Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 31, 2011

Rod Blagojevich Returns to the Stand

(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)

Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is be back on the witness stand today trying to convince jurors that he is innocent. He spent about six hours in total on the stand last week.

He is still being questioned by his own attorney Aaron Goldstein. The questions give Blagojevich a chance to say that he never extorted anyone. Blagojevich says he never explicitly or implicitly threatened to withhold state action if they didn't give him campaign contributions.

He has told jurors that it's important for politicians to raise money because, "this is the system that we have in America."

He said the U.S. Supreme court has protected campaign contributions under the first amendment right to free speech. He has also told jurors that following fundraising laws can be delicate because of the nature of politics and he's explaining how he tried to follow the laws.

Prosecutors could spend days challenging Blagojevich's assertions after defense attorneys finish their questioning.

Blagojevich has so far only addressed about half of the allegations against him. The 54-year-old hasn't yet touched on the most serious accusation that he tried to sell or trade President Barack Obama's old U.S. Senate seat for a top job or campaign cash.

His attorneys have said Blagojevich most likely wouldn't delve into that explosive allegation until later this week.

He faces a total of 20 counts. He has denied any wrongdoing.

(AP Photo/Tom Gianni)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 30, 2011

Illinois lawmakers Pass Private Fund for Illegal Immigrants

The children of immigrants, both legal and illegal, would be able to obtain private college scholarships and enroll in Illinois state savings programs under legislation approved Monday.

A 61-53 vote in the Illinois House sent the measure to Gov. Pat Quinn's desk because it already passed the state Senate. Quinn said in a statement that he looked forward to signing it.

Supporters praised the legislation as a much-needed way to offer financial help to undocumented immigrants who graduate from Illinois high schools and want to continue their studies in college but can't afford it.

The Illinois Dream Act would create a panel to raise private money for college scholarships and let the children of immigrants join programs that help them invest money and save for college.

"These students deserve an opportunity. They work hard. We send them through grade school, we send them through high school, then we slam a door in their face and say `Oh well, all the hard work is for nothing. You can't go to college,"' said state Rep. Edward Acevedo, D-Chicago.

To qualify for the college savings pool, students must have a Social Security number or taxpayer identification number. Scholarship recipients must have at least one immigrant parent and the student must have attended school in Illinois for at least three years.

Carla Navoa, a 22-year-old student at the University of Illinois at Chicago who is in the country illegally, lobbied for the bill because it will help others like her pay for college. She said she currently isn't enrolled in college because of the financial stress on her family with a younger sister in college, too.

"Having access to this Dream Fund would really help us," Navoa said.

Opponents have criticized the legislation as improper because it provides benefits that could help people who violate immigration laws. They also have complained it's confusing because of proposed federal legislation by the same name that would give some illegal immigrants a path to citizenship.

The Illinois Dream Act has no impact on a person's immigration status and it doesn't offer a path to citizenship.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 30, 2011

Ill. House Votes to Add Five Casinos

The Illinois House is bucking recent history by approving a major expansion of legalized gambling.

The House voted 65-50 Monday to approve five new casinos, including one in Danville. The others would go to Chicago, Rockford, Lake County and somewhere in the south suburbs.

The measure now goes to the Senate.

State Representative Lou Lang (D-Skokie) said the legislation would bring the state one and a half billion dollars in startup fees and $500 million or more a year in ongoing revenue.

Governor Pat Quinn has said he dislikes such a huge expansion.

But Lang said the additional casinos would bring in money to pay overdue bills.

"The most important part of this has nothing to do with gaming at all, the most important part of this is putting people to work and helping pay the bills of the state of Illinois," Lang said. "That is an important goal."

The proposal also allows horse race tracks to add slot machines, and it'd permit both slots and racing at the state fairgrounds in Springfield.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 30, 2011

Illinois to Play Cal State Fullerton in NCAA Baseball Regional

Illinois will enter the 2011 NCAA Baseball Tournament as the No. 4 seed, slated for first round play in the Cal State Fullerton Regional.

Illinois (28-25) learned Monday morning that it will face host team Cal State Fullerton (40-15) on the regional's opening night on Friday, June 3. Game time is 10 PM Central Time. That game follows the matchup of No. 2 seed Stanford (32-20) and No. 3 seed Kansas State (36-23) in the first round of double-elimination play.

Illinois earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, when it won the Big Ten Tournament, sweeping through the competition with three straight wins. Illinois shared the regular-season title with Michigan State, but defeated Michigan State twice as it won its second Big Ten championship in the last seven years.

