Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 23, 2010

State Analyzes Effects of Health Care Overhaul

With a major healthcare reform about to become law......many Illinoisans are left wondering what's in it for them. The Illinois Department of Insurance has put together a list of changes directly affecting people in the state.

Most provisions won't take effect until 2014, but residents could start seeing changes to their policies within the year. The state Department of Insurance expects health insurance rates to stabilize. The agency points out those seeking coverage won't be discriminated against because of a pre-existing illnesses.

The department's Director Michael McRaith says those changes will reduce trepidation on the part of Illinois consumers. "No longer will people be denied an application for insurance, be denied a claim that they filed with their insurance company, will be charged more because they've been sick or they might become sick in the future," McRaith said.

A major provision of the package is an insurance exchange system. McRaith says that will let Illinoisans shop around and pick from state approved policies. He adds that preventative services like mammograms will also be included. The changes will expand Illinois' Medicaid system, but there are no official cost estimates. One study found one third of Illinois residents have no health coverage.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 23, 2010

The Arguments For—and Against—Olympian Drive

The debate over the Olympian Drive extension will continue at an Urbana City Council committee-of-the-whole meeting in three weeks. Council members have put off a decision on a state-funded design engineering study for the road. It would be just the latest phase in a long-standing project that Mayor Laurel Prussing says would bring economic development --- and jobs --- to the north edge of the city. But opponents like Bill and Virginia Ziegler (left) and Leslie Cooperbrand (right) argue it would do more harm than good. AM 580's Jim Meadows reports on the Olympian Drive debate.

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AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 23, 2010

Urbana City Council Delays Action on Olympian Drive

A crucial vote on the Olympian Drive extension will have to wait three more weeks.

The Urbana City Council voted last (Monday) night to keep a package of intergovernmental agreements in committee until the April 12th meeting. Those agreements are for a state-funded design engineering report on the proposed extension of Olympian Drive through the north edge of Urbana.

Council members said they needed to know more about the potential impact of the project. And most, like Alderman Dennis Roberts, said they had received lots of email about Olympian Drive --- most of it opposing the project.

"I probably received way more people's email who oppose the road", said Roberts. "But I think like many people on the council, that there hasn't been a real honest discussion on what we expect to happen here. And what the impacts are, and what the design potentials are. And I think it's the responsibility of the city council to plan --- far in the future."

IDOT has asked the Urbana City Council to make a decision on funding for the study by May 1st. Meanwhile, land acquisition for the road project would be delayed because the Champaign County Board --- which must sign off on buying right-of-ways ---- has put off a vote, possibly until next year.

Mayor Laurel Prussing says the Olympian Drive extension would bring business and jobs to the north edge of Urbana. But opponents say the road would cut through valuable farmland --- and they question how much development would actually be attracted.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 22, 2010

Brady “Ready” to Vote At Any Time on Income Tax Increase—and to Vote No

Some Democrats are reacting coolly to Governor Pat Quinn's call on lawmakers to stay in Springfield over their spring break to work on budget issues - but Quinn's challenger says "bring it on."

Quinn wants a vote soon on his proposal to raise the state income tax rate by one percent to help bolster education funding in the midst of a 13 billion dollar budget deficit. Republican candidate for governor Bill Brady says he's in favor of an early vote too, but for a different reason.

"We're ready to go tomorrow," Brady said. "The sooner the better, because it's time that he stopped living in fantasy land, and it's time that he realized that the real picture is that we're not going to raise taxes. We're not going to do that to Illinois families and businesses, and we're going to deconstruct and construct a budget that's balanced."

Brady says he's against any sort of tax increase in this year's general assembly. Democratic House leader Mike Madigan will only say he's taking the idea of an early vote on an income tax increase under advisement.

Brady made a weekend appearance at a Champaign County GOP event headlined by former Bush administration advisor Karl Rove.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 19, 2010

Police Seek Home Invasion Suspect

Champaign, Urbana and University of Illinois Police were conducting special patrols on the U of I Urbana campus Friday, following a report of a home invasion and aggravated battery early Friday morning.

