Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 30, 2011

East Central Illinois Doesn’t Follow Trend in Annual County Health Rankings

A second annual ranking of the overall health of each of Illinois' 102 counties shows a mixed bag of results for East Central Illinois.

The annual report of County Health Rankings serves as a kind of 'check up' on how people in Illinois live, according to 28 different factors. Vermilion County ranked among the worst, finishing 98th, but Piatt County finished 15th, McLean County was 13th, Ford County ranked 11th, and Champaign County finished in 34th place.

The report was put together by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin's Population Health Institute to show counties where they can improve. Julie Willems Van Dijk is an Associate Scientist with the Institute.

"We want to be able to describe those things you can change," she said. "Because you can change your economic environment. You can work to attract new businesses to locate in your community. You can work to support your schools to have higher graduation rates. You can work to make your community more accessible for people who want to walk and bike."

Each report starts with health factors among residents, like the rate of premature death and the number of those in poor physical and mental health. They include social and economic factors like the number of uninsured adults, and the high school graduation rate. It also relies on physical features, like a county's quality of air and access to healthy foods. Van Dijk says the report is also intended to inspire local leaders to help themselves.

"When those leaders get together from different areas, they can talk about what resources are already available in your community, and how they might use them even better than they are now," she said. "Because we all know budgets are tight, and we're living in tough economic times. So it's really important that we use the resources we have to the best of our ability."

The majority of higher-ranking counties are in the north and west, including Jo Daviess, Lake, and McDonough, while the many of the lowest-ranked counties are in the south, including Marion and Alexander counties. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is providing grants for up to 14 communities in the U.S. seeking to improve their overall health.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 29, 2011

Champaign, Decatur School Superintendents Finalists for Georgia Job

The Superintendent of Champaign's school district is a finalist for the top job at a school district in Georgia.

A website with the DeKalb County School System, located in metropolitan Atlanta, confirms that Unit 4 Superintendent Arthur Culver is one of three finalists for superintendent there. And another one of the finalists is Gloria Davis, the Superintendent of Decatur Public Schools.

The third candidate is the superintendent at a district in Hickory, North Carolina. The three are scheduled to speak in a DeKalb schools public forum Thursday night. The district has more than 100,000 students and nearly 150 schools and centers.

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 29, 2011

Emanuel, Preckwinkle Look for Ways to Merge

Rahm Emanuel and Toni Preckwinkle said Tuesday they could cut costs by possibly merging parts of their governments. The new Chicago mayor-elect and the new-ish Cook County board president stood before cameras to work in the buzz words of the day: collaboration, streamlining, coordination.

"To continue to operate in separate silos, or to provide duplicative services - that's no longer a responsible option," Preckwinkle said.

"Just because it was done like that for 30 or 40 years does not mean we can afford to keep doing it like that for the next three or four years," Emanuel said.

Possible topics for change include criminal justice (the city has police, but the county runs the jail and courts), elections (the city runs Chicago polling places, the county runs suburban ones) and healthcare.

"Both the county and the city have clinics, for example," Preckwinkle said. "And so the discussions have begun about how we can more effectively deliver service at least cost."

Preckwinkle and Emanuel picked six-people to look into these issues, though none has a professional background in healthcare. Emanuel defends the committee, saying the members - including Ald. Pat Dowell and Cook County Cmsr. John Firtchey - have a broad range of experiences.

(Photo by Sam Hudzik/IPR)

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 29, 2011

Ill. House Votes to Lift Smoking Ban at Casinos

The Illinois House wants to lift the ban on smoking at riverboat casinos that border states where smoking is allowed.

The bill passed 62-52 Tuesday. It now goes to the Senate.

Rep. Daniel Burke said he sponsored the measure because Illinois is losing business to states that allow smoking at casinos. The Chicago Democrat claims casinos have lost $800 million since 2008 because gamblers go to Iowa, Indiana or Missouri casinos.

Burke says casinos have improved air filtration systems, reducing the health concerns from smoking.

Supporters of the smoking ban say it's unfair to subject gamblers and casino employees to second-hand smoke.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 29, 2011

Indiana Dems Return After ‘Softening’ GOP Agenda

Indiana House Democrats are back at work after a five-week boycott to protest a Republican agenda they consider an assault on labor unions and public education, but whether their efforts will ultimately change the outcome of the legislation they opposed is unclear.

Republicans agreed to rejigger - but not completely overhaul - their plans as lawmakers resume work in the House. The Senate had already started working around the Democrats by holding separate hearings on bills stalled in the walkout. Still, Democrats insist concessions they've received on several issues, including school vouchers and labor legislation, made their boycott worthwhile.

"We're coming back after softening the radical agenda," said House Minority Leader Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, whose Statehouse return Monday was greeted by cheering union workers. "We won a battle, but we recognize the war goes on."

