When a worker is injured on the job, Illinois has a system in place to determine if, and how, a company should compensate its employee. But businesses say the workers compensation system is out of date and abused. They're campaigning for a major overhaul of the process. They may succeed. At a meeting of local chambers of commerce and independent business owners on Tuesday, April 12 in Springfield, Governor Pat Quinn and leaders in the Illinois General Assembly said changing the status quo is a top tier goal. But as Illinois Public Radio's Amanda Vinicky reports, it's a politically dicey task, considering the push backfrom unions, trial lawyers, and doctors.
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Businesses that have been clamoring for a redo of the workers compensation system liked much of what they heard from the state's political leaders who say it's also their priority. Chamber of commerce members and independent businesses owners met in Springfield on Tuesday.
Businesses say the workers compensation system is so expensive and abused ... companies don't want to locate in Illinois.
Governor Pat Quinn appears to have gotten the message.
"We've got to take on the need to reform our workers compensation system," Quinn said to applause from the gathering. "We can do it."
Another Democrat, Senate President John Cullerton, called it the most important piece of legislation that can be passed this spring to improve the state's business climate.
"We must act immediately to bring that system under control and make it competitive with that of other states," Cullerton said.
The GOP's General Assembly leaders signaled their support too.
"We need a dramatic overhaul of workers' comp," Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno said.
But Cullerton told the business leaders there's not enough support to pass any plan right now. He said it will take compromise to win approval from powerful interest groups representing trial lawyers, hospitals, unions and businesses. He said that a plan by Governor Quinn to cut costs and professionalize practices is a good first step, noting there is room for compromise on a key dispute ... whether employees should prove injuries were caused by their current job.
Businesses say paying for work-related injuries is too costly.
There will still be an event Wednesday night in Clinton to discuss a plan to store toxic substances in the city's landfill.
But the purpose of the event has shifted from an environmental hearing to an informational meeting hosted by a concerned citizens' group. The U.S. EPA had postponed the hearing Friday night out of concerns that the federal government would shut down, and has yet to reschedule.
The owners of Clinton Landfill are seeking a permit to allow for the storage of toxic substances called PCB's. A group called WATCH, or We Are Against Toxic Chemicals, is afraid they could eventually leak from the landfill, threatening the Mahomet Aquifer.
Group President George Wissmiller said he has had his share of questions over the proposal the past few years.
"There apparently is no agency that can react to the idea that this is just a bad idea," he said. "It's irresponsible to dump PCB's on top of the water supply for 750,000 people. But if the U.S. EPA regulations and the Illinois EPA regs and everybody else's regs allow it, they're going to do it in spite of the fact that it doesn't make any sense."
Wissmiller said members had already promoted the hearing, and didn't want residents showing up, only to find that Clinton High School was locked. He said Wednesday night's main function will be to tell the public that there are ways to block the plan locally.
"If local government has an ordinance or a regulation that limits dumping of this particular type of waste, the federal government can't permit the hauler to violate that ordinance," he said. "So they are, in fact, restricted by local ordinances."
Wissmiller said the group could also enact a DeWitt County ordinance that stipulates how landfills are set up. The informational meeting runs from 6 to 8 Wednesday night at Clinton High School, with an open house starting at 5 PM.
The head of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees says higher education in the state must do a better job forging relationships with business and political leaders.
Board Chairman Chris Kennedy says in the two years he's been a trustee, the university has begun reaching out more to those in business and government. Kennedy is in charge of Chicago's Merchandise Mart. He says the U of I has to show the impact investments in higher education can make on the economy. He adds colleges and universities in Illinois have failed to successfully convey the message. Kennedy says too few business leaders even know the names of Presidents and trustees at the state's colleges and universities.
"Even if we could name them, we probably haven't received a call or opened an invitation from them to join in building a relationship with someone like Duck Durbin or Mark Kirk," Kennedy said. "These university leaders are not pushing the business leaders to become engaged with federal officials or to try to improve funding for the research institutions in our state."
Kennedy says that lack of coordinated effort has had a devastating effect on the ability to garner a larger share of federal research dollars. He made his remarks at the University' Springfield campus.
Researchers in Chicago are beginning a study Tuesday that they hope will extend the life of urban trees.
All those trees you see lining shady Chicago sidestreets actually have it pretty rough. Their average lifespan is less than ten years. That's compared to fifty or sixty years for their suburban cousins.
Bryant Scharenbroch is a soil scientist with the Morton Arboretum. He said all those city roads and buildings make soil too dense.
