Illinois Public Media News
A contentious labor bill that is drawing hundreds of protesting union members to the Indiana Statehouse has cleared a Republican-led House committee.
The House Labor Committee voted 8-5 along party lines Monday to advance the so-called right-to-work legislation, which prohibits union membership and fees from being a condition of employment.
Backers argue the bill would remove an impediment to business in the state, while opponents say such laws drive down wages by weakening unions.
The bill is so controversial that Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels has said he would prefer that legislators focus on other issues for fear that the proposal could wreck the political chances of other more important bills.
The right-to-work bill now moves to the full Republican-led House for consideration.
Attorneys for Rod Blagojevich are asking the judge in his upcoming corruption retrial to throw out all secret recordings of the former Illinois governor.
In a new court filing, Blagojevich's attorneys ask that all secretly recorded conversations the FBI has of Blagojevich or his aides not be played in court.
Blagojevich is accused of trying to personally profit by appointing someone to Barack Obama's former senate seat.
That would mean jurors wouldn't hear Blagojevich say, "I've got this thing, and it's (expletive deleted) golden."
Or they wouldn't hear Blagojevich tell his wife, "I'd like a four-year contract for a million a year, or something. Or 750. Whatever. It'd have to be good."
Or any other of the hundreds of hours of tapes the FBI has on Blagojevich.
Defense attorneys say in their court filing they weren't given a fair chance to play the tapes they wanted to play in the first trial - so it's only fair if no tapes are played. The defense argues there are some gaps in parts of the tapes that could be misleading.
The trial is scheduled to begin in April.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan says she will have a team of 150 investigators monitoring Tuesday's elections statewide.
Madigan said Monday that the goal is to make sure polling places are accessible and voting rights are protected. On Sunday, Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez says there will be "zero tolerance'' for any illegal election activity. She said 200 assistant state's attorneys will be assigned to election duty in all of Chicago's wards.
Madigan says voters should report any suspected improper or illegal election activities. She reminded voters that they have the right to vote if they are in line when polls close at 7 p.m. She also says voters can receive replacement ballots if they've made a mistake before they cast their vote.
The head of one of Central Illinois library system says the merger for all state library groups planned for July 1 leaves mostly unanswered questions at this point.
Beverly Obert is Executive Director of the Decatur-based Rolling Prairie Library System, which covers all or part of 12 counties just to the west of the Champaign-based Lincoln Trail system. Obert said the only thing for certain is many jobs will be lost when nine Illinois library systems combine into just two, and her office is no exception.
"Because as we consolidate we will not need four directors, four fiscal agents, four whatever, whatever," Obert said. "There will be some reductions in staff. That is going to be difficult, because some people will lose their jobs. We do not know yet who those people will be. We are hoping to have a better idea of that so we can tell staff exactly what's going to happen by April 1st."
Obert said asking all staff to re-apply for jobs will be the only fair way to handle the merger, and said said it is also unclear whether her office will close. But Obert said she expects no break in services to member libraries in July.
"They will still have their automated catologues where they can borrow from, and there will still be delivery systems that will move materials between libraries," she said. "Those were the two key things that most of the libraries really depend upon. Those will be in place July 1. What we may not have in place and available for them are things like continuing education and consulting."
Meanwhile, the director of one of the smaller libraries in the Lincoln Trail Libraries System says the merger could serve as an advantage. Tolono Library Director Janet Cler said having a smaller staff will enable the two library systems to better coordinate their services.
There's another delay in litigation over O'Hare International Airport expansion that pits United and American airlines against the city of Chicago.
A statement Friday from United Airlines and American says a new five-day delay will give the parties more time to resolve their differences over the financing and timing of construction of new runways and other improvements at O'Hare.
It says the latest delay comes at the request of U.S. Department of Transportation. The agency has been trying to mediate an agreement.
On Thursday, the sides asked a judge to lift a one-week delay on hearing the airlines' lawsuit that opposes the issuing of bonds for the expansion.
Mayor Richard Daley has accused the airlines of reneging on their promise in 2001 to help see through the overhaul of O'Hare.
(With additional reporting from NPR, Illinois Public Radio, The Associated Press)
Fourteen Democratic state lawmakers from Wisconsin are hiding in Illinois to avoid a vote on a controversial bill that would strip some public workers in their state of collective bargaining rights.
Democrats who fled Wisconsin to block a vote on the sweeping anti-union bill could stay in hiding for days or even weeks. The bill has drawn thousands of protesters to the state Capitol in Madison, Wis. Republican leaders said they expected Wisconsin residents would be pleased with the savings the bill would achieve - $30 million by July 1 and $300 million over the next two years.
Republicans hold 19 Senate seats but are one vote short of the 20 votes necessary to conduct business. The anti-union measure needs 17 votes to pass.
State Sen. Jon Erpenback (D-Middleton), who was among those who fled, said Friday that the group was prepared to be away for weeks, although he would like the standoff to end as soon as possible.
"This was an extreme action, but the legislation, we feel, was much more extreme," Erpenbach said.
Illinois Senate President John Cullerton praised his fellow Democrats from north of the border for delaying the vote, which would almost certainly pass the state's heavily-Republican legislature. Meanwhile, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn had a warm welcome for the political refugees.
"We want to assure the people of Wisconsin that we're their friends," Quinn said. "We're always available here in Illinois if they'd like to visit and stay a while until (Gov. Walker) comes to his senses."
