Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 27, 2012

Ill. Panel Asks Feds for Info on Arrested Lawmaker

A special committee of the Illinois House began investigating Representative Derrick Smith today. He was arrested two weeks ago on federal bribery charges. The hearing is one of the first steps in a long process that could lead to Smith being expelled from the House.

The committee's first meeting was mostly organizational. Its next step is asking federal prosecutors for more information on the charges against Smith. The Chicago Democrat is accused of accepting $7,000 in cash from a daycare in exchange for writing a letter supporting its grant application.

Specifically, the six representatives on the investigative panel want a copy of the letter and a list of witnesses. But even if federal prosecutors say no, legislators say they have enough to continue. State Rep. Dennis Reboletti, of Elmhurst, is the committee's ranking Republican.

"Rep. Smith has not been in session since the allegations," Reboletti said. "There are constituents who are going to be calling his office (and) may need other support, and so these are things we're going to have to take a look at. I think there's going to be things outside the four corners of that petition that we'll be able to take into evidence and consider but right now I have made no presumption either way."

A lawyer for the committee said he notified Smith of the hearing, but Smith did not show up. Attempts to reach Smith by phone and e-mail were unsuccessful. The committee expects to hear from federal prosecutors in time to meet the week of April 9.

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 27, 2012

Holderfield: Possible Legal Challenge to Election Result

Republican Champaign County Circuit Clerk candidate Stephanie Holderfield said on Monday she doesn't want to file a lawsuit against the county's clerk's office after coming in second to a candidate who had dropped out of the primary race. But in a letter sent to County Clerk Gordy Hulten, Holderfield's attorney indicates a complaint may be filed with the circuit court to resolve the matter.

In a letter dated on March 22, attorney Mark Hewitt cites a recent legislative contest in which former State Rep. Roger Eddy withdrew his candidacy after ballots were printed. Hewitt said notices were posted in polling places telling voters that votes for Eddy were not counted. He said Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten should have followed the same procedure in Winkel's case.

"We do not understand why Mr. Hulten did not do the same," Hewitt wrote. "We hope to get this resolved very soon because if not, we will be forced to file a Petition of State Election Contest before the end of the month with the circuit court."

In cases where a candidate drops out of a race, the Illinois State Board of Elections has said votes for that candidate should be ignored. That recommendation is binding for state races, but only advisory on local elections.

Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten said counting votes for Holderfield's opponent, Rick Winkel, was the right thing to do since Winkel dropped out the race after overseas ballots were sent out.

"I don't have any disagreements with Ms. Holderfield. This is a disagreement about what the law says and how the law should be applied here," Hulten said. "I think it's wise to remember that voters have rights here, too. And 8,133 voters voted for Rick Winkel. I don't think any of us want to get into a situation where an election authority just has the discretion to just ignore 8,133 votes."

Winkel has said he will formally withdraw as a candidate after the ballots are certified.

When asked Tuesday morning if she would file a legal challenge to the March 20 election result, Hodlerfield said "all options are on the table."

"And they will remain there until I have secured enough of the precinct committeemen votes to feel like I can walk into that room and know that I will win," Holderfield said. "It's that simple."

Republican Party precinct committeemen will determine a nominee on April 12.

"Our top priority is that we conduct an open and fair process to nominate a candidate for Circuit Clerk," said Champaign County Republican Central Committee Treasurer Habeeb Habeeb. "All interested Republicans who are eligible to serve as Circuit Clerk, including Stephanie Holderfield are encouraged to apply."

Holderfield said more than half of the precinct committeemen have committed to appointing her as the nominee.

On the Democratic ticket for Champaign County Circuit Clerk, Barb Wysocki won a three-way Democratic Primary by just 16 votes.

Categories: Biography, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 27, 2012

Illinois House Approves State Park Fees

A bill passed by the Illinois House would require visitors to state parks to pay admission fees.

The bill was sponsored by Republican Rep. JoAnn Osmond of Antioch, who says the cash is needed to keep the parks open. Osmond says the money also could help pay to improve the parks because they've fallen into a state of disrepair.

Under the measure, Illinois would be able to charge annual fees for vehicle stickers to get into the parks and daily admission fees for pedestrians or drivers without annual passes. Park officials would set the amount of the fees.

The House approved the bill on a vote of 81-29 on Monday, so it now goes to the Illinois Senate.

A spokeswoman says Gov. Pat Quinn backs the proposal.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 27, 2012

Urbana Council Moves Ahead with Electric Aggregation

Urbana's city council is wasting no time moving ahead with municipal electric aggregation following last week's approval by voters.

Aldermen expect a second and final vote on the program next Monday after unanimously backing it in a committee of the whole meeting Monday night. It will allow the city to negotiate lower power rates by bundling together residential and small business accounts.

Through a consultant, Urbana will negotiate lower power supply rates through a chosen provider, lowering that portion of Ameren bills. With a number of aggregation referenda approved statewide, Alderman Charlie Smyth says the important thing is to keep the ball rolling.

"I think it really is a race," Smyth said. "And when you have 230 cities pursuing the same thing, we want to get there first, or close to first in terms of getting a good bid."

Consultant Mark Pruitt is working with the city to find a provider to negotiate a lower rate for the supply portion of Ameren bills. He says details of the agreement have yet to be ironed out, with length of the contract among the most important.

"Because that's going to have a real effect on the underlying price of the power that's secured," Pruitt said. "And the issue of renewable energy - how much, what price, and what type of impact that has - which is consistent with what the council has indicated through their questions."

