Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 14, 2012

Champaign Council Initiates Grocery Bag Fee

Champaign city leaders have asked staff to set up a fee charged by stores for using plastic or paper bags.

Concerns in a city survey about bag litter prompted a 2-and a half hour discussion in Tuesday night's city council study session, and a 6 to 3 vote favoring the fee. All but a handful of comments favored the plan to encourage use of reuseable bags when buying groceries and retail items.

In an online city survey, nearly 900 respondents indicated they reuse the bags, but many were also concerned about the amount of litter they produce. Cindy Eaglan of Illini Recycling says she's all for using tote bags instead, but says Champaign should focus on other areas of recycling instead of taxing seniors who can't afford the fee, and driving consumers elsewhere.

"I will not be penalized to shop here," Eaglan said. "And that's basically what you're doing. Putting a tax on bags is simply a penalty for choosing to shop in Champaign."

Backers include current and former owners of Champaign Surplus. Dan Epstein says encouraging cloth or canvas bags will help his business.

"Whether it's a few pennies per pag, or 15 cents, or some of the other quotes that were (suggested), every time you do that, there's a cost," he said. "Being able to reduce bags helps all merchants. Certainly from Champaign Surplus' pespective, I know that reduce costs will help us create jobs."

Other supporters include 10 members of the University of Illinois' Students for Environmental Concerns, who displayed pictures of bags littering Boneyard Creek and farm fields. Council member Deb Frank Feinen says a fee shows the city wants to do something about the environment, and set a community standard.

"I'm not looking for a new tax to generate revenue to fill our budget gap," she said. "I'm looking for a disincentive for people to choose plastic or paper bags at the grocery store."

Council member Karen Foster voted against the fee, saying the city shouldn't legislate over a business' right to carry the bags. Foster says the city is 'nickle and diming' people to death, and can't afford another tax. Councilmen Will Kyles and Kyle Harrison also voted it down.

Champaign City Manager Steve Carter says it will likely be summer before a fee amount is decided and set up. Proceeds would go towards an education campaign on recycling.

The vote supporting the fee didn't include an outright ban on paper or plastic bags, which Mayor Don Gerard called 'egregious'.

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 13, 2012

Daniels Seeks Federal Debt Report ‘Reunion’ Tour

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels on Tuesday urged Congress to reconsider sweeping changes called for in a federal debt report he says has fallen by the wayside in the past year.

Daniels said he would like to see a "reunion tour'' of the sweeping report drafted by former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson and former Clinton aide Erskine Bowles in 2010. The report called for a mix of tax changes and spending cuts to tackle the national debt. It was circulated but never adopted by the bipartisan commission empanelled by President Barack Obama.

Daniels made the request on a conference call with the group No Labels, which group founder Nancy Jacobson said was heard by 20,000 listeners. Since announcing last year he would not run for president, Daniels has used appearances on the national stage to push spending cuts and entitlement reform while equally criticizing Obama.

The message is essentially the same as the one he laid out in his book released last year.

"I'd like to see a Bowles-Simpson Reunion Tour next year,'' Daniels said. "If we're going to embrace this problem, nobody's going to get 100 percent of what they're looking for.''

Obama established the 18-member national debt commission in February 2010. Since then, the recommendations made by chairmen Simpson and Bowles have often been referenced in Washington _ in everything ranging from the debt-ceiling debate to No Labels' current push to get a federal budget approved _ but have gained little traction.

Daniels' Republican colleagues in the presidential contest have moved away from a debt-centric message in the last few months as the national economy has gotten stronger, but Daniels remains focused on the issue.

"There's no difference between us, Greece and Portugal and these other countries teetering on the brink,'' Daniels said. "The only difference between us is a slight difference of degrees.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 13, 2012

Judge Nixes Part of Illinois Campaign Finance Law

A federal judge in Chicago has declared part of Illinois' campaign finance law unconstitutional.

According to the ruling, the state cannot enforce contribution limits on independent political action committees, which are prohibited from coordinating with candidates or political parties. Nationally they have become a big issue in the Republican presidential contest, with the so-called Super PACs spending millions of dollars.

The Illinois lawsuit was brought by Personal PAC, an abortion-rights group.

"We weren't taking a position on the rightness or wrongness of contribution limits," said Terry Cosgrove, who is Personal PAC's president. "We were just saying we wanted to be treated like everyone else."

Cosgrove said out-of state groups like Wisconsin Right-to-Life can already raise and spend unlimited amounts of money. He said until Tuesday's decision, that gave those other groups an unfair advantage.

"The playing field is now level, and we are very happy that we will be allowed to raise the necessary funds to advocate for reproductive rights in Illinois," Cosgrove said.

Critics say the ruling could open the way for Super PACs in Illinois. At the national level, Super PACs have become notorious for allowing millions of dollars to flow into the presidential contest.

