Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 09, 2012

House Panel Investigating State Rep. to Postpone Meeting

An Illinois House committee considering the expulsion of a Chicago lawmaker accused of bribery has postponed meeting due to the "possibility of further court action in the criminal proceeding,'' according to a recent letter by the group's leaders.

Members of an Illinois House panel investigation state Rep. Derrick Smith released a letter Saturday.

The committee had planned to meet in the coming days, but they say they'll postpone until later in the month. The letter says postponing allows more time to review and respond to any additional information.

Federal prosecutors claim Smith accepted a cash bribe from a campaign worker who was an undercover FBI informant. A spokesman for U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald has declined to comment.

Smith didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 08, 2012

Champaign County Schools Adopt Anti-Obesity Initiative

Several schools in Champaign County have adopted a nationwide anti-obesity initiative, known as the Coordinated Approach to Child Health (CATCH).

(Funded in part by a grant from the Lumpkin Family Foundation)

Several schools in Champaign County have adopted a nationwide anti-obesity initiative known as the Coordinated Approach to Child Health (CATCH).

Carrie Busey Elementary in Campaign began the CATCH initiative in 2009. CATCH schools get state money from the Illinois Department of Human Services over a three year period. That support, which gradually decreases over the three years, is used to revamp lunch menus, add new gym equipment, or expand nutrition education in the classroom.

Mariah Burt, who is a music teacher at Carrie Busey, has her class compose rap music related to health and wellness.

Fourth graders Peja Rowan, Ariany Smith, and Lily Smith stand in front of the class, performing original songs about nutrition. They use body and vocal percussion, such as stomping their feet and beatboxing: "I love you. You love apples. Remix... We eat fruit...You should too...We also eat vegetables with you...That's what you're supposed to do."

Burt said the songs about nutrition that come out of her classroom don't just stay in her class.

"Sometimes a kid will be sitting at lunch and see another kid bring a candy bar and say, 'Hey, remember the rap we did the other day, you're not supposed to be eating that whoa food. You're supposed to be eating the carrots of your platter because that's a 'Go food,"' Burt said. "So, it really has become a part of who they are through the musical setting."

In the school's cafeteria, there is a big poster outlining the three different food categories that the students learn about - 'Go foods' like fruits and vegetables are considered the most healthy; 'Slow foods' like yogurt and cheese should be eaten in moderation; and 'Whoa foods' like frosted cupcakes and candy are reserved strictly for special occasions.

To avoid an overabundance of 'Whoa foods,' gym teacher Wendy Starwalt rewards students with prizes if they eat plenty 'Go foods' during lunch. She also said the school has designated days once a month for birthday treats.

"It was hard for parents to understand why their child couldn't bring cupcakes on their birthday, and we had to help our kids understand why that was happening," Starwalt said. "So, now we're three years into that already, and a lot of teachers on the actual birthday have come up with celebrations that don't involve food."

Starwalt came to Carrie Busey a few years ago after teaching at Dr. Howard Elementary School in Champaign. That was the first school in Champaign County to test out the CATCH initiative. But after it ended, the school wasn't been able to sustain it. Starwalt said that is because only a few staff members were trained to teach a curriculum centered on health and wellness, and those teachers - like Starwalt - left the school. To avoid that from happening at Carrie Busey, all employees went through CATCH training.

Second grade teacher Elizabeth Well is in her second year of teaching the CATCH curriculum. A few times each year, she follows a prepared set of instructional course material that is designed for CATCH schools. During a recent classroom discussion, she talked about the importance of fiber.

"Fiber cleans the places in your body where food passes, and fiber is great because it makes the chances of getting some types of cancer go away, "Well said.

Well demonstrated how to make a high-fiber snack.

"Now this is rice and corn flakes," she said as she lift up a plastic bag full of Cheerios. "We know this is high fiber even though it doesn't say in big letters like on Raisin Brand that it's fiber because it is from wheat...and we learned fiber are things that are grown, but doesn't come from an animal."

As the class makes their snacks, a couple of the students demonstrated their knowledge about fiber.

"Well, it cleans your body and it also helps you to get healthier," David Cardaronella said.

"It lowers our chances of getting cancer," Zakyah Billings added.

When the bell rings, the kids head out, taking their bagged snacks. Well said after a year of teaching CATCH courses, she thinks more of her students are aware about what they are eating.

