Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 06, 2010

Longtime Indiana Lawmaker Dies at 79

Former Indiana Republican State Senator Joe Harrison is being remembered as an icon and a mentor for many now serving in the legislature.

The 40-year Senator who served as majority leader for 25 years died Thursday in Chicago after suffering a heart attack while visiting his daughters. He was 79.

Senator and Majority Floor Leader Connie Lawson succeeded Harrison as Senate Majority Leader. In her first legislative session in 1997, she said no one was more enthusiastic to see legislators back at the capitol. Lawson said Harrison was eager to explain complicated issues to new lawmakers, having served on his pension and labor committee for her first two years.

"That's not an easy committee to serve on and the bills are not easy to read," Lawson said. "He was always eager to teach each and every one of us what those bills meant. I just remember the way he ran his committee was in a professional and efficient way."

Harrison shared some of the same legislative area as Lafayette Republican Senator Ron Alting when he first campaigned. Alting said Harrison was always a statesman, and never a politician - who acted in the best interests of his constituents, even when his decisions were not the most popular. Alting said Harrison would fight controversial topics head-on, adding that his efficiency helped taxpayers.

"He told you if you testified to get to the point," Alting recalled. "He focused right to what the subject matter was and say your piece and sit down."

Funeral services for Harrison will be Thursday in Attica.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 06, 2010

Election Officials Hearing Objections to Emanuel’s Chicago Mayor Campaign

Dozens of people who don't want former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel to be Chicago's next mayor are moving ahead with efforts to keep him off the February ballot. However, the man who moved into Emanuel's house and later decided to challenge him says he won't mount a mayoral campaign himself.

Chicago election officials began handling petition challenges Monday in the mayor's race including more than 30 objections to Emanuel's candidacy.

The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners has assigned hearing officers to his case and others wanting to run for mayor, alderman or other citywide office.

Opponents say Emanuel doesn't meet the residency requirement to run for mayor because he lived in Washington for nearly two years while working for President Barack Obama. One challenger is Rob Halpin, who had moved into Emanuel's Chicago home when Emanuel went to Washington.

Halpin said in a Monday statement that the challenges of running for office - starting with the cost - led to his decision to drop out. Halpin didn't mention Emanuel's name, but says he has no plans to endorse or work against another candidate.

Halpin made headlines a few months ago when he said he wasn't moving out of Emanuel's house, despite being asked to. Emanuel moved back to Chicago, but is living elsewhere.

Emanuel, a former Chicago congressman, moved back in October to run for mayor after Richard Daley announced he wouldn't seek a seventh term.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 05, 2010

Sidewalk Snow/Ice Removal Required in Champaign

Sidewalk snow and ice removal requirements for downtown and Campustown in Champaign were put into effect at noon on Sunday (December 5th).

Public Works Director Dennis Schmidt announced that due to the snow accumulated during the weekend snowfall, property owners in the downtown and Campustown areas had until noon on Tuesday, December 7th to clear snow and ice from sidewalks. The deadline is based on the 48 hours warning period established by City Ordinance. Schmidt said through a news release that sidewalks that were not in compliance could be cleared by the City at the property owner's expense.

The downtown Champaign area subject to the Sidewalk Snow Removal Ordinance is bordered by State Street on the west, 2nd Street on the east, Columbia Avenue on the north and Springfield Avenue on the south. The Campustown area subject to the ordinance is bordered by Neil Street on the west, University Avenue on the north, Windsor Road on the south and Wright Street (which is also the Champaign city border) on the east.

Champaign's Sidewalk Snow Removal Ordiance is put into effect when snow accumulation reaches two inches or more.

A map and other details of the ordinance can be seen on the City of Champaign website (

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 02, 2010

Search Begins to Fill Rep.-Elect Adam Brown’s Decatur City Council Seat

A special write-in election will be held to fill State Representative-elect Adam Brown's vacant Decatur City Council seat.

Brown narrowly defeated four-term incumbent Bob Flider (D-Mt. Zion) in the November 2nd election, and last week resigned from the city council. Brown's resignation came after the election filing deadline, which means candidates interested in running for the seat will have to file as write-in candidates on the ballot.