"The district court ruling today opens the door to a whole host of committees," said David Morrison of the watchdog group, Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. "Not just the plaintiff in this case, but a whole bunch of groups could jump in with a lot of money. It could change the dynamic of a number of races around the state."

Opponents had asked the court to consider Illinois' history of corruption. But Judge Marvin Aspen based his ruling on a U.S. Supreme Court decision that says political contributions are a matter of free speech.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 13, 2012

Mahomet-Seymour School Bd OKs $700K Budget Cut

A Mahomet-Seymour school board member said the $700,000 in budget cuts approved Monday night were difficult to make, but unavoidable.

School Board Vice President Vicki Niswander said the reductions for the 2012-2013 school year were made necessary by cuts in state funding --- and the school district will feel the impact.

"You know, as a school district, most of our money goes into personnel," Niswander said. "That means that personnel are going to have to be eliminated. And that's probably going to mean administrators; it's going to be mean teachers. It's going to mean other support that. I have no idea at this point, how we're going to that, but we have to."

The cuts include the elimination of several teaching positions ---- some through attrition. Also, the district is eliminating most of its library assistants. Superintendent Keith Oates said the loss of the library assistants will have a real impact. He said they have done more for their school libraries than just check books in and out.

"There's a lot of reading assistance, book selection, book bags that go home, especially at the elementary level," Oates said. "So, there's a lot that goes on in our libraries, they're very high quality. And a very, very difficult decision to reduce those library assistants out. That will affect the service of our libraries, without a doubt."

The Mahomet-Seymour district will also close down enrichment programs at its two elementary schools, and end its junior high football program ---- although the district notes that they had already lost many participants to a community football program.

Oates saud the state funding cuts forcing them to make budget reductions are hurting schools throughout Illinois. He predicts the Mahomet-Seymour will have to cut up to $800,000 in the following school year as well. But Oates said the district will continue to strive for excellence, even as it resigns itself to making do with less money.

Categories: Education
Tags: education

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 13, 2012

Illinois Lawmaker Arrested for Allegedly Taking Bribe

Federal authorities arrested an Illinois state representative from Chicago on one count federal bribery charge Tuesday. Democrat Derrick Smith represents the 10th House District, which includes sections of the city's West and North sides.

The U.S. Attorney's office said it has Smith on tape accepting a $7,000 cash bribe this past weekend. Prosecutors alleged Smith took the bribe in exchange for supporting a $50,000 state grant request from a daycare center.

According to the criminal complaint, it was all set up by a paid FBI informant who did campaign work for Smith. The informant's conversations with the representative were recorded, the complaint said.

A call and e-mail to Smith's office were not returned. He appeared in court Tuesday afternoon, but made no comment about the charges.

Smith has only been a member of the House since last spring, when, with the backing of Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, he was appointed to fill a vacancy.

"I am very disappointed with the conduct alleged in the charges," White said in a statement. "I am confident this case will be handled fairly and justly by the judicial system."

Smith's arrest came a week before Democratic voters pick between him and challenger Tom Swiss. Swiss said he thinks the news could actually cause problems for his campaign, by awakening Democratic leaders backing Smith who may have been taking the race for granted.

"This is going to alert everybody to this race and there's still six days left," Swiss said. "There's a lot bigger people out there with deeper pockets and larger armies that can come in and really do an awful lot of work."

Swiss is a former local Republican official who Democrats claim has run a racially-insensitive campaign in this West and North Side district.

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 13, 2012

Cherry Orchard Property Manager Appears in Court

(With additional reporting by Pam G. Dempsey of CU-CitizenAccess)

A court date has been set for next week for a landlord who was arrested last month on contempt of court warrants issued after he and his son failed to appear at hearings in connection with substandard housing they managed south of Rantoul.

Eduardo Ramos faces a court date of March 23rd. He was arrested Feb. 25 on two contempt-of-court warrants at the Dulles International Airport in Virginia.

Ramos was arrested just after he had arrived from an international flight and held by custom officials, who in turn contacted the airport authority police who took him to Loudoun County, Virginia until he could be extradited to Illinois, according to airport and Loudoun County, Virginia officials.

On Friday, Eduardo Ramos made his first appearance in Champaign County court since his arrest.

A judge issued two arrest warrants - a civil contempt of court and a criminal contempt of court - for both Eduardo Ramos and his son Bernardo Ramos early last year after they failed to appear at a hearing on property they own south of Rantoul. Neither one had been apprehended until now. Bernardo Ramos is still being sought.

The Ramoses were ordered last April to close down Cherry Orchard Village apartment complex and fined more than $54,000 for failing to legally connect and repair sewage systems for six of the eight buildings on the property in a civil case file by the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District. Cherry Orchard Village apartments has been used as a migrant worker camp.

