Illinois Public Media News
The sponsor of a bill to eliminate the 50 percent tuition waivers available for children of state university employees says it's a sacrifice the state needs to make.
Dave Winters of the Rockford area submitted the bill (HB4706) last week and acknowledges that he's received some unhappy phone calls from state-employed parents since he did so. But Republican state representative says public employees shouldn't be seen as having a special privilege not available to others.
"We have to realize that it's a fiscal crisis", says Winters. "The state can shut down the universities. If we go another year or two in the current spending habits without making some tough decisions, I think we're facing disaster this year with so many of our social service agencies on the verge of closing or having already closed."
Winters also says he'll probably amend the bill to allow students already using the tuition waivers to continue to do so. And he says he would add a controversial scholarship program for state lawmakers to the chopping block.
Winters also says universities could be given the option of continuing the tuition waivers, but he says they'd have to compete with many other programs and services for a shrinking pool of state funding. He expects more lawmakers to sign onto his bill when the legislature reconvenes next month.
UPDATE: This story has been updated to include identification of the victim.
A 44 year old Cerro Gordo woman was killed Friday when she fell out of a 7th-story window of Provena Covenant Medical Center in Urbana.
The Champaign County Coroner's office says Michelle Foss was being treated at the hospital for an undisclosed illness. An autopsy has been scheduled for Saturday.
Urbana Police say they don't believe foul play was involved in the fall.
A spokesman for the hospital says they're all "deeply saddened" by Foss' s death. Provena spokesperson Trent Pelman says a multi-disciplinary team of administrators, clinicians and support personnel are investigating the fall, with the goal of preventing such incidents in the future.
February's primary in Champaign County will proceed with no changes in how the votes are tabulated.
County Clerk Mark Shelden had sought a temporary restraining order against Illinois' undervote notification law, saying it infringes on voter privacy. The measure means tabulating machines make a beeping noise when voters fail to vote for a candidate in one of the statewide races. County Judge Michael Jones denied Shelden's motion Thursday. Jones said while voters have a fundamental right to a secret ballot, he said the law didn't require those machines to be used. Illinois Attorney General Spokeswoman Natalie Bauer says they're pleased with the ruling.
Shelden says it's unfortunate that Champaign County doesn't have another choice, and has to proceed with this equipment. But he believes he'll have an even stronger case after the primary. "People are going to be highly offended at the machines and what they're going to do, getting these error messages," says Shelden. "And a lot of people aren't even going to deal with it. A lot of the people are going just to walk out of the booth and say that somebody else deals with it."
Shelden says he'll also present complaints about the primary voting process from other counties, noting that optical scan machines are the only available tabulating machines in the state. He's hoping to have the undervote law declared unconstitutional. And Shelden is facing criticism from County Auditor Tony Fabri for spending more than $5,000 to hire a private attorney for the case. Shelden says he would have preferred the Champaign County State's Attorney take up the case, but it found no legal basis on which to proceed. He says his office spends tens of thousands of dollars to ensure that a fair election is conducted, and won't apologize for it.
An Illinois lawmaker has set his sights on a tuition waiver program for children of state university employees as a potential target for elimination.
A bill filed last week by Representative Dave Winters of the Rockford area would remove language that makes children of an employee eligible for a 50 percent waiver on undergraduate tuition at any state institution.
That prospect concerns Winters' fellow Republican representative Chapin Rose of Mahomet. But he also says he was under the impression that universities should make up their own minds on whether to offer the benefit.
"I guess the way I'd look at it is that's a choice that each university has just like any business in terms of their overall compensation package," Rose said. "If they want to give their faculty a raise rather than a 50 percent tuition waiver, that's their business. If they'd rather do a flat salary and a 50 percent tuition waiver, that's their business."
University of Illinois spokesman Tom Hardy says the U of I hasn't taken a stand on the bill yet, saying administrators will want to talk with Winters.
Rose says it would make more sense for the state to get rid of the program that lets General Assembly members offer scholarships to the students of their choice. Winters has not returned a call seeking comment.
A new committee assigned with creating a climate of equal opportunities for all Champaign school students held its inaugural meeting Wednesday.
The Education Equity Excellence committee was put together as part of the Unit 4 settlement of its Consent Decree for racial equity. The panel is made up of district administrators and community members --- including a bilingual teacher, the President of the local NAACP chapter and a former Unit 4 school board member, Nathaniel Banks.
Banks, who stepped down last spring, is the most recent African-American to serve on the school board. Speaking prior the meeting, Banks said the Triple-E Committee's first session would be largely about laying the groundwork for future work. He says the Champaign school district has already made strides towards greater equity in some areas, but that it's a work in progress.
"Unfortunately, it doesn't lend itself to the cycle of elections", said Banks. "So there are long-term issues that the Consent Decree was trying to address, and those issues are still there. Certainly, there's been progress, not only in closing the achievement gap, but also in looking at (programs for) Gifted and Talented (students) increasing the number of African-American students there."
Banks says the Champaign school district also needs to take a hard look at the number of minority students in special education, and discipline issues.
Triple-A Committee member and PTA Council President Nancy Hoetker says she'll be responsible for helping facilitate communications between the the committee and Unit Four's 16 campuses.
The Triple-E Committee is expected to meet at least twice per semester.