If more than four candidates decide to jump into the race, then a special write-in primary will take place on Feb. 22 with the names of the four top candidates appearing on the ballot in the April 5 election. But if there is not a primary, then Macon County Clerk Steve Bean said voters will have to write-in the candidates' names in the general election. Bean said this will be the largest write-in race that has taken place Macon County in recent years.

"It'll slow down whatever counting process we have for whichever election we do this in," he said.

But before the general election, Decatur Mayor Mike McElroy will have to appoint a new city council member to fill Brown vacated seat. He has 60 days to choose someone following Brown's departure from the council. McElroy, who's up for re-election, acknowledged that it is possible he will appoint someone who plans on running for the seat in the general election.

"I don't know that it behooves anyone to figure that we just want you for five months," McElroy said. "If you're thinking seriously about it, then we want someone that's going to go on and finish out that term."

He said whoever he appoints will have to win the approval of the five current sitting members on the Decatur City Council. McElroy said he hopes to make a decision by next week. People interested in running as a write-in candidate have until Dec. 23 to file the necessary election documents with the Decatur city clerk. Unlike national or statewide races, no signatures or petitions are required for write-in candidates to be on the ballot.

So far, the only person to declare his candidacy is Macon County Historical Society director Patrick McDaniel, who unsuccessfully ran for the Decatur City Council last year. However, others have expressed interest in running.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 02, 2010

Two Children Die in Broadlands House Fire

An early morning house fire in Broadlands has claimed the lives of two young children.

Firefighters were called to the home on Logan Street just past 2 a.m., and worked at the scene for more than 3 hours. The two-story house was destroyed. The names of the one and two-year olds who died are not being released pending notification of other family members. Champaign County Coroner Duane Northrup says an autopsy will be conducted in Bloomington on Friday. County Sheriff's Lieutenant Ed Ogle said the six members of the family were all sleeping in the downstairs living room in an effort to stay warm before being awakened by neighbors. He said the parents were able to get the older children out, but couldn't get back in to save the younger children.

The four other family members were not hurt. Ogle said the home was engulfed in flames by firefighters arrived, and spread quickly.

"We don't know how long it had been burning until prior to somebody noticing it," Ogle said. "That's what we're currently working with the state fire marshal's office on now to try to determine how it started, where it started, and what possibly fed it so fast."

Ogle said the fire likely started in a garage which is attached by a breezeway. Five fire departments fought the blaze, including Broadlands, Longview, Villa Grove, Sidney, and Homer. Water hauled to the scene caused the road to freeze up, which was closed until after 6 a.m., after an IDOT crew could spread salt in that area.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 01, 2010

Rep. Black Takes to the House Floor for the Last Time

State Representative Bill Black has given his last speech on the floor of the Illinois House.

The Danville Republican was emotional in his final address to colleagues before he retires this month after 24 years, but it was not the fiery emotion that statehouse observers are familiar with, when Black would tackle controversial issues, sometimes screaming and slamming down his microphone.

Black kidded fellow lawmakers, complimented staff members and quoted "To Kill a Mockingbird" in his speech. He also reminisced about lawmakers who died during his tenure, citing a recent Chicago Tribune column that examined mortality.

"I prefer to remember the fun and glorious days of being able to walk beside them, work with them, when the sun was shining so brightly on our faces," Black said, his voice quavering. "God, I love this place and I love all of you. But as in everything there is a time."

Black was the House deputy Republican leader until earlier this year, when he was demoted by Republican leader Tom Cross for voting against his party on a borrowing bill. In his speech, Black saluted Cross and said he understood the demotion, thanking Cross for not taking away some of the privileges of the post.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 01, 2010

Letters to the Future Part of Last Leg of Champaign 150th Celebration

The head of Champaign's 150th Anniversary Celebration said dozens of people of all ages have already sent in their writings on Champaign's past, present or future for the "Letters to the Future" project.

Project Manager LaEisha Meaderds said they are looking for letters to put in a time capsule, to be ready when the capsule is opened 50 years from now, in 2060.

"We've received several letters from just individuals throughout the community," Meaderds said. "We received a stack of letters from Next Generation School, from just a couple of weeks ago, from 7th and 8th graders. And their wit and their insight into what the future would hold are very interesting."

