Illinois Public Media News
Republican Mark Kirk has become Illinois' newest U.S. senator.
Kirk was sworn in on Monday in the United States Senate Chambers by Vice President Joe Biden.
The five-term congressman from Chicago's north suburbs won the seat held once held by President Barack Obama.
Roland Burris was appointed to the seat by former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich after the presidential election. Kirk will fill the remainder of Burris' term and a full six-year term. He narrowly won the seat against Democrat Alexi Giannoulias.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
The Illinois Public Interest Research Group is urging parents to be informed as they buy toys for their children this holiday season. The organization released its 25th Trouble In Toyland report this week.
Emily Mueller of Illinois PIRG said the report uses multiple factors to identify harmful toys.
"These are toys that either we've identified as a choking hazard --- while they may meet the legal limit, children are still chocking on them that's very dangerous," Mueller said. "Also there are toys that contain lead and phthalates which are all toxic chemicals that can have adverse health effects on children."
Dr. John Haffner is with the Children's Hospital Of Illinois, housed at OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria. He said parents should use common sense when buying toys this season.
"And if they look like they're maybe going to break very easily, and they might have a lot of small parts, those are something that's not suitable for small children," Haffner said. "If it looks like a discount toy or a "no-name" toy, be careful with those, because those have been linked with more reports of lead paint and shoddy workmanship".
Illinois PIRG said people can access the Trouble in Toyland report on its Web site. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan also released her 2010 Play-It-Safe shopping guide that lists toys, cribs and other products recalled this year. The guide is available at the attorney general's Web site. Madigan also said people can register for automatic e-mail notifications for recalled products at cpsc.gov.
A recent University of Illinois graduate who headed a student group focusing on North Korean human rights abuses said that neither he, nor his family or other Koreans he knows are very worried about the attack Tuesday on South Korea's Yeonpyeong Island escalating into a more serious conflict. Dan Han said the shelling --- which killed four people --- fits the North Korean pattern.
"They have a history of provocation against South Korea," Han said. "And this is one of their ways that they can use to, if you will, extort aid and money and goods out of South Korea and other nations."
Han graduated last spring with a degree in finance from the University of Illinois' Urbana campus, where he was president of the campus chapter of LINK: Liberty in North Korea. He said evidence of force by North Korea have not done much to worry South Korean students on the U of I campus --- partly because they are too young to remember the Korean War of the 1950s.
"I think the generation growing up in South Korea is a generation that has not had the exposure that the older generation had," he said. "So they're not as concerned, they're not as worried. The older generation might be more worried about reunification between the two Koreas.The younger generation may be more concerned with keeping separate, to keep the South Korean economy intact."
In contrast, Han said Korean-American students who grew up in the U-S usually base their apathy about North Korea on its being a distant country to them. On the other hand, he said Korean-Americans were more likely than South Korean natives to be concerned about human rights in North Korea.
Han, who now lives in New Jersey, says if the shelling of Yeonpyeong is a particular cause for concern, it may be because it went beyond military targets to focus on civilian areas.
Champaign County GOP Jason Barickman will replace State Representative Shane Cultra in the Illinois General Assembly.
A group of GOP County Chairmen from the 105th Illinois House District unanimously supported Barickman to fill the soon-to-be vacant seat created by Cultra's anticipated departure to the Illinois Senate.
Cultra won re-election earlier this month to the 105 House District, but will begin filling Dan Rutherford's remaining two years in the Senate starting January 9th, the same day Barickman expects to take office. Rutherford said Cultra's the right choice for the job.
"Jason is a likeable guy and an extremely hard worker," Cultra said. "Republicans from around the 105th have asked me to support Jason, and I was proud to do so."
McLean County Republican Chairman John W. Parrott, Jr. led the selection committee. Parrott said he has known Barickman for many years, and he said his experience as head of the Champaign County Republican Party set him over the top.
"He has extremely deep roots throughout the 105th District, and I believe he will be an excellent State Representative who is willing to shake things up in Springfield," Parrott said.
Barickman, a partner in a law firm with locations in Champaign and Bloomington, was raised on his family farm in rural Livington County. He accepted the role of Champaign County Republican Central Committee Chairman in 2006 following his graduation from the University of Illinois College of Law.
"I am honored and humbled by the opportunity to serve the 105th district and the people of Illinois," stated Barickman. "I look forward to tackling the many challenges facing our great State."
