Illinois Public Media News
The democrat running for President Barack Obama's old U.S. Senate seat pledged to increased veterans benefits during a campaign stop in Urbana.
U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias was joined by U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Assistant U.S. Secretary of Veterans' Affairs Tammy Duckworth.
Gulf War veteran Jason Wheeler of Champaign expressed his frustration to the that he cannot get proper medical care because of federal regulations.
Wheeler was preparing to ship out to Iraq in 2002, but just weeks before he was set to leave the U.S., he jumped out of a helicopter as part of a training exercise, and crash landed on a tarmac. His parachute did not work.
"I have no feeling from both of my knees down. From my hands to my elbows, they feel like they're on fire," he said.
Because Wheeler's injuries occurred on American soil, he said he does not get the same quality of federal care that veterans get when they are injured overseas. He can still get treated through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, but since he was wounded on American soil, Wheeler is ineligible for TRICARE assistance, a program through the Department of Defense.
"I got injured, and I could use a lift for my vehicle," he said. "I could use these little things that can help you out, and a gentleman like myself can't get this help. So, we don't want to let that happen to the next guy."
Duckworth said historic progress has been made in the last few years by the democratically-led congress to raise veterans' benefits, but she stated that there just is not enough money to go around to provide the same level of care for all wounded veterans.
"It all goes back to the money," she said. "We've got to dedicate the money and resources to take care of all of our vets."
Wheeler spoke to Duckworth after the forum, and he said her office will look into his medical claims.
During the forum, Duckworth also touted the efforts of democratic U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias in pushing for Illinois veterans to have access to affordable mortgages, and helping start a scholarship program for children of soldiers killed in action. Giannoulias would not give a deadline of when he hopes American troops should begin to pull out of Afghanistan, but he said the attention in Washington should be on fixing the nation's economy, improving infrastructure projects, and bolstering education programs.
The state treasurer is in a tight race against Congressman Mark Kirk (R-IL), who released a statement ahead of the forum in which he outlined his support of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill.
Kirk helped write the resolution authorizing the 2003 invasion into Iraq. After speaking with veterans, Giannoulias blasted Kirk for misleading the public leading up to the war. He noted Kirk's false statements that former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Giannoulias said Kirk showed a lack of judgment for supporting a war that cost thousands of American lives and billions of taxpayer dollars.
The Kirk campaign pointed out members of congress in both parties made that claim.
A recent Chicago Tribune poll showed Kirk and Giannoulias neck-and-neck with 34 percent of support among voters, followed by the Green Party's LeAlan Jones with six percent, Libertarian Mike Labno with 3 percent, and 22 percent of voters stating that they are undecided.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
Two lanes of Mattis Avenue remain closed near the Champaign Post Office, as an Illinois-American Water Company crew works to repair a water main that broke late Monday night.
Illinois-American Water Champaign District Manager Barry Suits says the broken pipe was one of the main pipes leading out of the company's Mattis Avenue water treatment plant. The break occurred around midnight Monday night, causing sinkholes to form on the easternmost northbound lane.
The water main break forced the closure of Mattis Avenue near the post office, south of Bloomington Road. The road was reopened to traffic Tuesday, but northbound traffic is being routed through the center lane, while repairs continue.
Tom Schuh of the Champaign Public Works Department says he expects another lane of Mattis to reopen to traffic Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday. But he says it may be several days before the easternmost lane is clear for driving.
Longtime Chicago Mayor Richard Daley announced Tuesday that he will not seek another term after more than two decades in office.
"Simply put, it's time," said Daley at a City Hall press conference. "It's time for me, it's time for Chicago, to move on."
The 68-year-old Democrat presided over Chicago for 21 years, like his father did before him. He said the decision was a personal one, and added that he and his family can now begin a "new phase of our lives."
Daley, who took office in 1989, made the announcement surrounded by family, including his wife, Maggie, who's been battling cancer since 2002, but the Mayor would not comment on whether his wife's illness played a role in his decision.
"In the coming days I know there will be some reflecting on my time as mayor, many of you will search to find what's behind my decision," Daley said. "It's simple: I've always believed that every person, especially public officials, must understand when it's time to move on. For me that time is now."
Chicago politicos have speculated for months as to Daley's political future, and his announcement Tuesday is sure to set off a scramble to fill the executive power vacuum at City Hall. The February 2011 municipal race will be the first since 1947 when a sitting mayor will not run for re-election.
President Barack Obama said Daley "leaves a legacy of progress'' that future generations will appreciate. Obama said in a statement that there's no mayor in America who has loved a city more or served a community "with a greater passion'' than Daley. Obama also noted that Daley helped build Chicago's "image as a world class city.''
