Illinois Public Media News
One of central Illinois' oldest and largest farmers' markets starts its new season Saturday morning, May 7th.
The Market-at-the-Square in downtown Urbana promises over 160 vendors selling everything from fresh produce to arts and crafts. Market director Lisa Bralts-Kelly says attendance averages about 7,000 visitors each week.
Not all produce is available at farmers markets in the month of May, and Market-at-the-Square is no exception. But Bralts-Kelly saod there are some things shoppers can always count on at this time of year.
"You'll have various lettuces, spinach, green onions, fresh-cut herbs that are OK in cool weather, all of those things," Bralts-Kelly said. "But then we have asparagus, which is really the star of the show. And the season for asparagus started a couple of weeks ago, so we'll have it at the Market this weekend. And then, as that starts to wane, the strawberries will start to come on."
One thing that will NOT be at Market-at-the-Square this year is pets and other animals.They're barred from the Market under a new policy. Bralts-Kelly said that they've come to realize that the busy outdoor market is not a good setting for pets.
"We just witnessed many interactions between, not just dogs and people, but also dogs and other dogs," she said. "And we did field a lot of complaints from patrons about animals --- whether it was for sanitation reasons, or crowding, noise, leashes. We've been compiling all this feedback for years, and we decided that this year was probably the time to do it."
Bralts-Kelly said pets are already banned at the Taste of Champaign-Urbana, and the Urbana Sweetcorn Festival --- making Market-at-the-Square the last big outdoor food event in the area to enact such a policy. Service animals will still be welcome, and community groups registered as "animal-related" can also have animals at their booths.
Urbana's Market-at-the-Square is a city-run event that runs Saturday mornings, now through November 5th, at Lincoln Square in downtown Urbana. It will be joined by another area farmer's market next month --- Champaign's North First Street will host its farmers market on Thursday afternoons, starting June 9th.
(With additional reporting from Pam Dempsey of CU-CitizenAccess)
A Champaign County judge issued two warrants Thursday for a father-son landlord team who have failed to comply with court orders to empty out an apartment complex in Champaign County.
Judge John Kennedy issued a civil contempt warrant and a criminal contempt warrant for both Bernard Ramos and his father, Eduardo. The arrest warrants each include a $10,000 bond. If arrested, the judge requires that the Ramoses post the full amount - $20,000 each - rather than the typical 10 percent bond before they can be released.
The Ramoses were accused of failing to legally connect sewer and septic systems for six out of their eight apartment buildings on the property. The apartment complex has traditionally housed many migrant workers.
Last month, Judge Kennedy found the Ramoses guilty of failing to legally connect the property's sewer and septic systems. They must pay more than $54,000 in fines ($100 per day for 379 days for the unlawful discharge of sewage, $100 per day for 160 days for renting out the property during the health code violation; and $200 for not having a proper construction permit and license when they tried to repair the sewage and septic systems).
The Champaign County Public Health Department also sought to stop the Ramoses from renting out the property until the septic system could be legally fixed.
The pair was ordered to pay the fines within six months and vacate the complex immediately, which lies between Thomasboro and Rantoul.
A hearing on the case was scheduled for Thursday after public health inspectors noted tenants still living on the property.
Julie Pryde, director of the Champaign County Public Health Department, said a neighbor of Cherry Orchard reported that tenants were moving from one building to another building on the east side of the complex. The building they were moving into lacks electrical service, inspectors confirmed in October.
"I'm definitely happy that the state's attorney's office is moving forward," Pryde said after Thursday's hearing.
Pryde said inspectors have noted at least 10 cars on the property, indicating that the complex remains occupied. She said she is worried more tenants will move to Cherry Orchard.
"I am definitely concerned that if they are in Texas like they report to be, then they could be bringing back migrants because they have a history of doing that," Pryde said. "(Bernard Ramos) has made no bones about that, and that would be a real problem."