Governor Pat Quinn admits to knowing about a Department of Corrections program that released violent criminals who'd spent little time in prison. But he says he's ordered a "top to bottom" review to ensure public safety.
Quinn suspended the program over the weekend after reading an Associated Press article. It detailed how about 850 inmates ... some repeat drunk drivers, others serving sentences for weapons or battery violations ... were released after serving only weeks behind bars.
They got out for earning good behavior credits. Their speedy release was made possible because the Corrections Department had dropped a standing policy that required all inmates serve at least 61 days.
Quinn says he knew about Corrections Director Michael Randle's plan. He says so did others. Quinn says it wasn't a secret.
"Now, the execution, implementation of the plan, I've suspended the plan, because I want to review it and make sure it's working the way it should work for public safety", said Quinn.
Quinn wouldn't say if he knew violent offenders would be included.
Illinois' prison system began releasing prisoners early to save money. Quinn says the system is expensive, and there has to be a balance between safety, and saving money.
The governor says he'll talk more about the issue "very soon." His Democratic challenger for the governor's seat, Comptroller Dan Hynes, says the whole affair demonstrates Quinn's poor leadership.
Illinois receiver Arrelious Benn will skip his senior season and enter the NFL draft.
The junior said at a news conference Wednesday he thinks he is ready for the National Football League and wants to take care of his family. But he says he won't forget the U of I.
"As I begin this adventure, I will always be proud to represent the University of Illinois", said Benn. "I will be a role model for inner-city kids and anyone who wonders if they really can realize their dreams. And one more thing, I will finish college --- and Ma, that's a promise".
"OK, I'll take you up on that", replied Benn's mother, Denise Benn, who joined him at the news conference.
"Rejus" Benn was a top prospect out of high school in Washington, D.C., and the Big Ten freshman of the year in 2007. The Illini went to the Rose Bowl that season. He struggled with the team the past two seasons. Illinois was 3-9 this season and Benn caught just 38 passes for 490 yards. But despite his disappointing junior season, Benn is considered a potential high-round pick. Draft expert and former NFL general manager Gil Brandt believes Benn will be a second-round pick.
(Additional reporting by Rob McColley for AM 580 News)
The death of a bird usually doesn't generate much outrage, but Indiana conservation groups say they want to find whoever shot and killed a whooping crane near Cayuga in Vermillion County, in western Indiana.
Someone noticed the carcass of the white, long-legged migratory bird along a county road two weeks ago.
Phil Seng is a volunteer with Indiana's Turn In a Poacher program, which has chipped in money toward a $7,500 reward to anyone with information on the incident. He says the whooping crane is one of the nation's most endangered animals.
"There's only about 500 of them left in the world", says Seng. "And so, they're trying to reestablish the population. It's a big part of our natural heritage, and we certainly feel that it's important that those birds be around for everyone's enjoyment.
Seng says it's hard to figure out why someone would want to shoot a whooping crane, which is distinctive from any other game bird by its striking white color and long legs. He says hunting long-legged wading birds such as herons and egrets is not permitted in Indiana, so it's unlikely that the whooping crane was mistaken for another legal game bird. "We feel that people who shoot animals like this are not legitimate hunters, they're more poachers and thieves", says Seng.
US Fish and Wildlife Service officials say the crane had an ID band on its leg and had been observed alive by a staff member of the International Crane Foundation just three days before it was found dead.
If you have information on the shooting, you can call the Indiana Department of Natural Resources at 1-800-TIP-IDNR.
No one was hurt, but a bank robbery in the heart of Monticello Wednesday caused a stir and led to a soft lockdown for school students.
Administrators decided to keep students inside the buildings for the rest of the school day after a man carrying a semi-automatic pistol held up the First State Bank on the town square. Police Chief John Miller says bank robberies are rare-to-non-existent in his town.
"I talked to a bank employee who's been there for over 44 years, and they don't ever recall the bank being robbed", says Miller. "And someone mentioned that they thought that 65 or so years ago, someone had robbed a bank here in Monticello, but it's been a long time."
Miller describes the suspect as a heavy set white male, about five-feet-nine with olive khaki pants and a large blue hooded sweatshirt, wearing a black covering over his face. No one has been arrested yet. Miller won't say how much money the man got away with when he ran from the bank.
Vermilion County's Board of Health is considering different scenarios for the future of its health department, ranging from maintaining the status quo to closing its doors.
While state funding remains shaky, Department Administrator Steve Laker says a downsizing remains the most likely scenario. He says the department has received about 200-thousand dollars from the state the last two weeks, providing some relief. But the department is still relying on the county to fund areas like payroll, and can't pay back a loan from the county for 300-thousand.
Laker says the county may have to borrow from a bank to cover a revenue shortfall, but he says one other amusing possibility surfaced recently.
"I got a phone call last week from the state treasurer's office wanting to know if we were interested in special loan funds they had," Laker said. "Are we going to borrow money from the state to counter state funding shortages? It's a possibility. They've got some low-interest loan programs. I referred them to the county board chairman."
The state still owes the department about 600-thousand dollars.
Laker says the health department needs to finalize a presentation for the Vermilion County Board by the end of this week. Its meeting on December 29th will decide the structure of the health department for the immediate future.
All options for downsizing include termination of state grant contracts, and cutting some jobs. Laker says programs that could be on the bubble include maternal and child health programs and nursing home screening for senior citizens.
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