Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 08, 2011

Congressman Johnson’s Offices Prepares for Possible Govt Shutdown

The event of a government shutdown late Friday night means most of 15th District Congressman Tim Johnson's staff will be temporarily out of a job.

Fourteen workers in all would be laid off, and spokesman Phil Bloomer says he and three other staffers, including Chief of Staff Mark Shelden would remain on the job, but unpaid. Bloomer adds that there are a lot of other concerns regarding his office's daily dealings with the public.

"Our staff performs real vital services in terms of visas and passports, and helping people with their social security programs," Bloomer said. "We got dozens and dozens of other cases with the VA and social security, and otherwise."

Bloomer says he is still cautiously optimistic that an agreement will be reached by Congress tonight. He blames Congressional Democrats and those in the White House for 'dithering around' for months and allowing things to get to this crisis point.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 08, 2011

Legislation Would Bar Release of Gun Permit Info

Names of people authorized to own guns would be declared secret under legislation approved by the Illinois House.

The state police would be barred from releasing information on people who have Firearm Owner Identification cards.

The House approved the bill 98-12 Friday. It now heads to the Senate.

The attorney general ruled last month that the list of people with FOID cards must be released under the state Freedom of Information Act.

Firearm advocates objected. They argue the information would tell criminals who owns guns that are worth stealing.

The bill would allow disclosure of names in criminal investigations.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 07, 2011

Illinois Reps Position Themselves Ahead of Shutdown

With a government shutdown looming at midnight Friday night, all U.S. House Republicans from Illinois voted Thursday to fund the government for at least a week. The state's Democrats all voted against the bill.

Republican U.S. Rep. Robert Dold from the North Shore voted for the stopgap spending bill, which he says proves his party wants to avoid a shutdown.

"What we're doing right now is doing all we can to make sure we keep this budget - or the continuing resolution going so we can keep the government up and functioning for the American public," Dold said in an interview following the vote.

The bill would also fund the military through the end of the fiscal year.

The president has promised he would veto that measure, his staff pointing out it contains some $12 billion dollars in non-negotiated cuts.

Evanston Democrat Jan Schakowsky said Thursday that the onus is on Republicans to agree to a final deal.

"We have agreed to a number of pretty painful things. I'm not thrilled about what we've agreed to," Schakowsky said. "But they keep moving the goal posts, and it's clear that they are pushing for a shutdown."

Federal employees deemed "essential" can work through a shutdown. Members of Congress get to decide which of their staff fit that description. Schakowsky said she believes all her staff are essential, while Dold said he would "pare down" his team.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 07, 2011

U.S. to use Facebook, Twitter for Terror Alerts

The U.S. government's new system to replace the five color-coded terror alerts will have two levels of warnings - elevated and imminent - that will be relayed to the public only under certain circumstances for limited periods of time, sometimes using Facebook and Twitter, according to a draft Homeland Security Department plan obtained by The Associated Press.

Some terror warnings could be withheld from the public entirely if announcing a threat would risk exposing an intelligence operation or an ongoing investigation, according to the government's confidential plan.

Like a gallon of milk, the new terror warnings will each come with a stamped expiration date.

The 19-page document, marked "for official use only" and dated April 1, describes the step-by-step process that would occur behind the scenes when the government believes terrorists might be threatening Americans. It describes the sequence of notifying members of Congress, then counterterrorism officials in states and cities and then governors and mayors and, ultimately, the public. It specifies even details about how many minutes U.S. officials can wait before organizing urgent conference calls among themselves to discuss pending threats. It places the Homeland Security secretary, currently Janet Napolitano, in charge of the so-called National Terrorism Advisory System.

The new terror alerts would also be published online using Facebook and Twitter "when appropriate," the plan said, but only after federal, state and local government leaders have already been notified. The new system is expected to be in place by April 27.

The government has always struggled with how much information it can share with the public about specific threats, sometimes over fears it would reveal classified intelligence or law enforcement efforts to disrupt an unfolding plot. But the color warnings that became one of the government's most visible anti-terrorism programs since the September 2001 attacks were criticized as too vague to be useful and became fodder for late-night talk shows.

The new advisory system is designed to be easier to understand and more specific, but it's impossible to know how often the public will receive these warnings. The message will always depend on the threat and the intelligence behind it.

For example, if there is a specific threat that terrorists were looking to hide explosives in backpacks around U.S. airports, the government might issue a public warning that would be announced in airports telling travelers to remain vigilant and report any unattended backpacks or other suspicious activity to authorities.

If the intelligence community believes a terror threat is so serious that an alert should be issued, the warning would offer specific information for specific audiences. The Homeland Security secretary would make the final decision on whether to issue an alert and to whom - sometimes just to law enforcement and other times to the public.

According to the draft plan, an "elevated" alert would warn of a credible threat against the U.S. It would not likely specify timing or targets, but it could reveal terrorist trends that intelligence officials believe should be shared in order to prevent an attack. That alert would expire after no more than 30 days but could be extended.