"Honestly, as an adult after teaching this for a year, I'm a little more aware and conscious of what I'm eating and looking at the labels and cereal boxes and things like that," she said. "So, it's even helped me as an adult."

After school is over, about 40 kids pack into the music room. Music teacher, Mariah Burt welcomes the group to the first day of Dance Club.

"Now you are all part of a healthy team and a healthy family that's going to help each other feel good about what we're doing and make sure that you help other people follow those directions," Burt said.

After going over the rules of Dance Club, Burt leads the class in some movements: "Five...six...seven...eight...stomp, stomp, clap, clap....one...two...three...four."

Out in the hallway right outside of the music room, a group of parents watch as 11-year-old Grace Rispoli teaches her peers the dance moves, mimicking what their teacher was just doing.

"Stomp, clap, clap, stomp, clap," Rispoli said. "Now, remember the thing is that even I forget the second stop. We have to remember that otherwise it won't look the same, and we can't clap first. We have to stomp first."

Nikiki Hillier, who is a program coordinator Program in the Division of Wellness and Health Promotion at the Champaign Urbana Public Health District, monitors the CATCH initiative in Champaign County. So far, five elementary schools in her area have taken part in CATCH: Carrie Busey, Dr. Howard, Unity West, Thomasboro, and Fisher.

While Hillier said the work to educate kids about nutrition may start at the schools, it shouldn't end there.

"You don't want to undermine everything that you've done all day at school by sending them home, and they're having fried foods and pop for dinner," Hillier said. "So, it's very important that the parents are on their journey with us."

After all, once these kids grow up, it will be up to them to teach the next generation about what it means to make healthy choices, one step at a time.

Related Links:

More about the Coordinated Approach to Child Health (CATCH) Chart of 'Go' 'Slow' and 'Whoa' Foods Unit 4 Tries to Stay Ahead of Nutrition Standards (Related)

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Categories: Community, Education, Health, Music

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 06, 2012

Quinn Grants Clemency to 52 Illinois Offenders

Fifty-two people have been granted clemency by Gov. Pat Quinn for crimes that date back decades.

Quinn announced Friday that he has expunged the records of these offenders. In most cases, he's also granting full pardons.

The Democratic governor also rejected 136 clemency requests.

Quinn is whittling away at a backlog of 2,500 requests that piled up under former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Now in prison himself, Blagojevich rarely took any action on clemency.

Most of the people whose requests were granted Friday had committed relatively minor offenses.

Twenty-five involved theft. Sixteen involved drugs. Eight offenses included some kind of violence, such as misdemeanor battery.

The oldest incident took place in 1958, the most recent in 2005.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 06, 2012

Clarke Will Try For Johnson’s Seat

A Sangamon County native will join the race to replace retiring Congressman Tim Johnson. Jerry Clarke, a former aide to Congressman Tim Johnson and Illinois House Republicans, plans to make an official announcement Monday.

Clarke, 46, is also a veteran of the Iraq War. More recently, he has been Chief of Staff for another Congressman, Republican Randy Hultgren.

Clarke says he likes his chances since Champaign County contains the largest weighted vote due to the number of Republican ballots cast this year.

He says the nature of debate in Washington now is killing the economy

"I've seen the dysfunction of Congress up close," said Clarke. "The partisanship and endless gridlock and the failure to solve our serious problems. I think the people of Central Illinois see the impact of an incompetent Congress, and the lack of job growth, the bad roads, high taxes, and endless debt. I think we can do better, and I'm ready to serve."

Clarke calls Congressman Johnson his mentor. The 46-year old Clarke also served on the staff of the Illinois House Republicans. He's a native of Pawnee in Sangamon County.

If Clarke is elected to Congress, he says the public should expect a similar voting record.

"We're pretty close, so I'll ask him to support me when the time is right," Clarke said. "I've been a chief of staff for the last 12 years out in Congress, I'd like to take a shot at running myself."

Tim Johnson made a surprising announcement this week that he will step down after his current term. County Republican leaders in the new 13th Congressional District will choose his replacement.

The new district stretches from the Champaign area on the east across Central Illinois, including Springfield and Decatur. Others who have expressed interest in the vacancy include state representatives Adam Brown of Decatur, Chapin Rose of Mahomet and Dan Brady of Bloomington. Senator Bill Brady of Bloomington said he won't try for the job.

Clarke kicks off a tour of the 13th District with stops in Urbana and Springfield on Monday.

Meanwhile, Dan Brady says he will be evaluating lot of factors before he decides whether to try to make that leap, including his own growing seniority in the State House.

