Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 19, 2011

5 Champaign Council Hopefuls Make Their Case for Interim Seat

Five people seeking a vacant Champaign City council seat have interviewed for the post.

But it's still not clear whether the council will appoint one of two people seeking the District 5 seat solely on an interim basis, or one of the three also conducting write-in campaigns for April's election. At least three council members say they will support Linda Cross or Steve Meid, who don't want the seat long-term.

Champaign Mayor Jerry Schweighart contends appointing one of the three also running in April would give them an unfair advantage. Council member Michael LaDue said she agrees, as does Karen Foster.

"It's just an unfair advantage in this situation," Foster said. "It's different if you're an incumbent already and you're running for election and win or lose. It's an appointed incumbency, so to speak."

And write-in hopeful Katherine Emanuel said while she calls herself the best candidate, she also suggests the council not appoint someone running in April.

"Even people I know who are pretty involved in things didn't know who their council member was," Emanuel said. "And I would encourage you (the city council) to not take the responsibility as a governmental representative for selecting the person who will represent the district, but kind of put that responsibility on the shoulders on both the citizenry and the candidates."

Emanuel is running to hold the seat until 2012, along with Paul Faraci and Jim McGuire. At least one Council member, Marci Dodds, said she would appoint of one those three. She said appointing an interim on Feb. 1 means that person isn't responsible for their actions after three months.

"So that means that lame duck isn't accountable to anybody," Dodds said. "Not to the constituents unless they want to be, not to the council unless they want to be, and not to city staff unless they feel like it that day. And I'm not saying anybody here would be like that, I'm just saying that's a real risk."

The Champaign City Council will make the interim appointment Feb. 1, and that person will serve through April.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 18, 2011

Sen. Durbin says States Should Decide How to Enforce Death Penalty Cases

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin is weighing in on the death penalty as Illinois Governor Pat Quinn mulls over whether to repeal it in the state.

Durbin said on a federal level, the death penalty should be left open on high-profile cases, like terrorism or treason where he said there is less of a chance that prejudice could lead to someone being falsely executed. But Durbin noted that on a regional level, states should decide for themselves how they want to enforce it.

"I think that on a state basis, I will leave it to the governor to make his own choice," Durbin said, who noted that a moratorium on the death penalty in Illinois has been in place for more than a decade. "I think we are right in Illinois at this point in our history to have suspended the death penalty, and should continue to do so."

Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have already ended capital punishment. Governor Quinn has said he supports the death penalty when it is properly applied, but it is still unclear how Quinn will move forward with the legislation. More than a dozen death row inmates have been exonerated in Illinois.

(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 18, 2011

Champaign-Area Kids Offered Free Lessons on Asian Customs

A Champaign teacher who spent three weeks in China is taking his lessons to local youth.

Doug Butler visited nine Chinese cities, as part of trip funded by the Freeman Foundation and Indiana University's National Consortium for Teaching about Asia. The 6th grade teacher at Jefferson Middle School said the goal of the rip was to create a lesson plan to bring back to local classrooms.

The trip was also supported by the University of Illinois' Center for East Asian and Pacific Studies, which is now loaning out Chinese Culture Boxes to grade school through high school-age kids. Butler said he hopes sharing his experiences from his trip with his student will broaden their horizons.

"We live in a country where we seem to be a little ethno-centric to only U.S. history," he said. "Number two in the economy behind the US is China, and they're our biggest training partner, and they should be introduced to them."

Contents of the culture boxes range from Chinese coins and toys, to historical references and artifacts from the Communist era. Terms for borrowing the boxes can range from a few days to a few weeks, and should be arranged with the U of I. Anyone wishing to borrow the boxes should contact Sandy Burklund at the Center for East Asian and Pacific Studies at 333-4850 or e-mail the center at eaps@uiuc.edu. It is located in the International Studies building on South Fifth Street in Urbana.

Categories: Community, Education

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 18, 2011

Durbin: AZ Shootings Could Prompt Action on Mental Health, Gun Laws

Illinois' senior Senator, Dick Durbin, says concrete action can come out of the recent shootings at a congressional event in Tucson Arizona. The attack that killed six people and critically injured U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz) has led to a flurry of proposals in reaction, from gun control measures to a clampdown on incivility in politics. In an interview with Illinois Public Media's Tom Rogers, Durbin said he thinks some of those ideas can progress beyond the talking stage.

