Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 04, 2012

Indiana Lawmakers to Debate ‘Right to Work

Indiana's legislative session will be short this year - it's expected to last until March - but judging by the political tone set before the start of the session Wednesday, the debate will be furious.

The Republican leadership, as well as Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels, have already vowed to make so-called right-to-work legislation the centerpiece of their agenda - a move that's already stirred an uproar among Hoosier Democrats. If approved, the legislation would prohibit companies from making employees pay dues to a union as a condition of employment.

The GOP attempted to push the issue through the General Assembly in 2010, but Hoosier Democratic state representatives scuttled debate by fleeing Indiana and holing up in Illinois for more than a month.

Indiana Legislative Insight Publisher Ed Feigenbaum does not expect such a boycott this time.

"I think there will be a number of parliamentary maneuvers that Democrats will employ that will be to their strategic advantage that will show their displeasure," he said.

Those maneuvers could include delays in showing up for quorum calls or otherwise disrupting business without leaving the Statehouse.

Supporters of current right-to-work proposals say Indiana needs such a law to attract businesses. Democrats say the move is an attempt to hurt organized labor and that such laws in other states have driven down wages.

Pro-union supporters say they want to get a jump on the debate and are expected to flood the Statehouse Wednesday afternoon, but they may encounter resistance. State police last week announced a new 3,000-person cap on the number of people allowed inside the Statehouse at any given time.

Unions quickly shot back, calling the limit a move by Daniels' administration to stifle debate.

Republican Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman said Tuesday that the rules don't discriminate against anyone, and that the limit is based on public safety concerns. He added that the limits will be evaluated daily.

Aside from union legislation, lawmakers are also expected to again consider a statewide smoking ban, legislation that failed to get past the committee level in 2011. Supporters want such a ban to be implemented in time for the Super Bowl, which will be hosted in Indianapolis next month.

A statewide smoking ban has been sought by Indiana state Rep. Charlie Brown (D-Gary) for years without success.

With no budget to approve, this session is considered the "short session" and must be completed by March 14.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 04, 2012

Champaign Officer Blasts City Council Over Arrest Investigation

A Champaign police officer is accusing city council members of conducting a 'witch hunt' by seeking an independent review of a June 5 arrest.

Art Miller's comments before the council Tuesday night came three weeks after council members granted city manager Steve Carter the authority to find a firm to investigate the incident. In the police video leaked online, an officer pepper sprayed a college-age African American after he was picked up for jaywalking. The officer also put hands on the neck of the young man in the back of a patrol car. The arresting officer has been cleared of wrongdoing by the Champaign police, Illinois State Police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Hiring a firm to look at the incident, and the police department's use of force policy will cost $60,000 to $100,000. Miller called the move 'a colossal misuse of taxpayer money' when the city is looking at cuts to the police department's front desk, and he said the council doesn't remind the public of the good work officers do.

"When I chose to answer the call to be a police officer, I knew there was a segment of society that would despise me in what I stand for," Miller said. "But never once did I think I would face such scorn and animosity from officials from the city I work for."

Mayor Don Gerard took exception, citing his comments to the press about officer raises and promotions.

"Every single member of this council appreciates our police department, and I take great exception on behalf of every single one of them for every comment that says: 'nobody ever likes us, nobody ever gives us any praise,' because it's ridiculous and it's nonsense," he said. "We do constantly. Turn on your radio. Read the newspaper."

Gerard also said it's 'tiresome' for him to hear the June arrest has been investigated three times, saying 'it's been investigated zero times' with no interviews conducted.

In response, Miller simply said the mayor has his opinion, and, "I have my opinion. That's the beauty of our country.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 03, 2012

Ameren Seeks Rate Hike Request for Grid Work

Ameren, which supplies electricity to central Illinois, has filed a plan with the Illinois Commerce Commission seeking a rate hike to help pay for an upgrade of its distribution grid.

Vice president Craig Nelson says Tuesday's filing is the beginning of an effort by the utility to modernize the grid over the next 10 years to meet the service expectations of Ameren's 1.2 million customers.

The Illinois Legislature in November passed legislation allowing Missouri-based Ameren and Chicago-based Commonwealth Edison to boost rates with less regulatory oversight in exchange for an upgrade of the electrical grid.

Despite that, ICC spokesman Randy Nehrt tells The Pantagraph in Bloomington that regulators have a responsibility to conduct a thorough investigation of the proposal.

If approved, the rate hike takes effect in October.

Categories: Energy, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 03, 2012

US Sen. Durbin Wants Banks to Use Disclosure Form

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) says banks need to be more transparent as college students start up bank accounts.

In a visit to the University of Illinois' Urbana campus Tuesday, Illinois' Senior Senator called on financial institutions to voluntarily adopt a disclosure form for fees. The announcement comes after Bank of America and other institutions imposed and quickly canceled monthly fees on debit card holders.