Pryde said health inspectors would continue to monitor the situation, but that assistance for the tenants who need help moving is being handled by social service agencies such as the Salvation Army. A summons for the Ramoses could not be served as the two were not found.
Champaign County Assistant State's Attorney Joel Fletcher told the judge that the Ramoses said they were in Texas and would not be at Thursday's hearing.
Bernard Ramos and his family have owned more than 30 properties in Champaign County; however, several are now or have been under foreclosure during the past few years - with at least seven sold in sheriff's auctions since 2008, according to an analysis of Champaign County Recorder's Office documents.
A call to Bernard Ramos seeking comment was not immediately returned.
The Illinois House has once again rejected allowing medicinal marijuana for those with certain medical conditions.
The proposed measure would hae implemented a three-year pilot program for medical marijuana. The program would've allowed people suffering from certain kinds of illnesses, including cancer and AIDS, to receive a prescription for marijuana to help alleviate pain and nausea.
The measure failed on a 61-to-53 vote.
The bill would have barred people from buying the marijuana anywhere except 59 licensed, not-for-profit sellers. But critics argue it sends the wrong message to kids and could make the drug problem worse.
The measure's Sponsor, Lou Lang (D-Skokie), had limited the program to three years and added a provision to allow the purchase only from licensed dispensaries, but it wasn't enough.
"Maybe as many as 100 members believe we should pass a medical marijuana law but for whatever reason are unable to convince themselves to do it," Lang said.
Lang could call the measure for another vote this Spring. He said he believes he has the necessary support, but has to convince enough colleagues to follow through and vote for it.
House Republican Leader Tom opposed earlier versions of the measure, but endorsed it this time it, saying it's only right to help relieve people's suffering.
"Shouldn't we be able to provide to them the best relief and the best available source to do that?" Cross said.
(AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Two social service agencies facing potentially drastic state budget cuts have delayed a decision to merge.
Last March Prairie Center and Community Elements said they were exploring a merger. Prairie Center provides substance abuse treatment and prevention while Community Elements, formerly the Mental Health Center of Champaign County, provides other mental health services.
Prairie Center director Bruce Suardini said neither agency is clear on their funding from the state for the rest of the fiscal year, not to mention the outcome of the fiscal year 2012 budget. At one point, Prairie Center and other substance-abuse treatment facilities were threatened with a total cutoff of state money.
"Because of the instability of the funding, merging the two agencies together just to merge is not a good business decision," Suardini said. "And not having the budgets in place to understand where we're going for Fiscal Year 2012 keeps that process from finalizing."
Suardini said all other indicators point to a merger as the best option for both mental health providers. But he said merger talks won't resume until the second half of 2011, with a decision possibly delayed until next January.
Opponents of the changes to Medicare proposed in the budget plan passed by the US House are gearing up their campaigns. The union-affiliated Alliance for Retired Americans made its case to a luncheon for retirees of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees in Urbana Wednesday.
The budget plan was proposed by Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan and passed by the House last month. It calls for switching the Medicare system over to vouchers used to help pay a choice of competing private health plans.
But the Alliance for Retired Americans argues the change will result in sharply higher out-of-pocket payments. Beatrice Stratton is the vice-president of the AFSCME retirees group that saw the Alliance's presentation. She says the increase would be too high for seniors like herself who are on limited incomes. "Those people, from what I understand, are going to end up paying anywhere from $5,000-6,000 a year for their healthcare," said Stratton. "I mean, they're only going to give them a voucher for so much money. And you know that older people are going to spend more money at the doctor's."
The Alliance for Retired Americans called on people at the AFSCME retirees' luncheon to contact Congressman Tim Johnson, who voted for the budget plan that includes the Medicare changes. A spokesman for Johnson's office could not be reached for comment on Wednesday. A website promoting Congressman Ryan's budget ideas says the Medicare payments under the new plan would be pegged to inflation and give higher payments to those facing greater medical risks.