The announcement leaves an open door for a host of candidates, including Democratic Congressmen Jesse Jackson Jr. Danny Davis, and Luis Gutierrez, and Chicago Alderman Bob Fioretti, among several others.
White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, is also a possible candidate. The 50-year-old Emanuel is a one-time Daley adviser and a Chicago native. He was an Illinois congressman until he resigned to take his current White House post.
Emanuel said in an April television interview that he would like to run for mayor of Chicago someday, but later scaled back those comments. In a statement issued by his office shortly after Daley's announcement, Emanuel did not rule out a mayoral run.
"While Mayor Daley surprised me today with his decision to not run for re-election, I have never been surprised by his leadership, dedication and tireless work on behalf of the city and the people of Chicago," Emanuel said in the e-mailed statement.
White House senior adviser David Axelrod deflected questions on Tuesday about whether Emanuel would leave the White House to run for Chicago's mayor. He said Emanuel is focused on his current job with the Obama administration.
U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) said he called Daley after the announcement.
"Chicago's a great city, and that doesn't happen by accident," said Durbin. "Great people, great history, but good leadership, and I think he's written a terrific record in the city of Chicago."
Durbin would not comment on who he would support as a mayoral candidate.
Mayor Daley left immediately after his announcement and did not take further questions.
(Photo courtesy of City of Chicago)
Despite an Attorney General's ruling, a Champaign County Board member still believes there's a way to block a coal mine from locating in the southeast part of the county.
Democrat Alan Kurtz wants to force out Sunrise Coal and find a way to lure in FutureGen's carbon storage facility that's part of new Department of Energy plans. Kurtz says the State's Attorney's office could allow Champaign County to intervene if there are health, safety, or welfare concerns involved with the coal mine. He says that would overrule the 1993 ruling discovered last week, saying non home-rule counties like Champaign can't use zoning to regulate mining for fossil fuels. The Terre Haute-based Sunrise is buying mineral rights to locate a mine south of Homer.
Kurtz says a mine could pollute water, cause flooding and hurt farmland in that area. He says he doesn't care that Sunrise intends to use a less invasive mining technique. "Room-and-pillar may be supposedly safer than longwall mining," said Kurtz. "But the key is even with room-and-pillar, eventually there have been subsidence and sinkholes that appear in the land above. It could be 20 years from now or 30 years from now." Sunrise is expected to locate primarily in Vermilion County. But Kurtz says if more coal is found, nothing would keep Sunrise from submitting applications for additional land in Champaign County. Meanwhile, Kurtz says he's called Senator Dick Durbin's office about the reconfigured FutureGen, which now includes a site for storing carbon emissions pumped from a power plant in Western Illinois.
"I've asked Pius (County Board Chair Pius Weibel) who's a geologist to check and see if Champaign County has the facility to be able to house this project," said Kurtz. "Why? Because it's worth $400 million in new economic development. It's worth 350 new jobs here in Champaign County. And it's cleaning up the coal." About 25 communities, including Decatur and Marshall, have shown an interest in bringing the new facility. Kurtz contends an underground aquifer in Champaign County's Newcomb Township contains the pipelines that would accommodate the plant.
A proposal that will be introduced later this fall in the Illinois House of Representatives seeks to put an immigration law similar to the one passed in Arizona on the books.
State representative Bill Mitchell (R-Forsyth) is co-sponsoring the measure with Republican Randy Ramey (R-Carol Stream). Mitchell said a centerpiece to the measure would cut Medicaid services to people who are not U.S. citizens by modifying the Illinois All Kids program, which provides health coverage for children regardless of immigration status.
"We're spending millions of dollars on health care for illegals," said Mitchell. "It's time to say enough is enough."
Illinois is just one of nine states that offers Medicaid to undocumented immigrants. According to the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, 1.6 million children are covered under the All Kids program, and a little more than three percent of those covered are undocumented.
"If you're going to do something in which you specifically target children, and make it so that they're not eligible for certain services and accesses, that's not only cruel and heartless, it's just absolutely mind-boggling," said Linus Chan, a staff attorney at the Asylum & Immigration Law Clinic at DePaul University. "That's not going to solve the problem of undocumented immigration."
Mitchell said with a $13 billion budget deficit, Illinois is in no shape to be offering health care services to people living in the country illegally. He said an influx of undocumented immigrants coming to the state are weighing down on the number of available jobs, and contributing to higher taxes going to support education and health care services.
