Illinois Public Media News
Indiana's first statewide smoking restrictions have been signed into law by Gov. Mitch Daniels.
The governor signed the smoking ban bill and other legislation during a ceremony Monday at his Statehouse office. The smoking ban proposal narrowly cleared the state Senate this month after compromises expanding the number of exemptions were added to the bill over the objections of health advocates.
Daniels says that although everyone might not have been happy with the bill, it was best to get something approved while lawmakers had the "energy'' to handle the issue.
The ban that is to take effect in July will still give people plenty of places to light up as it exempts Indiana's bars, casinos, retail tobacco shops and private clubs, such as veterans and fraternal organizations.
U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk got a phone call from the Senate's top Republican wishing him well in his recovery from a January stroke.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky called Kirk on Wednesday at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, where Kirk is recovering.
McConnell says he assured his colleague their staffs were working together to represent the interests of Illinois in the Senate.
He says Kirk was eager to discuss policy during the call, especially his push to tighten sanctions on Iran in response to its nuclear work.
McConnell says the Senate is looking forward to having him back.
Doctors have said the 52-year-old Kirk should make a full mental recovery, although they expect the stroke will limit movement on his left side.
Officials at an Illinois company that lost a bid for state employees' insurance contracts say they're not surprised by an audit critical of the procurement process.
The state audit was released Wednesday. It finds serious problems with the way Illinois awarded $7 billion in contracts for state workers' health insurance.
A spokeswoman for Urbana-based Health Alliance says many of the auditor's findings were pointed out in the company's original protest of the procurement.
The audit comes as the state is settling a lawsuit by Health Alliance over the contracts.
Health Alliance spokeswoman Jocelyn Browning says the company is focused on submitting a bid in a new request for proposals that's part of the settlement being worked out.
Health Alliance insures about 90,000 state employees and their dependents.
Gov. Mitch Daniels says he's prepared to accept a weakened smoking ban if that's what it takes to get something approved before he leaves office.
Daniels said Friday he still prefers a version passed by House lawmakers that would exempt Indiana's gambling industry, private clubs and tobacco and cigar stores from the ban. But Senate lawmakers greatly weakened the measure this week by cutting bars out of the proposed ban and expanding the exemptions approved by the House.
House and Senate negotiators are scheduled to meet Monday to hash out a compromise. The Senate approved a statewide smoking ban for the first time this week after years of House lawmakers approving bans only to see them die in the Senate.
Daniels included the smoking ban in his 2012 legislative agenda.
The Illinois Department of Revenue says it's prepared to move swiftly on decisions about which not-for-profit hospitals deserve tax breaks.
Those hospitals waiting for a decision include Carle and Provena Hospitals in Urbana, and Decatur Memorial Hospital.
The state had held off making any decisions since fall while it, hospitals, and consumer health advocates negotiated how much charity do not for profit hospitals have to provide in order to get out of paying property taxes.
But they failed to reach an agreement by Governor Pat Quinn's March First deadline.
So the department is going to resume issuing rulings. Revenue spokeswoman Sue Hofer says a backlog of up to 18 cases has built up in the interim. She says that will decrease, as decisions are made by the end of this month.
"We look forward to doing our job and making decisions, so that both the entities that we're determining about, and the local governments will have closure on how much money they can expect to gain in taxes, or how much money they may have to pay in taxes," Hofer said.
Hofer says the constitution and court precedence establish what hospitals have to do to qualify. But the state hospital association's Danny Chun says the standards aren't clear, even though big money's at stake.
"In some cases it could be millions of dollars a year, it just depends on the property that's being looked at," said Chun.
He says money spent paying a local tax bill is money that's not going to health care.
The Indiana Senate has approved a severely weakened smoking ban with exemptions for bars, casinos, tobacco stores and many other businesses.
The 29-21 vote Wednesday sets up final negotiations with House lawmakers as anti-smoking activists and health groups look to salvage the ban in the waning days of the 2012 session.
The Senate proposal would ban smoking in most private businesses. But the measure exempts bars and taverns, the state's expansive gambling industry, private clubs, cigar and tobacco stores, veterans' homes and nursing homes and a handful of others.
Supporters of a ban said the bill wasn't perfect but voted in favor of it in hopes they could hash out a stronger ban in a conference committee with House lawmakers, who have passed a more restrictive version.
Health Alliance, Humana Given 2nd Chance on State Employee Plans
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Radio)
Action by a state legislative panel Tuesday will give two health insurance providers the chance to submit new proposals for healthcare packages for state employees.
Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk is continuing to improve after a major stroke and has been upgraded to fair condition.
Northwestern Memorial Hospital neurosurgeon Richard Fessler says Kirk is alert, talking and responding well to questions.
The Chicago hospital released a statement Monday about Kirk's progress, a little more than a week after he suffered a stroke that's affected his left side.
Fessler says doctors are very pleased with Kirk's progress.
Kirk is 52 and was in good health when he was stricken.
Doctors believe a clot developed from a tear in an artery in his neck and lodged in his brain. Doctors removed part of his skull to relieve pressure and allow the brain to swell.
Illinois Senator Shane Cultra says the State High School Association needs to be more flexible in allowing student athletes to play football.
A bill sponsored by the Onarga Republican opposes IHSA rules, mandating that a student participate in a minimum of 12 practices before they can play in a game, even if that student was away for military training. The Senator's bill would provide a waiver to those students who recently completed basic training.
Cultra's bill was filed after a senior at Paxton-Buckley-Loda High School, Eddie Nuss, was declared ineligible to play his season opener for that reason. Cultra understands the IHSA's concerns about health risks, but says his measure would have safeguards.
"Let the staff of the school examine the student athlete when they come back," he said. "And if they're in great shape, and they think they're probably able to play without the required number of practices, then they're going to make a recommendation to the school board, who would then give them a waiver for how many practices they missed."
IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman says research shows military training doesn't necessarily mean a student is acclimated to play football - citing 5 students who died in practice in the US around the country last year due to heat-related illness. He says schools boards aren't medically qualified to make such a call.
"There's quite a bit of research that indicates regardless of the condition a kid comes to the football practice, that they need to be acclimated to play football," Hickman said. "That takes time. Our physicians, our trainers, that our sports medicine advisory committee says that takes at least 12 days."
Physicians on the IHSA's sports medicine advisory committee say it takes 12 to 14 days of practice before a student is ready to play football. Hickman expects those doctors to bring testimony to Springfield if the bill is debated this year.
Michael Pollan thinks of himself as a writer, a professor...and eater. But many people would call him a food activist. The author of controversial books like "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and "In Defense of Food," Pollan is known for his vivid critiques of industrial agriculture and the modern American diet. He recently spoke with Illinois Public Radio's Véronique LaCapra about his views on food and agriculture - starting with what he sees as a healthy diet.
(Photo courtesy of Ken Light)
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