Wisconsin's Republican Governor Scott Walker said the Democrats should return to Madison and face the vote.
"The state senators who are hiding out down in Illinois should show up for work, have their say, have their vote, add their amendments," Walker told CBS' The Early Show on Friday. "But in the end, we've got a $3.6 billion budget deficit we've got to balance."
Although Walker called the Democrats' flight a stunt, many protesters at the Capitol saw it differently. School guidance counselor Saunnie Yelton-Stanley called their disappearance "brilliant."
"The fact that the Democrats have walked out, it shows they're listening to us," said Neil Graupner, a 19-year-old technical college student from Madison, as he prepared to spend the night at the Capitol on Thursday.
Erpenbach said he is meeting with the other refugee Democrats to decide what to do next - though he's not sure how long they will remain on the lam.
I mean I wish I was home tonight in my own bed," he said. "It's Friday night in Wisconsin that's fish fry night. You now, I really wish I was back home. So hopefully we'll get back home soon, but in the mean time, this is up to the governor.
Amid the highs and lows of Illinois' uncertain economy, a new report says Champaign County has followed a decade-long trend of increased childhood poverty.
The "Great at Eight" report, released by Voices for Illinois Children, focused on the resources children up until the age of eight need to succeed. The report's authors say at this age "children should be ready to shift from learning to read to reading to learn."
The study finds from 1999-2000, the childhood poverty rate in Champaign County was 14.3 percent, slightly below the statewide average of 14.8 percent. In 2008-2009, the county's child poverty rate went up to 18.9 percent, compared with 17.8 percent statewide.
Meanwhile, math and reading scores for 3rd graders on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test in Urbana and Champaign Schools last year were below the state average.
The authors of the report say the state fiscal crisis threatens an array of services, including early childhood education, mental health care, and family support. Beverley Baker, the director of Community Impact with the United Way of Champaign County, said she agrees that programs critical to a child's development are at risk, which is why she said state funding is making it more difficult to rely on Illinois for support.
"Each local community is going to have to look inward," she said. "There's no way we can replace what the state government does, but I think we're going to have to be creative, and we're going to have to pool our local resources to see what we can do."
The report acknowledges that there will likely be more spending cuts, as the recent income tax increase is not enough to close Illinois' budget gap.
In the last year, low-income students represented more than half of the enrollment at Champaign Unit 4 and Urbana School District 116. Unit 4 School board member Sue Gray said the school district is looking to trim up to $2 million from its $100 million budget, a task she said will not be taken lightly.
The School Board plans to hold a public meeting Tuesday, February 22 at 6pm at the Mellon Building in Champaign to seek community input on how to make those cuts.
(Graphic courtesy of Voices for Illinois Children)
The Douglas County Sheriff's Department is looking for your old or unsafe ammunition. They are holding an ammo disposal event this weekend in Tuscola, and offering to safely dispose of any ammunition that you no longer want, or is too old to use.
Chief Deputy Peter Buckley said they have made arrangements with the Explosives Ordinance Disposal unit of the University of Illinois Police, for the safe disposal of any ammunition that's brought into the center.
"They have some experts in the field of recovering unused ammunition and the proper disposal of that, and they've agreed to assist us," Buckley said.
Buckley said the ammo disposal event will be taking pistol and rifle rounds, shotgun shells, old black powder, shot shell primers and reloading supplies. He said if you have a device with a blasting cap or some other ordinance, you should call ahead before bringing it in. You don't have to be a Douglas County resident to drop off ammo, and you don't have to have an FOID card.
The disposal event runs Friday through Sunday, February 18-20, from 8 AM to 9 PM, at the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, at 920 South Washington in Tuscola.
Getting more revenue for the state was the main goal of Governor Pat Quinn's previous budget addresses. But this year, with a new income tax hike in effect, Quinn on Wednesday made no such pitch. The Governor mentioned a few new initiatives ... such as efforts to attract start-up companies to Illinois, and to double the state's exports. But the governor says the main focus of his proposed spending plan is exercising spending restraint. As Illinois Public Radio's Amanda Vinicky reports ... for some, the cuts Quinn has proposed don't go far enough. Others call them devastating.
(Photo courtesy of Chris Eaves)
The pilot of a single-engine plane was sent to the hospital with minor injuries, after his plane crashed Thursday morning at a home located north of Urbana.
The accident happened at the home of Steve and Brenda Rice on East Oaks Road, about a half-mile from Frasca Field. Steve Rice was inside his house at the time, and said he believes the plane glanced off the side of his house in the crash. He said the crash shook the house, and made a sound like a bomb going off.
"I really thought a truck had hit the house or something," Rice said. "So I went around to the front of the house, and there was a propeller in the front yard. And I walked around to the east side of the house, and there was a plane up against the east side of the house there. The engine was out of it, wings torn off."
Rice says he found the pilot, Daniel Folk, to be conscious and coherent, with the only visible injuries being a couple of cuts on his head. Folk was taken to Carle Foundation Hospital for treatment.
Champaign County Sheriff's Captain Tim Voges says that according to Tom Frasca at Frasca Field, the accident occurred while Folk was practicing landing in a crosswind. While preparing for a 2nd try at a landing, Folk banked to the north, but apparently failed to gain altitude. The wing of his plane caught in a field, flipping it over into the yard of the Rice's home. The accident is being investigated by the F-A-A.
NOTE: This story was updated to include more information from the Champaign County Sheriff's Department about the crash.
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