Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 19, 2012

Gov. Quinn Plans to Close Two State Facilities

Governor Pat Quinn announced on Thursday that he plans to close the Jacksonville Developmental Center and Tinley Park Mental Health Center.

Quinn's office is calling the closures a "re-balancing." The Governor plans to move institutionalized patients with developmental disabilities and mental illness to community-based settings.

In a statement, Quinn said it will improve their quality of life, but it also means savings to the state. The administration estimates the closures will save nearly $12 million a year by closing the Jacksonville facility, and another 8 million dollars annually once Tinley Park is shuttered. Much of those savings will come through laying off state employees.

State Rep. Jim Watson (R-Jacksonville) said that will mean turmoil for his community, and for some of the legal guardians who have long entrusted their loved ones to be cared for in Jacksonville.

"If you were the parent, if it was one of your loved ones there, what would you know right now about their future, where they're going?" Watson said. "What if you were a 75 year old sick parent and you know where your child is now. And you hear this, nobody has called you and talked to you about it. I don't think those people feel very secure at all."

Watson said he is hopeful the General Assembly will be able to stop the governor's plan. Quinn had previously moved to close seven state facilities, but lawmakers reached an agreement to prevent it.

Tinley Park is slated to close in July, with Jacksonville to follow in October.

Quinn's said in the next couple years, it plans to close up to three more state institutions for the developmentally disabled.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 19, 2012

U. of Illinois Board of Trustees Passes 4.8 Percent Tuition Hike

Tuition for a freshman attending the University of Illinois next fall will go up by 4.8 percent.

The U of I's Trustees voted on the proposal on Thursday at their meeting in Chicago. In a press release, the University notes those rates would be the equivalent of 1.9 percent per year, under a guarantee that the rates would be locked into place for four years.

Under the proposal, in-state tuition at Urbana-Champaign would increase by $532 to $11,636; in Chicago tuition would increase by $468 to $10,232; in Springfield the cost in would increase $420 a year to $9,090.

Housing costs would go up $236 a year to $9,688 in Urbana-Champaign and $198 a year to $10,060 in Chicago. In Springfield, the increase would be $200 a year to $9,870.

U of I Chief Financial Officer Walter Knorr said the proposed rates conform to the rate of inflation, while dealing with Illinois' 'troubled' fiscal problems.

The Board of Trustees last year approved a policy to limit tuition increases to no more or less than the rate of inflation. U of I President Michael Hogan acknowledges that tuition increases have dropped, from 9.5 percent two years ago to less than 5 percent this year.

"Now, we'd like to continue our current policy, which addresses the important issue of accessibility, but much depends on the future of state funding, which continues to look problematic," Hogan said.

Hogan said the inflation-based tuition adjustment reflects the Board's commitment to holding down student costs while maintaining the high-quality academic programs that are the hallmark of the university.

"Affordability is critical, but so is an education that opens doors of opportunity for our graduates and paves the way for successful careers that pay lifelong dividends," he said.

Trustee Timothy Koritz said he is hoping to see the tuition levels stay at the same level a year from now.

"I think we need to ask ourselves as a board, 'Could a little bit of runaway spending be part of the equation here?' Koritz said. "I feel that we're obligated to investigate that possibility. We need to hold tuition increases in check if we wish to maintain a great student body."

Koritz suggested the board do its best with whatever funds it has to work with next year.

U-I-C Student Trustee Kenneth Thomas voted against the tuition increase, saying the gap between the amount of that hike and financial aid is too wide.

The U of I Trustees also unanimously re-elected Chris Kennedy to his fourth term as chairman of the Board.

The Trustees meeting comes a week after an investigation wrapped up, connecting the U of I President's former chief of staff as the author of a pair of anonymous emails sent to the University's Faculty Senates Conference.

The messages urged members of the panel not to investigate who leaked their report, which was critical of parts of President Michael Hogan's enrollment management plan.

At the tail end of the Trustees meeting, the chair of Senates Conference spoke about the case on behalf of other faculty senate leaders on all three campuses. Donald Chambers, who teaches biochemistry at UIC, said he believes more people were responsible for the messages.

