Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 07, 2009

Health Care Advocacy Groups Call for Insurance Reform

Backers of health insurance reform in Illinois say companies need to put care for their recipients ahead of executive bonuses.

The AARP and state Public Interest Research Group, or PIRG, are among those urging state senators to follow the example of the Illinois House, and pass the Health Insurance Consumer Protection Act.

The measure would require insurance companies to spend at least 75% of premium dollars on medical care instead of executive salaries, marketing, or profits. 76-year old Felicia Boss of Champaign says her monthly premium went up more than 60 dollars from one year to the next without any explanation. "You have to accept it, you can't live without it," says Boss. "I know many residents where I live are looking into new plans, if they can find something. And so if there was full disclosure out there for us from the companies, at least we'd be able to choose for ourselves what would best fit our budget." The bill would also allow the Office of Consumer Health Insurance to function as a watchdog group to ensure companies aren't denying claims or hiking premiums. The measure passed the Illinois House last week. Lawmakers, including senators, are currently on break, and return two weeks from today.

A spokeswoman for Urbana-based Health Alliance Medical Plans says 90-percent of the company's premiums are going to medical care. But Jane Hayes says Health Alliance is concerned that the bill as currently written doesn't allow insurance providers to provide input to help determine company standards.

Categories: Economics, Health
Tags: economy, health

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 07, 2009

Quinn Cancels Blagojevich Ethics Measure

Gov. Pat Quinn says he canceled his predecessor's sweeping ban on campaign contributions from companies doing business with the state partly because it raised constitutional questions.

He also says then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich's ban aimed to undercut ethics reform _ not advance it.

Quinn's action last week keeps reforms lawmakers approved barring constitutional officers from pay-to-play politics. But it blocks Blagojevich's order including state lawmakers in the ban.

Legislators scoffed at Blagojevich's claim his measure was more comprehensive.

Quinn echoed that Tuesday. He says he doesn't want what he calls "that kind of monkey business'' to seep into Illinois law.

He's also says a flood of new recommendations will address similar ethical issues.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 07, 2009

Election Day Turnout Predictably Low…In Spots

Turnout ranges from very light to steady in the Champaign-Urbana area.

Spirited races are bringing more voters out than a typical consolidated election in some precincts, including at least one in Urbana. At city hall, Sylvia Hallowell says her staff has kept slightly busier than first expected. "We always bring something to do, like a book to read, but we haven't had too much time to do that" Hallowell said.

But in Champaign, the polling place at the McKinley Foundation on the U of I campus has been nearly empty - by 11 a-m, only three voters had come in. However, election worker Chris Wright expects a few more students and neighbors to get to the polls later in the day, as is typical for a campus precinct.

"We were talking earlier about how we experienced probably the highest demand in the last election, and now we're experiencing a fairly low turnout so far this morning," Wright said. "But we're on campus, so we're expecting to have more people as the day evolves."

Another poll worker in Urbana agrees that last fall's historic presidential election has translated into more people taking their voting responsibility seriously - she also says the economy may be getting more voters interested.

Polls are open until 7:00 - AM 580 will have election results during the evening.

Categories: Community, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 07, 2009

Authorities Kill Knife-Wielding Suspect in Vermilion County

A car chase by authorities in two area counties Monday night led to the fatal shooting of a suspect and an investigation by Illinois State Police.

Champaign and Douglas County deputies chased the man after a Villa Grove police officer says he was assaulted in the town after investigating a suspicious vehicle. All officers followed the man out of the community to Interstate 74 to the Oakwood area. There, police stopped the vehicle using 'stop sticks' just before 11 last night. Officers say the man then got out of his car holding a knife and a machete, and were unable to subdue him with tasers. After the man initially fled on foot, deputies say he approached them with both weapons, and officers multiple shots at him in self defense. The suspect died at the scene, and an autopsy is planned for today. Vermilion County Coroner Peggy Johnson identifies him as 23-year old Ocuwatofunmi Kaiyewu of Missouri City, Texas.

Other officers at the scene were from the Vermilion County Sheriff's Office and University of Illinois Police. Three officers, Champaign County Sheriff Dan Walsh, Vermilion County Sheriff Pat Hartshorn, and U of I Chief Barbara O'Connor, were placed on paid administrative leave, which the departments say is normal procedure.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 07, 2009

Governor’s Reform Commission holds Town Hall Meeting at U of I Urbana Campus

Members of Governor Pat Quinn's s commission on reform found support for change --- but not agreement on all the details --- at a town hall meeting that drew about 45 people to the law school at the University of Illinois Urbana campus on Monday.

The 15-member Reform Commission last week called for capping campaign contributions at 5 to 50-thousand dollars for political organizations, corporations and unions ... and 24-hundred dollars for individuals. Donations from lobbyists and trusts would be banned outright.

At the town hall meeting, U of I law student Mike Wilson had doubts. He thinks campaign contribution limits would favor candidates who already have money. "Don't contribution limits encourage the rich to run for and dominate elections", he asked, "especially elections for state legislatures, where individuals have a limited number of contributors, due to a small amount of people in a given district?" He likened the result to a "millionaire's club".

Reform Commission Chairman --- and former federal prosecutor --- Patrick Collins said Wilson made a good point. He suggested that the ultimate solution may lie with another commission proposal --- public financing of campaigns.. "The only way to counter balance the millionaire's club," said Collins, "is to give folks a public stipend, where they're owned by the people in five-dollar chunks, rather than owned by the 25-thousand-dollar-a-year givers."

In its preliminary proposals last week, the Reform Commission suggested trying campaign financing on a trial basis for judicial candidates only.