Meaderds said letter-writers should focus on one of three topics --- their personal family ties to Champaign, a description of life in Champaign today, or their hope or dream for Champaign's future.

Letters will be accepted until January 14th, 2011. One hundred and fifty of them will be chosen for display, and then included in the Anniversary time capsule. The capsule will be buried in March, when the year-long 150th Anniversary Celebration comes to a close.

The March wrap up to the Champaign Sesquicentennial will be more low-key than first envisioned. Meaderds said a budget crunch in city government and the generally weak economy mean the concluding celebrations will be smaller than first intended, and plans for installing a commemorative fountain in downtown Champaign have been put on hold.

But Meaderds said they have managed to adjust the 150th Anniversary Celebration to changing economic realities.

"Our planning started before the real downfall began," she explained. "And I think that we've been really, really smart to try and keep our costs as low as possible, and really just spend wisely --- but still at the same time, celebrate our city, celebrate our community and put on a good show."

The 150th Anniversary Celebration started last March with an exhibit on Champaign history, followed by a downtown music festival in July. Meaderds said a youth art competition is part of the Celebration's conclusion this coming March, in addition to the "Letters to the Future" project and the time capsule.

For more information on the Champaign 150th Anniversary Celebration, visit the project's website ( or call 217-403-8710.

AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 01, 2010

Civil Union Bill Passes IL Senate, Gov. Quinn Says He Will Sign It

Gay rights advocates celebrated Wednesday as the Illinois Legislature voted to legalize civil unions, although some wondered whether the measure that the governor is expected to sign will make it easier or harder to someday win approval of same-sex marriage.

The state Senate approved the legislation 32-24, sending it to Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn. It passed despite complaints from some senators that civil unions threaten the sanctity of marriage or increase the cost of doing business in Illinois.

After Quinn signs the measure, gay and lesbian couples will be able to get official recognition from the state and gain many of the rights that accompany marriage - the power to decide medical treatment for an ailing partner, for instance. Illinois law will continue to limit marriage to one man and woman, and the federal government won't recognize the civil unions at all.

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.

Some supporters of civil unions in Illinois hope they'll be a step toward full marriage.

"The ultimate goal is not to be separate but equal," said Jacob Meister, president of The Civil Rights Agenda, a gay rights organization. Meister said civil unions are a necessary compromise because they will provide important protections for gay couples.

But even advocates acknowledge it's possible that by accepting civil unions now, they may be delaying movement toward being able to marry. The compromise could weaken any arguments that gay people are being treated unfairly by not being allowed to marry.

The sponsors of the civil unions bill said Wednesday they don't plan to push for legalizing same-sex marriages, which have limited support in the Legislature.

"As soon as the governor signs it, it's the law of the state of Illinois and that's what we're going to live with and going to make work," said Sen. David Koehler, D-Peoria.

The executive director of a gay community center in Chicago said he welcomes civil unions but worries the legislation may stall ultimate approval of same-sex marriage. Modesto Valle of the Center on Halsted said it will take "tremendous work" to turn civil unions into "a platform to move toward marriage equality" in Illinois.

Courtney Reid, 48, of Chicago said she and her partner of 12 years have decided they won't pursue a civil union, preferring to wait until same-sex marriage is recognized by federal law and homosexual couples get all the tax benefits and other rights available to heterosexual couples.

"It's a stand on principle for us," Reid said.

Supporters presented the civil unions legislation as a matter of basic fairness for all Illinois residents. With civil unions, state law will treat gay and lesbian couples as if they were married. They would inherit property when a partner dies, for instance.

"It's time for us to look history in the eye and not flinch," said Sen. Jeffrey Schoenberg, D-Evanston.

Opponents argued it moves Illinois closer to legalizing same-sex marriages. They said civil unions are basically marriage by another name and that they could give the courts a reason to step in and order Illinois to allow full marriage to everyone.

Some senators also criticized the time being spent on civil unions at a time when the state faces a massive budget crisis.

"Here we are, forced to debate an issue that may be political payback to a small but very politically powerful special interest group," said Sen. Chris Lauzen, R-Aurora. He called gay sexual activities dangerous and questioned whether the state has a role in regulating relationships that don't produce children.

