Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 22, 2011

Illinois U.S. Senators Want to Know More About U.S. Nuclear Reactors

Illinois' two U.S. Senators want to know more about the safety of the state's nuclear reactors.

Senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk plan a hearing to get more details on the nuclear industry in Illinois. The move comes in the wake of radiation fears in Japan following the earthquake and tsunami.

Durbin said with Illinois' eleven nuclear reactors, questions should be asked.

"When you consider that half the power in Illinois comes from nuclear power, we are concerned about this and should be," he said. "I have no reason to believe they are dangerous at all but I do believe this is a wake up call."

Durbin said the state's residents deserve to hear what is being done to prepare for a possible disaster. He added that he remains a supporter of nuclear energy although safety at the sites and the disposal of nuclear waste are issues that demand scrutiny.

Illinois has 11 nuclear reactors, and six are boiling water reactors similar to ones affected by the devastation in Japan. One is about 40 miles away from Urbana in Clinton.

VIDEO EXTRA: James Stubbins, head of nuclear engineering at the U of I, says about a third of the country's nuclear reactors are similar to the ones affected by the devastation in Japan. He asses the stability of U.S. reactors against natural disasters. To hear more from an interview he did with WILL's David Inge, click here:

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 22, 2011

Illinois Agencies Challenge SEC Regulation

Ramped-up regulations proposed by the Securities and Exchange Commission are supposed to help prevent another financial meltdown, but government agencies in Illinois are fighting one proposal they allege would do more harm than good.

The measure would require volunteers on state and local boards that make financial decisions to register as "municipal advisors." The idea is to increase SEC oversight on people with a say over taxpayer dollars. The SEC says appointed board members should register because they are not directly beholden to voters.

Protesting cities from Illinois include Champaign and Peoria, as well as state universities like Western, Northern, Illinois State and the University of Illinois. The Illinois Finance Authority is also against the change. That agency's Bill Brandt said unpaid board members already get oversight - from Illinois' governor, Attorney General, and annual audits.

"Now you have the federal government trying to someone how intervene in that, which is a real constitutional question," Brandt said. "I'm all for federal regulation of the markets. But I'm not sure neither the governor nor the legislature of Illinois are really anxious to have all of their decisions reviewed by a federal agency that otherwise has no bearing on what Illinois does to bring jobs into the state."

Brandt also said the SEC's proposal would drive away qualified people with investment expertise, who are volunteering out of a commitment to public service. He said many won't participate if they have to pay to register, take ongoing classes, disclose their personal finances and be exposed to increased liability.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 22, 2011

Republicans Tap Esry To Serve On Champaign County Board

The choice of Champaign County Republican leaders to fill a vacant seat on the County Board has lived in the St. Joseph area since he was a toddler.

Aaron Esry co-owns A&R Electric, a local electrical business, and works on his family's farm near St. Joseph. He's a past Champaign County Farm Bureau board member, but a county board appointment would be his first experience in public office. However, he says he comes from a family familiar with local government --- both parents and a grandfather having served in various local government positions. The 36-year-old Esry says he's ready to represent District Four, which covers the southeastern quarter of the county -- including St. Joseph, Odgen, Philo, Sidney, plus portions of Savoy and southwest Champaign.

"I know it's going to be work", says Esry. "And I know that you have to put in work if you want to see things change and move in the direction you want them to change. And I hope to go on there and do a good job and serve the district and the county well."

Esry says he also plans to run for a full county board term in 2012 --- when the Champaign County Board will undergo redistricting, and a reduction in membership.

Local Republicans chose Esry to take over the county board seat of Gregg Knott, who , like Esry, also lives in St. Joseph Township. Knott resigned from the Champaign County Board last month to focus on running for the Parkland College Board. The county board is expected to vote on Esry April 21st.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 22, 2011

Sen. Kirk Says NPR Could See 10 to 20 Percent Cut

The junior U.S. senator from Illinois says federal funding for National Public Radio might not take a complete cut. But Republican Sen. Mark Kirk says the Senate is looking to make broad cuts in all areas of funding.

"If you want to step back and look at the Congress from a 100,000 feet, expect a 10 to 20 percent reduction across the board, including NPR," he said.

The U.S. House voted last week to completely end federal funding to NPR. The measure prohibits local public stations from using federal money to pay NPR dues and buy programming.