"It was a major concern of not seeking to run for the state senate because of the fact of where I am in the (Illinois) House - and earning my stripes so to speak, and what I could to more to help my legislative district," Brady said.

Brady says he also recently took on a new business venture as a partner in a funeral home. He says the 13th district includes very little of McLean County. He says that could boil down to Champaign and Macon County Chairs effectively making the pick.

Categories: Biography, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 05, 2012

An Emotional Congressman Announces Retirement

Congressman Tim Johnson (R-Urbana) announced Thursday that he will retire at the end of his current term. Johnson said family obligations are what compelled him to make this decision.

An emotional Johnson spoke at the Urbana City Building Thursday afternoon.

"I'm almost 66 years old, and my time is limited," Johnson said. "I've been serving in office for 44 consecutive years. I'm also the father of 9 children. I have 11 grandchildren, and 2 great-grandchildren. I've been a part-time father all those years, and that's not good enough."

Johnson is a lawyer and University of Illinois graduate. He said he will serve the remainder of his term, and then retire in January.

"My intention is to return in some way to the practice of law," he said. "I'll continue to be involved politically where appropriate, and continue to speak out as I see fit on the issues of the day. I also hope to be involved in teaching in some way or another. I will not be a paid lobbyist at any time in the future."

Johnson was considered a strong candidate for re-election in November. Now, it will be up to Republican County chairmen in the re-drawn 13th district to select someone to take his place. While there's no reason not to take the Congressman at his word, other reasons may have factored into his decision.

First, there is Johnson's unbeaten streak - he's never lost an election, whether as a member of the Urbana City Council in the 1970s, the Illinois House from 1976 to 2000, or in his six terms in Congress. By leaving now, he is guaranteed an unblemished election record.

That record might have been challenged this year, as the re-drawn 13th Congressional district trades away Republican strongholds in the northern portion of the old 15th District, in exchange for Democratically-leaning Madison County, and the Metro East area of St. Louis.

While Johnson is well known in Champaign-Urbana, Bloomington-Normal, Decatur, Springfield, and the rural areas surrounding those Central Illinois communities, he is less known by the electorate in the new left-leaning areas of the 13th District.

Johnson's announcement now - after the primary - also means GOP voters will not have a say in the nominee. Instead, Republican county chairmen in the 13th District will case weighted votes to determine who will replace Johnson on the ballot. . They may choose from a wide range of contenders, including current and former state representatives and senators - or even Johnson's former chief of staff, Jerry Clarke, who remains a resident of Urbana despite working for Wheaton-based Congressman Randy Hultgren.

Habeeb Habeeb is the interim chairman of Champaign County's Republican Party. He said of the 14 counties that make up the 13th Congressional District, Champaign County has the largest weighted vote based on Republican ballots cast this year.

"We will wait until the federal elections are certified on April 20, and we would like to (vote) soon after," Habeeb said.

One of Johnson's two primary opponents, Michael Firsching of Moro, said he would be interested in pursuing the Republican nomination, and hopes the party considers him before endorsing anyone else.

"I've starting contacting Republican Party groups that I have contacts with within the 16 counties," Firsching said. "I've started doing that process. But again, I haven't had much time, since it's only been since last (Wednesday) night. So I've definitely starting that process as opposed to thoroughly into it."

Firsching cautions that the GOP cannot be overconfident, or it is possible a Democrat is elected to the 13th District this fall.

Pat Brady, chairman of the Illinois Republican Party, named State Representative Dan Brady, former state GOP executive director Rodney Davis, and former Johnson chief of staff Jerry Clarke as possible candidates to replace Johnson. He said he is meeting with lawyers, and he said the process for naming a nominee will be slow and methodical.

He also noted that the timing of Johnson's announcement was not a surprise to him.

"He's been one of the hardest working public servants I've ever known, and I hope he enjoys he does whatever he does next," Brady said. "We're going to go a fair, open, and transparent process and pick the best candidate to win that district, and the Democrats have done us a big favor by nominating the most liberal Democrat they could find in the state."

Brady was referring to Bloomington physician David Gill, who is the presumptive Democratic nominee in the race. While the old 15th District was held by a Republican for the last 35 years, Political Science Professor Kent Redfield of the University of Illinois at Springfield said there is now a strong possibility a Democrat could take the newly drawn 13th District seat.