A group representing nursing homes in Illinois says the governor's proposed budget cuts would leave many of them struggling to provide adequate care, or even to survive.
The Health Care Council of Illinois' membership is mainly privately-run nursing homes, but they accept many patients relying on Medicaid. For one home in Champaign where patients and staff rallied this morning, that amounts to 70 patients out of 118 paying for their care through Medicaid.
Governor Pat Quinn's plan to ease the state's budget deficit includes a 6% cut in Medicaid funding. Health Care Council director Pat Comstock said such a cut would further hurt a system that already provides the least nursing home assistance of any state in the nation.
"Every facility will be impacted differently, but facilities may more and more make a decision not to take Medicaid residents, and then the poorest of the poor and the frailest of the frail won't have anywhere to get services," Comstock said. "Some facilities are undoubtedly going to close."
Comstock acknowledges that state senators are considering less drastic cuts - 3-percent instead of 6-percent. But she says for each dollar nursing homes lose from the state for Medicaid patients, they lose another dollar in federal matching funds -- a total of $140 million less in reimbursements if the state follows through with its $70 million proposed reduction.
A measure in the Illinois General Assembly could loosen local health department regulations that prevent people who want to make their own food and sell it at farmers markets.
The legislation, which passed the state Senate, would allow people to sell home-baked "non potentially hazardous food," like cookies, breads, and cakes. These are goods with a lower risk and track record of a foodborne illness.
The measure also includes selling certain types of jam, jelly and fruit butter.
In Illinois, baked goods sold as part of a business have to be prepared in a kitchen that passes a state health inspection. However, there are exceptions when home-prepared goods are sold at a yard sale or during a fundraiser.
In most cases, people who want to sell their own homemade baked goods have to rent or purchase a commercially certified kitchen. Wes King, the policy coordinator with the Illinois Stewardship Alliance, said buying a kitchen that is up to code can cost thousands of dolars, an expense he said many people cannot manage. King said the legislation would provide a stepping-stone for small businesses to startup.
"Instead of having to invest all that money in a commercial kitchen, you can do it out of your home kitchen and sell it at farmers markets," King explained. "Ideally, if you have a really successful product, you'll then move into the level of maybe using a shared kitchen or purchasing your own commercial kitchen."
The measure could have a big impact in Urbana. Back in 2009, the Champaign Urbana Public Health District began enforcing the state's ban on homemade goods at farmers markets, like Urbana's Market at the Square. Lisa Bralts-Kelly, the director of Market at the Square, said the legislation could change that policy.
"Overall, I think it'll be a great thing for farmers markets," Bralts-Kelly said. "It'll bring us back to people being able to find special things that they can't find anywhere else. Also in an economy like this, it kind of boosts entrepreneurialism and gives people a chance to earn some additional money."
State Senator Shane Cultra (R-Onarga), a co-sponsor of the legislation, said he hopes the bill changes the way local health departments in the state regulate food sales.
"There's too heavy a hand of local health departments," Cultra said. "This law does a good job of dividing food products into ones that have potential to be hazardous and ones that aren't."
The legislation requires people to have a food sanitation license, and it states that they must clearly label goods that are prepared in a home.
At least 17 other states have similar policies in place, according to the Illinois Stewardship Alliance.
The measure now heads to the Illinois House of Representatives.
Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels announced Friday he intends to sign a bill that will cut $3 million in state funding to Planned Parenthood of Indiana, saying both he-and most Hoosiers-oppose abortion.
"I will sign HEA 1210 when it reaches my desk a week or so from now. I supported this bill from the outset, and the recent addition of language guarding against the spending of tax dollars to support abortions creates no reason to alter my position," Daniels said in a written statement. "Any organization affected by this provision can resume receiving taxpayer dollars immediately by ceasing or separating its operations that perform abortions."
Betty Cockrum, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Indiana, said the lost funds will affect everything from providing healthcare services to just keeping the doors open in some areas of the state, including three offices in Northwest Indiana.
