Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - February 10, 2011

Ill. State Police Pick to Keep Job

Illinois senators haven't quite given up hope of voting on Gov. Pat Quinn's nominee to head the state police.

An aide to Senate President John Cullerton initially said Thursday there was no way to hold a confirmation hearing before time ran out and nominee Jonathon Monken officially got the job.

But Rikeesha Phelon later said Senate leaders had begun considering a hearing next Wednesday, the last day possible.

Nominees are automatically confirmed if the Senate doesn't hold a vote within 60 session days. The deadline was also complicated by the fact that Monken was nominated during a legislative session that ended last month.

Monken is 31 and has no law enforcement experience, but he has served as acting director of state police for nearly two years.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - February 09, 2011

Brenda Starr Columnist Reflects On Comic Strip’s Legacy

If you read the newspaper comics pages, you may have noticed the decline of the story strip. In January, "Brenda Starr, Reporter" disappeared from the comics pages, some 70 years after its creation by the late Dale Messick.

Its syndicator, Tribune Media Services, decided to end the strip, rather than replace Mary Schmich, the Chicago Tribune columnist who decided to leave "Brenda Starr" after writing it for 25 years (her collaborator for the past 15 years was artist June Brigman).

Schmich said she hopes Brenda Starr returns some day, but admits there is no future for the newspaper story strip as a format. Illinois Public Media's Jim Meadows spoke with Schmich about Brenda Starr's unique position as a woman-produced comic strip about a woman reporter.

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Categories: Biography, History, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - February 09, 2011

Decatur Prison Keeps Mother-Child Bond Intact for Some Inmates

A women's prison in Decatur allows a handful of its inmates to raise their newborns while serving out their sentences. It's the only program of its kind in the state, and as Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers reports, it appears to be advancing the cause of rehabilitation and growth.

(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)

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AP - Illinois Public Media News - February 09, 2011

Immigration Reform Debate Lands in Indiana Statehouse

Dozens of people have lined up to speak to Indiana lawmakers about a proposal that its sponsor says would lead to an Arizona-style crackdown on illegal immigration in the state.

Sponsor Republican Sen. Mike Delph of Carmel opened a public hearing Wednesday by saying those from other countries have an obligation to follow U.S. laws. Supporters testify that illegal immigrants have been taking jobs from Indiana residents and that the state has the right to enforce immigration laws because federal officials had failed.

Opponents outside the Senate chamber have held signs such as "Welcome to Indiana ... where you will be racially profiled."

State Attorney General Greg Zoeller earlier Wednesday expressed reservations about the proposal, saying Indiana shouldn't try to assume authority over what is a federal responsibility.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - February 09, 2011

Corn Reserves Hit Over-15-Year Low, Could Raise Prices for Food, Ethanol

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is reporting that reserves of corn have hit their lowest level in over 15 years.

The high demand for corn could put upward pressure on food prices in 2011.

Demand for corn in the ethanol industry is up 50 million bushels after record-high production in December and January, according to the USDA.

That has left the United States with the lowest surplus of corn since 1996.

Scott Gerlt, a crop analyst with the University of Missouri, said high corn prices could increase the cost on everything from ethanol to food and feed.

"The corn market is definitely a changing market," Gerlt said. "With ethanol policy we have a lot more demand and so we are going to have a lot more pressure on prices. Because even though we have a lot of supply there's just so much demand a lot of that supply is getting used up and we're just not left with much at the end of the day."

Corn prices have already doubled in the last six months, rising from $3.50 a bushel to more than $7 a bushel.

(Photo courtesy of Artotem/Flickr)

Categories: Business, Economics, Health

AP - Illinois Public Media News - February 09, 2011

State Farm Retirees Losing Some Medical Coverage

State Farm Insurance Cos. will stop providing supplemental medical coverage for its Medicare-eligible retirees next year in a cost-cutting move.

The Bloomington-based company says it will instead help them find supplemental Medicare coverage and provide them with $200 a month to help. It wasn't immediately clear how many of the company's 28,700 retirees the move will affect.

State Farm also will make changes in the availability of retirement health care for current and future employees. People hired after this year, for instance, will have to pay for all of their own retirement medical insurance.

State Farm spokesman Phil Supple told The Pantagraph newspaper in Bloomington that growing medical claims have driven up the company's health care costs.

Many companies have announced similar changes in recent years.

Categories: Economics, Health

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - February 09, 2011

Two CU Residents Among Next Order of Lincoln Recipients

The achievements of two Champaign-Urbana residents have won them the state of Illinois' highest honor.

The Order of Lincoln honor is bestowed on Illinoisans who have served their communities - since it originated in 1964, it's gone to people ranging from Ronald Reagan to Gwendolyn Brooks to Walter Payton.

In April, Governor Pat Quinn will give the award to Shahid Khan, the president of the Urbana auto component company Flex-n-Gate, and to Tim Nugent, who worked for decades to make the University of Illinois and the rest of the world more accessible to people with disabilities.

Other honorees at the Krannert Center ceremony will be Chicago arts philanthropists Richard and Mary Lackritz Gray, Northwestern university law professor and former state senator Dawn Clark Netsch, and Illinois Arts Council chair Shirley Madigan.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - February 09, 2011

Cross Gets Interim Champaign Council Appointment

Linda Cross is the newest member of the Champaign City Council.