And Barickman said he does not think balancing time in Springfield with his law practice will be a problem. "I have always maintained a busy schedule," says Barickman. "And if you believe in that mantra of asking a busy person to get things done, then I'm a perfect fit, and I'll just have to adjust my schedule accordingly."
With his appointment, Barickman will become the fourth member of the Illinois General Assembly representing Champaign County. He joins State Senator Michael Frerichs (D-Champaign) and State Reps. Naomi Jakobsson (D-Urbana) and Chapin Rose (R-Mahomet).
A federal commission made up of members of Congress and former lawmakers is trying to reduce the nation's federal deficit by $4 trillion dollars by 2020 with changes to government programs, including Medicare and Social Security services.
Based in Washington, DC, the 18-member National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform is led by former senator Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) and former Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles. Both leaders are backing a plan to make cuts to Medicare funding that would limit federal spending on Medicare recipients to one percent above the economy's gross domestic product. Anne Gargano Ahmed, who is with Champaign County Health Care Consumers, said under that plan, the cost for care would then be pushed onto Medicare beneficiaries with higher premiums.
"Medicare beneficiaries would then have to choose to pay higher premiums for traditional Medicare, or buying a private plan from a Medicare exchange of private insurance companies that would offer a plan as an alternative to Medicare," Ahmed explained. "These plans might have lower premiums, but they'd probably offer less coverage like many private insurance plans do now."
Illinois has two legislatures sitting on the panel: Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL). The healthcare advocacy group backs a proposal by Schakowsky calling for the creation of a Medicare-administered drug plan to compete with private plans. She also wants Medicare to use its bargaining power to negotiate for lower drug prices, a move that the Congressional Budget Office estimates will save the country $14 billion by 2015.
The financial commission is also considering a plan to increase the retirement age for full Social Security benefits to 69 by 2075. According to the non-partisan group Social Security Works, boosting the retirement age by that amount would lead to a 21-percent cut in benefits from the current retirement age of 66.
Claudia Lennhoff, executive director of Champaign County Health Care Consumers, said trimming any part of social security is the last thing the federal government should do to help cut the deficit. Lennhoff said because social security is supported by payroll deductions and not federal dollars, it does not add to the deficit.
"Social security does not contribute to the budget deficit," Lennhoff said. "So it's like trying to find an answer that wasn't part of the problem, and at great consequence to the American people, at great harm to the American people. It's simply not fair."
However, Lennhoff admitted that one area her group agrees with the commission's leaders on is raising the wage cap on the amount of money going to support Social Security. The cap is currently set at $106,800.00, and Lennhoff said increasing it would require people making more than that amount to pay more to support social security benefits.
The commission has until December 1st to finalize and vote on a plan. It must capture 14 of 18 votes among its members to adopt a budget recommendation, and send it onto Congress for consideration.
Union workers in Champaign's fire and police departments are hoping to compromise with city leaders rather than lose staff, services, or both.
Public works employees could also be among as many as 15 positions cut, as the city looks to trim nearly $2-million from the budget in the current fiscal year, and a total of $4-point-3 million in 18 months. Champaign Police Officer Joe Johnston, 21, chairs the labor committee with the local Fraternal Order of Police. He said reducing front desk staff and the records division means he's a less effective officer.
"Can I do their job? Yes. Can I do it as well or as efficient as them? Absolutely not," Johnston said. "But I guess what I'm trying to say - the point I'm trying to make with that is by taking me or one of the other officers off the street, we have now diminished the services to the citizens of Champaign."
About 20 members from AFSCME and other unions were on hand last night to oppose the job cuts, but Council member Tom Bruno said they need to do better.
"It's not helpful to have various units of city employees come to us and say 'not us.' Anybody else but not us," Bruno said. "I don't find that particularly helpful as a problem-solving technique."
Current proposals also include reducing staff at Fire Station 4 on John Street. Carrol Whitehouse, a Campaign firefighter and union vice president, said that could mean lost response time, particularly if one of its units is already out on a fire or medical call. Whitehouse said the union wants to work out a way to avoid cutting core services, but would not say if that included taking a pay cut since his union is involved in negotiations.
"All of the funding problems are going to be generated by increases in employee compensation," Whitehouse said. "And we're willing to find ways to deal with that that will zero-out the impact of the city, but not impact the core jobs that we do."