He added that the legislation will also create more stringent regulations for employers who hire undocumented workers, and include language allowing law enforcement officials to ask for someone's paperwork when a "reasonable suspicion exists that a person is here illegally." Mitchell noted that the color of a person's skin would not qualify as a "reasonable suspicion."
Chan said he is worried pushing people out of the state could have dire consequences on Illinois' economy. He took note of a 2006 study released by the Texas comptroller's office, which indicates that eliminating illegal immigration could reduce that state's workforce, personal income, and gross state product.
Mitchell said the legislation will be introduced in November. Since Arizona passed its controversial law in April, other states have considered similar proposals, including Indiana, Missouri, Colorado, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas.
(Photo courtesy of mk30/flickr)
The Mayor of Decatur said he has received his share of questions from residents about bringing FutureGen's carbon emissions storage facility to the city.
Mike McElroy said once the Department of Energy canceled the original plan for a power plant in Mattoon and that city rejected the revamped plan, he placed a call to U.S. Senator Dick Durbin's office expressing interest in the so-called clean coal project.
McElroy said he expects to receive more details soon about FutureGen 2.0. He said any answers not given by the energy department could be provided by one of the city's major employers - noting Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) is developing a carbon capture facility.
"Once the Department of Energy sends its stuff, we can give them the answers," said McElroy. "I feel very secure of the fact that we can call out to ADM and talk to the people that are running that.and they will give us the answers that we're looking for."
McElroy says he does not know where the FutureGen facility could be located in his city.
Meanwhile, a small southeastern Illinois community that was in the running for the original FutureGen power plant is doing what it can to recruit the carbon dioxide storage facility. Marshall Mayor Ken Smith said he has let his interests about the project known with Senator Durbin's office and the Department of Energy.
Marshall housed the chemical plant, Velsicol, for more than 40 years in a 400 acre site, and Smith said the city has the deep wells that would accommodate the carbon emissions site the DOE now wants to build as part of FutureGen 2.0. If Marshall can lure in FutureGen's storage facility, Smith said the facilities could stimulate more jobs in the community.
"It might also spark some interest of a power plant here in the future if they know they can already sequester here," said Smith. "The property owner that has this land also owns about 8,000 acres in Clark County, and he's also in the power plant business, he owns Indeck Energy. So he's very receptive to it being here if it works out."
Marshall is also the county seat in Clark County, where Smith noted the unemployment rate exceeds 12-percent. He says the DOE should be sending his community a packet on facility requirements soon. One of about 25 cities is looking to store carbon dioxide emissions after being piped from a retrofitted power plant in the Western Illinois city of Meredosia.
Whether or not an underground coal mine opens on the Champaign-Vermilion County border, Champaign County officials will not be able to regulate it.
The Champaign County State's Attorney's office says a 1993 ruling from the Illinois Attorney General bars non-home-rule counties --- such as Champaign - from using zoning laws to regulate the mining of fossil fuels. The ruling was discovered after the Champaign County Board moved in August to defer discussion of the issue until September.
Champaign County Board Chairman Pius Weibel --- a geologist with the Illinois State Geological Survey --- says news of the ruling did not surprise him.
"There are other things related to the exploration for oil and gas, as well as coal, that are often are exempt from the normal rules", explains Weibel. "For example, in Illinois, if you're exploring for oil and gas, and/or coal, you do not have to have a license. Whereas for any other geological activity, you do have to have a license."
Some county board members and residents had called for zoning rules for mines, after learning that Indiana-based Sunrise Coal was buying up mineral rights for a possible coal mine south of Homer. Most of the mine would be in Vermilion County, which has no zoning code. But the western end of the mine would be in Champaign County
Critics of the proposed mine had raised concerns that Sunrise Coal would use the "long wall" mining technique, which they say carries a greater risk of land subsidence. But the company says if they go ahead with the mine, they would stick to the less invasive "room-and-pillar" method. State_Atty_Generals_Ruling_on_Mining.doc
A defense attorney from the Southern Illinois town of Marion is facing criminal charges for allegedly attempting to traffic heroin-filled condoms into a federal prison in Indiana.
Robert Drew was taken into custody over the weekend at a Terre Haute jail, but was then admitted to a nearby hospital. Drew's wife, Joyce, said her husband was suffering from health problems connected to his diabetes.
He is listed in good condition, but would not return a call for comment.
A search of Drew's black Mercedes turned up marijuana, as well as the condoms with heroin, according to an affidavit written by FBI agent Jacob Overton.
Drew claimed the marijuana was for his own use, but he said he did not know what was in the condoms. However, he admitted that whatever they contained was prohibited in the prison, Overton wrote.