Durbin says institutions should all adopt a 1-page disclosure form created by the Pew Charitable Trusts, rather than the more than 100-page statements currently released by most banks. He says the form should be as simple as reading health information labels at grocery stores.

"And you know where to look for calories, for sodium, for carbohydrates, for other things that might be important to you," Durbin said. "This kind of disclosure form brings that kind of information when it comes to financial institutions."

Greg Anderson with University of Illinois Employees Credit Union says the disclosure forms are worth a look.

"What we've seen in the past with truth in lending that he spoke of, truth in savings, the Credit Card act of 2009, all spoke to more disclosure, making it easier for consumers to compare, and credit unions fall right into that," Anderson said. "I think it's kind of a natural for us to take part and follow with that."

Durbin has written a letter to Illinois' State Board of Higher Education as well as the Federation of Independent Illinois Colleges and Universities, asking their help in contacting lending institutions.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 03, 2012

Ill. Landlords Required to Reveal Property’s Radon History

Illinois state law already requires home buyers to be informed if the house they are buying has been found to have high levels of radon ---which is radioactive and a cancer risk. Now, that requirement also applies to renters.

Legislation that took effect this week requires landlords to tell prospective tenants if a rental home or apartment has tested for radon above hazardous levels. The testing is still voluntary, and landlords are not required to do anything to reduce high radon levels. But Patrick Daniels of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency said the requirement could still be beneficial, because it could "start a dialog between the renter and the landlord to discuss radon as an issue in rental property."

Esther Patt of the Champaign-Urbana & U of I Campus Tenant Unions said warning prospective renters about high radon levels could influence landlords' actions.

'They still do have this duty to disclose, and could have problems if they're caught not having disclosed," Patt said. "So, one would think that this would motivate at least some landlords who are made aware of radon danger at their property to take actions to eliminate that radon threat."

Landlords are required to inform prospective tenants about hazardous radon levels, whether they have a test done on the rental unit, or if the tenant does the test. But if they take action to reduce the radon danger --- or if a later test shows radon levels are lower, they don't have to tell tenants anything.

The requirement does not apply to apartments on the third floor or above.

Radon is a radioactive gas that occurs naturally from decaying uranium in soil. It's considered the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers.

Categories: Government, Health, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 03, 2012

Ind. Officials Not Changing Statehouse Crowd Limits

Indiana officials aren't planning any changes to new Statehouse capacity limit that labor unions and others maintain will stifle protests during the legislative session that starts Wednesday.

Indiana Department of Administration Commissioner Robert Wynkoop said Tuesday the 3,000-person cap is meant to ensure the public's safety. He says keeping people out of the Statehouse isn't the intent.

That limit will cap the number of Statehouse visitors at about 1,300 because it takes into account 1,700 people who work there or who have access passes, including about 250 lobbyists.

State Fire Marshal James Greeson says the limit is based on how quickly the building could be evacuated.

The new security policies also prohibit visitors from bringing in cans or glass bottles and signs larger than 2 feet by 2 feet.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 03, 2012

Illinois Farmers Have Much at Stake in Farm Bill

This will be an important year for farmers in Illinois and the rest of the country, as Congress hammers out the latest Farm Bill.

The Farm Bill covers everything from crop insurance to programs that help farmers limit pesticide use. No surprise - lawmakers this time around will be looking to cut.

Adam Nielsen of the Illinois Farm Bureau said direct payments to farmers are probably history. Those are subsidies the government paid to farmers even in times of high commodity prices like now.

"There was an enormous target on them and it was the desire of a lot of policymakers out here in Washington to eliminate them," Nielsen said.

But that is not the only thing likely to get slashed. Wes King is with the Illinois Stewardship Alliance, which promotes sustainable agriculture.

"Conservation programs are going to take a huge hit," King said.

But King said he is hopeful the new Farm Bill will offer more support to organic farmers as Congress starts to take the sustainable food movement seriously.

Categories: Government, Politics
Tags: government

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 03, 2012

Bears Fire Offensive Coordinator Martz

Mike Martz is out after two seasons as the Chicago Bears' offensive coordinator.

The team has confirmed on Tuesday that Martz will not be back. Hours earlier, general manager Jerry Angelo was fired.

The changes come after the Bears finished 8-8 following a collapse marked by season-ending injuries to quarterback Jay Cutler and running back Matt Forte, along with the arrest of backup receiver Sam Hurd on federal drug charges.

Chicago dropped five in a row following a 7-3 start before closing out the season with a win at Minnesota.

Martz had an expiring contract, and speculation that he might be on his way out mounted as the losses piled up. Quarterbacks coach Shane Day will not be back, either.

Categories: Sports
Tags: sports

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 03, 2012

Bears Fire GM Jerry Angelo

Jerry Angelo was fired as the Chicago Bears' general manager Tuesday following a team collapse marked by injuries to Jay Cutler and Matt Forte and a drug scandal involving receiver Sam Hurd.

