Illinois Public Media News
An Illinois Appellate Court has upheld a Sangamon County judge's ruling, preventing the state from moving ahead with new health insurance contracts for state employees and retirees.
In June, a Sangamon County Circuit Judge prevented Illinois' Department of Healthcare and Family Services from dropping Urbana-based Health Alliance, leaving the health insurance policies of thousands of state workers into doubt.
Gov. Pat Quinn's administration argued the so-called 'open access' plans will save the state about $100 million a year. Health Alliance then filed suit. The 90-day extensions of current contracts granted by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability are set to expire in September.
In its ruling, the 4th District Appellate Court said the state ignored a decision by that group. Champaign Senator Mike Frerichs is part of the bipartisan legislative commission. While the court's decision does not immediately impact state workers, he said it gives more fuel to additional extensions, and hopefully a long-term solution.
"I think what employees want is to be able to continue access to their health care providers, and I'm hopeful this ruling will help us get to that point," Frerichs said.
In a statement, Health Alliance CEO Jeff Ingrum called the court's ruling encouraging, with hopes that it leads to the provider remaining an option for state workers and retirees.
"This is good news for all of those who fought so hard to keep Health Alliance," Ingrum said. "We hope it leads to Health Alliance remaining an option for state workers and retirees."
The Department of Healthcare and Family Services said the state is reviewing its legal options following the court ruling.
"We remain confident in the process of awarding and contracting with the winning vendors as well as their ability to offer quality healthcare at a price that will save the state money during these tough fiscal times," said Mike Claffey, spokesman for the Department of Healthcare and Family Services.
At a COGFA hearing scheduled for Aug. 16 in Chicago, the panel will vote on extending the current insurance contracts through June 30, 2012. Three days later, the state will argue before the Sangamon County Judge that blocked the new contracts whether COGFA has the authority to extend the current ones.
A nationwide effort to raise awareness about crime and drug prevention kicks off Tuesday night in Champaign.
The annual 'National Night Out' typically lasts for a day, but this year it is being broken up into more than a dozen events throughout the month.
"Historically it's just something that's happened in Champaign, and Urbana was doing their thing, and Savoy, and so it was just a real disjointed effort," Champaign Neighborhood Coordinator John Ruffin said. "Now it's a joint effort to really focus on making sure that Champaign remains a safe and healthy community."
For the first time, workshops led by the Champaign and Urbana Police Departments and the Champaign Fire Department will be offered. Chelsea Angelo, a safety education coordinator with the city of Urbana, said she hopes this expanded role by law enforcement officials helps bridge the gap between neighborhoods and police officers.
"We're always looking for ways to bring our officers into contact with the citizens that not involving strictly enforcement," Angelo said. "We don't want them to only see our officers when there is an emergency situation going on."
The 'National Night Out' kicks off Tuesday at 6pm at the Champaign City Hall. More information about other activities planned can be found on the city of Champaign's website.
Former Indiana House Speaker John Gregg said Tuesday he would focus on rejuvenating the state's manufacturing base if he is elected governor next November.
Gregg said he would attempt to lure wind-turbine manufacturers to the state as part of his strategy to revitalize the state's crumbling manufacturing base.
"We've got to a manufacturing base, we have a workforce that knows how to work in manufacturing, we've got building space," he said. "You have to go out and actively pursue" manufacturers.
The Democratic candidate filed paperwork Tuesday with the state in the race to replace Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels, who can't run for a third term because of term limits. Gregg formed an exploratory committee to run for office in May and has informally campaigned across the state since then.
Gregg appears likely to win the May 2012 Democratic primary. He would then face the winner of the Republican primary in the race for governor. U.S. Rep. Mike Pence is heavily favored to win the GOP nomination over Fishers businessman Jim Wallace.
Indiana Republican Party Chairman Eric Holcomb said Gregg's ebullient personality hides a disastrous record as speaker from 1996 to 2002. He noted that Gregg presided over major increases in government spending, though Gregg responded that a Republican-dominated Indiana Senate also approved those budgets.
"John Gregg would light up Leno or Letterman, but his record as former Speaker of the House is no laughing matter," Holcomb said.
Gregg said the governor's race should focus on the future, not the past, and that means job-creation. The state's residents are looking for more of the well-paying manufacturing jobs the state has bled over the last few decades, he said.
Tools for luring wind-turbine component manufacturers to Indiana could include tax credits and speeding approval of state permits, he said.
Pence has said he will not outline specific policies until after the May 2012 Republican primary - on the assumption he wins the contest. He has however generally said he would like to build on Daniels' successes and that he would support bringing more charter schools to the state.
Wallace has said he wants to spend $500 million more on transportation projects, cut $6 billion from the budget and grant more taxing authority to localities.
Illinois' two U.S. senators cast their votes for the debt ceiling bill signed by President Obama moments after its Senate passage. But on the Senate floor Tuesday morning, Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk said the agreement is only a short term fix.
"This bill prevents a crisis from breaking out this week," Kirk said. "It also begins to control automatic spending programs, many of whom (sic) have run without accountability since the 1960s. All of this is a down payment on further ways to bring common sense, accountability and control to the spending of our government."
Illinois' other senator, Democrat Dick Durbin, was acting as Senate president as the bill passed - he's been a longtime proponent of a bipartisan compromise. Indiana's two GOP senators split their votes - Richard Lugar voted in favor of the bill, Dan Coats voted against.