The Illinois Family Institute accused legislators of failing to examine the legislation clearly.

"Proponents engaged in embarrassing and maudlin displays of sentimentality intended to emotionally manipulate rather than intellectually persuade their colleagues," said executive director David E. Smith.

Cardinal Francis George and other Catholic leaders fought civil unions vigorously. Conservative groups also lobbied to block the measure. They argued it could hurt religious institutions.

The measure wouldn't require churches to recognize civil unions or perform any kind of ceremony, opponents acknowledge, but critics fear it would lead to other requirements, such as including same-sex couples in adoption programs run by religious groups or granting benefits to employees' partners.

Some religious leaders welcomed the legislation. In Chicago, Rabbi Larry Edwards said he's looking forward to planning celebrations for couples in his Jewish congregation who may decide to form civil unions under Illinois law.

"To those who say it's a slippery slope and eventually will lead to marriage, I say, 'I hope so,'" said Edwards of Or Chadash synagogue. "I would like to be on a slippery slope that slides in the direction of justice."

The Rev. Vernice Thorn, associate pastor of Broadway United Methodist Church in Chicago said she considers the vote a hopeful sign. "Same-sex legalized marriage is going to happen. It's just a matter of when.

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 01, 2010

Flash Economic Index Slowly Rises Again, But Tax Amnesty May Cloud Numbers

Illinois' economy keeps creeping slowly toward recovery according to a monthly gauge of economic performance, but the economist who calculates the University of Illinois Flash Index says an amnesty program for late taxpayers in the state may have distorted the index in November.

Fred Giertz says he made an adjustment in the index, placing it at 94.2 for the month. That's still well below the 100-level that signifies economic growth, but it's slightly higher than October's index, marking the seven straight month of similar increases.

The Flash Index is based on state tax proceeds in a given month. Giertz says if he had not adjusted the index to account for the tax amnesty program, it would have been about five points higher.

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 01, 2010

State Board of Education Hears Pleas from Local Educators

Area educators have issued urgent appeals for the state to maintain funding in areas ranging from transportation to early childhood education.

Champaign was the site for the last of the State Board of Education's six public hearings on the Fiscal 2012 budget. Champaign Unit 4 Chief Financial Officer Gene Logas testified that cuts to the district's early childhood program have meant 40 less students, with a waiting list of 100. He pleaded with the state board and legislature to increase funding in that area. "And the only winner is the state prison system when we don't get our children off to the best start that's possible," said Logas. "It's just such a shame to waste scare resources building prisons when we could be using that money on our youngest children. This is a just a total waste, a total lack of priorities. We should all be ashamed of ourselves." Logas also says maintaining court-mandated special education remains a very expensive proposition for many districts.

Cris Vowels is the principal at Urbana's Washington Early Childhood School. She says every year, the amount of the school's grant is questionable, and how many staff members can be re-hired. She says 70-percent of them were given Reduction in Force notices last spring.

"And so come August when I found out that we were indeed going to be fully funded, I was calling people on Friday asking them to come back to work on Monday," said Vowels. "Of course, I lost key staff members. Most particularly, my bilingual staff members who are in high demand around the state." Vowels suggests the state support a multi-year grant program for early childhood programs.

Former Champaign School Board member Margie Skirvin says the uncertainty of state payments has been the biggest problem among all districts. Representing the Illinois PTA, she says the group is backing a House bill that would shift the burden of funding education from property taxes to income taxes. Deb Foertsch, Illinois Federation of Teachers Vice President and a teacher at Champaign's Carrie Busey Elementary, says an easing of tax cap restrictions in affected districts could help save programs like bilingual and gifted education. And Jessica Schad, a second year teacher at Urbana Middle School, says she wouldn't have survived in her job if it weren't for a grant-funded mentoring program at District 116.

James Bauman, chair of the ISBE's finance committee, says most funding remains committed to general state aid, with about a billion dollars left for grant funded programs, include early childhood education. He says comments at Tuesday's Champaign hearing reflect those of others held around the state, and will help guide the State Board when it recommends an education budget to lawmakers in January.

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