But support for the plan in the Senate seems slim. The White House opposes the bill, saying funding cuts could force some stations to go dark.

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 21, 2011

Indiana GOP Starts Website to Track Boycotting Democrats

Indiana Republicans have turned to the web to decry a month-long boycott by Democratic House members.

An Indiana Republican party spokesman says the new website highlights the fact that the more than 30 Democrats aren't just staying at an Urbana hotel. Pete Seat says the site is meant to emphasize how the legislators are spending their time.

"They have been sneaking across the border, coming back to Indiana on weekends or throughout the week," he said. "Some of them are campaigning for other elected offices - three of them are running for mayor in different cities around the state. Others are coming back for personal reasons. But none of them are going back to the statehouse to do the job they were elected to do."

Those mayoral candidates and Democratic House members are Ryan Dvorak of South Bend, Craig Fry of Mishawaka, and Dennis Tyler of Muncie.

The tracking website includes links to press reports about the Democrats, and Seat says Indiana residents have also reported to his party when seeing the absent lawmakers out in public. The boycotting Democrats contend they're away from the capitol to hold up legislation that would unfairly impact education and labor, including a controversial school voucher bill that would fund private education with public tax dollars.

Meanwhile, the National Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee has started a new TV ad running in the Indianapolis area attacking Gov. Mitch Daniels and fellow Republicans.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 21, 2011

Kirk Wouldn’t Want to See Prosecutor Fitzgerald Go

Republican Sen. Mark Kirk has three words for U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald: Stay in Chicago. Fitzgerald's name has surfaced among potential nominees to replace outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller, whose nonrenewable term ends in September.

Kirk said Monday he doesn't wish Fitzgerald any ill will in his career but "gosh, we need him here.'' Kirk said he would miss Fitzgerald "greatly'' if he was promoted to the FBI. Under Fitzgerald, the office has prosecuted two former Illinois governors, including the upcoming retrial of ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich on corruption charges.

But Fitzgerald is a potential nominee who could have trouble with congressional confirmation. Some Republicans think he overreached in his prosecution of I. Lewis "Scooter'' Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, in the Valerie Plame affair.

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 21, 2011

Archaeologists Uncover More Bodies at Burr Oak

A new report finds conditions at a south suburban cemetery are worse than expected.

Archaeologists examined Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip. That's where Cook County Sheriff's officials in 2009 uncovered an alleged scheme in which workers dug up graves and resold the plots.

In a letter to the sheriff's office, archaeologists report bodies were buried in a Burr Oak corner thought to be unused. Officials had thought the corner could be used for new burials, but Sheriff Tom Dart said Monday the archaeologists found bones and pieces of burnt coffins in an area of the graveyard thought to be available for new graves.

Dart said he thinks up to 600 bodies could be improperly buried in that section - double what he had estimated.

"That area, as we had said, frankly, a year and a half ago, needs to be treated as a memorial," Dart told reporters. "That's exactly what needs to be done here. No one in good conscious can go out there and attempt to bury people there."

Dart said he doesn't know why some of the coffin pieces were burnt.

He said Burr Oak is at capacity.

"It's our hope that this report, once and for all, makes clear that if you dig at any level in these areas, you're going to find human bones, pieces of coffins and God knows what else," Dart said in a written statement.

The cemetery is going through bankruptcy and trying to find a new owner. A lawyer for the company overseeing Burr Oak said Dart's claims were inaccurate, but he wouldn't comment further.

Meanwhile, four Burr Oak workers face charges of criminal wrongdoing. All four remain free on bond while awaiting trial.

Categories: Criminal Justice
Tags: crime

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 21, 2011

Vermilion Co Bd to Meet for Early ROE Appointment

The Vermilion County Board has scheduled an emergency meeting for Tuesday night, to make sure the renovation of a Danville middle school gets started without delay.

For the work on South View Middle School to proceed, a building permit must be authorized by the local regional school superintendent. But the post became vacant last week, with the sudden resignation of lame-duck Superintendent Mike Metzen --- three months before the end of his term.

Because of that, Cheryl Reifsteck --- who was elected last November to succeed Metzen --- has already moved from assistant superintendent in the Vermilion County office to acting superintendent. But without county board action, she said she does not have the authority to approve the South View renovation work.

