Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 22, 2011

Health Care Group Urges Lawmakers to Avoid Social Security Cuts

Members of a health care advocacy group are urging Congress to avoid touching Social Security as a bipartisan panel looks to reduce the national deficit.

Champaign County Health Care Consumers has sent a letter to Senator Dick Durbin, speculating that his 'Gang of Six' is still looking at cuts to Social Security. The group's Medicare Task Force says a myth is being spread on Capitol Hill that the program adds to the deficit. Thomas Rohrer is a member of the group's Medicare Task Force. He said he is concerned about any efforts to privatize Social Security.

"The stock market crashed a couple years ago, and people lost a lot of money," Rorher said. "And if social security people lose their benefits - where would they go? What would happen? At least the government provides a safety net."

The consumers' group also opposes any talk of raising the retirement age from 67 to 69. Rohrer said he has friends who simply can't stay in their current jobs until that age, and worries about age discrimination for anyone trying to find new work.

The Health Care Consumers' Executive Director Claudia Lenhoff criticized AARP, noting that the agency is willing to consider raising the retirement age. She said it is 'selling out its constituents' as a result.

"They talk out of both sides of their mouth, saying that they want to protect social security and that making cuts to social security benefits and raising the retirement age is a cut - is important for saving social security," Lenhoff said. "They say that everybody recognizes that social security retirement age must be raised. Really? Everybody?"

Lenhoff noted that the federal government has borrowed $2.6 trillion from the Social Security Reserve Fund.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 21, 2011

LIFE ON ROUTE 150: Weighing the Value of Small-Town Police Depts.

Even though small towns may not have big crime problems compared to larger areas, they still need law enforcement. As part of the series "Life on Route 150," Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers visited one town that's keeping its local police presence intact despite the state's economic challenges, and another town that recently dismantled its police force to save money.

(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)

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WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 21, 2011

Urbana Mayor Vetoes Convention & Visitors Bureau Funding

The decision by the mayor of Urbana to veto city funding for the Champaign County Convention and Visitors Bureau will only hurt the city in the long run, according to the group's president Jayne DeLuce.

Mayor Laurel Prussing said the agency has not been effective, and that the nearly $72,000 in the budget for the CVB could be used to help fill two police vacancies instead.

But DeLuce said cutting funding will limit the CVB's ability to promote events like the Illinois Marathon and state high school athletic tournaments, and facilities like hotels and convention spaces. She said she will attend an Urbana City Council committee meeting on July 11th to defend her agency's work.

"We're not looking back in five years and saying, 'Wow, how come we don't have that event here anymore? How come nothing new has happened anymore? Why are our tax revenues staying plateaued or not increasing?' And when you decrease local funding, that's what happens," DeLuce said.

But right now, Prussing said she does not believe the CVB's claim that it has generated 7.2% of hotel room nights in Urbana, for an economic impact of over $3.1 million, according to a formula used by the state Office of Tourism.

"I think most of the tourists that come to Urbana and Champaign come here because of the University of Illinois," Prussing said. "I don't think that the tourism bureau has much of an impact. They can't measure their impact. No business in Urbana has told me they have an impact on that business."

A statement from DeLuce said one Urbana businessman --- Adam Friederich of the Comfort Suites Hotel --- credits the Convention and Visitors Bureau for nearly 10% of their budget revenues so far this year.

But Prussing said the city needs the money budgeted for the CVB to help close a nearly $1 million budget gap --- one that may get wider, once a new police contract is settled through binding arbitration.

Prussing said the idea for cutting CVB funding to help address the budget shortfall came from Alderman Charlie Smyth.

Smyth said he brought up the proposal last month, to contrast it with proposed cuts to social service funding --- something he said is an easy target because the people served by such funding do not have the political voice of local business interests. But Smyth said he has not reached a final decision yet.

Categories: Business, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 21, 2011

UI Law Professor: Problems Facing Health Insurance Contracts Still Loom

State employees in Illinois have settled into their health insurance choices - at least for the next three months.

