Illinois Public Media News
Governor Pat Quinn says a secret policy change that allowed some well-behaved criminals to leave prison after fewer than three weeks behind bars was a mistake. But he says given the state's budget woes, Illinois' prison system has been forced to economize.
The governor called the accelerated early release of inmates ... some of whom were violent offenders ... "bad judgment." And Quinn says he never gave Corrections Director Michael Randle the authority to do it.
Yet Quinn also seemed to downplay the gravity of the situation. He says each of the 1700 inmates released early on meritorious good time would have been out of prison by the end of January anyway.
"We should not in any way, I think, miss the point that there are literally thousands of people coming into our prison system for a very short period of time", said Quinn.
Quinn says that because the state corrections budget was slashed, Randle was put in the challenging position of finding savings. The governor says Randle will keep his job as director, but he has terminated the program. His opponent in the Democratic primary race for governor, Comptroller Dan Hynes, calls Quinn's acknowledgment "inadequate" and "lame.
A Champaign-based agency that provides care for the developmentally disabled in Champaign, Piatt, Ford and Iroquois Counties set its goals high late this year.
The Developmental Services Center set its Tree of Hope campaign goal for 2009 at 100-thousand dollars. It's the group's largest fundraiser of the year. Last year, the goal was set at 75-thousand dollars, and the community contributed 85-thousand.
DSC Development specialist Nikki Kopman admits raising the goal to 100-thousand dollars was a challenge, given the sluggish economy.
But she says the 83-thousand dollars they've received in donations go far --- with about a month left in the campaign --- makes her confident the agency will reach its goal.
"There was definitely thought on both sides of the fence of 'wow that's really high', but 'we really need it'", says Kopman. "The economy's really bad, but this community really rallies around social services and the needs of the community. We see that personally here at DSC. But any time you turn on the news or pick up a newspaper for this area, our community is very good about lifting everyone else
Kopman says costs for the Tree of Hope fundraiser are kept at a minimum. Local sponsors underwrite brochures sent in the mail, billboards, and the lights for the Tree of Hope itself, a live tree located at the corner of North Prospect and Marketview in Champaign, so that almost all of the money donated can go directly to helping people with developmental disabilities.
Each donation between November 1st of this year and January 30th helps the Tree of Lights campaign. Donations can be made online through the Developmental Services Center website, at www.dsc-illinois.org.
Danville Police are investigating the armed robbery of the First Savings Bank on West Williams yesterday (Wednesday) afternoon.
Police answering an alarm at the bank were told by employees that two masked men displayed a handgun and fled the bank on foot with an undisclosed amount of money. No one was injured in the holdup.
The two suspects are described as black males in their late teens or early 20s, five-foot-nine to five-foot-ten in height with slim builds. Both wore hooded sweatshirts and dark pants with dark colored cloth over their faces.
If you have information about the robbery, call Danville Police at 431-2250 or make your contact anonymous through Vermilion County Crimestoppers at 446-TIPS.
For the first time this season, property owners in downtown Champaign and in Campustown have to clean off their sidewalks under city rules.
It's the third winter of the city's mandatory shoveling policy for business owners in the two commercial areas. It was highly controversial when it was put into effect three years ago, but public works director Dennis Schmidt says it's gained acceptance.
"Compliance has gotten better each year", says Schmidt. "And I think definitely, accessibility to those areas, both for able-bodied shoppers and folks with physical disabilities has definitely improved. And I think those were the two goals that we had all along."
Property owners have 48 hours to clear a path on their public sidewalks - the clock started running at 10:00 Monday morning. Any walks not cleared can be cleared by city crews at the owner's expense. Champaign puts the snow removal order in effect every time there's a snowfall of two inches or greater.
Gov. Mitch Daniels says Indiana will start cutting school funding starting in January.
Daniels previously announced the K-12 cuts of about $300 million. Schools will lose about 3.5 percent of current state funding in 2010, starting with their January payment. The Indiana State Board of Education had recommended that the cuts begin in January.
State Superintendent Tony Bennett says school districts can find 3 percent savings without laying off teachers.
Daniels says education is such a big part of the state budget in Indiana that cuts were unavoidable to ensure Indiana doesn't have a deficit when the budget ends in July 2011. The Republican governor has already ordered cuts at state agencies and universities.