Authorities say that as the occupant of an apartment in the 400 block of East Healy was opening her door... she was grabbed from behind, and struck in the face several times. She was treated at a local hospital.

The attacker is described as a 35-year old black male, 5 foot 10, 170 pounds, wearing a dark shirt, jeans, and tan hat.

A sketch is on line at www.publicsafety.illinois.edu


AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 19, 2010

Purse Snatcher Wields Syringe on U of I Quad

An Urbana man was arrested on the University Illinois Quad Friday afternoon, after allegedly snatching a woman's purse and threatening to use a syringe to stab passersby who pursued him.

Jeff Unger of the U of I News Bureau says U of I and Champaign Police have charged 20 year old Nathaniel Huff with robbery, aggravated battery and possession of a syringe. Authorities say Huff is not a student.

The incident occurred on the south end of the Quad, near Gregory and Lincoln Halls. Unger says Huff allegedly grabbed a woman's purse and ran off. But a number of people in the vicinity ran after and restrained him, despite Huff's threats to stab them with the syringe. No one was injured. Police aren't sure if anything was in the syringe.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 19, 2010

Champaign County Bd Votes to Set Up Redistricting Commission

In an attempt to take the politics out of drawing county board district boundaries ... the Champaign County Board voted Thursday night to form a special Redistricting Commission, in which the majority of members will be citizens from the community. County officials believe the commission may be a first for Illinois.

The new commission is an attempt to get past district maps drawn to favor whichever party holds the majority on the county board. For the map to be based on 2010 Census data, the Champaign County Board will vote on a map drawn up by a commission made up of four county members --- two from each party --- and seven at-large members representing different sectors of the community, such as business, labor, farmers, students --- and political independents. Democrat Steve Beckett says the goal is to come up with district boundaries that are drawn fairly and don't favor one party over another.

"I think it uses these principles, and it tests maps", says Beckett, "and it tries to look at one that doesn't bust up villages and doesn't bust up townships, and tries to make things compact and contiguous as our statute wants us to do, and have the right population and take into account and take into account federal requirements."

Most Republicans on the county board voted for the new commission, but only a third of the county board's Democratic majority did so. Among the opponents, Urbana Democrat Tom Betz says there's simply no way that politics can be taken out of the redistricting process.

"This is a nice attempt", said Betz. "It's very good public relations. I hope it turns out to be more than good public relations. But let's not kid ourselves that politics is out of this picture, because this is going to be very political.

Betz predicted the real politics would begin when the at-large members of the Redistricting Commission are chosen. The nominations will be made by Champaign County Board Chairman Pius Weibel, who actually voted against the measure. The county board will vote to ratify Weibel's choices.

The commission rules aim for openness, with proposed maps posted on the Internet, and subjected to public hearings. Past voting data would not be considered in drawing up district boundaries. But the Champaign County Board will still have the final say on district boundaries for the 2012 election.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 18, 2010

Supreme Court Rules Against Provena Covenant’s Tax Exempt Status

The Illinois Supreme Court has ruled that Urbana's Provena Covenant Medical Center will have to pay property taxes to Champaign County dating back to 2002.

Justices determined Thursday that the hospital did not provide enough charity care to qualify for its tax exemption, upholding an appellate court ruling. That amount in taxes is expected to be around $8 million.

The Champaign County Board of Review initially recommended to the Illinois Department of Revenue that the hospital be denied the exemption. Chair Laura Standefur says after reviewing financial statements that her board found a few reasons for turning the hospital down, but it started with the amount of charity care. Sandefur says it's hard to define, but the board knows when it's not at the appropriate level.

"Charity, I think, is kind of that same way," Sandefur said. "Less than one percent, is that exclusive use? What defines exclusive or even majority use? None of us on the board could really look at those numbers and think that that was used exclusively for charitable purposes."