The victories Democrats claim are likely more than they would have gained had they not boycotted, but they won't stop the agenda pushed by Republicans who won sweeping control of the House in last year's elections. Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels said bills aimed at improving education and keeping spending low are mainstream Hoosier ideas.

"The only thing 'radical' about this session has been the decision by one caucus to walk off the job for five weeks," Daniels said.

Republicans had vowed throughout the standoff that they wouldn't remove items from their agenda - and by and large they won't have to. The only bill killed by the boycott was a "right-to-work" proposal that would prohibit union representation fees from being a condition of employment.

GOP legislators agreed to some changes on several other bills. For example, they will cap for two years the number of students who could participate in a voucher program using taxpayer money to attend private schools, but it would still be among the nation's most expansive use of vouchers when the limits expire. Another bill that would exempt certain government projects from the state's prevailing construction wage law was changed so that fewer projects would be exempt.

The Democrats' most significant achievement may be that people across the state are talking about these issues. Bauer said the public needed a "timeout" to learn about the agenda being pushed by Republicans.

Thousands of people attended Statehouse rallies during the walkout, and hundreds attended local town hall meetings. Many teachers said they didn't realize Republicans supported vouchers and other measures they think will erode public education, and some union members said they wished they had voted.

Tom Case, a union worker from Fort Wayne who was at the Statehouse protesting Monday, said he was glad Democrats staged the boycott.

"Republicans are going way out of bounds with what they're doing right now," he said.

In one sense, Democrats "punched above their weight," said Robert Dion, who teaches politics at the University of Evansville.

"They got the attention of the state, and they were able to finagle some meaningful concessions that I don't think were necessarily offered all that willingly," Dion said.

On the other hand, Dion said, Democrats have a bit of a black eye because the walkout lasted so long.

House Democrats had fled to Illinois on Feb. 22 to protest 11 pieces of legislation, denying the House the two-thirds of members present needed to do business as required by the state constitution. The move had the potential to force a special session or even a government shutdown if a new budget wasn't adopted before July 1.

Indiana's boycott began a week after Wisconsin's Democratic senators left for Illinois in their three-week boycott against a law barring most public employees from collective bargaining. Wisconsin Republicans used a parliamentary maneuver to pass the law without them, and the matter is now headed to court.

The Indiana standoff became one of the longest legislative walkouts in recent U.S. history. The impasse got a bit nasty at times - with name-calling, scathing political ads, rowdy rallies and fines totaling more than $3,000 for most absent Democrats. But Republicans and Democrats seemed to tone down the rhetoric last week as they discussed possible changes to bills.

Lawmakers began making up for five weeks of lost time Monday. Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma gaveled in the chamber early Monday evening, and lawmakers began working on bills in earnest. Lawmakers worked their way through a large chunk of the House calendar, which was the same as the day Democrats left.

Bosma predicted lawmakers would have plenty of late nights as they work toward the scheduled end of the regular legislative session April 29.

"It's long past time to get to the people's business," Bosma said. "Hopefully we can make this work in five short weeks."

(AP Photo/AJ Mast)

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 29, 2011

Champaign Community-Police Forum Brings Out Supporters, Critics

The leaders of a Champaign group committed to improving police and community relations say they need more participation, and input, from all corners of the population.

About 50 people Monday night attended the first community forum hosted by the Champaign Community and Police Partnership, or C-CAP. The group's goal is finding solutions to policing issues raised by the African-American community. C-CAP member Patricia Avery heads the Champaign-Urbana area project, which works with juvenile delinquency prevention. She says Champaign Police are doing what they can to divert youth from the juvenile justice system.

"We have to work on providing more alternatives for the officers so when they are picking up (youths), they can't just turn them loose on the street," Avery said. "If they come into contact, they have to have somewhere for them to go. So our job as a community is to help them find solutions, find alternatives, for those kids that they do come in contact with."

One such option suggested by Avery is community conferencing - allowing police to place troubled youths before a panel made up of victims, offenders, and supporters to resolve the case among themselves.

Durl Kruse with C-U Citizens for Peace and Justice brought up the 2009 Champaign police fatal shooting of 15-year old Kiwane Carrington. He also cited 2010 statistics in Champaign County, showing a disproportionate number of black youths involved in felony and misdemeanor convictions.

Champaign Police Chief R.T. Finney says the numbers are debatable, but says they were brought up in an attempt to discredit initiatives like the Champaign Youth Police Academy, and other ideas started by C-CAP.

"And to ignore what C-CAP has been doing for over a decade, by just throwing out some statistics from the State's Attorney's office compiled last year, is just not correct," Finney said. "C-CAP understands exactly what's going on in the neighborhoods with our kids. And we have to work on that."

Kruse says C-CAP's partnership will only work when it's allowing everyone, including the police department's worst critics, to be part of the discussion.

