Illinois Public Media News
A suspicious brown paper bag at the Champaign City Building this morning turned out to be nothing more than food.
A bomb squad unit was called after a city worker reported a suspicious package left outside the building at a little after 7 a.m. Champaign Deputy Police Chief Troy Daniels said emergency crews used a large water cannon to destroy it.
"The way we look at it is this could also have been an explosive," Daniels said. "We've seen across the country where packages have been called in and they were explosive, and what happens is if you just go up to it and start to manhandle it, you can be very badly injured or killed."
Daniels said most suspicious packages reported to police are found not to be dangerous, but he said precautions are always taken keep everybody safe. Traffic was blocked off on a section of Neil Street, between University Avenue and Park Street near the location of the package. City employees were allowed back in the building by 9 a.m.
The president of the University of Illinois says if it were up to him, faculty and staff would get raises in the years to come.
Many U of I employees have had to deal with flat salaries for the past two years, and most also had to take unpaid furlough days last year. But U of I president Michael Hogan says an administrative review and restructuring program has already lead to five million dollars in savings, and it will pay off in the longer term.
"I feel confident, with the reforms we're putting in place and with other measures we've taken, that we'll begin to see enough of a kitty of money that we can begin certainly avoiding furlough days and begin reinvesting in our faculty, not just in raises but hopefully in new appointments and new hires," Hogan said in an interview and call-in show Wednesday night on Illinois Public Media.
Hogan frequently voiced his displeasure with the backlog in state funding. He says budgeting would be much more accurate without more than $400 million the state of Illinois owes the University, including $60 million in scholarship money through the Monetary Award Program, or MAP, the state- sponsored scholarship program for students in need.
Emergency crews in Illinois spent all day Wednesday helping stranded motorists and clearing snow-covered roads following this week's large blizzard.
The state police and the Illinois Department of Transportation restricted access to certain parts of major interstates, so that crews could do their job. But by the end of the day, just about everything that was restricted was re-opened, according to Illinois Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Patti Thompson. The only area still closed off to non-emergency vehicles is I-55 at Lakeshore Drive.
"If you do have to go out, make sure you have that survival kit in your car," Thompson said. "If you do get stranded out there, it could still be a while before someone could be there to assist you."
While the snow is being cleared, it is going to be dangerously cold on Thursday. People are encouraged to drive with a cell phone, bottled water, food, flashlight, and a blanket.
Conditions are improving along county roads in Champaign County, but authorities still say traveling is not a good idea.
Emergency Management Agency director Bill Keller says highway crews stopped plowing overnight because of low visibility but resumed before dawn. Since then, he says they've made headway on most primary county highways despite high winds.
"As soon as those die down, the crews can clean things up quicker, and we should be in fairly good shape by tomorrow morning," Keller said. "We'd still like to deter people from being out. Number one, it's not really safe, and number two, it gives our crews a better chance to get stuff cleaned up without all that traffic out there."
Keller says any drifting is happening mainly on east-west roads. He says thanks to light traffic, they've not had to rescue many stranded motorists on county roads.
Illinois State Police say state highway conditions in East Central Illinois were improving late this morning, but they don't stay that way for long due to blowing and drifting.
Sergeant Bill Emery says most of the 17 accidents handled by troopers since early this morning have occurred on Interstate 57 between Mattoon and Rantoul, but he says only one of them resulted in minor injuries. They've also responded to more than 100 vehicles in ditches. But Emery says US Route 150 between Mahomet and Mansfield is impassable, as is Route 128 north of Shelbyville.
He says anyone leaving the house for even a minor errand needs to prepare as if they were taking a road trip. "Make sure you have plenty of gas in your car before you take off, even if it's just to the store," Emery warned.. "If you look up in the Chicago area, there were many people along Lake Shore Drive who were in traffic for hours due to what was happening maybe just a mile ahead of them, like a crash, and (they were) running out of gas."
Emery says troopers are relocating stranded motorists, but they shouldn't expect their vehicles to be towed for two to three days because of the weather and road conditions.
The political turmoil in Egypt has brought between 250,000 and two million people taking to the streets in protest. The country's leader, President Hosni Mubarak, has promised not to run for re-election after his term ends in September. But University of Illinois professor Aladdin Elaasar predicted Mubarak's downfall back in 2009 in his book "The Last Pharaoh: Mubarak and the Uncertain Future of Egypt in the Obama Age." Elaasar spoke with Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers about the future of Egypt.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
Plans for a wind turbine on the University of Illinois' Urbana campus could be in jeopardy if a funding plan isn't in place by Monday.
U of I Sustainability Coordinator Morgan Johnston said it needs to be set by then to place the item on the March agenda for the university's Board of Trustees. She said without that notice, bids for the project will expire, and a $2-million grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Foundation could also be lost. The U of I is seeking an additional $700,000 for the project, a cost Johnston said the U of I's Student Sustainability can handle. The proposed $4-point-5 million project now exceeds $5-million.
"They do have funds available right now that they're allocating for which projects to spend that money on this year," Johnston said. "What we're asking is that they would, rather than support new projects and additional projects, commit that $700,000 to this project to make it to be able to move forward."