In addition to Collins, members of the Reform Commission at the town hall meeting included City of Chicago Inspector General David Hoffman and the Reverend Scott Willis. The Baptist minister who moved from Illinois to Tennessee in 2004 feels the impact of Illinois' corruption scandals in a searingly personal way. In 1994, the gas tank on his van exploded when it was struck by a mudflap bracket that fell off a truck on I-94 in northern Illinois. The expolosion killed six of Willis' children. A federal investigation into corruption in the office of then-Secretary of State George Ryan found that the driver of the truck paid a bribe to obtain his license.

When asked about the political factors underlying his personal tragedy, the Reverend Willis paused for several seconds. Finally, he said it came down to money, and the willingness of some in state government to hand out favors --- such as an undeserved truck driver's license --- for campaign contributions. Illinois state employees now take annual ethics training, but not until they've been on the job six months. Willis says by then it's often too late. "By that time, the ethics test doesn't really mean anything", he says, "because they've already learned the ropes of how things have been going on before. And money's a big part of that --- fund raising within the different departments and so on. So if anything, it's the love of money --- I'm a preacher --- it's the love of money, and the need of money to be able to get power."

The first round of recommendations from the Illinois Reform Commission calls for training state workers on ethics in their first month of employment, instead of the sixth.

Chairman Collins says their recommendations will need public support to win approval from lawmakers. Legislative leaders have set up their own joint committee to study reform, and Collins says his commission has been invited to address the legislative panel.

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 06, 2009

ADM Begins Carbon Dioxide Sequestration Experiment

Officials at Archer Daniels Midland's massive Decatur ethanol plant are showing off an 84 million dollar project to study a way to keep more carbon dioxide from reaching the atmosphere.

ADM is the first of seven sites around the nation to begin the process of storing more than a million tons of CO2 deep underground rather than letting it escape into the air. Researchers point to CO2 as a key factor in global warming.

Illinois State Geological Survey director Robert Finley says the experiment is beginning with a test well dug more than a mile into the rock formations under the plant to see how well it can handle the injected gas.

"With a relatively pure source of CO2 coming from ADM's ethanol fermentation facility here in Decatur combined with excellent geology suitable for testing carbon sequestration immediately below the Decatur area and in fact throughout central Illinois, that gives us an opportunity to carry out this test here at Decatur," Finley said.

It'll be another year before ADM will actually inject large amounts of CO2. Finley believes the Illinois Basin can hold many times more carbon dioxide than ADM, the proposed FutureGen coal plant and other industries in central Illinois can produce.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 03, 2009

UI Law Professor Weighs in on Former Governor’s 19-Count Indictment

The 75-page indictment handed down Thursday against former Governor Rod Blagojevich and five co-defendants made fascinating reading for a University of Illinois law professor. Andrew Leipold is an expert on criminal law and the federal judicial process. He told AM 580's Jim Meadows that the indictment alleges a conspiracy to defraud people and extort money --- dating back to the very start of the Blagojevich administration.

Download mp3 file

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 02, 2009

IL Lawmakers Vote to Clean Out Pension Board Leadership

The Illinois House voted today to overhaul management of state pension boards after the scandals of the Blagojevich administration. The measure was sent to the Senate on a 116-1 vote.

The bill calls for dumping the directors of four pension funds. And it calls for stricter ethics laws for all pension boards in the state. Investment advisers would be chosen through competitive bidding.

The purge applies to the Teachers' Retirement System, the State Universities Retirement System, the State Employees Retirement System and the Illinois State Board of Investment.

The teachers pension board was involved in one of the scandals under former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. A Blagojevich friend conspired with one of his board appointees to demand kickbacks from companies wanting to do business with the pension fund.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 02, 2009

What Should Be Included in a Downtown Champaign Arts District?

People in Champaign-Urbana get their chance over the next week to offer opinions about downtown Champaign's cultural offerings and how they can improve.

The cultural group known as 40 North 88 West is wants to form a cultural arts district. Its director of operations, Steven Bentz, says downtown Champaign already has lots of cultural offerings - the goal is to make downtown a destination for families, day or night. He says the public has a big say in how that arts district would look.

"Is it arts facilities? Is it more classes? Is it happenings on the street? Are people wanting to see a greater involvement from multiple groups from around Champaign County -- educational groups, cultural groups, churches? What kinds of buy-in would people like to see happen through a cultural arts district in downtown Champaign?" asked Bentz. "We're encouraging people to really dream big."

After the public comment sessions, 40 North would hire a consultant to help come up with a definitive plan for an arts district.

The public sessions began Thursday night -- others will be held next Wednesday night at at 7:00 at City Hall and Thursday at noon at the Springer Cultural Center.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 02, 2009

The Uncertain Fate of Champaign’s Art Theatre and Art Movies

The operator of Boardman's Art Theatre in Champaign is apparently looking to relocate as the building's owner looks for either a new tenant, or to sell the facility for another use.

Owner David Kraft says the rent of 4 dollars a square foot he's charging isn't near the market rate... and he can't afford to charge that little when factoring in expenses like real estate tax, water, trash, and sewer rates. Kraft says he's made operator Greg Boardman an offer of just under 9-dollars a square foot.

"If he won't pay that and no one will pay that, then I think everybody needs to look and determine if there's demand for this, if there's sufficient interest," Kraft said. "If no one is willing to pay near market rent, then maybe we do have to look at different ideas."

Kraft suggests there may not be room for a movie theater anymore when considering what other downtown businesses are paying for first floor retail space. He's looking to sell the Church Street building for just over $1 million.

Kraft says he's drawn interest for other theater operators, but nothing concrete.

Boardman's lease on the Church Street location expires in December. He couldn't be reached for comment, but the co-owner of a building across the street... Bill Capel... confirms Boardman toured his facility last month. That building houses the old Rialto Theater. Capel says any talk of moving Boardman's there would include extensive talk about renovations.


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