Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 30, 2012

Civic Group: Illinois Unpaid Bills Could Quadruple

(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)

According to a report released Monday by the Civic Federation of Chicago, Illinois' overdue bills will total more than $9 billion this summer, and that number could be nearly four times as much in just five years.

As legislators return to Springfield this week, they're facing a difficult situation. Civic Federation President Laurence Msall said the state must act quickly to solve its fiscal problems.

"There's nothing politically easily left to do in the state of Illinois," Msall said. "The tax increase didn't solve the problem. We're going to have to start to say no and make painful choices."

The Civic Federation suggests cutting retirement benefits for government employees, reducing Medicaid costs and taxing retirement and Social Security income.

A major state-employee union sharply criticized the Civic Federation's recommendations.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees said the group calls for government workers to make sacrifices but not big corporations or wealthy individuals. It opposes borrowing to pay overdue bills but ignores the impact on businesses and community groups the state is failing to pay, the union said, and the report doesn't make clear that high pension costs are largely a result of the state failing to pay its share in the past.

"The federation's repeated omission of relevant context calls its credibility into question," said an AFSCME statement "Instead this document reads like a series of ideological conclusions searching for factual support."

In a statement, Gov. Pat Quinn's office said employers "need to have a stake'' in paying for teacher retirement costs. The Democratic governor's also says he wants "aggressive restructuring'' of Medicaid, the health program for poor people.

Quinn gives his State of the State address on Wednesday and will formally propose a budget proposal on Feb. 22. He has called for "aggressive restructuring of the Medicaid system," a topic he may discuss in his address. He and legislative leaders have discussed cutting pension benefits for state employees and reducing costs for Medicaid. But it is not clear they will be able to agree on a plan, or whether legislators will be willing to vote for cuts in an election year.

Meanwhile, Illinois regional school superintendents are hoping they're not targets this year in the governor's State of the State address. State funding for Illinois' regional superintendents is being proposed for next fiscal year.

Last year Gov. Quinn suggested doing away with the 44 positions, then vetoed funding for their salaries in July. Illinois' elected regional superintendents oversee training bus drivers, GED testing, and school building inspections, among other things. Quinn justified cutting funding for the positions last year by calling the officials "bureaucrats."

President of the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents Bob Daiber said they are working hard to educate officials about what they do.

"We think the greatest preventative measure is both the General Assembly and the governor to fully understand our significance and that we're not a part of any bureaucracy in Illinois," Daiber said.

The regional superintendents and their assistants worked without pay from last July until November, when legislators approved using money from a corporate property tax.

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 30, 2012

Ill. Nuclear Reactor Loses Power, Venting Steam

Exelon Nuclear says a reactor at its Byron Generating Station has shut down after losing power, and steam is being vented to reduce pressure.

Plant operators declared an unusual event at 10:18 a.m. Monday when Unit 2 shut down after losing power from an off-site source.

They say the facility's generators are providing power to equipment, and the unit remains in safe condition.

Officials say Byron Station is designed to vent steam in the event of a power loss. They say the steam contains low levels of tritium, a radioactive isotope, but not at unsafe levels.

Officials say engineers are investigating why the unit lost offsite power. Unit 1 continues to operate normally.

Byron Generating Station is in Ogle County, about 95 miles northwest of Chicago.

Categories: Energy
Tags: energy

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 30, 2012

Indiana Right-to-Work Bill on Way to Final Vote

An Indiana Senate committee has endorsed the right-to-work bill, sending it toward a final legislative vote this week.

The Senate labor committee's Republican members voted 6-1 Monday to advance the bill to the full Senate. The committee's three Democrats boycotted the meeting in protest, saying there was no justification for rushing the bill through just days after the Indiana House approved the proposal.

The Senate is expected to vote Wednesday to give final approval to the proposal prohibiting contracts between companies and unions that require workers to pay representation fees. Gov. Mitch Daniels says he will sign the bill.

Supporters say such a law will make the state more attractive to employers, while opponents maintain it is a political attack on labor unions and will drive down wages.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 30, 2012

Sen. Kirk Upgraded to Fair Condition, is Talking

Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk is continuing to improve after a major stroke and has been upgraded to fair condition.

Northwestern Memorial Hospital neurosurgeon Richard Fessler says Kirk is alert, talking and responding well to questions.

The Chicago hospital released a statement Monday about Kirk's progress, a little more than a week after he suffered a stroke that's affected his left side.

Fessler says doctors are very pleased with Kirk's progress.

Kirk is 52 and was in good health when he was stricken.

Doctors believe a clot developed from a tear in an artery in his neck and lodged in his brain. Doctors removed part of his skull to relieve pressure and allow the brain to swell.

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 30, 2012

Ill Corrrections Officials Want More Women Prison Guards

State officials are looking for ways to increase the number female prison guards.

The Decatur Herald-Review reported Sunday that the Illinois Department of Corrections wants to boost female and minority recruitment within the department.

Corrections spokeswoman Stacey Solano says female guards are critical at both male and female prisons. The state operates all-female prisons in Lincoln, Decatur and Dwight.

The announcement comes after a recent report by the Chicago-based John Howard Association on the Dwight Correctional Center. The watchdog group said that it received reports of inappropriate behavior from male correctional officers at the all-female prison.

The watchdog group's report alleges that "inmates expressed distress over lack of privacy.''

Corrections officials say the ratio of male to female guards throughout Illinois' prison system is 5.4 males to 1 female.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 28, 2012

Bears Hire Emery as New GM

The Chicago Bears have hired Kansas City Chiefs director of college scouting Phil Emery as their new general manager.

Emery was an area scout for the Bears from 1998-2004. He replaces Jerry Angelo, who was fired after an injury-riddled 8-8 season.