Angelo had been on the job 11 years, a stretch in which the Bears reached one Super Bowl and advanced to another NFC championship game. An 8-8 record this season, a questionable draft record and an inability to fill big holes, particularly on offense, led to his ouster.

His dismissal comes after a wild season in which the Bears at one point seemed a lock to make the playoffs. A five-game losing streak, however, spoiled a 7-3 start and kept Chicago out of the playoffs for the fourth time in five years.

Cutler broke his right thumb trying to help make a tackle following an interception during a win over San Diego on Nov. 20. The Bears didn't win again until the season-finale at Minnesota on Sunday.

It didn't help that Forte sprained a ligament in his right knee against Kansas City on Dec. 4, leaving the offense without its two best players. Those would be blows for any team, but they were crippling for Chicago. Throw in Hurd's arrest on federal drug charges in mid-December, and what looked like a promising season turned into a disaster for the team and organization.

The injuries exposed a glaring lack of depth as the Bears tumbled out of playoff contention.

The low point might have been the loss at Denver when Marion Barber ran out of bounds late in regulation. That stopped the clock, giving the Broncos enough time to tie the score. If that weren't enough, he lost a fumble in overtime, helping set up the winning field goal.

Meanwhile, backup quarterback Caleb Hanie was a bust filling in for Cutler, going 0-4 as the starter before the Bears turned to Josh McCown. Chicago claimed Kyle Orton off waivers after Cutler went down, but Kansas City had priority and got him. The Bears then brought in Josh McCown, and Angelo left himself open to second-guessing when he decided not to go after Donovan McNabb once Minnesota let him go.

The lack of a reliable backup quarterback, continuing issues on the offensive line and the inability to land a top-tier receiver increased the heat on the general manager.

Roy Williams struggled to hold onto the ball and get open in his first season with the Bears after a disappointing run in Dallas. Hurd, another Cowboys import, was quickly waived after being charged with trying to set up a drug-dealing network following his arrest with more than a pound of cocaine.

The arrest only compounded Angelo's problems. Now, Angelo's out and the Bears are picking up the pieces. For all the criticism, Angelo did have successes. The Bears won four division championships, including the 2006 team's run to the Super Bowl and last year's trip to the NFC championship game.

He traded for Cutler and signed Julius Peppers. But he also had a spotty draft record that included such high-profile disappointments as Cedric Benson and Rex Grossman.

Former first-rounder Chris Williams has mostly struggled, and first-round pick Gabe Carimi missed most of his rookie season with a right knee injury. Angelo also was unable to find a top receiver, through the draft, a trade or free agency. Chicago didn't anyone ready to step in when a solid but aging line that helped the Bears reach the playoffs in 2005 and 2006 began to go downhill.

Offensive coordinator Mike Martz called for deep drops and Cutler took repeated poundings. That changed after Cutler made his feelings clear. The Bears started getting the ball out of his hands quicker, handing the ball off more to Forte and piling up the wins. But just when it looked as if they had saved their season, everything came apart.

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

Categories: Biography, Sports
Tags: sports, people

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 03, 2012

Champaign, Fire Union Negotiating to Keep Engine Operating Fulltime

A plan to cut service at the Champaign Fire Department has stalled as city officials and the local fire union try to reach an agreement to save the city nearly $420,000 in overtime costs.

The city had set a Jan. 1 deadline to reduce operations for Engine Co. 154 located on West John Street, but recent budget negotiations pushed that date to Jan. 15.

Champaign Firefighters Local 1260 President Chris Zaremba said union members are willing to make concessions to ensure that the truck is available whenever there is an emergency.

"The union is looking at doing approximately $350,000 of that, and the city would essentially match what we're doing to come up with the rest," Zaremba said. "I believe the (union) supports us making some sort of offer to try to keep that company open."

Champaign Fire Chief Doug Forsman said he is cautiously optimistic that an agreement will be reached. However, if there is not a compromise, then service to staff the fire engine would be cut by 75 percent.

While Forsman said Engine Co. 154 is the least busy out of all of the city's fire companies, he acknowledges that reducing service would have an impact on emergency response. If service is reduced for Engine Co. 154, one of the city's adjacent fire stations would have to respond.

"That causes a little bit of a time delay, and causes an area to be uncovered that would normally remain covered during that incident," Forsman said.

A call seeking comment from the city was not immediately returned.

Meanwhile, plans are still in place to stop overnight operations at the front desk of the Champaign Police Department from 7pm until 7am.

Reducing staffing overnight is expected to save the city approximately $140,000. Deputy Chief Troy Daniels said the change will take affect by the middle of January.

"The lobby is not used a lot during those times anyway." Daniels said. "Certainly, we want to keep someone at the front desk at often as possible. Right now, we're being told the cuts should come and that we should implement the cuts, but certainly the council or the city manager's office could tell us otherwise at any time."

Daniels said the department is preparing for the change by modifying the way the public can get a hold of law enforcement when the front desk is closed. Unlike the negotiations going on between the city and the fire union, he noted nothing like that is taking place to prevent the front desk from closing.


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