Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 17, 2011

Solar-Powered Home Arrives on U of I Campus

Twenty University of Illinois students say the recent tornado damage in the south illustrates the need for building solar homes.

The wood frame of the Re_home is now on the Urbana campus, where a team will do the rest of the construction before September's Solar Decathlon in Washington, DC. The team's project manager, Beth Newman, said the idea is constructing something to run on solar power within days of a natural disaster.

"They could be up and running within a couple of days since the solar panels will already be installed on the roof before shipment," Newman said. "It's sort of a quick, easily assembly home that could be used without having to connect an electical grid."

Newman said her team was inspired to address disaster relief after storms that hit parts of Central Illinois last summer, including the cities of Streator and Dwight. She said the home could help in either a small or large-scale disaster.

"I guess what we're sort of focusing on is maybe some disasters that don't receive FEMA funding," Newman said. "Some of these towns that are hit by tornadoes, it's just really random, there might be only a few homes destroyed. And FEMA funding may not support them, so this is sort our alternate solution to that situation."

The re-home will remain on display on campus until the competition in September. It's located south of the Urbana quad, and west of the Pennsylvania Avenue greenhouses.

Categories: Education, Energy

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 17, 2011

Bill Bans Scholarships to Lawmakers’ Relatives

The Illinois Senate is sending Gov. Pat Quinn legislation that would prohibit lawmakers from giving school scholarships to relatives.

The bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale makes relatives -- including those related by marriage -- ineligible for legislative scholarships to pay for college from Senate or House members.

Legislators may hand out tuition waivers each year. The process has been criticized for decades because tuition waivers in some cases have gone to family members or political supporters.

But efforts to abolish the system have failed. A proposal to change the process last year drew a veto from Quinn because he prefers to do away with it entirely.

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 17, 2011

Scholarship Bill Raises Big Immigration Questions

A proposal to provide college scholarships to the children of immigrants, even illegal immigrants, is forcing Illinois lawmakers to consider whether it's appropriate to lend a helping hand to people who are in the country improperly.

Many legislators express the need to make a bad situation better. Illegal immigrants are a fact of life, they say, and giving them a shot at an education through privately funded scholarships will be better for Illinois in the long run.

Some Republicans are taking heat for supporting the pending Illinois Dream Act, partly because constituents confuse it with federal legislation by the same name that would have given some illegal immigrants a path to citizenship. Other constituents simply believe the Illinois scholarship program is misguided and might deepen the lure of Illinois as a safe haven for illegal immigrants.

Sen. Dan Duffy, R-Lake Barrington, said he's getting angry phone calls and emails.

"The facts are that there are immigrants here. And the facts are that it would be better if the immigrants here are properly educated," said Duffy, who supports the legislation.

Chicago mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel supports the bill, saying that that it would be consistent with Illinois values. He attended a rally Friday to support the Illinois Dream Act and said it would be fitting for Illinois to pass the legislation because Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin has worked to pass federal legislation of the same name. The federal proposal is different because it would give some illegal immigrants a path to citizenship.

The Illinois Dream Act creates a panel to raise private money for scholarships to students with at least one immigrant parent, legal or illegal. The students themselves also could be in the country illegally.

To qualify for the money, students must already be enrolled in or planning to attend college, and they must have a federal taxpayer identification number proving they work and pay federal taxes.

The legislation, which is in the Illinois House after passing 45-11 in the Senate, also lets children of immigrants join state-run college savings programs. Only legal Illinois citizens may currently draw from the savings program. It also requires high school counselors to make students aware of the scholarship fund and savings program.

It has no impact on a person's immigration status.

William Gheen, president of American Legal Immigration Political Action Committee, believes illegal immigrants should not receive any sort of help getting into college.

Gheen noted federal law prohibits employing illegal immigrants but the Illinois measure would provide scholarships only if they have jobs. In other words, he said, the proposal is based on the idea of illegal activity.

Some, such as Sen. Sue Rezin, also argue students in the country might end up taking college spots that otherwise would go to citizens. She said that would mean spending tax dollars through public universities on illegal immigrants.

"A lot of legislation starts and just opens the door and becomes a state funded issue," the Morris Republican said.

Although the scholarship money would be raised from private sources, a government panel would oversee it -- which troubles critics who think the government should do nothing that might encourage illegal immigration.

Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, agreed Illinois is something of a haven for people in the country illegally. Many have lived here for years, following state laws, working hard, paying taxes and attending state schools.

"There is not going to be a scenario where those people are going to end up being deported," Syverson said. "So how do you address all those?"

He said the country needs immigration reform at the federal level and that immigrant communities must help authorities crack down on people who commit serious crimes. In the meantime, Syverson said, Illinois should help students save for college and get scholarships no matter what their immigration status.

This isn't the first time Illinois lawmakers have debated how far the state should go in accommodating people who are here illegally. In 2003 and again in 2007, they considered providing drivers licenses or an equivalent to people in the country illegally. The idea failed both times.

