Illinois Public Media News
The Champaign Urbana Mass Transit District is trying to expand the use of technology for its riders.
That is why it has launched a competition for software developers to come up with applications that work on smart phones, desktops, and other devices. Karl Gnadt, who is the CUMTD's director market development, said more people are using this sort of technology to look up information about bus departures and arrivals.
"More and more are telling us that they don't use our schedule books, that they use the real time information," Gnadt said. "Typically, they'll get that on a mobile device. Though, often times they will use a computer as well."
The top three software developers will get a cash prize of $1000, $600, and $200, but Gnadt said all of the applications submitted will be in circulation on smart phones, desktops, and other devices.
"We think that the top three that the judges select are probably going to be the best of the bunch," he said. "So, I would think that those three would be the most popular and the most used."
Gnadt said there are currently about a dozen applications in circulation for CUMTD riders.
The deadline for the competition is Feb. 20.
Lawmakers from Central Illinois urged the University of Illinois' Board of Trustees on Friday to keep the police training institute open on the Urbana campus.
Last fall, a faculty panel suggested closing the institute to save $900,000 annually. It has been around for more than 55 years.
Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing is part of the state's Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board, which has been looking to find sustainable funding for the U of I's Police Training Institute. She said the program should stay open.
"We understand the quality, and we don't want a short-term financial difficulty to halt a program that people really depend on and have really depended on as a standard for excellence in Illinois," Prussing said.
State Rep. Chapin Rose (R-Mahomet) said he and other legislatures have put together a proposal to raise a fee on criminal convictions to help maintain the program.
"My goal is to not just have PTI remain in Champaign County," Rose said. "My goal is to have the best PTI in the world in Champaign County."
If the Police Training Institute does close, University of Illinois Police Chief Barbara O'Connor has said it would make more sense to have such a facility in a central location like Springfield rather than Macomb.
It's now up to Governor Pat Quinn to restore nearly $30-million to substance abuse treatment programs around the state.
Funds approved by the Senate this week include $450-thousand for Urbana-based Prairie Center Health Systems. CEO Bruce Suardini says the facility has been without that money since July, when it cut both the detox program and staff.
Provided the governor signs the measure, Suardini says it would take about a month after that before Prairie Center would get a revised contract. And when that money is restored, he says it will take some time to ramp up staff that was laid off when the fiscal year started.
"It's not a light switch. Just because the governor passes this, then a contract has to come to you, then it's specific as to how you can spend it," Suardini said. "Then you have to hire and train a staff to get it all back up and going, and try to expend the money before it all runs out by June. So, that's why I'm saying it's so schizophrenic is that it really puts the client in a bad situation."
The bill now before the governor would include nearly $17-million for addiction treatment services, and $7-point-6 million for related treatment for Medicaid patients. Suardini says Quinn is expected to sign the measure.
A federal judge says it will take two days to sentence ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
U.S. District Judge James Zagel says he expects Blagojevich's sentencing on 18 corruption-related counts to last through Tuesday and Wednesday.
Zagel told Blagojevich's attorneys Friday that they won't have to "cram everything in'' on Tuesday. Even if both sides finish their arguments in one day, Zagel says he'll likely have questions for them.
Prosecutors have asked Zagel to sentence Blagojevich to 15 to 20 years in prison. Attorneys for the 54-year-old impeached governor say a more reasonable sentence is between 3 1/2 years and more than 4 years. Blagojevich's attorneys also have presented the judge with reasons to issue a lesser sentence.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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