Illinois Public Media News
Opponents and supporters of a plan to move up to 100 alleged terrorists to Illinois from Guantanamo Bay are preparing to address the first state legislative hearing on the issue.
Around 50 people are scheduled to testify at Tuesday's hearing before the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability.
They include labor union officials who say selling the Thomson Correctional Center to the federal government to house detainees will create hundreds of jobs.
Opponents scheduled to speak include conservative activist Beverly Perlson. She says U.S. Naval detention center in Cuba has worked well and that there's no good reason to bring prisoners to the small northwestern Illinois community.
The hearing is at a high school auditorium in Sterling, which is southeast of Thomson.
Some regular activities sometimes get short-shrift over the busy holiday season - donating blood is one of them.
Community Blood Services of Illinois is holding two blood drives Tuesday, hoping to get people into the bloodmobile at a time when donations often trail off. Spokeswoman Ashley Davidson says her agency has tried to plan in advance, knowing that fewer donors and continued high demand combine for a seasonal problem.
"We try to schedule as many drives as possible and we do a lot of in-center calling as well," Davidson said. "We really try to increase our total recruitment around this time, especially if we need certain blood types. We do try to cushion for it because we know at this time of year, our donations do go down."
Davidson says it takes about 500 donors every day in the region to keep the supply of blood at its member hospitals in east-central Illinois adequate. Right now she says there's a fairly serious shortage of type-O blood as well as A-negative and B-positive.
Tuesday's blood drives take place at Urbana's Provena Covenant Medical Center and at the U of I Employees Credit union main office in Champaign.
Terre Haute's mayor will travel to Poland next month with a Holocaust survivor to mark the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp.
Mayor Duke Bennett will join about 50 other people on the trip to the former Nazi death camp where more than 1 million people, mostly Jews, died during World War II.
Eva Kor, a Terre Haute resident who founded the city's CANDLES Holocaust Museum, will be part of the group.
Kor's family was taken to the death camp near the end of World War II. She and a twin sister, Miriam, survived being subjected to Nazi experiments, but their parents and two older sisters died in the camp's gas chambers.
Auschwitz was in the headlines Friday, when Polish police reported that the camp's infamous iron entrance sign, which declares in German "Work Sets You Free,'' has been stolen.
Employee buyouts are being looked at as another option for the University of Illinois to cut costs next spring.
Campus units were told earlier this month to make contingency plans to reduce spending by 7, 10, and 15 percent. Those plans were to be submitted earlier this week. U of I spokeswoman Robin Kaler says this is just another possibility as state reimbursements to the university are behind by about $400 million. "For several months the university has been struggling with a mounting financial crisis," says Kaler. "We're working on several options and buyouts are one of those, but we don't have details yet on any of the options." Kaler says it's too early to speculate who may take advantage of a buyout plan.
The U of I is also considering implementing a furlough policy next spring that's already been put together. Kaler says administrators have other cost-cutting proposals on the table, but couldn't be more specific.
The reward money offered in connection with the shooting of a rare whooping crane in Indiana is now at $10,000, up from $7,500.
Government wildlife agencies, conservation groups and a private citizen have contributed money for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever shot the whooping crane near Cayuga in western Indiana's Vermillion County around December 1st.
The U-S fish and Wildlife Service says a leg band on the dead crane identifies it as the 7-year-old mother of "Wild-1", the only whooping crane chick to ever successfully migrate after being hatched in captivity. There are only about 500 whooping cranes left in the world.
If you have information on the shooting, you can call the Indiana Department of Natural Resources at 1-800-TIP-IDNR.
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.
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