"Leaders must accept responsibility for what happens on their watch even if they may not have been personally directed or approved of it," Chambers said. "No one can read the investigative report without being shocked by a widespread pattern of secretive and deceptive behavior."

President Hogan and the Trustees didn't respond to Chambers' comments.

The investigation revealed that no other person, including Hogan, had prior knowledge about the anonymous messages. University spokesman Tom Hardy has said this case will not have an impact on Hogan's role at the U of I.

Categories: Education

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 19, 2012

With Fines Imposed, Indiana Dems Continue Legislative Boycott

Indiana House Democrats are keeping up their legislative boycott over the right-to-work bill a day after majority Republicans voted to start imposing $1,000-a-day fines.

Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma tried to gavel the House into order Thursday morning, but without the boycotting Democrats there were too few members present to conduct business for the sixth day this month. Only five of the 40 House Democrats were on the floor, with most of the others meeting in a Statehouse conference room.

A few dozen union protesters cheered from a hallway outside the House chamber as Bosma announced the House didn't have a quorum present.

Democrats say their lawyers need time to draft a proposal for a statewide referendum on the bill banning union contracts with mandatory representation fees from nonmembers.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 19, 2012

Virginia Theatre Renovation Schedule to be Set in February

The Champaign Park Board expects to decide next month whether extensive upgrades to the Virginia Theatre will be done at all once, or in installments.

The board is still weighing which option is the best advantage in terms of cost, and the schedule of movies and live shows in downtown Champaign's old vaudeville house.

Regardless, the Virginia is expected to close for work in May, following Roger Ebert's 14th Annual Film Festival. It includes paint and plaster restoration, lighting, new seating, and handicapped-accessible facilities. In 2010, the Park District learned it had been awarded a $500-thousand state grant for some of that work. Spokeswoman Laura Auteberry says getting that money could be in question, but the $3-million in renovations will take place regardless.

"It's a reimbursement process," she said. "So there's just always some concern with the financial state that the state of Illinois is in as to whether or not we would actually get our money. But as far we've been told, the money is there, it's in the budget, it's guaranteed. And it can't be used for anything else."

Auteberry says finding the natural progression for that work has slowed things down.

"And trying to identify what that natural progression should be has taken quite a lot of time," Auteberry said. "You have ADA compliance issues, of course all the paint and plaster work that you don't necessarily want to do after you've put all new seats in. You don't want to do the paint and plaster work before you've torn the walls out do to the electrical."

With or without the grant, Auteberry says the work will get done, covering many expenses with reserves and general obligation bonds. The park board will set the theater's renovation schedule at its February 8th meeting.

Commissioner Jane Solon told the park board Wednesday night she recalls voting last year to do the work in installments. A record of that vote couldn't immediately be found, but Auteberry says the board can change its mind next month. If the Virginia work is done all at once, it's expected to take about 10 months.

And if the work is done in installments, Auteberry says one goal will always be to re-open in time for the film festival.

(photo courtesy of the Champaign Park District)

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 19, 2012

Supreme Court Case Tied to Former Urbana Teacher Convicted of Sex Abuse

The Illinois Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday that could determine a school district's responsibility to share information about teachers they have suspended or fired.

Jon White was teaching a grade school in Normal when parents complained he was abusing their daughters. He wasn't charged with a crime at the time, but the school did suspend him.

The next school year he was hired to teach second grade at Urbana's Thomas Paine Elementary. White was eventually found out, and is serving a 60-year sentence for sexually abusing 10 girls. The parents of two Urbana victims claim school officials in Normal should have alerted Urbana about the previous complaints.

Governments usually have wide immunity from lawsuits. But Sean Britton, an attorney for one of the victims, says this is not an ordinary case of government neglect.

"This is not the circumstance where a bomb squad fails to adequately cordon off a bomb and protect members of the public," Britton said. "This is a circumstance where the bomb squad takes that bomb, puts it in a package and mails it to another municipality, and says, 'We don't know what's in that package.'"

