Illinois Public Media News
Talking or texting on a cell phone was cited as a factor in eight traffic accidents in Urbana over the past year.
Urbana Police compiled the data, as required by a city ordinance that levies heavy fines against drivers when cell phone use or texting is a factor in an accident. The ordinance also bans all texting while driving. Not all offenders cited in accidents were driving cars --- in one case, a bicyclist was using his cell phone when he turned in front of a motorcycle.
The eight cases noted by police total less than one percent of the 1,082 traffic accidents reported in Urbana from July 1st of last year to June 30th of this year. But Alderman Charlie Smyth, who opposes any and all cell phone use while driving, says the data is still useful.
"They're interesting in that it's possible to actually enforce the ordinance," says Smyth. "Granted, it's after the fact, after an accident has happened. But I think doing this sends a message. We need to publicize it. The fact that there's a 750-dollar fine associated with this, I think, is really important."
The city's maximum fine of 750-dollars when cell phone use contributes to an accident is ten times what a new state law banning texting while driving will impose. Urbana Police Chief Michael Bily says officers will use their own discretion when deciding whether to levy the local or state penalties. The new state law takes effect January 1st.
Champaign city council members may take a preliminary vote this week to cut its cable TV franchise agreement with Comcast.
But an attorney working on talks between Comcast and the cities of Champaign and Urbana says the measure will not be as drastic as it seems. Brian Grogan says negotiations with the cable company have been going on in good faith, and a pending council vote tomorrow night to reject Comcast's offer for a franchise renewal won't mean the end of those talks.
"If they believe that the proposal doesn't meet the needs, then it's considered a preliminary denial," Grogan said. "In all likelihood, Comcast would request further proceedings, and the parties would continue to move forward down that statutory process."
City leaders say they've reached an impasse with Comcast over a number of points, including a local Comcast office, use of rights-of-way for cables, and funding for local government and public access channels. The current franchise agreement runs out at the end of October.
Seven months after coming into office on a vow to clean up government, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed new laws making public records, board appointments and state spending more transparent.
Quinn was joined at Monday's signing ceremony by Attorney General Lisa Madigan. She'd championed the legislation to strengthen the state's public records laws.
The new law includes training so public employees know how to comply with public records laws, and it gives the attorney general's office more authority in public records cases.
Madigan's office sought changes in the law to prevent abuse by state offices that looked for ways not to comply or to delay.
Quinn also signed laws that make it easier to get information about the state's boards and commissions and state spending.
A coordinator of a tent community for the homeless wants to turn the project into a full-fledged not-for-profit organization.
In the meantime, Abby Harmon is asking Champaign city officials to practice what she calls "a higher level of ethics" and let the Safe Haven community keep camping on the grounds of St. Mary's Church, at least until winter sets in. Harmon says city regulations forbidding camping ought to be revisited in tough economic times.
"The city has a housing crisis on its hands that it needs to recognize," Harmon said. "Given the housing crisis, there are times when the pre-existing city ordinance is not working for the people. When the law no longer works for the people, the law needs to be modified."
Harmon says in the long term, the Safe Haven group would like to purchase "micro-houses" to replace tents for homeless residents. She describes them as 8x10-foot pre-fab rooms with solid walls that can accommodate heaters. They'd be served by a common kitchen-and-bath facility. Some Champaign council members have criticized the tent community, which was forced to leave its first home at Champaign's St. Jude Catholic Worker House because it violates city codes.
A state-sponsored advocacy group for utility customers in Illinois says cell phone customers generally pay much more than they should.
The Citizens Utility Board has analyzed hundreds of wireless telephone bills as part of a free online program it offers. CUB director David Kolata says those bills offered valuable information on billing practices.
"You upload an online version of your cell phone bill and it automatically recommends the best plan for you," Kolata said. "Since it was introduced last year, about 7,000 people have used it, and the average savings is about 330 dollars a year."
Kolata says more than half of all minutes that people purchase each month go to waste, as well as a large number of unused text messages. He also says about half of all bills carry unnecessary extras, like insurance that doesn't cover much. The online program will compare your plan to other offers by your cellphone provider and its competitors.
You can find the service at www.cubcellphonesaver.org.
University of Illinois administrators are unhappy that the state budget doesn't offer much additional money for their budgets-but one is more upset over cuts to student aid.
Chancellor Richard Herman says Illinois has had one of the strongest aid programs for lower-income students through the Monetary Award Program, or MAP grant. He says funding cuts that may jeopardize some students' ability to attend college hits at one of his most treasured initiatives.
"For us to be only at the halfway point in terms of funding is deeply troublesome," Herman said. "I look at one of the things I've been able to bring about, and one of the greatest things for me is the Illinois Promise program, which gets to students with families at the poverty level. It's exactly targeted on a healthy portion of state assistance kids."
Right now the state budget provides for no money for MAP grants in the spring semester. Lawmakers may consider funding MAP for the full year during their fall veto session in two months.
Additions to the Champaign County Courthouse in Urbana are coming together, from the new clock and bell tower to some educational aspects inside the building.
People called for jury duty usually wait in a large room before they're summoned into the courtroom. While they're there, they can now step inside a small theatre in one side of the room and learn about Abraham Lincoln's fledgling legal career as an attorney who traveled through Champaign and other area counties. Cheryl Kennedy of the Early American Museum says the theatre is the most prominent expel of several current and future Lincoln displays at the courthouse.
"It's a great opportunity to use some of your time," Kennedy said. "And not only that, we envision more things on the walls out in the foyer, maybe some exhibit cases, and an opportunity to extend that experience past the audio visual program."
The Lincoln exhibits are being assembled as part of the 200th anniversary of the 16th President's birth. The theatre will be dedicated the weekend after next as well as the clock and bell tower as a part of the Urbana Sweet Corn Festival.
Officials with the Federal Reserve say they're committed to returning to Washington with proposals for modifying mortgage loans, and foreclosure mediation. But they also want to hear more from communities hit the hardest by the mortgage crisis.
In Decatur over the weekend, about 500 people from the region heard from the enterprise that creates monetary policy. They also had a chance to apply pressure for changes in lending practices. AM 580's Jeff Bossert reports:
The man in charge of the University of Illinois' Urbana campus says he intends to stay put as long as he's wanted. Chancellor Richard Herman's name was attached to some of the controversial admissions decisions based on inquiries from university trustees or influential politicians. Now the U of I is disowning the so-called Category I clout list and trustees have either resigned or have been asked to do so. Herman and president Joseph White also find themselves facing calls to step down. Herman told AM 580's Tom Rogers he still has the support of a broad constituency.
The pastor of St. Mary's Church in Champaign says he's hosting the homeless members of the Safe Haven Tent Community, in keeping with the gospel call to help the homeless stranger.
Father Tom Royer says the dozen or so members of Safe Haven are camping out in a secluded spot on church grounds, and will be staying at the church for the next 30 days. He calls Safe Haven an attempt to respond to the needs of the homeless by offering some sort of safety and hospitality.
"They've been pushed from one place to another and this, I think, is inappropriate," says Royer. "I think that we, as a community, should take into account the needs of these people."
But as long as Safe Haven members are living in tents on church grounds, Champaign Zoning Administrator Kevin Phillips says St. Mary's is violating city zoning code. Phillips says he's sent notice to the church that they face possible fines of up to 750-dollars a day if the tent community isn't gone in one week. However, he says if St. Mary's moves the Safe Haven members indoors, the church's Multi-Family Three zoning designation may allow them to stay on an emergency basis.
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