuse it," Hagston said. "Or of it's not a working drive, or it's an older drive that's not going to get reused, they will shred it and then recycle the metals."
Besides computers, computer accessories and TV's, the electronic recycling event will takes fax machines, mobile phones DVD and VCR players, MP3 players, PDA's and video game consoles. No more than ten items per resident will be accepted.
The electronic recycling event runs Saturday, March 5th, from 8 AM until noon at the News-Gazette Distribution Center on Apollo Drive, just off North Market Street in Champaign. To keep the traffic flowing smoothly, Hagston said motorists should approach the site on Market Street from the south ...and follow the signs.
The Champaign County Regional Planning Authority is the main sponsor for Saturday's electronic recycling event. For more information, call 384-2302
Republicans in the U.S, House of Representatives say if the federal government shuts down over a budget impasse, it won't be their fault.
15th district congressman Tim Johnson returned to Champaign-Urbana Thursday with an additional two weeks remaining until the federal government would have to shut down without a spending plan in place for the rest of the fiscal year.
But Johnson said Democrats in the Senate and White House need to make the next move.
"We've done our job," Johnson told reporters at Willard Airport. "We'll see what they come back with. But I don't want to have this mantra that we faced from 1995 where (Democrats said) 'It's the Republicans who are shutting down government.' It's not the Republicans shutting down government. We have acted. They didn't act. They controlled the whole process for upwards of half the fiscal year and did nothing."
On Thursday the Obama administration proposed another $6.5 billion in cuts, but Johnson said that pales in comparison to the $100 billion cut the GOP has promised, and he doesn't see the spirit of compromise in the President's offer.
Johnson also defended a provision in the Republicans' plan that zeroes out funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Johnson - who has been a member of the House Public Broadcasting Caucus - said the budget had to be passed, even with the severe cut.
"You can't fail to act on the budget simply because there are certain items within the budget that you'd rather see reenacted," he said. "Certainly that's of concern; there are a number of areas of concern to me. But the overwhelming concern is that we're in debt, we're broke and we have to do something about it.
(Additional reporting from the Associated Press and Illinois Public Radio)
Indiana House members who remain absent from the state capitol might soon face daily fines for every day they stay away. House Republicans on Thursday approved fines against the Democrats for every day they stay away from the House floor.
State Representative Jerry Torr (R-Carmel) said the fines could go as high as $250 a day.
"We wanted an amount that would make the members think about whether or not they need to be here," Torr said. "Furthermore, every citizen in Indiana is being disenfranchised because without a quorum none of us can conduct business."
Most Indiana House Democrats are continuing to stay in Urbana to prevent action on labor and education bills they oppose. But two of them were on the House floor Thursday for a quorum call --- including State Representative Charlie Brown (D-Gary). Brown said it is customary for such fines to be waived when the minority party returns. But he said Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma warned him from the speaker's rostrum, "Don't bet on it, Representative Brown."
"So obviously once more he's digging his heels in, and creating a greater divide between the Democratic and the Republican caucus," Brown said.
Democrats' boycott of the Indiana House session has now extended to an 11th day. Brown said there are five bills that are keeping Democrats from returning to the Indiana House --- one on school vouchers, and four related to Right-to-Work legislation.
Ind. Elections Chief Charged With Voter Fraud
Indiana's top elections official was indicted Thursday on voter fraud and other charges for allegedly listing his ex-wife's address as his own on voting and loan forms and serving on a town council when he was ineligible, a prosecutor said.
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