Friday's game will mark Illinois baseball coach Dan Hartlieb's first regional appearance as a head coach. Hartlieb was an assistant on Illinois' NCAA Tournament teams in 1998 and 2000 --- and a graduate assistant coach on SIU's 1990 CBAA Tournament team.

Categories: Education, Sports

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 30, 2011

Bill to Overturn Changes to Health Contracts Heads to Ill. Governor

State legislators are trying to assert their authority on the approval of public employee health insurance contracts.

They passed a measure Monday in the Illinois House of Representatives by a vote of 98-15 to give themselves the ability to approve or deny new contracts.

However, it may be too late to stave off changes that are forcing one hundred thousand public employees to switch health care coverage.

The changes come in direct response to the recent ethics commission ruling that the state was right to drop the HMOs provided by Urbana-based Health Alliance and Humana.

Legislators were outraged and said the contract award process was inherently flawed. The administration maintains it followed the rules set forth by legislators themselves. State Representative David Leitch (R-Peoria) said lawmakers should be able to overturn decisions.

"What kind of idiots would come up with a process that would permit this to happen," Leitch said.

But not everyone wants to scrap the recent bidding process and put the decisions in the hands of a new seven member panel. House Democrat Barbara Flynn Currie of Chicago voted against the measure. She said legislators need to think twice before bypassing a law aimed at taking politics out of the group employee health insurance program.

"I think you have to look carefully at the idea that this handful of people should be able to say to the losers, 'OK, losers, today because of us seven people you get to be a winner," Currie said. "That's not the way to run any state government."

The measure passed in the midst of the annual open enrollment period when workers can pick new health plans.

Governor Quinn's Administration is moving forward despite the legislation, and telling employees to choose coverage before June 17th. After that date workers will automatically be placed in a new plan.

Categories: Government, Health, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 30, 2011

Ill. May Extend Access to Higher Education for Undocumented Immigrants

Lawmakers in Springfield have passed legislation to expand access to higher education for undocumented immigrants. It now heads to Gov. Pat Quinn, who has said he would sign the measure into law. As Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers reports, this isn't the first time the state has considered how far it should go to accommodate people who have come to this country illegally.

(AP Photo/Jason Redmond)

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WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 29, 2011

Illinois Wins Big Ten Baseball Tournament; Awaits NCAA Tourney Assignment

The Illini baseball team beat the Michigan State Spartans 9-1 Saturday night, to win the Big Ten Baseball Tournament in Columbus, Ohio, and a berth in the upcoming NCAA Baseball Tournament. It's Illinois' first Big Ten title and NCAA berth in baseball since 2000.

The win also marks the first time in U of I history that Illinois has won both the Big Ten regular-season and tournament titles in the same season.

Junior left-hander Corey Kimes threw his first complete game, striking out a career-high seven batters. Senior first baseman Matt Dittman hit a grand slam home run in the third inning. Both players were named to the All-Tournament Team, along with center fielder Willie Argo, starting pitcher John Anderson, designated hitter Justin Parr and catcher Adam Davis, who was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player.

Illinois has defeated Michigan State earlier in the tournament, 4 to 1 in Game 8 on Friday night. Michigan State went on to beat Minnesota in Saturday afternoon's elimination game, putting them in place to play Illinois for the tournament title Saturday evening.

Illinois now waits for Monday morning, when they'll learn what their regional assignment will be for the NCAA Baseball Tournament. Regional tournament play begins Friday, June 3rd.

Categories: Sports
Tags: sports

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 29, 2011

Wheldon Wins Stunning Indy 500

Dan Wheldon was zipping toward the final corner of Sunday's Indianapolis 500, surely figuring the best he could do was another runner-up finish.

Then he came upon JR Hildebrand's crumpled car, all smashed up and sliding along the wall.

The rookie had made the ultimate mistake with his very last turn of the wheel, and Wheldon, not Hildebrand, made an improbable turn into Victory Lane.

"It's obviously unfortunate, but that's Indianapolis," said Wheldon, who won Indy in 2005 and finished second the last two years. "That's why it's the greatest spectacle in racing. You never now what's going to happen."

This might have been the whackiest one ever.

In his first event of the year, Wheldon captured the ultimate IndyCar prize. But the 100th anniversary of the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing" will be remembered more for the guy who let it slip away with the checkered flag in sight.