Smyth says he hopes to see a large web-based presence from the city's provider, helping answer questions for new Urbana residents, or for those who want to opt-out of the plan. Other council concerns include how to enroll new residents, and how aggregation impacts those in Ameren's budget billing program. A hearing will precede the council's vote next week.

Champaign is expected to take up the measure soon after its voters approved the program as well.

Categories: Energy, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 27, 2012

Imprisoned Former Gov’s Home Taken Off The Market

A spokesman for Rod Blagojevich says the imprisoned former Illinois governor's family is no longer selling their Chicago home.

Glenn Selig tells WLS-TV in Chicago ( former Illinois first lady Patti Blagojevich has decided taking the house off the market is best for daughters Amy and Annie. Selig says Patti Blagojevich wants to avoid the stress of showing a house during a time already filled "with so much upheaval."

Earlier this month Rod Blagojevich started serving a 14-year sentence at a Colorado federal prison.

The house had been for sale since last year with an asking price of $1.07 million. The 13-room brick home is in Chicago's Ravenswood neighborhood.

The house was where FBI wiretaps captured Blagojevich talking. It's also from where federal agents led him away in handcuffs.

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 26, 2012

Quinn:  Easter ‘Oustanding Choice’ to Lead U of I

The University of Illinois' new president is getting high praise from Governor Pat Quinn.

He calls former faculty member and administrator Robert Easter an outstanding choice to lead the university for two years after Michael Hogan officially steps down July 1st.

"I know he has the utmost respect of all of the students, the faculty, and the administration." Quinn said Monday. "And it's all about the students. We shouldn't forget that. The university is set up for the education of men and women who are going to make a difference in the world."

Hogan resigned Thursday amid faculty concerns about his leadership. Quinn says he knows Easter well. The two recently traveled together as part of a trade mission to China.

Quinn also wished Hogan well, calling him an excellent scholar who simply didn't work out.

"It was probably the right thing to do to have this change," the governor said. "And I think it's important for us to move on and not to dwell on the present."

Meanwhile, Quinn urged the Illinois Senate to end a controversial legislative scholarship program after passing the House last week.

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 26, 2012

US Supreme Court Hears Arguments on Health Care Law

While the Supreme Court hears arguments on the federal health care law this week, one of its local supporters argues that the law is already providing benefits.

Full implementation of the Affordable Care Act is still two years away. But Claudia Lennoff of Champaign County Healthcare Consumers said some benefits are helping people now.

She said that thanks to the law, her organization no longer hears stories from people whose health insurance has been rescinded due to a particular health event, like a newly diagnosed disease.

"One lady, who I remember, who had just gotten diagnosed with cancer tumors in her brain; and all of a sudden, when she was just about to start receiving treatment, she was noticed that her health plan, and she would not be covered for that. And then was scrambling to get health insurance," Lennoff said. "So we don't see those kind of cases any more, thank goodness. "

In addition to providing help to those already insured, Lennoff said the federal health care law is also bringing more uninsured people to her office. She said people who were barred from coverage due to the cost or a pre-existing condition now have new opportunities for coverage.

Lennoff said she's optimistic that the benefits of the federal health care law will survive a challenge before the Supreme Court --- even if the "individual mandate" requiring all Americans to buy health insurance is struck down.

Categories: Government, Health, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 26, 2012

Holderfield Moving Ahead with Circuit Clerk Candidacy

A candidate for Champaign County Circuit Clerk said she doesn't want to sue the County Clerk's office over its decision to count the votes in favor of her opponent in last week's Republican primary.

Election results show Stephanie Holderfield lost to Rick Winkel by 245 votes, even though Winkel withdrew his candidacy in early February. Speaking Monday with her attorney, Mark Hewitt, by her side, Holderfield said votes cast for Winkel should not be counted since he dropped out of the race.

"I hope to move forward in a positive manner as a Republican in Champaign County," Holderfield said. "I think it's very important that everyone understand that we may have some hiccups in the road but it's how we come through those hiccups, those bumps that make us better for it."

In cases where a candidate drops out of a race, the Illinois State Board of Elections has said votes for that candidate should be ignored. That recommendation is binding for state races, but only advisory on local elections.

The Champaign County Republican Party said a weighted vote will be conducted by precinct committeemen to determine a nominee, which could happen sometime in the next month. Holderfield said she is confident she will get the support needed to head to the General Election in November.

Winkel has said he will formally withdraw as a candidate after the ballots are certified

Categories: Biography, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 26, 2012

Neighbors: Meet Mary Ann Pettigrew

Part of the WILL series "Neighbors"
Mary Ann Pettigrew of Danville, Illinois

Illinois Public Media's Celeste Quinn visits Mary Ann Pettigrew, a long-time resident of Danville, Illinois. Pettigrew spent a number of years working as a Registered Nurse for the Santa Fe Railroad, for an oil company in the Middle East and St. Francis Hospital in Peoria. She came back to Danville in the early 1970s and has lived at the house on Buchanan Street ever since.

(With production assistance from Crystal Kang)

Download mp3 file
Categories: Biography, Community

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 26, 2012

Tougher Indiana School Takeover Rules on Hold

New rules that could greatly expand the number of Indiana's public schools subject to state takeover are on hold while state legislators take a longer look at the proposal.

More than 100 schools in 76 districts had feared the new rules could put them at risk of takeover, but The Indianapolis Star reports ( ) that a legislative change would give those schools a fresh start.

The proposal from the state Board of Education called for any school receiving Fs in four consecutive years in state evaluations to face takeover, along with schools that received any combination of Ds and Fs for five straight years.

Currently, only schools rated an F for six consecutive years face state takeovers.

Legislators are expected to establish a study committee to review the rules.

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