But a University of Illinois professor says the controversy over the state's attempt to change providers will only resurface as September 17th nears.

Law professor Richard Kaplan said the resolution that let people keep their existing Health Alliance arrangements is only a temporary fix while the courts, the Quinn administration and the state legislature play what he calls a three-level game of chess.

Kaplan said the thousands of state workers and retirees will need to pay special attention to the wrangling in Springfield before the emergency contracts expire.

"There are several parallel tracks that (Judge Brian Otwell's) opinion might get overturned, the governor might sign the two-year keep everything as it is legislation, the contracts may be completely re-negotiated," Kaplan said. "This is very unsettling because this is not some trivial fringe benefit. This is a huge part of people's compensation and it's probably one of the most intimate aspects of their employment."

Kaplan said if Governor Pat Quinn decides to veto legislation to keep the current health insurance contracts for two more years, that could set up a game of chicken where lawmakers could override the veto and nullify the new contracts.

Kaplan said many other large employers will be reconsidering their health insurance options in the months ahead in response to last year's federal health care overhaul.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 20, 2011

Calls, Web Traffic Slow Down as Open Enrollment Closes

In the final hours before the Monday midnight deadline to change health insurance plans, the University of Illinois says calls with questions went down considerably.

University-wide statistics provided by the Office of Human Resources on the Urbana campus show the most on-line transactions took place Thursday, when about 5,000 people opted for a change.

In contrast, the office's Katie Ross said there were 300 transactions total over the weekend. She said phone calls to her office were getting simpler Monday afternoon.

"Calls that we're seeing now are basically from employees that just want to confirm that the last change they made in the system is indeed reflected in our system," Ross said. "Our counselors are able to look up that information very quickly, and confirm that we do have the correct choice."

Ross said if a U of I employee recently indicated they want to add a dependent while enrolling, they have a few days to file the proper documentation, like a birth certificate.

Ninety day extensions of current contracts were granted last week for most providers, including Health Alliance. Health Alliance spokeswoman Jane Hayes said her office has gotten a lot of calls over the weekend and Monday expressing interest in sticking with or switching over to Health Alliance.

It is unclear what happens when the emergency health plans expire, but Hayes said she is encouraged by a Sangamon County Judge's ruling earlier this month stalling the use of self-insurance open access plans.

"Having heard him read in his order that he believes Health Alliance has a good chance of winning the merits of the case, we feel fairly confident that we will win out, and hopefully have a longer-term contract," Hayes said.

Ross said last week that about half the Urbana campus opted for a different health insurance contract. These statistics provided by her office show the number of appliants by day on a university-wide basis over the past week.

Monday 6/13 - About 1,100 transactions Tuesday 6/14 - About 800 transactions Wednesday 6/15 - About 3,000 transactions Thursday 6/16 - About 5,000 transactions Friday 6/17 - About 800 transactions Saturday & Sunday 6/18 & 6/19 - About 300 transactions total over the weekend


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 20, 2011

Indiana Secretary of State Says His Situation is ‘Tragic

Indiana Secretary of State Charlie White is expected to paint a picture of a man with a complicated personal life who was essentially without a home for nearly a year when he defends himself against voter fraud allegations during an Indiana Recount Commission hearing.

But White's tale of what he calls efforts to care for his son and respect the wishes of his then-fiancée may not hold sway with the commission, which is under a judge's order to decide whether he illegally voted in the May 2010 primary while registered at his ex-wife's address.

A ruling against White would invalidate his election and force his removal from office. He also could face jail time if convicted in a separate criminal case.

"I cannot believe I'm fighting for my life, my family, over something like this. It's tragic," White told The Associated Press during a Saturday interview at the Fishers condo he shares with his second wife, Michelle, and their children from previous marriages.

Tuesday's hearing comes a day after a federal judge denied White's request that his testimony before the Recount Commission be shielded from use in a separate criminal trial scheduled for August. White faces seven felony charges, including three counts of voter fraud. A conviction on any of the counts would be enough to remove him from office, and possibly put him in jail.