The budget strategy endorsed by the city council in Tuesday night's study session also includes enacting a furlough program for AFSCME union workers and a voluntary separation program. Both will be discussed more in January. Champaign City Manager Steve Carter said this is the most difficult financial situation he ha seen in 40 years of working in local government. The city has already enacted $9-million in budget adjustments over the past few years.
A total of six candidates are running for mayor of Danville, including current mayor Scott Eisenhauer.
Barbara Dreher, who is the executive director of the Danville Election Commission, said because of the large number of mayoral hopefuls, there will be a February primary to narrow the list down to two candidates who will run in the April election.
"There has been a lot of talk around town," Dreher explained. "People are dissatisfied with the way things are going in the city. Some people aren't. The ones that are dissatisfied are taking their chance."
Eisenhauer is up against the largest number of challengers since he was first elected eight years ago. He attributed the high turnout to voter cynicism towards incumbents coupled with the response to unpopular decisions he has made during the recession, like raising the city's sales tax by one percent.
"Why wouldn't you want to be mayor now?" Eisenhauer said. "You're coming in at a time where the city's fiscally solvent. You're coming in at a time where the tough decisions have been made. Yes, there have been some tax increases over the course of the last eight years, but it's been at an effort to decrease the property tax. And so those things have been accomplished."
But Danville alderman and mayoral hopeful Rickey Williams Jr. said Eisenhauer would not have had to make those tough decisions if he did a better job managing the city's finances. Williams explained that financial discipline must go back to a "zero-based budget focusing on needs first."
Williams added that if elected, he would look at raising taxes as a last resort to treating the city's budget problems. He also said he would be open to eliminating middle-management jobs created during Eisenhauer's time in office that are dragging down the economy.
"I'm willing to do what's right, and the decisions I've made have been in the best interest of the people," Williams said.
Other candidates who have tossed their hats into the race include Vermilion County Board Chairman Jim McMahon, business owner David Quick, and residents Donald Nord and Rose Marie Carlton-Darby.
At the conclusion of a GOP caucus meeting in Bloomington on Saturday, State Representative Shane Cultra (R-Onarga) said there would be a unanimous ballot for Champaign County Republican Party leader Jason Barickman to take his seat in the 105th House District once he is appointed to the Senate.
Barickman said he is not taking anything for granted, but he noted that there appears to be a lot of support for him.
"I don't want to put the cart before the horse," Barickman said. "I think that we saw in the process for the senate seat, it is a political process and one which I respect."
In a conference call with reporters Monday, Cultra reaffirmed his support for Barickman. However, he dismissed any speculation about a deal made for his appointment to the Senate, and Barickman's possible appointment to the House.
"To make a deal, you have to have some leverage, and really I didn't have any leverage," Cultra said. "He could take my seat through caucus really on this own, and so there really was no deal."
Cultra won re-election earlier this month to the 105 House District. He will begin filling Rutherford's remaining two years in the Senate starting January 9th, the day before Ruterford is sworn in as Illinois' next Treasurer. Rutherford said Cultra's the right choice for the job.
"Shane is going to do an outstanding job," Rutherford said. "He will make an outstanding state senator, and I will do all I can to be of support to him in part because he's going to be my senator.
A researcher and former professor at the University of Illinois is expected to serve the next few months on the Urbana city council, and run for the seat next spring.
City Chief of Staff Mike Monson said it is 'highly likely' that Mayor Laurel Prussing will appoint Eric Jakobsson to the seat formerly occupied by David Gehrig in Ward 2 at the council's December 6th meeting. The professor emeritus and husband of Democratic state representative Naomi Jakobsson taught courses in areas like physics and computational biology.
Jakobsson said he thinks a lot about politics and public policy, and only filed petitions just before Monday's deadline to run for re-election next year. The other person pursuing the vacant seat in the election is Brian Dolinar from CU Citizens for Peace and Justice and the Independent Media Center. Both are Democrats, which means there will be a primary in February.
Residents and businesses in Urbana who found themselves without phone service last week should have it restored by now.
A spokeswoman for AT&T said crews finished repairs on an underground cable over the weekend. Brooke Vane said they were sending tech personnel around to each phone and telecom customer to re-start their service. An employee at the Urbana School District confirmed that their phone service was restored around midday Monday.
Vane stated that they received around 300 complaints about the disruption caused when a construction crew accidentally cut the cable at the U of I campus, but she did not know the full number of customers who were affected. She said anyone still experiencing problems should call the AT&T customer service and repair number --- 1-888-611-4466.
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