"It really will depend on the eventual candidates, and then it will depend on national money," Redfield said. "That was a complex question to begin with, and it just got more complex."

Gill's campaign is moving forward on the assumption that Gill is the Democratic nominee. Gill said he would not automatically accept campaign money from the Democratic Party. He has long been a critic of accepting PAC money from corporations. If the Democratic Party decides to help him, he said he would want to know where that money comes from and what level of control the party has on the campaign.

"I speak for myself, and I speak for the thousands of people that have been a part of Gill for Congress," Gill said. "So, we would have to talk about what they would want in exchange for whatever support they were interested in offering."

Gill narrowly defeated Matt Goetten in the March 20 Democratic primary, but the vote was so close that Goetten never conceded. Gill's apparent victory will not be certified by the State Board of Elections until April 20. That leaves a possibility, however slight, that neither party has a clear nominee, more than two weeks after the primary.

Last minute decisions play a role when an incumbent politician steps down, after winning a primary. Congressman Johnson said the factors leading him to choose family over politics only came together in the past few days. Other politicians have post-primary choices when faced with serious illness - like Congressman Lane Evans in 2006, or scandal, like Democratic lieutenant governor nominee Scott Lee Cohen.

Journalism professor Charlie Wheeler at the University of Illinois at Springfield said unsavory details about Cohen's private life only surfaced after he won the 2010 primary.

"He had more baggage than Amtrak," Wheeler said. "So he was forced out, because he would have, no doubt, brought the democratic ticket down. And instead they appointed Sheila Simon, and Pat Quinn gets re-elected."

Dropping out after a primary victory may signal a loss of control - but it can note new power as well - for the party officials who choose the new nominee. Sometimes, the departing candidate can have a say.

Lane Evans convinced 17th District Democratic officials to choose his chief of staff, Phil Hare, to run for Congress in his place. Professor John Jackson of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at SIU-Carbondale said another Democrat, Congressman Bill Lipinski, managed to get his son, Dan, to take his place, following the 2004 primary.

"The senior Lipinski had been in a very long time, and then he stepped aside after winning the primary, in favor of his son, who then subsequently went on to win the general election," Jackson said.

Tim Johnson said no one in his family or on his staff will be seeking his seat in Congress. He said there are candidates he would prefer, but would not make those names public.

(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)

Categories: Government, Politics


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 04, 2012

US Rep. Johnson to Retire

(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)

Six-term Congressman Tim Johnson (R-Urbana) plans to announce he is leaving Congress at the end of his current term.

Johnson, 65, will make a formal announcement on Thursday. He recently won his party's nomination in the re-drawn 13th Congressional District, defeating two challengers.

Johnson's office issued a press release, stating only that an announcement is scheduled for 3 p.m. Thursday at the Urbana City Council Chambers.

The re-drawn Congressional district contains Champaign-Urbana, Bloomington-Normal, Decatur and Springfield, and trades away Republican strongholds in the northern part of the old 15th district in exchange for Democratically-leaning Madison county and Metro East area of St. Louis. The re-drawn district includes a large rural constituency and University communities.

Kent Redfield, a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Springfield, said there is now a strong possibility a Democrat could take his seat.

"It really will depend on the eventual candidates, and then it will depend on national money," Redfield said. "That was a complex question to begin with, and it just got more complex."

Pat Brady is chairman of the Illinois Republican Party. He says the timing of Johnson's announcement wasn't unexpected, thanking Johnson for his six terms in office.

"He's been one of the hardest working public servants I've ever known, and I hope he enjoys he does whatever he does next," Brady said. "We're going to go a fair, open, and transparent process and pick the best candidate to win that district, and the Democrats have done us a big favor by nominating the most liberal Democrat they could find in the state."

Brady was referring to Bloomington physician David Gill, who appears to have won the Democratic nomination over Matt Goetten in the March 20 primary. However, that result will not be certified by the State Board of Elections until April 20. Goetten has challenged the results. So, more than two weeks after the primary, it is possible that neither party has a clear nominee.

"Open seats are usually the best opportunity to win a Congressional race," Gill spokesman Michael Richards said in a statement. "In this D+1 seat that President Obama won by double digits (11 points), David is ready to take on whatever corporate-backed politician Republican party bosses handpick to replace Johnson."

Brady named State Representative Dan Brady, former state GOP executive director Rodney Davis, and former Johnson Chief of Staff Jerry Clarke as possible candidates to replace Johnson. Brady says he's meeting with lawyers Thursday, and says the process for naming a nominee will be slow and methodical.