Johnston said the U of I will provide more detail later this week on why it's seeking the additional funding.
Urbana City Council member Eric Jakobsson has been an advocate of the wind turbine project, but says he can't support the additional cost.
"It's all, in a certain sense, public money," Jakobsson said. "So the heart of my question was, how do you justify spending public money in a manner that is cost ineffective, especially when everybody is being either to pay more taxes or to tighten their belts?"
The Student Sustainability Committee is already putting half a million dollars into the project. Amy Allen, President of Students for Environmental Concerns, said that should be the limit.
"They've met their commitment to this project," she said. "We want to work with the University to get this done, but it's their responsibility to find that money."
Members with the student committee are requesting a meeting with the U of I's President and Urbana Chancellor about the turbine cost, including items that they don't think should be included in the project.
Civil unions for gay and lesbian couples are now the law of the land in Illinois.
About a thousand people crowded into the Chicago Cultural Center on Monday afternoon to watch Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn sign the historic law. The state's General Assembly approved the legislation 61-52 in the House and 32-24 in the Senate.
"We believe in civil rights and we believe in civil unions," Quinn said before signing the bill.
"Illinois is taking an historic step forward in embracing fairness and extending basic dignity to all couples in our state," John Knight, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Project of the ACLU of Illinois, said in a written statement issued hours before the bill-signing.
The law, which takes effect June 1, gives gay and lesbian couples official recognition from the state and many of the rights that accompany traditional marriage, including the power to decide medical treatment for an ailing partner and the right to inherit a partner's property.
Five states already allow civil unions or their equivalent, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Five other states and Washington, D.C., let gay couples marry outright, as do some countries, including Canada, South Africa and the Netherlands.
Illinois law will continue to limit marriage to one man and one woman, and civil unions still are not recognized by the federal government.
Opponents argue the law could increase the cost of doing business in Illinois, while Quinn has said it will make the state more hospitable to businesses and convention planners.
The legislation, sent to Quinn in December, passed 61-52 in the Illinois House and 32-24 in the Senate.
Some hope civil unions are a step toward full marriage for gay and lesbian couples, although sponsors of the civil union bill have said they don't plan to push for legalizing same-sex marriages, which have limited support in the Legislature.
Curt McKay served from 1998-2008 as the first full-time director of the University of Illinois' Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Resource Center. McKay said the legislation is a huge victory, but he added that there is still more that can be done to provide equal opportunities for LGBT groups.
"A number of the opponents of civil unions in Illinois use as their reason for being opposed that the next thing we'll ask for is same sex marriage," McKay said. "I think providing for LGBT people full inclusion under the laws of the state of Illinois in terms of being equal in every way a straight person is accepted is the final goal."
Some conservative groups said the new law is a stepping stone toward legalized same-sex marriage.
"Marriage was not created by man or governments," David E. Smith, executive director of the Illinois Family Institute, said Monday. "It is an institution created by God. Governments merely recognize its nature and importance
Cardinal Francis George and other Catholic leaders also vigorously fought passage of the law. The measure doesn't require churches to recognize civil unions or perform any kind of ceremony, but critics fear it will lead to other requirements, such as including same-sex couples in adoption programs run by religious groups or granting benefits to employees' partners.
(With additional reporting from the Associated Press)
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn today is expected to sign a bill that legalizes civil unions. About 1,000 people are expected to be on hand for the ceremony at the Chicago Cultural Center.
Illinois legislators approved civil unions late last year. The bill would allow same sex couples hospital visitation rights and the ability to share insurance policies. State Rep. Greg Harris was instrumental in getting the bill passed.
"This is a huge moment for people in Illinois and people feel that they have a lot of their future invested in this," Harris said.
But David Kelly, with the Illinois Family Institute, said he opposes the legislation. He said civil unions could lead to the state allowing gay marriage.
"Marriage always will be the union of one man and one woman," Kelly said.
Gov. Pat Quinn calls the legislation a civil rights issue. Once signed, the measure will go into effect June 1st.
The director emeritus of the University of Illinois' Institute for Government and Public Affairs is being remembered as a soft-spoken individual with a passion for government and public service.
Samuel Gove passed away died in Urbana Friday after a short illness. He was 87. Gove was with IGPA from 1950 until 1985, but was also active in government, serving on transition teams for Governors Dan Walker and Jim Edgar.
Former legislator and comptroller Dawn Clark Netsch served with Gove on the board of Illinois Issues magazine, which he founded. She said civic education for young people was really important to Gove.
"He was very determined and very insistent on that - and never forgot it, always kept coming back to it," Netsch said. "So that was another part of his character. He had not only a strong sense of what government should be, but a strong sense of how young people should be bred into it, if you will."
Netsch said Gove expressed his opinion in a quiet way.
"He was not a bombastic, flamboyant, in-your-face kind of a personality," she said. "But he had strong views on some things, and he certainly had very strong ways of expressing those."
Gove also conducted 17 statewide assemblies, one of them, in 1962, set issues for the 1970 Constitutional Convention. Robert Rich, the current director of IGPA, said Gove was "Mr. Illinois.'
No visitation or funeral services are planned. A celebration of Gove's life will be planned for a later date.
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