Judge Louis Rosenberg said there was no clear legal precedent for granting immunity if it had not been requested by prosecutors.

White has tried unsuccessfully to delay the commission hearing until after his criminal trial so he wouldn't risk incriminating himself.

The Indiana Democratic Party has pressed since September for a special investigation of White, arguing he was ineligible to run for secretary of state because he fraudulently registered to vote last year. The party contends White intentionally skirted the law to keep his seat on the Fishers Town Council after moving out of the district he represented.

Indiana law requires voters to have lived in their precinct for at least 30 days before the next general, municipal, or special election. White has previously acknowledged the voting error, chalking it up to his busy schedule and new marriage.

Democratic Party Chairman Dan Parker called White's story of personal strife "a figment of Charlie's imagination."

"Tomorrow is judgment day and he cannot duck and dodge any more from the facts," Parker said Monday.

Dan Sigler, a special prosecutor for White's criminal case, said he was "shocked" that White was talking publicly at all. He declined further comment.

White's ex-wife, Nicole Mills, described White as essentially homeless for a year starting in May 2009.

"He was living out of his car. He literally had a lot of his clothes in his car. He ate out of his car. That's where most of his possessions were," Mills said.

White and Mills told the AP that the allegations against him ignore a complicated personal life in which White was trying to raise his now-10-year-old son, William, plan his second marriage and campaign for the job of the state's top elections official.

Mills said White left his apartment in May 2009 to save money for a new home. He reasoned, she said, that he spent most of his time on the road campaigning anyway.

Mills said she told White he could stay at her house in the meantime, which would allow him to see William more. Mills said she gave him full access to her home and said he could have his mail sent there.

White bought the condo he now shares with second wife, Michelle, on the east side of Fishers in February 2010. She and her three children moved in first; he said he joined them after the two married on May 28, 2010, because she didn't want to live together until they were married.

Michelle White, who was present during the AP's interview with her husband, also said she asked that the two not live together before they were married.

In the meantime, White said, he spent more time on the road and at his ex-wife's house.

"I was over there more than I was here, because of her wishes, because of Michelle's wishes," White said.

White said he voted twice during that period - in a November 2009 school funding referendum and again in the May primary.

He claimed he asked an election official to change his address to his ex-wife's house in November 2009 because that was the nearest thing he had to a regular home at that point.

He said he later discovered that the paperwork to change his voter registration had not been filed, so he filed the paperwork himself in February 2010. He completed the purchase of his condo a few days later.

White voted in the May 2010 primary using Mills' address. A month later, he formally filed to run for secretary of state and listed his residence as the new condo. But he said he still listed his ex-wife's house as his mailing address because that's where most of his mail had been going.

In September 2010, Fishers Democratic attorney Greg Purvis publicly accused White of voter fraud. A Hamilton County grand jury indicted him this March.

White has resisted calls to step down while the criminal case is pending. The Republican-led Indiana Recount Commission, which initially dismissed Democrats' challenge to White's candidacy, was ordered by a Marion County judge in April to rehear the case.

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 20, 2011

Urbana Searches for 100 Most Important Landmarks

An effort is underway in Urbana to identify the city's 100 most important structures, which may include buildings, statues, and bridges.

The project is part of an effort to showcase the city's architectural history and heritage. City planner Robert Meyers said he hopes the list drives up tourism as people flock to Urbana to learn more about the area.

"We're identifying places of interest where people can visit from out of town or even from our own community," Meyers said. "The physical layout and design of the community, also its history and historic structures, that helps people identify their community and in turn themselves."

The top landmarks will be unveiled in an illustrated online and print guide released later this fall. To submit recommendations about structures that should be included, contact the city at (217) 384-2440 or send an e-mail to rlbird@urbanaillinois.us

Categories: Architecture, Community

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 20, 2011

Ill. Sens. Introduce Competing Transportation Privatization Bills

Illinois' two U.S. senators are behind clashing proposals about privatizing transportation assets.