Attorney James Kearns represents McLean County District 5, where White taught when the original complaints were made. He told the Urbana school that they are at fault.

"You hired this guy without doing any kind of a check on him at all." said Kearns, who also said the Supreme Court has generally ruled employers have no responsibility in making it public why they terminated a contract with a past employee.

"This court has noted multiple times there's no duty from one employer to another to warn anything about an employee," he said.

Justices could take months to issue a ruling.

In response to this case (SCOIL Case No. 112479), Illinois has made a law that addresses the situation in the future. It requires schools that suspect an employee of abuse to report it to the state.

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 18, 2012

Champaign Police Lobby to Stay Open 24/7

Champaign Deputy Police Chief Troy Daniels

Plans for reducing the front desk staff and cutting lobby hours at Champaign Police Headquarters became one of the most controversial parts of budget cuts approved by the City Council last year. Now, despite the staff cuts, police officials say they've found a way to keep the front desk open to the public on evenings and overnights. Illinois Public Media's Jim Meadows talked with Champaign Deputy Police Chief Troy Daniels about the new arrangement.

(Photo courtesy of the city of Champaign)

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WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 18, 2012

U. of Illinois to Get New Rail Center

A center dedicated to railroad education and research is being set up on the University of Illinois' Urbana-Champaign campus thanks to a $3.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The NURail Center will be under the director of U of I Professor Chris Barkan. He said a lot of the work that will take place will focus on improving the safety and reliability of rail transportation. Barkan explained that will include coming up with better ways to transport hazardous materials, and addressing challenges in using rail corridors for both higher-speed passenger trains and freight trains.

"As we want to operate at higher speeds, there's a continuous quest among both the industry and government to further improve safety," Barkan said. "If you look at the data on railroad safety; they've done nothing but get better and better over the last couple of decades. And the idea is that we want to continue that trend."

The U of I is leading a consortium of other universities involved in the project, including the University of Illinois-Chicago, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Michigan Technological University, University of Kentucky, University of Tennessee and Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.

"Illinois has the nation's best programs in rail engineering and transit system development and operation, and these UTC's (Urban Transportation Centers) will help the nation and region prepare for future freight and passenger rail needs," said U of I President Michael Hogan

There are several rail projects are underway in Illinois, including upgrading a Chicago-St. Louis rail corridor for 110 mph service.

Categories: Education, Transportation

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 18, 2012

Taxi Service Comes Back to Decatur

Decatur will soon have taxi service again.

The city council Tuesday night agreed to issue a license to A1 Taxi, a company operated by Anthony Walker.

Walker previously ran AOK Taxi, but his license was revoked after he allegedly used an unregistered vehicle, and made unannounced changes to the company's fleet. City Manager Ryan McCrady said he is hopeful the same problems won't happen again.

"Many people might be surprised that we re-issued a license to a gentleman who was involved in the operations of that company, too," McCrady said. "But at the end of the day, you have to put that stuff aside and figure out what's right for your community. Our community needs a taxi service. We have transportation needs in our community that can't be fulfilled efficiently through public transit, and a taxi service is the best way to solve that need."

McCrady said the city will work with Walker closer this time around to make sure the taxis are safe and the company is well regulated. He added that A1 Taxi should be up at running within a couple of weeks.

Categories: Transportation

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 18, 2012

Indiana House Dems Want to Challenge Fines in Court

Indiana House Democrats say they'll go to court to challenge the $1,000-a-day fines they face for their legislative boycott over the right-to-work bill.

Democratic leader Patrick Bauer says he believes the House leadership doesn't have the legal authority to deduct the fines from pay checks of members. A similar court challenge is pending from fines imposed on Democratic legislators who took part in last year's five-week boycott.

House Republicans voted Wednesday to impose the fines after Democrats skipped the House session for the fifth time in 10 days it has tried to meet this month.

Republican Speaker Brian Bosma says he intends to begin withholding the fines immediately from the boycotters' paychecks. He says the deductions are legal.

Categories: Government, Politics

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