Illinois Public Media News
Monday, December 28th, was the first day that voters could take out an absentee ballot for the February 2nd primary election. And for the first time, absentee voters in Illinois don't have to give a reason for wanting to vote early --- thanks to a new state law that took effect last August.
Champaign County Clerk Mark Shelden says the new law exempting voters from having to state a reason for voting absentee makes absentee voting more like early voting ---except that it begins two weeks earlier, and can be done by mail. Shelden says the change will mean even more ballots cast before Election Day. Danville Election Commission Director Barbara Dreher agrees. She thinks the level of both early and absentee voting will "rise up exponentially, and take the pressure off of the polling places on Election Day".
Such ballots already make up a sizable percentage of ballots cast in elections. In the November 2008 election, about 12 percent of Champaign County ballots and nearly 10 percent of Danville ballots were cast early or absentee.
Shelden predicts that as more ballots are cast before Election Day, Election Day itself will lose its importance as a civic event engaging all voters at the same time.
"I don't want to say that's negative, but it's going to be almost a bygone memory in a matter of four or five years", says Shelden. "I think we'll see so many people voting early that Election Day will, in itself, have a different meaning to people."
Shelden thinks more pre-Election Day voting will also change campaign strategies, because campaigning in the last few days before Election Day will lose its impact.
You can apply for an absentee ballot in Illinois through your local election authority or county clerk's office --- in person, by mail or phone, and in some locations, such as Champaign County, online. Absentee ballots can be cast in Illinois until the day before Election Day.
Two Indiana lawmakers say legislation that could bring more renewable energy development to the state has a good chance of passing in the upcoming legislative session.
The change would affect Indiana's so-called net-metering policy that allows some customers of investor-owned utilities to send excess power produced by wind turbines, solar panels and other renewable sources back into the electric grid.
Those customers get credit for that power on their next bill. But current policy applies only to homeowners and K-12 schools and sets a limit of 10 kilowatts per customer.
Republican Sen. James Merritt of Indianapolis and Democratic Rep. Ryan Dvorak of South Bend are both optimistic lawmakers will boost that power level and extend net-metering to businesses, industries and municipalities during their session that begins Jan.5.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson is urging Rockford residents to push for a federal investigation into the police shooting of an unarmed man inside a church-run day care.
At a news conference at the day care center on Sunday, Jackson criticized a grand jury for ruling last week that the shooting was justified.
He urged residents to push for an outcome that's "just and fair.''
The Aug. 24 killing of 23-year-old Mark Anthony Barmore at the church-run facility in Rockford has heightened racial tensions in the community. The two officers are white and Barmore was black.
Witnesses say Barmore surrendered. But police have said Barmore tried to attack the officers.
Barmore's father, Anthony Stevens, says the grand jury decision made for the worst Christmas he's ever had.
Christmas is often a paid holiday for many workers. But not all holidays are treated the same.
The Illinois Chamber of Commerce surveyed businesses and found a majority of employees are getting paid holidays on Christmas. The same goes for Thanksgiving and New year's. But when it comes to Jewish holidays... or ethnic ones... only a small fraction of businesses pay workers to take those days off.
Liz Kern with the state's Chamber says it's difficult for employers to maneuver myriad religious and secular holidays...
"As ethnicities, religion and even the calendar changes on an annual basis" says Kern, "Illinois employers have had a hard time keeping up with what holidays they should be observing and what trends are other employers seeing."
The Chamber's survey found New Year's Day is when most workers get a paid day off... followed closely by Memorial Day and Labor Day. Christmas is still near the top of the list but as for other religious holidays.. more workers get paid to take their birthdays off.
The Logan County home where five members of a family were found dead earlier this year will remain a crime scene until defense investigators can examine the property.
30-year-old Christopher Harris and his 22-year-old brother Jason Harris have been charged with numerous counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Rick and Ruth Gee and three of their children in September. A fourth child at the home in Beason suffered critical injuries but survived.
The Harrises, of Armington, are jailed without bond.
In court this week, prosecutors agreed to preserve the Gee home until defense attorneys complete their work.
Illinois Assistant Attorney General Michael Atterberry says crime scene tape will remain around the property and windows will stay boarded.
A recall of nearly 5-million doses of H1N1 flu mist vaccine is not expected to impact the availability of the vaccine in Champaign-Urbana and Champaign County.
Champaign-Urbana Public Health District Administrator Julie Pryde says the recall -- including around 2-thousand doses in Champaign County --- is not due to any safety issues, but simply pertains to the vaccine's effectiveness if no administered by the end of January. The doses of flu mist are made by one manufacturer, Maryland-based MedImmune, which announced the recall. Pryde says her department still has plenty of other doses left of both the mist and injection forms of the vaccine. She also says anyone who received the recalled vaccine doesn't need to worry about its effectiveness.