Emery and New England Patriots director of pro personnel Jason Licht were finalists and both interviewed twice.

The Bears also interviewed San Diego Chargers director of player personnel Jimmy Raye, New York Giants director of college scouting Marc Ross, and current director of player personnel Tim Ruskell.

Categories: Sports
Tags: sports

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 27, 2012

Two Teens Charged in Beating, Robbery of Man from Australia

Two Champaign men are in custody in connection with the alleged beating and robbery of a man from Australia in Urbana last October.

17-year olds Dorian Wills and Ralph Grey made their first court appearance Friday afternoon. They're also facing counts of attempted murder, kidnapping and aggravated robbery, and being held on $750-thousand bond following Friday's court apperance. A third arrest is expected, but 17-year old Anthony Davis is in the Department of Corrections, so it's not known when he'll be in court.

Champaign Detective Robb Morris says 33-year old Clinton Fookes had been in Washington, D.C. for a conference, and was visiting with computer science faculty at the U of I.

Morris says the man had apparently lost his way on the evening of October 20th when walking from downtown Champaign into Urbana, and five men lured him into a stolen van. He says the men sought out to find someone with money on them.

"More than one of them admitted when they left a house they'd been at earlier in the evening, their intent was to find an easy mark for a robbery," Morris said.

Morris says Fookes was left for dead in a barn on far North Mattis Avenue in Champaign, but was able to flag down a car the following morning, and was treated at Carle Hospital for a laceration to the back of his head, concussion, broken nose, cuts, and scrapes.

Morris says property stolen from Fookes linked him to those arrested. He doesn't expect further arrests, since the other two men in the van didn't play a role in the attack.

Morris says Fookes is now recovering at home.

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 27, 2012

Doctor Says Sen. Mark Kirk Making Progress

Illinois U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk is doing well, according to his doctor. Kirk suffered a stroke last weekend and has undergone two surgeries to relieve swelling in his brain.

Dr. Richard Fessler is a neurosurgeon at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Dr. Fessler provided the following update on Senator Kirk's condition Friday morning.

"Senator Kirk is doing quite well this morning. He is alert, responding more rapidly to questions and the swelling in his brain has stabilized. While he remains in serious but stable condition, we are pleased with his continued progress."

Meanwhile, Kirk's colleagues are still processing the news of Kirk's situation.

U.S. Congressman Mike Quigley said he thought his staff made a mistake when they informed him of Kirk's stroke. Quigley recently traveled to Poland with Kirk on business.

"He was vibrant, strong, articulate, and rip-roaring ready to go," Kirk said.

Quigley said Kirk kept up his jogging routine despite the trip's demanding schedule. The Senator remains in serious but stable condition.

Categories: Biography, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 27, 2012

Indiana Court Steps into Legislative Fines Dispute

The Indiana Supreme Court has agreed to step into a legislative dispute over the collection of $1,000-a-day fines imposed on Democrats who boycotted the House to protest a right-to-work bill.

The court voted 4-1 Friday to accept jurisdiction over the state's appeal.

The attorney general's office asked the high court to intervene after a Marion County judge blocked the House from collecting fines through payroll deduction. In a related development Friday, the judge extended his order blocking the fines for another 10 days.

Attorney General Greg Zoeller said the dispute properly belongs in the Legislature, not in the courts. He says that under constitutional separation of powers, a court cannot interfere in the workings of the legislative branch.

House Minority Leader Patrick Bauer didn't return a phone call seeking comment.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 27, 2012

Urbana Asst. Police Chief Chosen as Champaign Police Chief

Urbana Assistant Police Chief Anthony Cobb has been selected as the new chief of police for the city of Champaign.

Champaign City Manager Steve Carter said Cobb has a solid track record based on his 20-year tenure with the Urbana Police Department.

"He's very clear from a leadership standpoint, which is really important about understanding the issues and some of the things that need to be done," Carter said.

Cobb said his top priority will be to improve morale within the Champaign police force.

The issue of police community relations in the department has come under scrutiny in the last few years following the 2009 police shooting death of teenager, Kiwane Carrington.

A number of citizens have also alleged that Champaign police have used excessive force when arresting two African American youths in the last few months.

Cobb said he plans to take a closer look at the department's use of force policy, and work to improve relations with the community.

"Situations and obstacles that we're facing at the Champaign Police Department, those didn't come about overnight and we're not going to get them corrected overnight. It's going to take time. It's going to take commitment. It's going to take effort," " Cobb said. "I would love to get to the point when I'm ready to retire from the city of Champaign, everyone who's back here says he's done a good job."

Champaign County NAACP President Patricia Avery said she is looking forward to working with Cobb. She said having someone who is familiar with Champaign-Urbana will go a long way.

"He has shown that he is a leader in the community," Avery said. "I think his community policing speaks for itself. So, I think that we're off to a great start with our new Chief Cobb."

Cobb has been with the Urbana Police Department since 1992, starting off as a patrol officer for about four years, later advancing to a school resource juvenile officer, to eventually becoming assistant chief of police in 2010. He was the department's first community policing officer, and he piloted a program related to the Urbana Police Department's current community policing approach.

"A lot of people feel that since I'm an African American from an African American community that's where all my interests and talents are going to lie," Cobb said. "That's not true. I am committed to the citizens of Champaign period."

The last time Champaign had an African American police chief was in the early 1980's with William Dye, who held that position from 1975 until 1982.

Cobb was selected to lead Campaign's Police Department from a field of more than 45 candidates following the retirement of R.T. Finney in Jan. 2012. He will join the Champaign Police Department on March 12, and will earn a salary of $140,000 a year.

(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)

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