Leading by almost 4 seconds and needing to make it around the 2 1/2-mile track just one more time, Hildebrand cruised through the first three turns with no problem.

The fourth one got him. He went too high, lost control and slammed into the outside wall. Wheldon sped past, while Hildebrand's battered machine skidded across the line 2.1 seconds behind, still hugging the concrete barrier.

"It's a helpless feeling," Hildebrand said.

The 23-year-old Californian got into trouble when he came up on another rookie, Charlie Kimball, going much slower as they approached the last corner. Instead of backing off, the leader moved to the outside to make the pass - a decision that sent him slamming into the wall to a collective gasp from the crowd of 250,000.

"I caught him in the wrong piece of track," Hildebrand said. "I got up in the marbles and that was it."

While Wheldon celebrated his second Indy 500 win, series officials reviewed the video to see if Wheldon passed the wrecked machine before the caution lights went on. He clearly did, and Hildebrand's team said it wouldn't protest the result.

That gave the Brit another spot on the Borg-Warner Trophy.

Not bad, considering he doesn't even have a full-time job.

"I just felt a lot of relief. It's an incredible feeling," Wheldon said. "I never gave up."

He took the traditional swig of milk and headed off on a triumphant lap around the speedway - a lap that Hildebrand should have been taking.

Instead, the youngster stopped by the garage to get a look at his mangled car, which was hauled through Gasoline Alley instead of being wheeled into Victory Lane. He's now in the company of athletes such as Jean Van de Velde, who squandered a three-shot lead on the last hole of the 1999 British Open, and Lindsey Jacobellis, whose hotdogging wipeout at the 2006 Winter Olympics cost her a certain gold medal.

They had it in the bag - and threw it all away.

"I'm just frustrated. It's not because we came in here with the expectation of winning and we didn't," Hildebrand said. "I felt like I just made a mistake and it cost our boys. I guess that's why rookies don't win the Indianapolis 500 a whole lot, and we'll be back next year, I guess."

After losing his ride from last season - with Hildebrand's team, no less - Wheldon had plenty of time to hang out with his wife and two young children, while also dealing with the burden of his mother being diagnosed with Alzheimer's. He longed to get back behind the wheel, and when May rolled around he had a one-off deal with retired driver Bryan Herta's fledgling team.

They came up with a winning combination, which may well lead to a bigger gig.

For now, though, there are no guarantees - even for the Indy 500 champion.

"I think my contract expires at midnight," Wheldon said, managing a smile.

The 200-lap race was dominated much of the day by Chip Ganassi's top two drivers, defending champ Dario Franchitti and 2008 winner Scott Dixon.

But after a series of late pit stops, things really got interesting. Second-generation racer Graham Rahal spent some time up front. Danica Patrick claimed the lead but had to stop for fuel with nine laps to go. Belgium driver Bertrand Baguette had already gotten past Patrick, but he didn't have enough fuel, either.

When Baguette went to the pits with three laps to go, the lead belonged to Hildebrand. All he had to do was make it to the end.

He came up one turn short.

"My disappointment is for the team," Hildebrand said. "We should've won the race."

Not that Wheldon isn't a deserving champ. He has 16 career wins and finished in the top 10 of the series standings seven years in a row, capturing the title in 2005.

But in the peculiar world of auto racing, which runs on sponsorship dollars and not necessarily credentials, Wheldon was squeezed out of his ride at Panther.

He sat out the first four races of the year, but no way was he going without a ride at Indy. He's had too much success around this place.

"Dan Wheldon, he's a great winner," Patrick said. "And what a great story. He hasn't run this year. ... That's really cool."

Still, it was a bitter disappointment for Patrick, who ended up 10th.

"It's more and more depressing when I don't win the race," said Indy's leading lady, who might be heading to NASCAR next year.

Patrick knows about misfortune leading to victory for Wheldon. His first victory came when she led late in the race, only to have to back off the throttle to save enough fuel to make it to the finish.

This time, Wheldon never led a lap until the last one, the first time that's happened since Joe Dawson won the second Indy 500 in 1912.

It was the second time a driver lost the lead on the last lap - it happened to another rookie, Marco Andretti, in 2006 - and it's something Hildebrand will always remember.

"Is it a move I would do again?" he said. "No."

Rahal finished third, followed by hard-charging Tony Kanaan, who came all the way from the 22nd starting spot to contend for his first 500 win, just a year after leaving Michael Andretti's team. Dixon was fifth, followed by Oriol Servia, while Franchitti lost speed in the closing laps and slipped all the way to 12th.