Republican Sen. Mark Kirk said a plan he unveiled Monday would open up another $100 billion in private money for airports, railroads and highways. Illinois' junior senator also said the measure would ease federal restrictions, making it easier for local governments to sell transportation assets, such as Illinois' 54 rest-stops and airports, to private bidders.

"You'll see London, Paris, Rome, Berlin [are] all partnership airports now," he said. "They have found that this is a way to tremendously enhance their ... services and infrastructure."

Kirk's plan comes just a few days after Sen. Dick Durbin, his chamber's No. 2 Democrat, put forth a bill that would likely make privatization a lot harder. Durbin's proposal would make municipalities pay back any federal grants they received for big transportation projects if they're planning to privatize. It would also give the federal government a "seat at the table" when municipalities are considering privatization, Durbin said.

But Kirk said Durbin's proposal likely won't fly in the Capitol, especially given the GOP majority in the House. In a statement, Durbin spokeswoman Christina Mulka said Democrat has found a "good amount of support" for his plan. While Durbin's bill deals exclusively with existing public transportation infrastructure, Kirk's would deal with new projects, Mulka said, adding that Durbin sees "a lot of common ground between the two bills."

The debate over privatization is especially poignant for Chicagoans, who have seen their fair share of controversial privatization deals. The city sold its parking meter system to a private company in 2008 for $1.15 billion, only to have a scathing report by the city's inspector general declare that Richard M. Daley's administration could have gotten more money out of the deal.

A plan to privatize Midway Airport fell through in 2009 due to the economic downturn. That plan has been in a holding pattern since, with with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration in no rush to revive it.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 20, 2011

Planned Parenthood: Monday Ruling Needed on Indiana Law

Planned Parenthood of Indiana says it will stop seeing Medicaid patients if a federal judge doesn't rule Monday on its attempt to block the state's new abortion funding law.

The group said it will stop seeing those patients unless they can pay or use other resources if the judge doesn't rule by the close of business Monday on its request for a preliminary injunction blocking the law.

The law signed May 10 by Gov. Mitch Daniels bars Planned Parenthood from receiving Medicaid payments for general health services such as cancer screens.

Planned Parenthood has been relying on private donations to fund care for Medicaid clients. It has previously said it would run out of donations after Monday to cover the costs of caring for existing Medicaid patients.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 20, 2011

Legislation Seeks to Expand Farmers’ Market Offerings

Small-time growers and cooks who sell food at farmers market may soon be able to expand their offerings. Advocates for locally made food and health department officials are attempting to find some middle ground.

Nearly all the food at farmers market is regulated, some more than others. Basically, if it's in a jar or prepared in any way it must be done in a certified kitchen. But making the upgrade to one of those kitchens can be costly for someone trying to sell baked goods or preserves.

A measure that passed the state legislature recently would allow people to sell certain kinds of food made in a home kitchen. They would be able to do so without making costly upgrades or receiving the stamp of approval from a health department. Dairy products prone to food borne illness wouldn't be allowed. Only baked goods, dried herbs, teas and canned preserves could be sold.

Wes King is a policy coordinator with the Illinois Stewardship Alliance. He said some health code regulations keep culinary entrepreneurs from branching out. He points to the growth in the number of farmers markets throughout the state.

"We thought that you know, creating a more risk and scale appropriate regulations that would allow some of these start up businesses to take place in their homes or farms that are already selling at the farmers market to add a little bit and diversify their product line," King said.

But health department officials were initially concerned. They wanted to make sure consumers knew the food they were buying came from a facility that hasn't been thoroughly inspected. All food made in a home kitchen will need to be labeled as such if Governor Pat Quinn signs the exemptions into law.

"Because this is an evolving industry there were some challenges on the part of the regulatory environment in terms of where can we be flexible but yet still assure a reasonable consumer protection," Peoria health administrator Greg Chance said.

Chance said he support the measure because it only allows the sale of food not usually prone to food borne illness.


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