Several years ago, Illinois became one of the first states to offer in-state college tuition to illegal immigrants. And Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn recently removed Illinois from the Department of Homeland Security's Secure Communities program, which is supposed to target serious criminals but has been used to deport people for misdemeanor offenses. Quinn's spokeswoman said he supports the legislation.

An advocacy group estimates the scholarship bill would aid 95,000 Illinois students. Some probably have stories similar to Cindy, a 22-year-old in her last semester at University of Chicago who did not want to use her last name for fear of deportation.

Her family left Mexico for Chicago when she was 3. Cindy's parents told her from the beginning to work hard, get scholarships and go to college.

Even with a degree from one of the most prestigious universities in the world, Cindy's illegal status limits her job options. Still, she believes providing scholarships regardless of immigration status will help everyone.

"This will create a population that deserves to be here and wants to give back to a country that we consider our home," Cindy said.

The 2010 U.S. Census found Illinois' white and black populations were basically flat while the Latino and Asian population jumped by 33 percent and 39 percent, respectively.

The sponsor of the Dream Act, Sen. Iris Martinez, said Illinois would be smart to make sure all those people have a chance to learn and succeed, no matter what their immigration status.

"I'm really sad that the other side doesn't understand that these children are brought here by no fault of their own," said Martinez, D-Chicago. "How can we not put aside that difference and be able to say that child should at least be able to go to college?

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 17, 2011

Daniels Won’t Take Much Longer on 2012 Decision

Indiana Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels says he'll decide soon whether he'll run for president in 2012.

But he says he doesn't have a timetable for announcing the decision once it's made.

Daniels said Tuesday that he's really only focused his attention on the decision since the legislative session ended in late April. He laughed at speculation that he would announce his plans at the Indianapolis 500 or sometime after the May 29 race.

Daniels spoke before meeting with Indiana agency heads to review improvements in state government.

The former White House budget director is being widely recruited by Republicans who hope his fiscal conservatism would appeal to voters alarmed by the national debt and big government.

Categories: Biography, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 17, 2011

Blagojevich Lawyers Now Paying for First Trial Tricks

Defense attorneys for former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich are paying a steep price for the tactics the team employed in the first trial.

They used a number of tricks in the first trial which resulted in a hung jury on most of the counts against Blagojevich. The most notorious trick was probably when they promised the governor would testify, but then they reneged.

Judge James Zagel said he gave them leeway because he thought Blagojevich would testify, but he said he's not going to do that this time. That was evident Monday as defense attorney Sheldon Sorosky tried to cross examine a former Blagojevich aide, John Wyma.

Prosecutors had subpoenaed Wyma in 2008 about some of his work as a lobbyist and he's testifying under a grant of immunity.

Sorosky tried to ask questions about Wyma's cooperation to suggest that Wyma got a free pass on his own legal troubles because he gave up the governor.

Zagel stopped the questioning and told Sorosky that if he has problems with the way the prosecutors handle cooperating witnesses then he can file a complaint, but that's not relevant to this trial.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 17, 2011

Ill. Lawmakers Face Big Decisions in Final 2 Weeks

Illinois lawmakers face some big decisions in the next two weeks, including how much to cut the budget and whether to overhaul workers' compensation.

The spring legislative session is supposed to end by May 31, but there are still three different budget plans on the table. They're roughly $2 billion apart on how much to spend.

Now lawmakers must decide whether to back one particular proposal or come up with a compromise.

Lawmakers are also looking to lower business costs for injured workers. The chief dispute is whether employees will have to prove injuries are job-related.

Another proposal could affect the cost of electricity. Utilities are looking for more flexibility to increase rates to pay for investment in new technology.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 17, 2011

SURS Director: State Pension Contribution Bill Needs Monitoring

State employees are starting to find out just how a proposed pension reform bill in Springfield would affect them.

People who are covered under the state's traditional pension plan would pay more into their pensions under the Republican-sponsored bill to start cutting into the deep state pension fund deficit. The State Universities Retirement System (SURS) is one of four systems facing scrutiny after years of state underpayments into their coffers.

Speaking on WILL's Focus program Tuesday morning, SURS director William Mabe said state pension benefits are not overly generous to begin with, especially since SURS members don't receive Social Security for their time working in state government.

He said the bill would let people choose a self-managed retirement plan that would let them avoid the increase.

"If they were to remain in the current plan, their contributions would increase, and they could increase significantly depending on how many people move out of the current plan into the new plan," Mabe said. "It's a very complex piece of legislation that's requiring a lot of analysis. We're having our actuaries look at it and our legal counselors heavily involved in reviewing it."

Mabe said SURS currently has pension liabilities of $30 billion but only $14 billion in assets. There are exceptions to the increased contributions for police and firefighters as well as judges - who may eventually have to rule on whether the bigger bite on employees' paychecks is constitutional.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 17, 2011

Redistricting Panel Forwards 3 New Map Designs to Champaign Co. Board

The Champaign County Board will have three more maps with re-drawn board districts to consider when it meets Thursday night.