(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)

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WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 18, 2011

Tuscola Loses Out on Bid to Host Historic Steam Engine

Tuscola lost out on its bid Tuesday to host a steam locomotive that would have traveled through a dozen communities in Illinois and Iowa.

Online voting for the contest through Union Pacific Railroad ended Monday night. In addition to Tuscola, other cities in the running included Little Rock, Ark., Boise, Idaho, and Baton Rouge, La.

Little Rock came out on top in the contest with 76,217 votes, narrowly defeating Tuscola by a little more than 3,000 votes. That means the steam engine will follow a route that starts in Kansas City, Mo., traveling east to Boonville, Jefferson City, Chamois and St. Louis before heading south to Cape Girardeau, Dexter and Poplar Bluff. It will continue through Bald Knob, Ark., before concluding in Little Rock.

According to Union Pacific Railroad, the engine is the last steam locomotive built for the rail company. It was placed in freight service in Nebraska from 1957 to 1959, then was saved from being scrapped in 1960.

Brian Moody, the executive director of Tuscola Economic Development Inc., admitted he was surprised Tuscola, with a population of around 4,500 people, got as far as it did in the competition.

"For our small community to even be competing with these much larger communities," Moody said. "It's kind of a big David and Goliath. We came up a little bit short, and that's ok."

Tuscola is a central point for three different railroads, including CSX, Canadian National, and Union Pacific. Moody said thanks to the national publicity from the contest, Tuscola city officials have been contacted in recent weeks by people who are interested in railroads, and he thinks some of those "railroad enthusiasts" might be encouraged to visit Tuscola.

"We knew there were railroad enthusiasts who had a lot of interest in Tuscola because of the unique characteristics in our rails," he said. "This kind of gave us the opportunity to demonstrate to them that we were as enthusiastic about those things as they were."

Moody said moving forward, Tuscola will focus on how it can take advantage of its rail services to boost tourism. He also noted that the city will keep an eye out on other similar competitions.

(Photo courtesy of Union Pacific Railroad)

Categories: Economics, Transportation

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 18, 2011

Local Group Seeks Community Kitchen for C-U

Before his death last year, Urbana chocolate-maker Daniel Schreiber proposed a community kitchen that could be shared by small-scale local food producers like him. Now, an organization is seeking community input as they try to make Schreiber's dream a reality.

Lawrence Mate is one of the organizers of the Flatlander Fund --- named after Schreiber's own brand of chocolate. He said they hope to open a commercial-grade kitchen that could be rented by local entrepreneurs --- including Mate himself. Mate operates This Little Piggy, a small producer of meat products such as bacon and sausage. Mate said because he works out of his home kitchen, his operation remains a non-profit private club.

"I've had any number of places in town where they have a deli counter, who have said they would love to carry the stuff I'm making," Mate said. "But in order for them to retail it, it's got to be coming out of a kitchen certified by the Public Health District."

Mate cites the dilemma in 2009 of some local bakers who sold goods at the Urbana Farmers Market, only to discover that their home-baked goods violated public health regulations requiring a commercial kitchen. He said a shared-use community kitchen could provide a certified facility for small food-related businesses.

Laura Huth, another volunteer with the Flatlander Fund, said a community kitchen could also serve a wider public, with classes on food preparation, nutrition and related topics.

"So in addition to providing a spark for artists - food artists, really - in our community to do what they love to do, there's the educational component, the hands-on demonstrations and the business development classes," Huth said.

The Flatlander Fund launched an online survey Monday night to measure public interest in a community kitchen. Huth said that as of mid-afternoon Tuesday, they had received about 70 responses. The survey is open until February 13 on the Flatlander Fund's website.

Shared-use kitchens exist in other communities. In Danville, the Cook's Workshop opened late last year, offering kitchen and dining room space for rent, as well as cooking workshops and demonstrations.

Categories: Business
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WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 14, 2011

Illinois State Board of Education Approves Education Funding Request

The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) has approved a budget proposal for next year that it will send to lawmakers in Springfield.

After the General Assembly passed a massive 67-percent income tax hike, it is uncertain how Governor Pat Quinn and the legislature will respond to the request. The ISBE is asking for $709.4 million in additional state support for Fiscal Year 2012. Board of Education spokeswoman Mary Fergus said she is "cautiously optimistic" that the funding request will be approved.