"When you compact the soil to make it suitable for infrastructure, you're also making it kind of a hostile environment for trees," he said."
So scientists are testing out biochar, a sort of super-heated charcoal made from plant matter. Ancient Amazonians were using biochar on their crops centuries ago, but its affects on trees haven't been widely studied, said researcher Kelby Fite, with Bartlet Tree Experts.
Biochar adds nutrients into the soil, like compost, but lasts a lot longer.
"So compost may degrade in a matter of a handful of years, whereas biochar could be stable for hundreds, or even thousands of years," Fite said.
The researchers will monitor sample trees in the Bucktown neighborhood for the next couple years.
Millikin University in Decatur welcomed its 14th President this month. Dr. Harold Jeffcoat previously served as President and CEO at Texas Wesleyan University in Fort Worth. He spoke with Illinois Public Radio's Jenna Dooley about his vision for the small, private university.
(Photo courtesy of Millikin University)
Prosecutors in Rod Blagojevich's corruption case have asked a judge to bar defense attorneys from arguing at the former Illinois governor's upcoming retrial that playing all the hundreds of hours of secret FBI recordings would prove his innocence.
Blagojevich and his lawyers have complained for years that the government took the recordings out of context by playing on a small percentage of them. They argue that heard in their entirety the recordings would demonstrate Blagojevich never did anything illegal.
But in a 25-page motion, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Chicago, government attorneys say there are no grounds to suggest either that unplayed tapes would help exonerate Blagojevich or that prosecutors intentionally selected recordings that lacked necessary context.
"The court has also made clear that the court, rather than the government, is the final arbiter of what is, and what is not, presented to the jury," the motion says. "Yet the defense has continued to suggest otherwise."
Blagojevich faces 20 charges, including that he sought to exchange an appointment to President Barack Obama's old U.S. Senate seat for campaign cash or a top job. His first trial ended last year with jurors agreeing on just one count _ convicting Blagojevich of lying to the FBI.
Wiretap recordings were at the heart of the prosecution's case at the first trial and will be just as crucial at the second, which is set to begin April 20.
One of Blagojevich's attorneys, Sheldon Sorosky, declined to immediately comment on the motion Tuesday, saying attorneys expected to respond later.
Disappointment today at Chicago's Adler Planetarium, as the museum was snubbed in its bid to host one of the retiring space shuttles.
The Adler piped the NASA announcement live into its 3-D Universe Theater. The assembled crowd offered polite applause as the winning institutions were announced: museums in Los Angeles, New York, Washington, DC and Florida.
Adler president Paul Knappanberger offered congratulations, though said he was a bit perplexed by the New York museum's success. He says it's a missed opportunity for the planetarium.
"A shuttle would have been a game changer, I think," he told reporters. "It's a national treasure, it's an icon of American achievement. I don't think any other artifact approaches that icon status."
The Adler is expected to get one of those other artifacts as a consolation prize -- the shuttle flight simulator used to train NASA astronauts. It's reportedly three stories tall and replicates the shuttle's crew compartment. Knappenberger called it the "next best thing," and said the museum will likely build a new enclosure to hold it.
Knappenberger says the failed shuttle campaign was funded almost completely with donated money and services.
(Photo courtesy of John F. Kennedy Space Center/Wikimedia Commons)
An American flag flying upside down outside a museum in eastern Illinois has upset a few people but the man behind it says he means no disrespect.
Harold "Sparky'' Songer is director of the Vermilion County War Museum in Danville. He says he's flying the flag upside down because he's bothered by federal defense spending cuts and what he sees as diminishing military support.
He says he's flying the flag as a distress signal. An upside-down flag is considered a legitimate military distress signal.
Songer is a veteran of World War II and the wars in Korea and Vietnam.
Local resident Chris Perrault told The News-Gazette in Champaign that as he took pictures of the flag Monday he heard complaints from people passing by that the flag display was disrespectful.
An Indiana House committee is taking up a bill that would require nurses, doctors, dentists and other medical workers to pay for a national criminal background check when applying for a state license.
Bill sponsor Republican Sen. Patricia Miller of Indianapolis says current policy relies on the honesty of health workers to accurately report convictions when applying for licenses. About 198,000 people are currently licensed or certified in one of the 20 professions specified in the bill.
An Indianapolis Star investigation last year found several instances in which nurses failed to report arrests or convictions on their license renewal applications without the nursing board knowing about the incidents. The bill allows boards to require people seeking license renewals to submit to a national background check.