Champaign County treasurer Dan Welch says it's still not clear how the roughly $8 million in property taxes should be collected. He says the majority of the funds would be earmarked for Urbana's Tax Increment Financing, or TIF, district. But he says Urbana city leaders may be able to change how those funds are divided. Mayor Laurel Prussing has already suggested breaking down those funds among taxing bodies, including more than $4 million for schools, $1.2 million for the city, and $720,000 for Champaign County.

Provena officials released a written statement on the Supreme Court decision. Local Hospital Board Chairman Cody Sokolski says he's deeply disappointed in the ruling, noting that the hospital provided more than $38 million in free care and other community benefits in 2008. Provena Covenant CEO David Bertauski says he hopes the ruling prompts a dialogue among elected officials and hospitals over how charity care should be defined.

Six years ago Provena's tax exempt status for 2002 was revoked after the state department of revenue sided with Champaign County officials. A circuit court judge overturned the ruling, but an appeals court later reversed it again in the state and county's favor. In the meantime, Provena has been putting contested tax money - more than a million dollars a year -- into a fund that remained tied up pending the Supreme Court ruling.

Categories: Government, Health, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 18, 2010

Bill for Elected U of I Trustees Defeated in Illinois House

University of Illinois trustees will continue to be appointed by the governor, rather than elected. The Illinois House voted down an effort to change how U of I board members are chosen.

The calls to return to an elected U of I board of trustees grew louder following a scandal last year over the role clout played in admissions at the Urbana Champaign campus. Seven members resigned under pressure and Governor Pat Quinn chose replacements.

The bill before the Illinois House on Wednesday would have seven U of I trustees elected by the voters --- three of the seats would be reserved for residents of Illinois' First Judicial District, which covers Cook County. In addition, six other trustee seats would be appointed by the U of I Alumni Association. And faculty trustees would be added to the student trustees who already serve on the board. The governor would continue to have a tie-breaking seat on the U of I Board, but would no longer appoint any of its members.

State Representative Chapin Rose (R-Mahomet)... a U of I alum... was among those who say electing trustees would guarantee accountability.

"If the body wants to condone what took place at the University of Illinois, by all means vote no", Rose told his fellow lawmakers.

The plan was defeated, with 44 yeas, 69 yays and one member voting present. House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) voted against the measure, while Minority Leader Tom Cross (R-Plainfield) voted for it..

Skokie Representative Lou Lang (D-Skokie)...who also graduated from the U of I ... says he voted against it because it leaves out other universities. He adds it's too soon to tell how the current board is doing....

"Because it singles out one single university", says Lang, "a university where it has new trustees and we don't know how well they'll perform, I think the bill is ill advised."

Other lawmakers argued the public would wind up voting for trustees with little knowledge of the candidates.

The measure was sponsored by Olney Republican --- and U of I alum --- David Reis. Its co-sponsors were all Republicans from the east-central Illinois region where the university is based --- Rose, Bill Black, Shane Cultra and Bill Mitchell. Area Democrats Naomi Jakobsson and Robert Flider also voted for the bill.

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 17, 2010

Champaign Council Reverses Course, Accepts Federal Law Enforcement Money

In a reversal of a previous "no" vote, the Champaign City Council has voted to 6-2 to accept its share of a federal grant aimed at curbing underage drinking in Champaign-Urbana.

Urbana and the University of Illinois are also involved in the grant, but the Champaign City Council last month rejected its portion, 11-thousand dollars a year for three years, to fund police efforts to curb underage drinking.

But after the director of the Mental Health Center of Champaign County made a personal plea, enough council members changed their minds Tuesday night to turn last month's "no" vote into a "yes" .

Marci Dodds was among those who switched, even though she thinks the city doesn't need the money, and believes it would be better to combat problem drinking at any age, rather than all drinking by minors.

"In understanding the ramifications of what this means to the Mental Health Center at large, I will vote for it," said Dodds, "because I greatly support what the Mental Health Center does. But I am not thrilled with the plan."

The $360,000 3-year grant will also fund education programs aimed at preventing underage drinking, under the sponsorship of the Mental Health Center. City Manager Steve Carter says the grant is aimed at both policing and prevention --- and if Champaign rejected its portion, it could endanger the entire program.


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