Monday, December 28th, was the first day that voters could take out an absentee ballot for the February 2nd primary election. And for the first time, absentee voters in Illinois don't have to give a reason for wanting to vote early --- thanks to a new state law that took effect last August.
Champaign County Clerk Mark Shelden says the new law exempting voters from having to state a reason for voting absentee makes absentee voting more like early voting ---except that it begins two weeks earlier, and can be done by mail. Shelden says the change will mean even more ballots cast before Election Day. Danville Election Commission Director Barbara Dreher agrees. She thinks the level of both early and absentee voting will "rise up exponentially, and take the pressure off of the polling places on Election Day".
Such ballots already make up a sizable percentage of ballots cast in elections. In the November 2008 election, about 12 percent of Champaign County ballots and nearly 10 percent of Danville ballots were cast early or absentee.
Shelden predicts that as more ballots are cast before Election Day, Election Day itself will lose its importance as a civic event engaging all voters at the same time.
"I don't want to say that's negative, but it's going to be almost a bygone memory in a matter of four or five years", says Shelden. "I think we'll see so many people voting early that Election Day will, in itself, have a different meaning to people."
Shelden thinks more pre-Election Day voting will also change campaign strategies, because campaigning in the last few days before Election Day will lose its impact.
You can apply for an absentee ballot in Illinois through your local election authority or county clerk's office --- in person, by mail or phone, and in some locations, such as Champaign County, online. Absentee ballots can be cast in Illinois until the day before Election Day.
Two Indiana lawmakers say legislation that could bring more renewable energy development to the state has a good chance of passing in the upcoming legislative session.
The change would affect Indiana's so-called net-metering policy that allows some customers of investor-owned utilities to send excess power produced by wind turbines, solar panels and other renewable sources back into the electric grid.
Those customers get credit for that power on their next bill. But current policy applies only to homeowners and K-12 schools and sets a limit of 10 kilowatts per customer.
Republican Sen. James Merritt of Indianapolis and Democratic Rep. Ryan Dvorak of South Bend are both optimistic lawmakers will boost that power level and extend net-metering to businesses, industries and municipalities during their session that begins Jan.5.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson is urging Rockford residents to push for a federal investigation into the police shooting of an unarmed man inside a church-run day care.
At a news conference at the day care center on Sunday, Jackson criticized a grand jury for ruling last week that the shooting was justified.
He urged residents to push for an outcome that's "just and fair.''
The Aug. 24 killing of 23-year-old Mark Anthony Barmore at the church-run facility in Rockford has heightened racial tensions in the community. The two officers are white and Barmore was black.
Witnesses say Barmore surrendered. But police have said Barmore tried to attack the officers.
Barmore's father, Anthony Stevens, says the grand jury decision made for the worst Christmas he's ever had.
Christmas is often a paid holiday for many workers. But not all holidays are treated the same.
The Illinois Chamber of Commerce surveyed businesses and found a majority of employees are getting paid holidays on Christmas. The same goes for Thanksgiving and New year's. But when it comes to Jewish holidays... or ethnic ones... only a small fraction of businesses pay workers to take those days off.
Liz Kern with the state's Chamber says it's difficult for employers to maneuver myriad religious and secular holidays...
"As ethnicities, religion and even the calendar changes on an annual basis" says Kern, "Illinois employers have had a hard time keeping up with what holidays they should be observing and what trends are other employers seeing."
The Chamber's survey found New Year's Day is when most workers get a paid day off... followed closely by Memorial Day and Labor Day. Christmas is still near the top of the list but as for other religious holidays.. more workers get paid to take their birthdays off.
The Logan County home where five members of a family were found dead earlier this year will remain a crime scene until defense investigators can examine the property.
30-year-old Christopher Harris and his 22-year-old brother Jason Harris have been charged with numerous counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Rick and Ruth Gee and three of their children in September. A fourth child at the home in Beason suffered critical injuries but survived.
The Harrises, of Armington, are jailed without bond.
In court this week, prosecutors agreed to preserve the Gee home until defense attorneys complete their work.
Illinois Assistant Attorney General Michael Atterberry says crime scene tape will remain around the property and windows will stay boarded.
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