One of Johnson's two Metro-East opponents in the March primary, Michael Firsching, says the Congressman didn't seem as involved as in prior campaigns.

"It's a little bit disappointing to have someone who ran in the race who really wasn't intending to follow through to the seat," he said. "Again, maybe he was and this was a recent change for him. But I didn't have the impression that he had been engaged as he had been in the past."

Firsching says he'd be interested in pursuing the Republican nomination, and hopes the party considers him before endorsing any other names. But Firsching says the GOP can't be overconfident, or it's possible a Democrat is elected to the 13th District this fall.

A replacement candidate would be chosen by county officials from the congressional district, according to Habeeb Habeeb, interim chairman of Champaign County's Republican Party.

Johnson has sometimes taken positions at odds with most members of his party. He called last year for an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and last month endorsed Ron Paul for president.

Johnson is a lawyer and University of Illinois graduate. He was first elected to Congress in 2000, after serving in the Illinois General Assembly since 1976. Before that he was a member of the Urbana City Council. Leaving now, he will have never lost an election.

While it is unknown at this point what Johnson would do after he leaves politics, he did hint at one possible career a few months ago. In January, he held a press conference describing a bill he planned to introduce that would allow members of Congress to work jobs outside of public office.

"I don't think those of you who know me think that I'm probably going to vegetate," Johnson said. "I'm not going to sit home and watch All My Children - soap operas all day. I probably want to do something else, and yes, if this bill passes, I would very much consider going back to the law practice. And that might be something I would do at some point in the future anyway."

(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)

Categories: Biography, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 04, 2012

Carle Hospital, Four Others, Pull Application for Tax Exemption

Five Illinois hospitals, including Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana, have withdrawn their applications for tax exemptions, leaving it up to county governments whether to assess taxes on the properties.

Illinois Department of Revenue spokeswoman Susan Hofer says hospitals in Murphysboro, Moline, Monmouth and Hillsboro have also withdrawn applications in the past week. That clears county authorities to evaluate the properties and collect taxes.

The development comes as Illinois leaders grapple with a 2010 Illinois Supreme Court ruling. The court found that one hospital wasn't doing enough charity care to qualify for an exemption. That ruling called into question other hospitals' tax exemptions.

Gov. Pat Quinn authorized more rulings on hospital tax exemptions earlier this month when efforts to find a legislative compromise failed.

The revenue department is continuing to review pending applications from other hospitals.

Categories: Government, Health, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 04, 2012

Transportation Bill Preserves Funding for Transit Agencies

Federal money continues to flow out to local transportation projects, thanks to a 90-day funding measure approved by Congress and signed by President Obama last week. It is the latest in a series of just-in-time extensions that have kept transportation agencies and projects going in east-central Illinois.

Among area mass-transit agencies, Decatur Public Transit would have been hardest hit if Congress had failed to pass a short-term extension. Transit Administrator Paul McChancy said without it, they would face severe downsizing within a couple of months. McChancy said he tries not to wonder about what might happen if Congress deadlocks on the next round of surface transportation funding.

"I don't get into those speculations," McChancy said. "You know, we just have faith that Congress is going to act to support public transportation, because it is so essential to so many people. And we continue along as if full funding is expected."

Richard Brazda of Danville Mass Transit said they could survive a temporary cutoff in federal funds by using money saved up for a new downtown transfer facility. Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit uses federal funds for capital project only --- so day-to-day operations would not be affected.

Congress has until June 30 to finally agree on a long-delayed long-term surface transportation bill --- or pass another stopgap extension. The last long-term surface transportation funding measure expired in 2009. That measure had been passed by a Republican Congress under President George W. Bush. This year, a more divided Congress is struggling to agree on a new long-term bill.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 04, 2012

Court Defers Cook County’s Request for Courtroom Cameras

The Illinois Supreme Court is deferring Cook County's request to allow cameras in its courtrooms.

Supreme Court spokesman Joseph Tybor says the delay comes while the court waits for more results from pilot programs already under way in the state.

The court announced in January that it would allow a test of cameras in Illinois courts. Currently, 11 counties and four circuits around the state are participating in the pilot program.

Tybor tells the (Arlington Heights) Daily Herald (http://bit.ly/Hlwv2z ) that the high court will evaluate how the pilot programs proceed in those counties before expanding. He says there's no immediate timetable for that evaluation.

Categories: Government, Politics

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