Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 02, 2011

UI Board of Trustees Approves Assembly Hall Contract

The University of Illinois' Board of Trustees has unanimously approved a contract with a Chicago-based architectural firm to draft renovation plans on the Urbana campus' Assembly Hall.

The initial phase of project costs more than two million dollars. During Friday's trustees meeting in Springfield, U of I Athletic Director Mike Thomas couldn't lay out a firm timeline for when construction would begin.

"Well, I think it's difficult to say on the construction and final end," Thomas said. "It's really contingent starting today the opportunity to get the architects and engineers involved, knowing that they'll provide us with the documents to go out and sell the project, and then as soon as we raise the money and have a funding model in place, then we can put a hole in the ground, but I would say we could start the renovation project."

One renovation that's been talked about is air conditioning. The Assembly Hall, which was built in the 1960s, isn't used that often during the summer since it lacks air conditioning.

Categories: Education, Sports

AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 02, 2011

Blagojevich Judge Explains Trial Decisions

Federal Judge James Zagel on Friday denied Rod Blagojevich's last ditch efforts to get his convictions thrown out. In what's become his trademark monotone voice that makes him sound perpetually bored, Zagel spent almost an hour explaining his decisions during the governor's two trials.

Blagojevich's defense attorneys had asked Zagel to throw out the convictions saying the judge was unfair to them and that he forced the governor to testify.

Zagel said Blagojevich was one vote away from being convicted on very serious charges in the first trial, and the hold out juror may have held an honest but mistaken view of political dealing. Zagel said based on that, Blagojevich made the decision to testify because he knew he had to explain disturbing passages on tapes where he sounded like an angry person with an obsessive concern for his personal welfare above all else. And Zagel noted that because of the testimony, several jurors found Blagojevich to be a likable person.

Zagel also said he used a neutral tone when admonishing Blagojevich who often gave long answers that included lots of irrelevent facts about U.S. history. Blagojevich spent seven days on the stand testifying.

Zagel noted that he did raise his voice once when Blagojevich started talking about his cousin who had died at Children's Memorial Hospital. Zagel said he only raised his voice because he had already warned Blagojevich not to discuss that issue. Blagojevich brought up his cousin, ostensibly to explain that he had a long and close relationship with Children's Memorial Hospital and would never try to extort them for campaign contributions, as he was accused of doing. At Friday's hearing, Zagel pointed out that it would be strange for Blagojevich to feel inclined toward the hospital that failed to save the life of his cousin. Zagel said he though Blagojevich was just trying to win the sympathy of the jury.

Blagojevich's sentencing hearing will start Tuesday. Attorneys for both sides said they expected the hearing to wrap up in one day, but Zagel said he's not going to hand down his decision before Wednesday.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 02, 2011

U of Illinois Reviewing Sex Abuse Policies

The University of Illinois is responding to allegations of sexual misconduct at other schools by reviewing its own policies.

The scandals and Penn State and Syracuse got the attention of Illinois President Michael Hogan.

"I think it's alarming to all of us and I'm no different, it's shocking," Hogan said. "Particularly when it involves a university, it's very, very shocking. We're not above it. The University of Illinois, we have 80 thousand students. You throw in the faculty and the staff, it's a big city almost. It's a medium sized city. So we're not immune to things going wrong, people making mistakes."

Hogan has ordered staff to go through the rules regarding sexual abuse to see if anything should be changed.

"We have a very, very good record on these things on all three of our campuses, but you can never be too sure or too safe," he said. "So it's just an occasion and opportunity for us to review our current policies."

Hogan said he wants to make it clear that anyone who witnesses inappropriate conduct is required to report it. He added that job protection would be given to the witness. Hogan said all university employees will undergo training to educate them on sexual harassment.

The policies will also cover non-university activities that use school facilities, including youth sports camps.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 02, 2011

Committee Continuing Investigation of Jackson Jr.

The U.S. House ethics committee announced on Friday that it will continue its investigation of Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. The panel also released hundreds of pages of documents from the inquiry.