Fergus explained that in formulating the proposal, the ISBE considered feedback from the public and the state's Education Funding Advisory Board, which pushed for a much larger $4 billion increase in education funding.

"We know the economic reality is not going to support that," she said.

State support for education has plunged in the last couple of years by about $450 million.

A bulk of the money requested by the ISBE would support General State Aid and mandated categoricals that have seen cuts, like transportation funding. Also included in the budget request is a $3.5 million increase for bilingual education, a $2.3 million increase to improve teacher training programs, and a $900,000 increase in the amount of funding for feasibility studies as school districts consider consolidations.

"We're not really talking about expanding a lot of programs," Fergus said. "Some of this increase will go toward a little bit of expansion, but really this is about restoring funds."

The Illinois State Board of Education will include its budget recommendation as part of the overall Fiscal Year 2012 state budget.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 14, 2011

Moment of Silence Back in Effect in Ill. Schools

An Illinois law requiring a daily moment of silence in public schools is back in effect after a 2-year hiatus.

The Chicago Tribune reports that the Illinois State Board of Education notified schools Friday that the law is back.

A federal injunction barring the moment of silence has been in place for two years.

Illinois legislators approved the Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act in October 2007. The law was challenged in court by Rob Sherman, an outspoken atheist, and his daughter Dawn, a student at Buffalo Grove High School in suburban Chicago.

U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman overturned the law in 2009, but a federal appeals court ruled the law is constitutional because it doesn't specify prayer.

Gettleman reportedly lifted the injunction Thursday.

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 14, 2011

Four GOP Lawmakers Seek to End Lame Duck Sessions

Decatur Republican Adam Brown unseated Democratic incumbent Bob Flider in the November election for the 101st Illinois House District seat. But Brown said that didn't stop Flider from voting for the state income tax hike in the lame duck session, the day before the new General Assembly --- including Brown --- was sworn in.

"He as a lame duck voted for this tax increase, this $7 billion increase on our district, when we have the fourth highest unemployment in the entire state of Illinois," Brown said. "He campaigned that he wouldn't vote for another tax increase, and these lame ducks really turned their back of the people of Illinois."

Now, Brown and three other central Illinois Republicans have filed a bill in the Illinois House that would do away with controversial lame duck legislation --- by doing away with the lame duck session.

The measure would amend the Illinois constitution to have the new General Assembly sworn in on Dec. 1, instead of in January, creating a shorter window for the old legislature to hold a lame duck session. Lawmakers could only convene such sessions to consider emergency legislation responding to natural disaster, terrorist acts, or other imminent threats to public safety and security.

The other Republicans backing the measure are Chapin Rose of Mahomet, Jason Barickman of Champaign and Bill Mitchell of Forsyth. They say their proposal would stop the passage of bills by lame duck lawmakers who do not have to answer to voters. Because their measure would change the state constitution, it would also require approval by voters.

The four Republican lawmakers note that 12 lame duck Democrats voted in favor of the income tax hike in the House, where the measure passed with no votes to spare. But Mitchell said their move to end lame duck sessions isn't just a jab at Democrats. He said it would prevent either party from passing bills that might fail once new lawmakers take their seats.

"No political party has a monopoly on integrity," Mitchell said, noting the convictions of two former governors, Republican George Ryan and Democrat Rod Blagojevich.

"What we as four members wanted to do is preclude future legislatures, whether they be Republican or Democrat, to go through the shenanigans that we went through this week," he said.

Mitchell thinks their proposal will win the support of most Republicans. But none of the four sponsors would predict its chances with Democrats. However, they say that the measure could be helped by a voter backlash against the income tax increase. They noted those Democrats that voted against the income tax hike, including ten in the Illinois House.

Because it would change the Illinois constitution, the anti-lame duck measure would ultimately need to go before the voters as a referendum. It was filed on Thursday as HJRCA 4.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 14, 2011

Broken Water Pipe Damages Ill. Capitol

Offices on at least four different floors of the Illinois Capitol building have suffered damage from a broken water pipe.

The four-inch pipe broke Thursday night and gushed water for about 40 minutes. A spokesman for the state's Capital Development Board says it's not clear what caused the problem, although construction work is taking place in that section of the historic building.

Crews were assessing the situation Friday morning.

At a minimum, the water has damaged floors, ceilings, carpet and some computers.

Damaged areas include offices for legislators, the state treasurer and reporters.


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