An "imminent" alert would warn about a credible, specific and impending terrorist threat or an on-going attack against the U.S. That alert would expire after no more than seven days but could be extended.

There hasn't been a change in the color warnings since 2006, despite an uptick in attempted attacks and terror plots against the U.S. That's because the counterterrorism community has found other ways to notify relevant people about a particular threat. In December 2010, intelligence officials learned that a terrorist organization was looking to use insulated beverage containers to hide explosives. That information was relayed to the aviation industry to be watchful. Less formal warnings like that will continue under the new system.

In the past, there was no established system for determining whether to raise or lower the threat level, said James Carafano, a national security expert at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank. In part because of this, travelers heard about nonspecific orange threats in airports since August 2006 when the government responded to an al-Qaida plot to detonate liquid explosive bombs hidden in soft drink bottles on aircraft bound for the United States and Canada.

While there was coordination among U.S. counterterrorism officials about the threat, "It was pretty much kind of a gut call," said Carafano, who was on a 2009 advisory committee to review the color alerts and suggest ways to improve them.

According to the draft plan, before an official alert is issued, there is a multi-step process that must be followed, starting with intelligence sharing among multiple federal, state and local agencies, including the FBI, the National Counterterrorism Center and the White House. If the threat is considered serious enough, a Homeland Security official will call for a meeting of a special counterterrorism advisory board. That board would be expected to meet within 30 minutes of being called, and if it's decided an alert is necessary, it would need to be issued within two hours.

"The plan is not yet final, as we will continue to meet and exercise with our partners to finalize a plan that meets everyone's needs," Homeland Security spokeswoman Amy Kudwa said.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 07, 2011

Judge to Rule on Suit Against Indiana Secretary of State White ‎

A judge in Indianapolis says he'll decide Thursday whether or not Democrats can proceed with their lawsuit to disqualify Republican Indiana Secretary of State Charlie White from holding office.

Marion Circuit Judge Louis Rosenberg heard arguments from both sides Wednesday.

Democrats contend state law requires the runner-up in November's election, Vop Osili, to take office if Rosenberg rules that White was ineligible to run for secretary of state last year. Their lawsuit claims the state recount commission improperly dismissed their challenge to his election in December.

A grand jury separately indicted White in March on voter fraud and other charges alleging he voted in last May's Republican primary after moving out of his ex-wife's home and the town council district he represented. He would have to resign if convicted.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 07, 2011

Quinn Touts Update to State Road Program

Gov. Pat Quinn says the state has to spend money to ensure Illinois has safe roads and bridges.

Quinn on Thursday announced the latest update to the state road program that includes improving more than 3,200 miles of roads and replacing or repairing 611 bridges over the next six years.

He says the timing of the announcement was tied to a law that requires the state to announce its long-term road program.

Construction costs are estimated at $11.5 billion for the extensive list of projects. Money for the road program will come from federal, state and local funds.

The governor's office estimates the construction projects will create about 155,000 jobs. And Quinn says such projects are a good way to get Illinois' economy back on track.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 07, 2011

State’s Decision to Drop Health Alliance HMO Sparks Protest

Urbana-based Health Alliance says it will file a protest with the state over its decision not to continue their HMO contract for state employees and retirees.

The state Department of Healthcare and Family Services announced Wednesday it was awarding HMO contracts for the next fiscal year to Blue Cross Blue Shield, with Open Access Plan contracts to PersonalCare and HealthLink. The state said the new contracts would save taxpayers over $100 million a year, and over one billion dollars over the next ten years.

Health Alliance CEO Jeff Ingrum argues the savings aren't really there --- in part because people who had been under Health Alliance will be required to either change doctors, or go to the more expensive Open Access Plans selected by the state, or to the Quality Care Preferred Provider plan, which offers less coverage.

"One, it will increase the costs to state workers," Ingram said. "But it will also increase the costs to the state of Illinois, because those programs are anywhere from 10 to 20 percent higher than the Health Alliance HMO program."

Ingrum says Carle, Springfield Clinic and McDonough District Hospital in Macomb had signed exclusive agreements with Health Alliance that barred them from working with other state HMO plans.

In a statement, Carle says it's studying the implications of the DHFS decision. The company calls on their patients who are Health Alliance members to "share their concerns with the state and with elected officials."

The company says it will be reviewing options "for state employees to continue accessing Carle physicians and hospital services", but that the plans and costs for such access will change if the state's decision stands.

And the state Department of Healthcare and Family Services says --- in a fact sheet on its managed care announcement --- that while Carle and other hospitals and clinics may not be available through their new HMO plans immediately, it expects them to "adjust to market needs" over time.

Carle says that Carle Foundation Hospital has a long-standing contract with Blue Cross/Blue Shield, for hospital services. But Health Alliance's Ingram says the contract is for a Preferred Provider plan, not the HMO plans which the state approved its employees and retirees in FY 2012.