On a 9-to-2 vote, the county's redistricting commission has forwarded two revised maps from Champaign County's Regional Planning Commission, and one of two submitted by the Champaign County NAACP. The two 'no' votes came from Royal area Republican County Board member Ron Bensyl and public commission member Diana Herriott.

But the independent, 11-member panel declined to rank the approved plans known as 1F, 3D and NAACP design B in order of preference. Champaign County Board Democrat and commission member Michael Richards said his party's caucus still needs to review two of them.

"I would assume that if the NAACP likes map B, then the caucus will like it too, but that doesn't mean they won't like 3D," he said "We presumably will want to have a game plan going into Thursday. Right now there's no game plan from the Democrats as to which map we would prefer."

Redistricting commission chair Rick Winkel, a former Republican State Senator, said he would support any of the three.

"It's compact, it looks much better than earlier maps we were working with," Winkel said. "It meets the eyeball test and doesn't look like a map with all kinds of jigsaw puzzle parts. We had some concern about that. There was some criticism of the previous map. But I think it meets the criteria that the county board recommended to us."

Richards and County Board Democrat Alan Kurtz say both of those maps are compact, and contain a majority-minority district. But other commission members say the NAACP design weakens the rural vote. And 1F got its share of criticism for splitting Urbana into five districts. Two other maps were removed from consideration - one proposed by the NAACP, and the other by prior Democratic County Board Candidate Eric Thorsland.

Commission Chair Winkel said he would have preferred to examine one map at a time, but likes the low population deviation of the three designs forwarded to the Champaign County Board. But in case the board doesn't agree on one of them, the panel has tentatively set its next meeting for Wednesday, May 25th.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 16, 2011

Guenther: Decision to Retire ‘Bittersweet

A search committee will begin seeking out a new athletic director at the University of Illinois.

Ron Guenther is retiring after 19 years on the Urbana campus. The 65-year old and one-time Illini football standout says age wasn't really a factor in his decision. Guenther says was still an emotional decision for him, one that he confirmed just a few days ago.

"It's actually bittersweet, as the way I looked at it," Guenther said in a noon hour conference call with reporters on Monday. "I think there is a point where emotionally, I was very convinced I was ready. I am going to do something else, I just don't know what it's going to be."

Guenther said he had been thinking about retirement since the start of the calendar year. He says the option for a two-year extension was there, but decided the middle of last week that leaving the position was the right option. But Guenther said it's still been an emotional time.

"Even my wife Meagan said two weeks ago 'are you sure this is what you want?' And the answer was 'I'm not sure," said Guenther. "But I know in my gut that institutions are much bigger than any one person, and that this was the time in my opinion to move to new leadership."

Athletic teams under Guenther made an Illini men's basketball Final Four appearance, and Illinois football teams made six bowl appearances. But he said achievements in those programs shouldn't overshadow others.

"The run we had in tennis... and the current run that we have going in men's golf," Guenther said. "I don't think there's any one particular thing that I look at. I drive around here (the Urbana campus) early in the morning before anybody gets in and I look at the buildings, and that's a piece of it as well."

Guenther said everything is place for the Illini football team to have success, coming off a Bowl win and retaining most of the staff. And he said there's good reason to be optimistic about the basketball team with 3 solid classes, and another coming in.

Guenther helped oversee the $121-million renovation to Memorial Stadium, and he says plans to upgrade Assembly Hall are also on the right track. Guenther said he admits U of I President Michael Hogan has a lot on his plate, and that opting for the two-year extension would have been one less thing for him to think about. But Guenther said Hogan's reaction was 'what's best for you?' as the two of them discussed his decision.

U of I Business Dean Larry DeBrock will chair the committee to replace Guenther, whose last day is June 30th. Guenther is a native of Elmurst who played Illinois football in the 60's, earning MVP honors in 1966.

Categories: Education, Sports

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 16, 2011

Panera’s “Pay-What-You-Want” Concept “Huge Success

The St. Louis restaurant company Panera says its experiment to open several "pay-what-you-want nonprofit restaurants" has been a huge success.

Customers at these special facilities order like normal, but the cashiers simply suggest payment amounts - what customers actually put into the donation box is up to them.

Panera founder and chairman Ronald Shaich says nearly 80 percent of customers pay the full prices or more.

"The singular thing we've learned is that humanity is fundamentally good," Shaich said. "People have essentially been doing the right thing. People get it, people respond to it, they don't abuse it. I think at first some people thought that they would abuse us."

All proceeds go toward a non-profit foundation as well as a job training program for youth.

Panera's first pay-what-you-want location was in opened in Clayton. The company has since opened two other facilities in Detroit and Portland, Oregon.

(Photo courtesy of TerryJohnston/Flickr)

Categories: Business
Tags: business

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