Illinois Public Media News
Lured by the promise of jobs and a boost for the state's coal industry, the Illinois House agreed to a plan that could pave the way for a controversial central Illinois power plant.
Omaha based Tenaska Corporation wants to build a coal fired power plant in Taylorville. It would use Illinois coal, which has fallen out of favor because of its high sulfur content. Emissions would be captured and stored underground.
It has taken years to get the proposal this far. Opponents are concerned about the legislation's requirement that utilities purchase power from the plant, which are expected to lead to higher electric rates over several decades. House sponsor Frank Mautino (D-Spring Valley) said the cost factor was a sticking point.
"I would say that is part of the cost trade off for improving the overall economy," Mautino said.
Residential rates would be capped at a two-percent increase, but businesses and governmental bodies could pay more. Mautino admits it has been difficult convincing colleagues who represent other areas that it is a good deal for them.
"For example, when I buy a gallon of gas or fill my tank in Spring Valley, part of that money goes to fund the CTA which already gets 97-percent of all mass transit money to fund a bus I will never ride on," he said "Yet that is one of the costs built in to having an overall statewide system."
Mautino said a boost for Illinois coal will benefit the entire state. The plan still needs approval from Senators and the Governor to become law.
A discovery recount performed last week in the Douglas County sheriff's race found that the margin of victory for incumbent Charlie McGrew stayed the same over his opponent, Fred Galey.
Douglas County clerk Jim Ingram said this review of the ballots was not an official recount since it does not change the final vote tabulation. If there is sufficient evidence to show ballot error, then the petitioner could file a petition in circuit court for a full recount.
After the November 2 election, Galey made a request for the county's first-ever discovery recount where about a quarter of the local precincts were reviewed for voting errors. Ingram said of the four precincts studied, only two were found to be off by one ballot.
"In one precinct the Sheriff received an additional vote, and in another precinct the petitioner received an extra vote," Ingram said. "That means nothing. It doesn't change any totals."
Ingram said the ballot review process went on without any problems.
Since Galey initiated the recount, he is required to pay a $10 fee for each of the four precincts counted. But Ingram pointed out that the county has to pick up an even larger tab charged by Government Business Systems, the vendor of the voting machines.
"Even though it cost the petitioner himself $10 per precinct, it costs the county an excess of ten times that amount to perform the task," he said.
McGrew defeated Galey by less than 40 votes after the absentee ballots were counted. Calls to Galey for comment were not immediately returned. McGrew's new term as sheriff begins Wednesday, December 1 at 9am.
Gov. Pat Quinn has pledged another $47 million to keep a temporary jobs program going while the state hopes for more federal money.
The latest infusion of cash is in addition to $75 million Quinn pledged in September to keep the Put Illinois to Work program from ending.
The extension will keep the program going through Jan. 15. Quinn's office says more than 26,000 people have gotten jobs.
The jobs program was a centerpiece of Quinn's campaign in a close election win over Republican state Sen. Bill Brady, who criticized the governor for using state money to keep it going.
The governor's office says the $47 million will come from proceeds of the bond sale of a portion of the state's tobacco settlement money.
An effort to allow medical use of marijuana fell short by a handful of votes in the Illinois House. Opponents argued it was less about health care and more about legalizing pot.
The tally was a setback for medical patients suffering from glaucoma, cancer and other diseases who say smoking marijuana helps ease pain and improve their quality of life. Former talk show host Montel Williams was among those who came to the capitol to lobby for the measure. Williams has multiple sclerosis and admitted he uses marijuana to deal with his symptoms.
"For me, it helps to lessen the neuropathic pain," Williams said. "It also helps me, no ifs, ands, or buts, with spasticity. I suffer from MS. I have leg tremors and have spasticity at night. This completely squashes that."
The House sponsor, Lou Lang (D-Skokie) said the medical contributions of the drug are a compelling argument to legalize it.
"How do you turn down people who are sick," Lang said. "People who are in pain, people who have not had the opportunity to have a quality of life without this health care product. And make no mistake my friends. This is not a bill about drugs. This is a bill about health care."
But critics say more testing should be done to determine if marijuana has benefits. Fifteen other states allow medical marijuana use.
Illinois' plan would have patients get a doctor's note that would then be submitted to the state department of public health. The agency would regulate who can buy from licensed dealers.
But law enforcement was opposed to the measure, and so were lawmakers like State Rep. Ron Stephens (R- Greenville), who is a licensed pharmacist.
"This is about possession of marijuana," Stephens said. "That's all it's about. It's not about medical treatment."
Stephens said more research is needed to determine any potential benefits marijuana might have. While the Illinois plan was defeated, the same proposal was kept alive through a legislative maneuver and could be called for another vote.
Legislation Seeks to Extend Immigration Rights to Same-Sex Couples
The U.S. Senate is expected to consider ending the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which bans gays from openly serving in the armed services. But there's another issue that many gay rights supporters are pushing. Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers reports on the political deadlock over legislation to extend immigration rights to same-sex binational couples.
Airline passengers are putting up with a new and often unwelcome level of security screenings, but a University of Illinois professor who studies aviation security said those searches may not be useful.
Thanksgiving-weekend travelers at the nation's largest airports reported few slowdowns or other problems with "backscanner" machines that give screeners revealing images of passengers. Those who turned down the scans are subject to intensive pat-downs.