Pryde says such recalls shouldn't come as a surprise.
"That's not unheard of, certainly for a live-virus vaccine to do that", says Pryde. "You have to keep it under very specific conditions, which we do. We monitor it constantly. The good thing about this is we have received plenty of vaccine now. If this had happened earlier, it could have really caused a problem, as far as people wanting it and not being able to get the vaccine."
So far, about 45-thousand people have been vaccinated for swine or H1N1 flu so far in Champaign County.
Meanwhile in Indiana, state health officials say about 110-thousand doses of the recalled vaccine were distributed --- but about 70-thousand have already been used. Indiana Health Commissioner Judy Monroe says the recalled vaccine poses no safety problems and children who received only one dose of the two-dose immunization series should complete the second dose.
(Additional reporting by the Associated Press)
Federal officials tried Tuesday to allay fears that moving terror suspects from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the Thomson Correctional Center in northwestern Illinois could make the state a terrorist target.
The director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Harley Lappin, told a legislative panel at a public hearing in Sterling that Thomson would be the most secure of all federal prisons in the country.
Other testimony on the plan to bring terrorism suspects from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to the Thomson Correctional Center appeared evenly split between supporters and critics.
Several conservative opponents of the plan were among the last to testify at a high school auditorium near the Thomson Correctional Center as the hearing ran late into the night Tuesday.
Denise Cattoni of the Illinois TEA Party organization told the panel that Americans aren't being told enough about the implications of any such transfer.
Cattoni said they merely woke up one morning and were told "Gitmo was moving to Illinois.''
But a series of leaders from communities in and near Thomson told the panel their constituents are clamoring for the kind of economic boost a fully open Thomson prison would provide.
Governor Pat Quinn plans to sell Thomson to the federal government to house detainees and for a maximum-security federal prison, and the public hearing probably will not change that. The 12-member Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability could vote on a recommendation to sell Thomson, but Quinn does not have to follow the recommendation.
The hearing adjourned at 9 p.m., and the commission said it would not vote on the proposal before Jan. 14.
Champaign police say a gambling operation broken up by officers last week had been going on for nearly four months.
Deputy Chief John Murphy says the two Champaign men arrested Thursday, December 17th on charges of Gambling and Keeping a Gambling Place had rented out a storage unit in the 600 block of Ashford Court, furnishing it with heating and air conditioning, gaming equipment and selling food. And Murphy says 43-year old Jeffrey Wingo and 30-year old Brandyn Odell were charging $50 admission for players when police executed a search warrant that evening. Those two men and 18 others were issued notices to appear in court for Gambling-Betting or Wagering. And Murphy says the large amounts of potential winnings for players brought in many from outside the area. "Some of them had addresses as far away as Wilmette and Bloomington, and so there were people that were making a concerted effort to participate in the games," says Murphy. "They had dry erase boards up that had the dollar equivalent for each color chip, and based on what we saw there, it was certainly possible for thousands of dollars to end up on the table at any one time."
Murphy says anywhere from 20 to 50 people would show up the alleged poker games on a given night. He says Champaign Police were tipped off by a family member of someone who frequently joined the games. Wingo and Odell are expected to make their first court appearances next month.
A spokeswoman for the Chicago-based agency that helps run the waterways into Lake Michigan says it's unfortunate that Michigan's attorney general is going to the U.S. Supreme Court over Asian carp.
Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox today sued the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, the state of Illinois and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The lawsuit seeks closure of shipping locks near Chicago to prevent Asian carp from invading the Great Lakes and endangering the $7 billion fishing industry.
Water district spokeswoman Jill Horist calls the lawsuit unfortunate and says it won't bring a solution any sooner.
A spokeswoman says Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office is reviewing the lawsuit and has no comment for now.
Disappointment has been a common evaluation of the Copenhagen climate conference that ended last week.
It wrapped up with nations signing an accord that sets recommended guidelines for carbon emissions but didn't set any binding agreements or long-term goals.
Adam Lentz is a University of Illinois environmental sciences graduate student who got the chance to sit in on the talks. The native of Copenhagen feels most people left without very much optimism - and many world leaders left well before the end of the talks.
"It was, literally, almost all of them," Lentz told AM 580 from Denmark. "They were fleeing Copenhagen before they actually signed off on anything. I have never heard of any other meeting where world leaders gathered and they didn't take what they call a family photo."
Lentz says most observers were surprised by the unity displayed among the nation's developing countries - one likened it to a new world order. He was also struck by the assertiveness of countries that could be more directly affected by climate change, specifically island nations like the Maldives.
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