Illinois Public Media News

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.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 20, 2011

Study Shows Kids’ Food Allergies More Widespread

More kids may be suffering from food allergies than was previously thought, according to new findings from a Chicago researcher.

Research has already shown that food allergies seem to be on the rise, and now a study of more than 40,000 children shows that one in 13 have a food allergy. That's about twice as many as some recent estimates.

Ruchi Gupta, a pediatrician with Children's Memorial Hospital and Northwestern Medicine and lead author of the study, said some 2.5 million children - including her own daughter - have severe allergies.

"If many of these children, about 40 percent, ingest food that they are allergic to, they could have a reaction that could lead to death. It could be that serious," Gupta said.

Peanut allergies were the most prevalent, followed by milk and shellfish.

Gupta also found that Asian and African-American kids were more likely to go undiagnosed than white children. The study is published in the journal, Pediatrics.

Categories: Health, Science
Tags: health, science

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 17, 2011

Lawsuit Over Ind. Immigration Law Heading to Court

Civil rights groups claim a new Indiana law set to take effect July 1 gives police sweeping arrest powers against immigrants who haven't committed any crime. The state attorney general's office argues such fears are exaggerated and based on misunderstanding of the law.

U.S. District Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson is set to hear arguments from both sides Monday as she considers a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana and the National Immigration Law Center, which are seeking a preliminary injunction to stop the law from taking effect next month.

The groups aren't fighting all provisions of the wide-ranging law, which also takes away certain tax credits from employers who hire illegal immigrants. The main bone of contention is arrest powers.

The new law allows police to arrest immigrants under certain conditions, including if they face a removal order issued by an immigration court. The lawsuit filed last month, however, says some of the conditions are too broad, can apply widely to thousands of immigrants and violate the constitutional requirement of probable cause.

For example, the civil rights groups contend the law's wording would allow the arrest of anyone who has had a notice of action filed by immigration authorities, a formal paperwork step that affects virtually anyone applying to be in the U.S. for any reason.

"The statute authorizes Indiana police to arrest persons despite the fact that there is no probable cause that such persons have committed crimes," the groups argued in a brief filed this month.

The Indiana law also makes it illegal for immigrants to present ID cards issued by foreign consulates as proof of identification anywhere in the state outside of the consulate, such as for buying alcohol or applying for a bank account.

The lawsuit claims the state is trying to step into immigration issues that clearly are the province of the federal government. The suit, which seeks class-action status, was filed on behalf of two Mexicans and one Nigerian who live in the Indianapolis area.

ACLU attorney Ken Falk said Thursday that four countries - Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, El Salvador and Guatemala - plan to file briefs in the case. The move would not be unusual, Mexico and 10 other countries recently joined civil rights groups' legal fight against a tough new immigration law in Georgia and there have been similar filings in other states.

State attorneys argue claims about the law are speculative and based on an "irrational" and "absurd" interpretation. They note Indiana's law doesn't go as far as the Arizona measure, struck down on appeal, that included provisions to compel police to check the citizenship status of anyone who they had "reasonable suspicion" to believe is in the country illegally.

"Indiana's statute merely gives Indiana officers the discretion to assist federal enforcement of immigration laws. Indiana's statute does not purport to give Indiana any ability to participate in federal removal or deportation proceedings, nor does it allow Indiana to pass judgment concerning the removability of an individual," the state said in its brief filed Wednesday.

In a response filed Friday, the ACLU dismissed state arguments that the law would be used only in cases where people otherwise faced arrest, repeating its claim that the statute authorized arrest for offenses that aren't crimes in violation of the Fourth Amendment and impinged on federal immigration authority.

"Immigration is not a state concern," the brief flatly stated.

State immigration enforcement laws have not recently fared well in federal courts.

Arizona passed its law in 2010, but parts of were put on hold by a district court judge before it went into effect. That ruling was upheld in April by a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, and last month Gov. Jan Brewer said she plans to appeal the rulings to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Last month, a Utah law giving police the authority to arrest anyone who cannot prove their citizenship was put on hold by a federal judge 14 hours after it went into effect. The next hearing is there scheduled in July.

Categories: Community, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 17, 2011

Decatur’s United Way Sets New Long-Term Priorities

Faced with waning revenue coupled with concerns over state funding, Decatur's United Way has set some new priorities.

The United Way earlier this month decided to eliminate two of its programs - First Call for Help and AFL-CIO Community Services. While both programs are important, the agency's executive director, Denise Smith, said those services were not meeting the greatest community need. The agency also concluded that its AFL-CIO Community Services program saw too narrow a focus through union workers and their families.

Smith said 90-percent of comments from the public supported those changes.

"As state funding and federal funding continues to dwindle, you know, United Way's importance is very strong in the community," Smith said. "So we hope to continue making it a better place for all of us to live, work, and play."