Overton reported Drew said he had delivered drugs to an inmate three to four times during the past year in private conference rooms inside the lockup. Lawyers gets more access and privacy to the conference room where they can talk to inmates, often with a guard standing outside the room. Those conversations are not tape recorded or listened in on by prison staff, according to Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman Traci Billingsley.
Joyce Drew said leading up to her husband's arrest; her husband received multiple threatening phone calls from someone who claimed that his grandkids would be harmed if he did not transport the drugs into the prison.
"If he committed that act on his own, then you know I am totally against that," she said. "If his story, which I believe, is true, then people should stop being so harsh to him."
Joyce said she does know who made the threatening phone calls and how her husband acquired the drugs. She also said she never spoke to the person making the threats.
U.S. Attorney Tim Morrison of Indiana's Southern District said Drew tried to get the heroin to "at least one" inmate at the prison.
Morrison said the long-time defense attorney is expected to make a court appearance shortly after he is released from the hospital. The government then has 30 days to indict.
The Bureau of Prisons' Traci Billingsley said known cases involving lawyers sneaking drugs into prisons are rare, and adds that all visitors to federal prisons are required to be scanned by a metal detector when entering.
Drew faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
US Senator Dick Durbin said cost overruns in the original plan for FutureGen led to the decision to reconfigure the project.
Illinois' Senior Senator said for months, the price tag was going up faster than the FutureGen Alliance could generate private money to pay for it. Durbin said he was on a one-man crusade to find new companies to join the Alliance.
He added that once the Energy Department would not pay more than $1.1 billion, plans for a power plant in Mattoon were scrapped. Durbin said he only knew of FutureGen 2.0 six days before it was publicly announced, and he was told to keep silent then, while federal officials sought support from companies like Ameren. Durbin says he couldn't even tell companies with the FutureGen Alliance.
"The Alliance members knew that we were in trouble,' says Durbin. "Because they knew it was costing too much money. They were soliciting new members into the Alliance to try to keep up with the increased cost of the construction - we just couldn't keep up with it. They knew that we had an economic problem. The thing I didn't know was that the original concept of FutureGen that was announced and was solicited was now in production in four different places in the United States, so it was no longer a unique research undertaking."
Durbin said a plant of the same type in Mississippi was even larger than the proposed FutureGen plant for Mattoon.
The Senator says he knows a lot of residents there are upset, but added he did not sell out on them.
"At the end, Illinois ends up with $1.1 billion in clean-coal technology," he said. "It means that we're going to be leading the nation in terms of reducing emissions from coal-fired plants. We're going to use our own geology to be able to protect those emissions from causing environmental harm."
The companies making up the Alliance put their support Tuesday behind the new plan, which includes retrofitting a power plant in Western Illinois, and finding another community for storing carbon emissions.
Durbin admitted a lot of elements of the plan have to be spelled out by the Energy Department, but said the private sector buy-in will allow the project to succeed. Durban said twenty five other Illinois communities, including Marshall and Taylorville, have inquired about the new emissions facility. Durbin said Coles County and an area within 100 miles of it has the capacity to hold the emissions of 50 coal-fired power plants for 50 years.
U.S. Senator Dick Durbin said he believes far too much of a college student's debt after four years comes from textbooks.
Durbin said the average student now spends nearly $900 a year on textbooks. Durbin said legislation that passed in July will make a few simple changes to let the student and professor know what that cost will be. In a stop at the University of Illinois Wednesday, Illinois' Senior Senator promoted the College Textbook Affordability Act. He says it's shocking that many professors actually don't know the retail price of a book. The measure requires publishers to provide that price in writing, and for faculty to keep students apprised of those costs. Durbin says another goal of the legislation is to create a market economy for students. "The good news is, for students, textbooks are more affordable," said Durbin, speaking in front of the Illini Union Bookstore. "The textbook publishers.. their prices have to be more competitive. For professors, be sensitive to the cost of textbooks for students and give these a chance to go shopping on line to find a bargain."
Graduate Student Josh Sulkin co-founded Illini Book Exchange, a free web site that allows students to exchange books without having to go through any book stores.
"The great thing this bill provides is information," said Sulkin. "Some of the other bookstores actually hide the ISBN numbers from you, so you can't know ahead of time unless you see the book physically what book you really need for the class. So you might buy a book on line based on the title, but it's the wrong book for the class and then you can't return it because it's on line, and then you just wasted even more money."
Durbin said a third part of the legislation will keep students from having to buy CD-ROM's and other supplemental equipment - those materials will now be bundled separately. Durbin said he introduced a second bill that will allow students to use 'open textbooks' on line.
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