Cockrum says about a $1 million goes directly to provide services to low-income Hoosiers.
"It's pap tests, it's breast exams, birth control. It's STD (sexual transmitted disease) testing and treatment," Cockrum said. "This is just an alarming direction for public health policy in the state of Indiana."
Cockrum said the state could also cut off funding for emergency abortions in cases of rape or incest, as well as when giving birth endangers a mother's life. She noted that if these emergency services funding are cut off, her not-for-profit organization will head to court.
"We will immediately file for judicial review and seek an injunction," Cockrum said. "We do not intend to let our patients down."
In addition to funding cuts, HEA 1210 bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Daniels said non-abortion healthcare needs of women in the state will not be affected.
"I commissioned a careful review of access to services across the state and can confirm that all non-abortion services, whether family planning or basic women's health, will remain readily available in every one of our 92 counties," Daniels stated. "In addition, I have ordered the Family and Social Services Administration to see that Medicaid recipients receive prompt notice of nearby care options. We will take any actions necessary to ensure that vital medical care is, if anything, more widely available than before."
Daniels' decision does come with political overtones. He did not openly campaign for the bill's passage through the Indiana General Assembly, and once called for a "truce" on social issues. At the time, he said lawmakers should concentrate on budget issues.
By signing the bill, he's likely to secure additional support from conservatives who oppose abortion. Daniels is mulling a run for the Republican nomination for president.
Indiana's governor has a tough choice to make soon. And it's not about whether he'll run for president.
This issue is much closer to home.
This week, the Republican-led Indiana House voted to approve a bill that would cut all funding to Planned Parenthood. The Indiana Senate approved the measure earlier this month. In all, the pregnancy planning agency would lose $3 million and could force the closure of several offices statewide.
Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, a Republican, has said he doesn't want state or federal lawmakers to worry about social issues right now.
He wants them to concentrate on all things dealing with the budget, which he says threatens America's future.
"I haven't gotten involved in those things (social issues). I have said that I think they ought to concentrate on the debt problem," Daniels said. "So, these other things aren't unimportant but I just don't think anything should get in the way of making a very bold move before our whole American dream comes crashing down."
If Daniels signs the bill, state would also lose $4 million in federal family planning grants.
But signing the bill would likely give Daniels more support with conservatives who oppose abortion if he decides to seek GOP nomination for president.
The Carle Foundation is selling its pharmacy division to Walgreens.
The drug store's purchase of Carle RxExpress will mean four of its pharmacy locations will close in the next two months. By May 31st, Carle pharmacies on Urbana's Cunningham Avenue and Windsor Road will close, along with the location in Danville. In June, Carle's South Clinic location will consolidate with main lobby pharmacy at Carle Hospital. The remaining six will stay open under the Walgreens banner, and Carle's remaining inventory will transfer to nearby Walgreens locations.
Carle Foundation Executive Vice President John Snyder said the retail pharmacy industry has become more competitive, with new consolidations. He said Walgreens can offer discounts on generics and 90-day prescriptions that Carle can't sustain. But Snyder said consumers using Carle pharmacy locations won't see a change in service.
"They have quite a bit of experience in taking over hospital pharmacies, as well as medical office building pharmacies," he said. "They don't run them like typical Walgreens stores. They do recognize there's a difference. Their plan is to run them basically as they're run now with the same hours, and hopefully the same staff."
Snyder says Walgreens has committed to hiring about 80-percent of Carle's 76 pharmacy workers, and will interview all who apply. He said other employees with the necessary skills will be offered the chance to transfer to other jobs at Carle, while remaining workers will receive a severance package. But Walgreens spokeswoman Tiffany Washington said there wasn't a specific figure, only saying that a 'large majority' or Carle RxExpress employees would still have positions at the pharmacies.
Financial terms of the sale weren't disclosed. Proceeds from the sale will go towards the purchase of new hospital facilities and equipment.
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