The ethics committee stressed in a statement that just because it's keeping the investigation open "does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred."

The inquiry centers on whether Jackson was involved in pay-to-play offers, or used taxpayer resources, when the Chicago Democrat tried to win a U.S. Senate appointment from then-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

According to testimony at Blagojevich's two corruption trials, supporters of Jackson offered the governor millions in campaign contributions if he appointed Jackson to the Senate.

The committee on Friday released more than 300 pages, including notes from interviews with the congressman, his staff and his brother. At the bottom of the stack was a copy of talking points prepared by Jackson's staff, apparently intended to help comedian Bill Cosby call Blagojevich to urge Jackson's appointment. The documents do not mention whether Cosby ever made the call.

The documents also include a brief written by Jackson's lawyers that said he "acted honorably at all times" and was never aware of any pay-to-play offers. The lawyers argued that any government resources used in his non-"traditional" campaign for the Senate appointment were "permissible" under exceptions in the House rules.

In a statement, Jackson said, "For the first time in three years my side of the story will be made public and for that I am grateful."

Jackson faces a primary election challenge in March from former U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson, who's criticized him for "ethical distractions."

The ethics committee's investigation had long been stalled at the request of the U.S. Justice Department. The inquiry resumed after Blagojevich's conviction this summer, including on charges that he attempted to profit from his power to appoint a U.S. senator.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 01, 2011

State Retailers Group Back “E-Fairness” Bill

An Illinois retailers group is endorsing bills in Congress that could settle the battle over sales taxes between online sellers and brick-and-mortar stores.

Illinois Retail Merchants Association President David Vite said his group welcomes both versions of the Marketplace Fairness Act, saying they would create uniform nationwide definitions and rules for state sales taxes --- making it easier for online retailers to collect those taxes from buyers in every state. For instance, he said states would have to agree on how they categorize items for tax purposes.

"What is clothing and what is an accessory?" Vite said. "So if clothing is taxed as a tie --- an accessory, or is it part of clothing? If you're selling food, are the definitions the same? That has to occur, and there has to be some very simple remittance requirements --- a single form and those kind of things. And if the state certifies that they do that, they would be eligible to participate."

Stephanie Sack owns the Viva La Femme shops in Chicago, which sell clothes to plus-size women. Speaking at a news conference in support of the bills, Sack said online sellers have an unfair advantage, because they generally don't collect state sales taxes like she does at her stores.

"The advantage that the Internet has - no matter what, where, when, or who - is a government sanctioned 10 percent markdown," Sack said.

Amazon.com has come out in favor of the Marketplace Fairness Act, while some other big online sellers have stayed away. Overstock.com said it supports another bill, called the Equity in Sales Tax Collection Act.

Vite said that bill is similar to the Marketplace Fairness Act, but he said the bill favored by Overstock provides a "small business exemption" for annual sales of up to $30-million --- a level he said is too high.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.) is co-sponsoring the Marketplace Fairness Act in the Senate, while U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) is co-sponsoring it in the U.S. House of Representatives.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 01, 2011

Flash Index Reaches Second Highest Point Since Recession Ended

The University of Illinois' flash index went up to 98.7 percent in November, its second highest point since the end of the recession.

Economist Fred Giertz said the results are higher compared to a year ago. While the state has added more than 30,000 jobs, Giertz said the unemployment rate is not going down fast enough.

"It's very difficult to get the unemployment rate down because when we add new jobs, there are always people coming forward to fill them, and that's been the challenge," Giertz said. "I'm optimistic, but in a modified or qualified sense."

Illinois' unemployment rate continues to hover above 10 percent. Meanwhile, Giertz noted that strong holiday sales may have had an impact on the most recent flash index, and he said those figures will be fully reflected in the December reading.

The Flash Index is based on income, corporate and sales tax receipts in Illinois.

Categories: Economics, Education

AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 01, 2011

Lawyers for Blagojevich Push for Lighter Sentence

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is relying on arguments he made at trial to convince the judge to give him a short prison sentence.