Champaign's Parkland College is hoping to spur student success by getting them together in similar interest groups.
Learning communities are groups of students working on the same goals together. For instance, some of this fall's incoming freshman class at Parkland will take part in groups dedicated to helping African-American males, transferring to the University of Illinois and advancing to Parkland's health professions programs.
Amy Penne is leading the three First Year Academies. She said working together in one social group on the same courses is a good step up to college life for some freshmen.
"What we're hoping to see is a successful transition for some of these students who may have struggled a bit," Penne said. "We want to see them stay in school and move toward academic success."
Just over a dozen students are in each academy this fall, taking certain courses together. Penne hopes the concept can branch out to cover new interest groups over time.
Republican Ron Stephens is resigning from the Illinois House seat he's held for 27 years.
Stephens has been the senior GOP member of the House. The Greenville Republican says he's stepping down for personal reasons.
Stephens has represented the 102nd House District, which covers all or parts of Bond, Clinton, Madison, St. Clair, Effingham, Fayette and Shelby counties. His term would have expired in January 2013.
His resignation means that Republican Party chairmen in his district will pick someone to serve the remainder of Stephens' term.
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn will not say whether he thinks the state tollway should increase rates.
The Illinois Tollway says the plan is necessary to pay for a $12 billion project to repair and expand Chicago-area expressways. When pressed by reporters, Quinn refused to take a stand on the issue.
"We're going to let the whole process take forward," Quinn said. "The Tollway has a board; they're going to have public hearings, and I think that's a healthy thing, to have the public have a chance to speak."
The Tollway Board is scheduled to vote on a plan by Aug. 25. If it passed, toll hikes would take effect starting next year. Officials said the proposed increase would probably be between 40 to 75 cents.
A watered-down version of what began as a panhandling ordinance has been approved by the Urbana City Council.
The measure that passed on a 5-to-1 vote Monday night instead bans what's called 'aggressive solicitation,' or those who ask for money in a threatening or intimidating matter. The new ordinance removed portions that banned any requests for donations in the Philo Road Business District.
Alderwoman Diane Marlin said those who aggressively beg in that area have brought one unintended consequence.
"Basically, people who have been approached, or aggressively solicited or felt threatened, their reaction is to just stop patronizing businesses where this occured," she said. "That's a survival tactic."
The new measure still prohibits solicitation near an ATM or bank. Public opponents, including resident Ron Custer, argue that laws already on the books in Urbana should handle what the council is trying to address. Custer is one of several opponents who has come out in the last few weeks to speak out about the issue.
"I mean, when we hear anecdotes of somebody being terrorized in their car, and somebody else saying 'oh this happens routinely,'" Custer said. "Doesn't that sound like something that could have been responded to effectively by now?"
Opponents also say the original ordinance unfairly targeted poor people, and didn't distinguish from those who intimidated from those who casually ask for money.
One change to the new ordinance allows violators to perform community service as an alternative to paying a fine. That's an idea welcomed by Alderman Eric Jakobsson.
"That certainly will not dilute what we're hoping to acheive with this, whether we achieve it or not," Jakobsson said. "It definitely moves it in a direction of actually even being more than a deterrent, but being a positive outreach, to the extent that that's possible."
City council members will do an 18-month review in Jan. 2013. Alderwoman Heather Stevenson voted down the measure, saying the issue weighs heavily on civil liberties. She suggested that the public as well as police officers should learn more about existing laws.
Mayor Laurel Prussing and Alderman Dennis Roberts did not attend Monday's council meeting.
Urbana Congressman Tim Johnson was one of just three Illinois Republicans to vote down the plan to raise the federal debt limit.
In a statement issued Monday afternoon, Johnson said the legislation "falls far short of making the fundamental structural reforms and the fundamental spending reductions necessary to get our nation working again."
GOP freshman Reps. Randy Hultgren and Joe Walsh also voted 'no.'
"Washington's spendthrift habits are the reason 87 Republicans were swept into the House in 2010," Johnson said. "That frustration has not changed. I also find it regrettable that under his new plan, Congress won't be able to revisit the debt ceiling until 2013."
Republican supporters of the plan included Rep. Aaron Schock of Peoria, Adam Kinzinger of Illinois' 11th District, and John Shimkus of Illinois' 19th District. Democrats Jesse Jackson Jr. of Chicago and Jan Schakowsky of Evanston opposed the plan.
Republicans have selected Gary Maxwell of Mahomet to fill a vacancy on the Champaign County Board.
On Monday night, a group of precinct committeemen also interviewed Mahomet Village Trustee Gerald Smith and retired hobby shop owner Mark Thompson before voting to appoint Maxwell - a retired civil engineer and land surveyor - for the District One seat left vacant in June by Larry Sapp's resignation.
Maxwell is a 30-year resident of Champaign County.
"Gary's experience and background will allow him to make wise decisions in a number of areas, particularly highway and rural code," said Champaign County Board Republican Caucus Chairman Alan Nudo in a party press release. "He is a great fit for the district."
Maxwell says his professional experience working with county boards helped him prepare for the opportunity.
Before the meeting, former Champaign County Board member Chris Doenitz withdrew his name, saying he felt a number of qualified candidates had come forward.
The County Board will vote to accept Maxwell's appointment at its meeting on Aug. 18th.
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