Champaign City Council member Will Kyles, who's also on the C-CAP committee, says future forums will need a change of behavior between different cultures. C-CAP will hold quarterly forums throughout the year. The next has a focus on youth. It's scheduled for June 27th at the Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club.

(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 28, 2011

Public Gets Say On Illinois Redistricting

Illinois state senators are hearing from Chicago area residents who want a say in redistricting, the once-a-decade, highly contentious and political process that determines boundaries for legislative districts. It is about power and influence, and on Monday afternoon dozens of people showed up to tell senators how they want the boundaries drawn.

Kyle Hillman lives in Chicago's Rogers Park neighborhood, and said the community is a poor fit for its current district.

"There's a high crime rate and it has one of the largest food kitchens in the metro area, and yet it is included in a district that is mostly consisting of lakefront homes in Evanston in New Trier," Hillman told the Senate Redistricting Committee.

Others complained their neighborhoods span several districts, watering down the community's influence.

"The greater Chinatown community area is a vibrant and cohesive community. Its interests are not served by being split into multiple districts, as it is currently," said Bernie Wong of the Chinese American Service League.

C. Betty Magness with the group IVI-IPO urged the senators to ignore politicians' addresses when they draft the boundaries.

"Districts should not be drawn to favor or discriminate against incumbents, candidates or parties," Magness said.

Another issue that came up Monday has to do with the addresses of prisoners. Right now, they are counted as residents where they are incarcerated, which is most often downstate.

"Prisoners should be counted where they originate from, instead of where they're currently housed," testified Lawrence Hill with the Cook County Bar Association.

The Illinois House could actually vote to make that change as early as Tuesday, according to the bill's sponsor, state Rep. LaShawn Ford. But the Chicago Democrat said it would not take effect until the next redistricting - ten years from now.

Monday's hearing was the first of at least five public forums for the Senate committee. Lawmakers have until the end of June to approve a new legislative map, or the process will be put in the hands of a special commission.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 28, 2011

Future Uncertain for Campustown Businesses Following Fire

Traffic is moving again along Green Street between Wright and 6th Streets in Champaign's Campustown after crews tore down the 2nd floor and attic of a building damaged by a fire.

The building houses Mia Za's Cafe, Zorba's restaurant, and Pitaya clothing boutique. Officials say the fire started above the ceiling of Mia Za's. At the height of the blaze, fire personnel from Urbana and Champaign used 11 fire engines, four ladder trucks and two squads to fight the blaze.

Champaign city planner T.J. Blakeman says owners of affected businesses surveyed the damage over the weekend, and he says it could be a while before they figure out what they will do next.

"I really hope that they're able to find a space and re-open in campus," Blakeman said. "The students really want that."

Blakeman says nearby businesses did not suffer major damage since the fire was contained to the one building. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Categories: Business, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 28, 2011

Indiana House Minority Leader:  “The War Goes On” as Legislative Boycott Ends

The leader of Indiana's House Democrats says their lengthy boycott that ended Monday was worth it to try to stop what he called a radical Republican agenda that tried to dismantle labor unions and public education.

House Minority Leader Patrick Bauer says the Democrats' walkout gave the public time to learn about the GOP agenda, and allowed lawmakers to negotiate concessions on some of the bills they opposed. Bauer says Democrats won a battle but that they recognize 'the war goes on'' as Republicans continue what he calls an attack on the middle class.

Most absent Democrats face fines of more than $3,000 for the boycott.

Bauer and the boycotting Democrats planned to return to the Statehouse Monday evening to get back to work. The party stayed in Urbana for 34 nights. Kristen Self, the Finance Director for the Indiana House Democratic Caucus, estimates the party's hotel bill was over $100,000. Legislators paid for food and other expenses out of their own pockets.

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 28, 2011

Boycotting Indiana Democrats Leaving Urbana, Headed Back to the Capitol

Indiana Democrats are ending their legislative boycott after staying in Urbana for nearly six weeks, and were planning to return to the statehouse in Indianapolis by Monday afternoon.

The more than 30 members of the state's House of Representatives have stayed at the city's Comfort Suites since the evening of February 22nd. But they could be seen busily packing their cars just before noon.

"There's really not a lot of agreement so far, but there's been a lot of headway made," said Democrat Linda Lawson of Hammond. "So we feel very comfortable about going back. We're going to continue the fight. We have a lot of issues and concerns about labor. There's still 40 of us (Democrats) and 60 of them (Republicans), so we have made some great headway."

Other legislators declined to speak to reporters, indicating that House Minority Leader Pat Bauer would address the media later in the afternoon.

The legislative stalemate started over legislation impacting education and labor, but Lawson said there are other areas to address, including the state budget, women's reproductive rights, and gay marriage.

(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

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