Right from the start, the Ganassi cars showed just how strong they would be on a sweltering day at the Brickyard, where the temperature climbed into the upper 80s and the heat on the track was well over 100 degrees.

From the middle of the front row, Dixon blew by pole-sitter Alex Tagliani before they even got to the start-finish line, diving into the first turn with the lead.

Tagliani ran strong through the first half of the race but began having problems with his handling. Finally, on lap 147, he lost it coming out of the fourth turn and banged into the wall for a disappointing end to an amazing month for his car owner, Sam Schmidt, who watched the race from a wheelchair in the pits.

Schmidt has been a quadriplegic since a racing crash 11 years ago, but he's turned his efforts to building an IndyCar team. He had another car in the race, one-off driver Townsend Bell, who started from the inside of the second row and ran in the top 10 much of the day until he was collided with Ryan Briscoe on lap 158.

Briscoe's crash summed up the day for IndyCar's other elite team.

Roger Penske's trio of drivers capped a disappointing month with a grim performance on race day.

On the very first stop, Will Power drove out of the pits with a loose left rear wheel, which flew off before he got back on the track. While it bounced down pit road, Power set off around the 2 1/2-mile oval on three wheels, sparks flying out from under his machine as it limped back for another tire. He finished 14th - the best showing for Penske Racing.

Helio Castroneves, hoping for a record-tying fourth Indy win, started back in 16th spot after struggling in qualifying and did his best just to stay on the lead lap, much less challenge for the lead. That effort ended when Briscoe and Bell got together - and Castroneves ran off a piece of debris, shredding a tire. He wound up one lap down in 17th.

Briscoe's crash left him 27th.

"It was a tough day," Penske said. "But you've got execute."

There was only one wreck on the much-debated double-file restarts but plenty of thrilling moves - just what IndyCar officials were hoping for when they imposed the NASCAR-style procedure after each caution period.

At one point after taking green, Castroneves had to dive onto the lane that cars normally take coming out of the pits just to get through the second turn. The crowd erupted in cheers, clearly enjoying the show.

For Hildebrand, the cheers turned to groans on the final turn.

"It's just a bummer," he said.

Categories: Sports
Tags: sports

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 29, 2011

IL lawmakers Meeting On Sunday; Senate Approved Workers’ Comp Reform Saturday

Illinois lawmakers were scheduled to be back at work Sunday afternoon, as they continue a rare holiday weekend session.

The Illinois House was scheduled to return to the floor at 4 p.m. Sunday. The Senate was set to be back at 5 p.m.

On Saturday, the Senate approved a plan to overhaul workers' compensation to cut business costs and curb corruption.

The measure now heads to the House. It would slash payments to doctors and hospitals that care for injured workers. It would tighten reviews that determine an injury's severity and cost, as well as cap awards for the increasingly common claim of carpal tunnel syndrome.

Those changes are meant to cut the $3 billion workers' comp system by up to $700 million a year, or more than 20 percent.

The legislation passed 46-8, with 2 voting present.

Among east-central Illinois lawmakers, Senators Mike Frerichs (D-Champaign), Bill Brady (R-Bloomington) and Dale Righter (R-Mattoon) voted in favor of the measure. Senator Shane Cultra (R-Onarga) voted against it. Senator Kyle McCarter (R-Lebanon) did not vote.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 27, 2011

Heavy Winds Destroy War Memorial in Savoy

High winds in the Champaign area this week were apparently were strong enough to topple and shatter a 6-ton granite veterans' memorial in the village of Savoy.

Village board member Bill Smith says village staff noticed the 8-foot tall, black granite block had been knocked over early Wednesday morning. He says the wind bent steel bars that held up the memorial "like wet noodles.''

The village expects insurance to help cover the cost of repairing or replacing the memorial. Smith says the memorial cost $30,000 when it was built in 2008. He says the real holdup involves getting a hold of black granite to be shipped from overseas. Area residents and businesses contributed the money for the original structure, but Smith says more donations have already come in to rebuild the memorial.

"This memorial was put up with the intent of not using public dollars to maintain and take care of it, so we're always in need of funding," said Smith. "So if there's a little extra that's collected after the deductable is paid, then we'll use that for ongoing maintenance."

A Memorial Day ceremony planned for the site Monday is cancelled.

Categories: Government, History, Politics

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