"I sought some legal assistance through the Illinois State Board of Education, to advise me that because Mr. Metzen had vacated his office, he could no longer sign that building permit," Reifsteck said. "And because I was not official(ly) appointed, I would have to be appointed before I could sign that as well."

Vermilion County Board Chairman Jim McMahon said the board will meet Tuesday night for the sole purpose of appointing Reifsteck as Vermilion County regional school superintendent. He said this will allow the Danville school district to get the construction work at South View started as soon as possible.

"The architect for District 118 will be in the audience," McMahon said. "So after she (Reifsteck) is sworn in, he'll ask her to sign the permit immediately. So I can tell you, that's how critical this is."

Vermilion County Republican leaders recommended Reifsteck to fill out the remainder of Metzen's term. She will be sworn in again for her full term in July.

Metzen resigned from the regional superintendent's post last week, to avoid having a scheduled salary reduction affect his pension.

The emergency meeting of the Vermilion County Board is scheduled for Tuesday, March 22nd at 6 PM, in the Courthouse Annex in downtown Danville.

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 21, 2011

Judge: Blago Motion to Cancel Trial to “Vanish

Despite a tongue-lashing from a federal judge in Chicago on Monday, lawyers for Rod Blagojevich say they'll forge ahead with a request to cancel the ex-Illinois governor's retrial and sentence him immediately on the sole conviction against him.

The motion to sentence Blagojevich on his sole perjury conviction and toss out the other 20 counts against him was a long-shot. Federal Judge James Zagel refused to dignify it with a ruling Monday, saying Blagojevich's defense lawyers didn't file their paperwork properly.

When lead Blagojevich attorney Sheldon Sorosky pressed Zagel to "indulge" him and issue a ruling anyway, the judge suggested it was more a publicity stunt than a legal request, and adding that if he ignored it, the request would "vanish into thin air."

But Sorosky, undeterred, pressed further, at which point the Judge reorted by lecturing him on the role of the three branches of government, saying that it was the executive branch Department of Justice that enjoys the power to drop criminal charges - not a judicial branch federal judge.

"To borrow something from legislative procedure," Zagel said, "this particular motion is going to die for want of a second. So we're done with it."

But afterward, Sorosky still seemed optimistic.

"Oh, one never knows," Sorosky said when asked about Zagel's comments. "Look at the March Madness tournaments - the No. 1 team lost! Pittsburgh!"

The five-page filing says Blagojevich isn't conceding any guilt, including on the conviction of lying to the FBI. That's the only count jurors agreed on at his 2010 trial. Blagojevich's lawyers argue that a second trial would be an "imprudent" use of taxpayer dollars. The government's supposed to foot the legal bills for the broke ex-governor.

Blagojevich faces a maximum five-year prison term for the lying conviction. Several of the 20 charges he'd be retried on carry a 20-year sentence.

Blagojevich's retrial is due to start in a month.

(Photo by Sam Hudzik/IPR)

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 21, 2011

Boycotting Indiana Democrats Remain Hopeful

Tuesday will mark a month since Indiana House Democrats arrived in Urbana as part of a legislative boycott.

Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma claimed last week that negotiations with the more than 30 House members were over, but Democrats like Charlie Brown of Gary remain optimistic that things are improving daily between the two sides.

He and a number of colleagues were back in their home districts for a while on Friday, gauging the public's thoughts on the Democrats' walkout. Brown said the public has not been fully informed about the labor and education bills for which they're seeking amendments, particularly a controversial school voucher measure. He said allowing any student to attend private school with public tax dollars can hurt a public school's ability to maintain its core curriculum.

"If you're going to have a diminishing enrollment in those buildings, you still have all of those fixed costs to deal with," he said. "So they're going to be losing the per pupil amount that would be be distributed, and yet still having the same kind of fixed cost that they had in the past."

Democrat Dale Grubb of Covington also said more people in his district were supportive once explaining the bills that prompted the boycott.

"Many people had sent messages of distaste about what's transpiring," Grubb said. "But once they learned a particular issue or two, and the consquences of having passed those, changed their mind and understand that there were some amendments necessary and needed for some of these bills."

He contends the two sides are close to agreements, calling the next stage of negotiations with Republican leaders 'the last 50 yards of a 1-mile run.'

Grubb said there is too much invested to turn back at this point.

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

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