Prosecutors are asking for 15 to 20 years.

Using the federal sentencing guidelines, Blagojevich's lawyers calculate that he should do about three and a half years but they're asking for a downward departure from that starting point. However, under the same federal guidelines prosecutors have calculated the starting point at 30 years though they are asking for less.

Lawyers will haggle over those calculations at the governor's sentencing hearing next Tuesday, and Blagojevich's lawyers will be using arguments they tried to sell to jurors. They say Blagojevich wasn't trying to get bribes, but he was just fundraising. They insist he had no intention of doing anything illegal.

Blagojevich's attorneys also say the governor did not have a leadership role in the criminal activity.

"Mr. Blagojevich sought and took advice from people he trusted," Blagojevich's attorneys stated. "Mr. Blagojevich followed rather than led.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 01, 2011

Tapes Show Concern Before Ind. Stage Collapse

A recording of dispatch radio calls shows that emergency workers were expressing concern about severe weather just minutes before winds ripped through the Indiana State Fair and caused a fatal stage collapse.

WTHR-TV in Indianapolis obtained recordings of Marion County dispatch communications from the night of Aug. 13, when thousands of fans were waiting to see a concert by country music group Sugarland.

In one excerpt, workers are warned about five minutes before the collapse that severe weather was moving in and are advised to seek shelter if necessary. Two minutes later, another dispatcher asks if concert fans have been released from the grandstands.

Fair officials have said they were preparing to order an evacuation when the stage rigging collapsed into the grandstands. Seven people died.

Categories: Technology
Tags: technology

AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 01, 2011

Ind. Lawmakers Want Cursive Mandatory in Schools

Indiana lawmakers say cursive writing has to be protected in schools and are pushing the issue in the 2012 session.

Terre Haute Sen. Tim Skinner and Oldenburg Sen. Jean Leising said they were horrified when they learned the state no longer required the writing style be taught. They said this week they plan to submit bills when lawmakers return to Indianapolis in 2012.

Indiana Department of Education spokeswoman Stephanie Sample says there is no law saying schools can't teach cursive and can decide to do so locally. The state approved new standards this year that excluded mandatory cursive instruction.

Indianapolis Public School administrator Chris Collier says cursive is essential for a child's development but says she's not sure that it needs to be written into law.

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 01, 2011

Quinn: No ‘Bidding War’ Over Sears

Ill. Gov. Pat Quinn said he's not going to get into a bidding war with other states that are trying to entice Sears to move its corporate headquarters out of Illinois.

The Democratic governor told reporters Thursday that a proposal to give Sears $150 million worth of tax relief is "more than adequate" to keep the company from relocating its headquarters from northwest suburban Hoffman Estates. Illinois lawmakers earlier this week shot down a package of tax incentives that included the Sears tax breaks, but Quinn said he'll work with lawmakers to re-tool the legislation in order to keep the company here.

"It began here in Illinois, it should stay here in Illinois," Quinn said of Hoffman Estates-based company. "I think our particular proposal to Sears is a fair one and I think it's more than adequate."

Quinn was responding to news that the state of Ohio is offering Sears a $400 million package to relocate to the Buckeye State. A spokeswoman for Sears declined to confirm that report.

Sears is giving lawmakers until the end of the year to come up with a package of tax breaks, otherwise the company has threatened to leave the state. A $250 million omnibus tax bill, which included the tax breaks for Sears and Chicago-based CME Group, was overwhelmingly voted down by the Illinois House Tuesday. Both companies have said they may relocate if they don't get some relief from a recent increase in the state's corporate taxes.

Quinn said Thursday he hopes lawmakers can agree on a tax break package by the end of the year, though he stopped short of saying he'd call them back to Springfield for a special session.

"I hope we can get all the folks together - particularly in the House - that did not approve this measure, to take another look," Quinn said.

The governor reiterated his support for a Senate-passed version of the tax package that also includes tax credits for low-income families. Some Republicans had objected to that provision, but Quinn said he's not backing down from it.

Categories: Business, Government, Politics

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