Professor Sheldon Jacobson said he believes federal officials pay too much attention to searching for banned items, and that the high-level searches should not be the first line of defense against terrorists.
"The question is, is this an effective use of a very powerful technology? In our own research, we don't believe it is," Jacobson said. "We believe that using it for secondary screening is far more appropriate and will actually facilitate a far more secure system, which is very counter-intuitive in some sense."
Jacobson says more effective security should focus on a passenger's intent. He said the Transportation Security Administration needs to further its research on ways of filtering out passengers based on background checks and looking for behavioral red flags at the airport.
Republican Mark Kirk has become Illinois' newest U.S. senator.
Kirk was sworn in on Monday in the United States Senate Chambers by Vice President Joe Biden.
The five-term congressman from Chicago's north suburbs won the seat held once held by President Barack Obama.
Roland Burris was appointed to the seat by former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich after the presidential election. Kirk will fill the remainder of Burris' term and a full six-year term. He narrowly won the seat against Democrat Alexi Giannoulias.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
The Illinois Public Interest Research Group is urging parents to be informed as they buy toys for their children this holiday season. The organization released its 25th Trouble In Toyland report this week.
Emily Mueller of Illinois PIRG said the report uses multiple factors to identify harmful toys.
"These are toys that either we've identified as a choking hazard --- while they may meet the legal limit, children are still chocking on them that's very dangerous," Mueller said. "Also there are toys that contain lead and phthalates which are all toxic chemicals that can have adverse health effects on children."
Dr. John Haffner is with the Children's Hospital Of Illinois, housed at OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria. He said parents should use common sense when buying toys this season.
"And if they look like they're maybe going to break very easily, and they might have a lot of small parts, those are something that's not suitable for small children," Haffner said. "If it looks like a discount toy or a "no-name" toy, be careful with those, because those have been linked with more reports of lead paint and shoddy workmanship".
Illinois PIRG said people can access the Trouble in Toyland report on its Web site. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan also released her 2010 Play-It-Safe shopping guide that lists toys, cribs and other products recalled this year. The guide is available at the attorney general's Web site. Madigan also said people can register for automatic e-mail notifications for recalled products at cpsc.gov.
A recent University of Illinois graduate who headed a student group focusing on North Korean human rights abuses said that neither he, nor his family or other Koreans he knows are very worried about the attack Tuesday on South Korea's Yeonpyeong Island escalating into a more serious conflict. Dan Han said the shelling --- which killed four people --- fits the North Korean pattern.
"They have a history of provocation against South Korea," Han said. "And this is one of their ways that they can use to, if you will, extort aid and money and goods out of South Korea and other nations."
Han graduated last spring with a degree in finance from the University of Illinois' Urbana campus, where he was president of the campus chapter of LINK: Liberty in North Korea. He said evidence of force by North Korea have not done much to worry South Korean students on the U of I campus --- partly because they are too young to remember the Korean War of the 1950s.
"I think the generation growing up in South Korea is a generation that has not had the exposure that the older generation had," he said. "So they're not as concerned, they're not as worried. The older generation might be more worried about reunification between the two Koreas.The younger generation may be more concerned with keeping separate, to keep the South Korean economy intact."
In contrast, Han said Korean-American students who grew up in the U-S usually base their apathy about North Korea on its being a distant country to them. On the other hand, he said Korean-Americans were more likely than South Korean natives to be concerned about human rights in North Korea.
Han, who now lives in New Jersey, says if the shelling of Yeonpyeong is a particular cause for concern, it may be because it went beyond military targets to focus on civilian areas.
Champaign County GOP Jason Barickman will replace State Representative Shane Cultra in the Illinois General Assembly.
A group of GOP County Chairmen from the 105th Illinois House District unanimously supported Barickman to fill the soon-to-be vacant seat created by Cultra's anticipated departure to the Illinois Senate.
Cultra won re-election earlier this month to the 105 House District, but will begin filling Dan Rutherford's remaining two years in the Senate starting January 9th, the same day Barickman expects to take office. Rutherford said Cultra's the right choice for the job.
"Jason is a likeable guy and an extremely hard worker," Cultra said. "Republicans from around the 105th have asked me to support Jason, and I was proud to do so."
McLean County Republican Chairman John W. Parrott, Jr. led the selection committee. Parrott said he has known Barickman for many years, and he said his experience as head of the Champaign County Republican Party set him over the top.
"He has extremely deep roots throughout the 105th District, and I believe he will be an excellent State Representative who is willing to shake things up in Springfield," Parrott said.
Barickman, a partner in a law firm with locations in Champaign and Bloomington, was raised on his family farm in rural Livington County. He accepted the role of Champaign County Republican Central Committee Chairman in 2006 following his graduation from the University of Illinois College of Law.
"I am honored and humbled by the opportunity to serve the 105th district and the people of Illinois," stated Barickman. "I look forward to tackling the many challenges facing our great State."
And Barickman said he does not think balancing time in Springfield with his law practice will be a problem. "I have always maintained a busy schedule," says Barickman. "And if you believe in that mantra of asking a busy person to get things done, then I'm a perfect fit, and I'll just have to adjust my schedule accordingly."
With his appointment, Barickman will become the fourth member of the Illinois General Assembly representing Champaign County. He joins State Senator Michael Frerichs (D-Champaign) and State Reps. Naomi Jakobsson (D-Urbana) and Chapin Rose (R-Mahomet).
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