The former Champaign County Board member and township official was appointed Tuesday night to fill the District 5 seat on an interim basis, until after the election in April. And Cross got her feet wet right away, as the council heard varying opinions on the city's groundwater ordinance. It's an issue she calls 'mind-boggling'.

"I've certainly kept up somewhat today with the issue, but I haven't been presented with that kind of information before," Cross said. "So I'm definitely very concerned. I didn't want to make that decision tonight. I really would like to have more information."

Cross did vote to recommend repealing the ordinance on a case by case basis, which the council approved 8-1. She said her experience with budgets suits her well for the council's difficult financial decisions in the next couple months.

Cross is filling the vacancy left by Gordy Hulten, when he was made Champaign County Clerk. Steve Meid was also vying for the interim appointment, as were Paul Faraci, Jim McGuire, and Cathy Emanuel. Those last three names will run write-in campaigns to replace Cross in April.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - February 09, 2011

Champaign Council Recommends Case-by-Case Review for Groundwater Ordinance

Champaign's City Council has recommended that it consider repealing the city's groundwater ordinance - but on a case by case basis.

A capacity crowd attended Tuesday night's 4-hour meeting and study session, urging the council to force the Illinois EPA and Ameren to conduct a full remediation of the former manufactured gas plant site at 5th and Hill streets, that includes neighboring properties.

Resident Lillian Driver operates a day care out of her home, where evidence of 6 different chemicals was revealed in a recent test.

"Imagine these are your children that I will be watching," Driver said. "You wouldn't allow them to be in this situation. You would take them out. Now that this has been exposed, more than likely, these children I'm attending to, these parents are going to remove these children."

City staff and an EPA official still contend that levels of chemicals like benzene don't pose a health risk. But two environmental experts hired by Champaign County Health Care Consumers say samples taken this week from a Boneyard Creek pipeline prove Ameren hasn't done nearly enough to remediate the gas plant site.

Council member Will Kyles said Ameren appears to have done a good job with its cleanup efforts, but he said tests for chemicals like benzene continually prove otherwise.

"All I know is that as we continue to look into these issues, and continue to dive in and do more tests, we do find more stuff," he said. "Every time we go into meetings, we have homework assignments. And so that creates doubt. And that shows doubt there's doubt in our minds that this clean up is effective."

The City Council is also recommending that staff prepare a statement for the Illinois Pollution Control Board on vapor intrusion standards. Mayor Jerry Schweighart said it will likely require another study session before the groundwater ordinance repeal receives a formal vote.

But the Council's recommendation was not enough to stop a potential lawsuit against the city regarding the discharge of contaminants in Boneyard Creek. Claudia Lennhoff with Champaign County Health Care Consumers has given the city 60 days to treat pollutants flowing from a drainpipe into the creek, or the citizen lawsuit will proceed.

Lennhoff said the city is violating the Clean Water Act by allowing contaminated groundwater from the Ameren gas plant site to seep into that pipe. And said says it may contain coal tar, like another section of pipe she found in Boneyard Creek.

"And any time that water washes over that, it's spreading some of the contamination from the coal tar," Lennhoff said. "It's very important for the city tor respond to this issue, but the city can thank Ameren for this pipe, or the predecessor company, but it is on city property and so the responsiblity is up to the city to get it cleaned up."

But Lennhoff commends the city council's recommendation to consider groundwater ordinance repeals on a case by case basis, saying it will provide more transparency for residents. She said if the ordinance still exists citywide, it will allow the owners of gas stations, dry cleaners, and other businesses to try and avoid cleaning up groundwater contamination.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - February 08, 2011

Wind Turbine Project Headed to UI Board of Trustees

An effort to build a wind turbine on the University of Illinois campus will appear on the Board of Trustees' agenda during its March 23 meeting in Springfield.

The plan calls for a single wind turbine on the university's South Farms site. It was estimated to cost $4.5 million, but last week the university increased that value by $700,000. University spokesman Tom Hardy said a challenge confronting the U of I is finding a way to close that budget gap.

"Still a lot of work to do on this project, not the least of which is how to close a nearly $700,000 funding gap," Hardy said. "In the meantime, the turbine project will be presented for consideration by the full board."

Suhail Barot, the Committee Chair with the Student Sustainability Committee, said he met Tuesday afternoon with U of I President Michael Hogan. Barot said Hogan told him the energy project would move forward.

"He did ask us to look into finding whatever we can do to help cover the budget shortfalls," Barot said. "We will help with it, but we don't know to what degree."

Students at the University of Illinois have been talking about setting up a wind turbine on campus for the last several years. It was originally introduced in 2003 by Students for Environmental Concerns (SECS), who initiated a student fee to support clean energy. By 2008, then-Chancellor Richard Herman canceled the project because of budget concerns.

A $2 million grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation supporting the project needs to be used before it expires at the end of May 2011.

At its meeting next month, the Board of Trustees is expected to vote on a contract with an energy company hired to build the turbine.

Champaign County residents have raised concerns about the project's cost, shadows produced by the turbine throughout the day, and the amount of noise pollution that would be generated.


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