Before this month, Smith said the United Way had no full-time staff devoted solely to its campaign. Over the next five years, the agency will seek the help of a resource development professional, a grant writer, and an endowment director.

The last two positions will not rely on additional resources since the grant writer will be self supporting, and the endowment professional will be funded from the United Way's current endowment.

Categories: Community, Economics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 17, 2011

U.S. Justice Dept. Supports Planned Parenthood in Lawsuit Against Indiana

(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Radio)

The U.S. Justice Department is coming to the defense of Planned Parenthood of Indiana. The state's governor recently signed a law blocking federal money from going to the agency.

Late Thursday, the U.S. Justice Department jumped into the the ongoing legal dispute between Planned Parenthood and the State of Indiana. Planned Parenthood sued Indiana after Gov. Mitch Daniels signed a law last month blocking government funding.

The law is the first of its kind in the country and prevents federal money from going to agencies that perform abortions. That means Planned Parenthood of Indiana won't be getting $3 million.

In the Justice Department's court document, it writes that federal interests are at stake and the judge overseeing the case should block the law. An attorney for Planned Parenthood told The Associated Press that the filing caught him by surprise.

The judge has already said she plans to make her decision by July 1.

Categories: Government, Health, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 17, 2011

Durbin Breaks with Obama in Libyan War Powers Debate

Illinois' Democratic U.S. senator is breaking with the White House on whether Congress must sign off on military action in Libya.

Senator Dick Durbin, usually a staunch supporter of the White House, said Friday that he isn't buying the argument that President Obama can launch military air strikes in Libya without congressional approval.

"Congress alone has the constitutional authority and responsibility to declare war," Durbin told reporters.

His comments come after the White House this week released a report to Congress arguing that the Obama administration does not need lawmakers' stamp of approval in order to continue air strikes with U.S. warplanes and unmanned drones in Libya. The battle between the branches has been brewing since March, when Mr. Obama authorized the attacks to weaken the regime of Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi and prevent civilian casualties during an uprising in Libya.

On Wednesday, Republican Congressman Tim Johnson of Urbana joined a bipartisan group of lawmakers in filing a lawsuit against President Barack Obama for taking military action in Libya without Congressional approval. In the report released the same day, the White House maintained that U.S. forces are not facing the same "hostilities" as they would in a conventional war. The U.S. is now launching air strikes in a supporting role in the NATO-led mission in Libya, the report says.

But Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, said he disagreed with the White House's reading of the War Powers Act.

"The fact that we haven't had any Americans killed - no planes shot down - is not, from my point of view, what should determine the constitutional question," Durbin said, adding that he would vote to authorize U.S. action in Libya if it comes before Congress.

The White House is facing incredulity from some GOP lawmakers, such as Sen. John McCain of Arizona, and House Speaker John Boehner, who say the Obama administration's arguments don't reconcile with the reality of U.S. warplanes flying combat missions in a foreign nation. Boehner has even threatened to try and limit funding for Libyan operations in the House.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 17, 2011

LIFE ON ROUTE 150: Raising Alpacas Sees Growing Profits

Some new livestock farms are cropping up in Illinois, but they're not the typical cattle or hog farms. Instead, more deer, bison, and llamas are growing up on private property. And one relative of the llama is growing up at over 50 farms statewide. As part of the series, "Life on Route 150," Illinois Public Media's Jeff Bossert visits three farms in Central Illinois to find out what makes the alpaca both appealing and profitable.

(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)

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Categories: Business, Environment

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 16, 2011

State Extends Health Plan Registration Deadline to Monday

The state of Illinois has announced that the deadline to register for group health insurance has been extended to Monday.

Most state and university employees could choose to stay on with their existing health care plans for the next three months. State officials announced Thursday that all HMOs and open access plans will stay in place for 90 days, with Humana being the only holdout. That means most current employees and retirees can stay with their current provider until October, with no further paperwork.

Meanwhile, Human Resources staff at the University of Illinois say the number of calls from employees about the application process has slowed considerably since the contract extensions were announced. U of I Associate Director of Human Resources Administration, Katie Ross, says the questions now are fairly simple, usually asking for primary care physician numbers and codes for an employee's preferred health plan.

And Ross says the Benefit Choice application web site got a boost of additional memory prior to the last time employees registered for health plans.

"It then underwent more testing and we're very confident in that performance," said Ross. "But this is a very unique situation that we're in where so many hits are going to be at the very last minute. We're watching carefully, and we have extra staff assigned."

In total, she says just over half the employees on the Urbana campus opted for a different health plan in the last few weeks. She says her office processed about 3,000 transactions Wednesday.

Things are also slowing down for Human Resources staff at Illinois State University. Khris Clevenger, the Assistant Vice President for Human Resources, says the school in Normal only recently implemented a web-based application process. She says 1,000 of 3,500 employees used the site Thursday with no problems logging on.


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