Eduardo Ramos and Bernardo Ramos have repeatedly declined comment on stories about their cases and their properties.

The arrest warrants were issued last May after the two repeatedly failed to attend court hearings on the matter, which began in 2007.

The arrest warrants were amended since they were first issued last May. Initially, the Ramoses had to post the full cash amount of each warrant, or a total of $20,000 each.

Then, when they failed to appear for another hearing, the judge said they were to be jailed until the sewage problem was repaired or the property was vacant.

Eduardo Ramos was released on his own recognizance and did not have to pay any bond, according to the Champaign County Sheriff's Office.

On Friday, a Champaign County judge dismissed the criminal complaint petition against Eduardo Ramos, according to Joel Fletcher, assistant state's attorney.

Fletcher said that the fines are under appeal and cannot be collected until the appellate court reviews.

Eduardo Ramos' attorney, Philip Summers was out of town last week and he was represented by Don Parkinson in court on Friday. Neither attorney returned a phone call seeking comment Tuesday morning.

Public Health Administrator Julie Pryde said the property remains vacant and cannot be used until the sewer system is legally repaired.

"Our main concern is that Cherry Orchard remain closed if they had not fixed the septic system, which they have not," Pryde said. "You know, barring that not getting fixed, we're not interested in seeing that re-opened because the situation in anyway has not been addressed."

Champaign County Planning and Zoning Director John Hall said he thinks the apartments should be torn down.

"It would be wonderful if someone would step in, buy the property, and fix it up over the court of a year," Hall said. "But the existing economic conditions, that's just not realistic. It's not going to happen. I don't believe it would ever happen to the extent that it should be."

Hall said he hasn't approached the Champaign County Board about demolishing the property.

Categories: Criminal Justice
Tags: courts, crime

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 12, 2012

U.S. Rep. Ron Paul Event Moved to UI’s Huff Hall

Wednesday night's appearance at the University of Illinois by Texas Congressman and Republican Presidential Candidate Ron Paul has been moved.

A spokesman for Congressman Tim Johnson, Phil Bloomer, says the site was switched from Foellinger Auditorium to Huff Hall in order to accommodate a larger crowd.

Bloomer says all 1,500 seats at Foellinger were claimed within hours Sunday night. Huff Hall holds more than 4,000 people, so tickets for the free event won't be required.

Johnson, who plans to introduce the Congressman, calls him one of the most principled men he's met, who's 'unwavering, and an ideological champion for all of us.'

The event starts at 7 p.m. Wednesday. Doors at Huff Hall open at 6.

Categories: Education, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 12, 2012

Quinn Plan Would Cut Drug Treatment in Prisons

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn's prison plan goes beyond closing eight facilities. Drug-abuse treatment and job training would be cut by more than $12 million.

Critics say the cuts would make a crowded system more crowded. John Maki of the prison watchdog John Howard Association tells The (Bloomington) Pantagraph ( ) that eliminating those services would mean more ex-convicts back in prison because they're not prepared for the streets.

Quinn's proposal for the budget year that begins in July would close two maximum-security prisons and six halfway houses along with drug and jobs programs the Corrections Department has yet to specify.

Sheridan and Southwestern Illinois correctional centers specialize in drug treatment. Their services would be affected but spokeswoman Stacey Solano says the agency is looking for other prisons to specialize too.

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 12, 2012

Indiana Drops Attempt to Block Paper’s Story on DCS

The Indiana Department of Child Services has dropped its attempt to block the South Bend Tribune from publishing a story based on audio recordings of telephone calls to the agency's child abuse hotline.

Attorney General Greg Zoeller says he recommended the DCS drop its attempt to block the story. He says prior restraint of the news media publishing public records is inconsistent with the First Amendment.

The state Court of Appeals was scheduled to hear arguments on the case Monday afternoon.

The Tribune had originally won release of records following the November death of 10-year-old Tramelle Sturgis.

A state appeals court granted an emergency block on the records Friday, an hour after the paper published a story on its website with details from the calls.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 12, 2012

Durbin, FEMA to Discuss Tornado Aid for Homeowners

(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and other lawmakers plan to meet this week with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to find out why it won't help southern Illinois residents hurt by the recent tornado.

They'll meet Wednesday with FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate in Washington, D.C.

Durbin spokeswoman Christina Angarola says the senator wants to know how the decision was made and will ask Fugate to reconsider "some elements." She didn't say what those were.

FEMA spokesman Mark Peterson says the agency doesn't put a dollar value on homeowners' losses, but he says enough insurance and other resources exist within the state to recover from the disaster.

Peterson says the agency is determining now whether local governments qualify for help - which requires at least $12 million in expenses and damages.

Categories: Government, Politics
Tags: government

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