State Representative Naomi Jakobsson (D-Urbana) has complained about the state's decision not to use Health Alliance next year. She says the company was not given sufficient advance notice of the decision. Jakobsson is inviting people concerned about the change to sign a petition on her legislative website.

NOTE: This story was updated to show additional comments from the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services.

Categories: Government, Health, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 07, 2011

Undocumented UI Student Released from Jail After Georgia Protest

(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)

An undocumented University of Illinois student was released Thursday morning from an Atlanta jail after taking part in a protest to demand more rights for undocumented immigrants.

Police arrested 22-year-old Andrea Rosales and six other illegal immigrants Tuesday after they sat in the middle of a downtown Atlanta street for more than an hour. The protesters were charged with obstructing traffic. Atlanta police do not participate in a local-federal partnership that empowers local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration law, so the likelihood of the students being turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement was low.

Rosales says the protest was triggered by a policy Georgia's university system approved last year banning illegal immigrants from attending the five most competitive public schools in the state.

"We see that happening due to political inaction, as well as lack of support - institutionally and locally," Rosales said. "This is why we felt we needed to escalate and even risk arrest and facing being put into detention proceedings because we are tired and something needs to change."

Rosales must perform five-to-10 hours of community service. She is part of the social justice student organization, La Collectiva, which helped fund her trip to Georgia.

The protests were part of The Dream is Coming project, which was created to advocate for the DREAM Act, legislation that would provide a path to citizenship for certain young people who were brought here at a young age. It failed to pass Congress several times, most recently in December.

Illinois is one of 10 states that provides in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants who attend public universities. Members of La Collectiva want Illinois lawmakers to introduce an Illinois-style Dream Act that would open up a financial pathway for more undocumented immigrants who want to attend college by setting up a private scholarship fund.

(AP Photo/David Goldman)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 06, 2011

Former Paxton Jail, Charleston Theatre on State’s 10 Most Endangered Historic Building List

Members of state preservation group are trying to save ten of what they say are the most endangered places in Illinois. Most of the structures on the list are threatened with demolition as development projects expand. Some are falling into disrepair due to a lack of funds or mismanagement.

President of Landmarks Illinois Jim Peters says in the case of some structures, community meetings are being held to decide the building's fate.

"That's kind of an imminent threat, that doesn't mean it'll be demolished tomorrow, but there's a decision that could impact it's future," Peters said at a Wednesday news conference. "I think that's the case with all of these; there's some kind of threat."

The vacant Sheriff's Residence and Jail in Ford County made the list of endangered buildings. County officials purchased the building a few years ago and may be planning a demolition.

Susan Satterlee of the Ford County Preservation Coalition says the building's more than 100 year history deserves protection.

"Up until 1992 it was used as a functional jail and our county sheriff actually lived there," Satterlee said. "At one point, the spouse of the sheriff was responsible for feeding all the inmates."

Satterlee says the combined use of the building in Paxton makes it one of the oldest of its kind in the state. It sits next to the Ford County courthouse. If demolished, the space it is on would likely be used for a new county building.

Also on the list is the Will Rogers Theatre in downtown Charleston, an Art Deco building from 1938. It was still showing movies until last year, when it was closed and sold. Tom Vance does historic preservation consulting, and recently helped with a petition drive to get the theater named to that list. He says the facility could ideally become an entertainment venue for different acts, much like the Virginia Theater in downtown Champaign.

"There may be somebody out there who has the investment capital to come in, buy it, and restore it," said Vance. "There are TIF (Tax Increment Finance) funds available to help with the exterior restoration of it, and put in a venue of performing arts and movies. That would be the ideal thing."

The current owners, American Multi-Cinema, is also looking to sell the theater and adjoining commercial block. Vance says if a buyer doesn't come forward, the other option is for a local non-profit group to form and re-open the theater. But he estimates the restoration would cost three quarters of a million dollars. The Charleston City Council has yet to decide whether to recommend the Will Rogers Theater for local landmark status, protecting it from further demolition.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 06, 2011

Voters Approve Finance Plan for New Urbana Aquatic Center

In just a couple of years, Urbana is expected to have a new outdoor aquatic center at Crystal Lake Park.

There's been talk about building a new outdoor pool in Urbana ever since Crystal Lake pool closed in 2008. Voters that year rejected a 25-cent property tax increase that would have helped fund a new outdoor aquatic center. But on Tuesday night, voters backed an 11-cent property tax increase supporting one.

The Urbana Park District's Executive Director Vicki Mayes credits the success of this year's referendum to outreach for the project.

"The money in the taxes that people will pay will be right here in this community, and it will benefit them directly," she said. "So, it's something that they wanted, and it's something that they really would be willing to pay for."

The property tax increase will provide enough funds for the park district to sell and pay back bonds to finance the project's construction and maintenance.

The new aquatic center priced at $7.725 million will include three pools - one that's shallow, one that's deeper, and one reserved for fitness. It will be built where Crystal Lake pool once operated. The design for the center begins this spring, and it is expected to open sometime in 2013.

Categories: Government, Politics

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