Illinois Public Media News
Illinois state senators are hearing from Chicago area residents who want a say in redistricting, the once-a-decade, highly contentious and political process that determines boundaries for legislative districts. It is about power and influence, and on Monday afternoon dozens of people showed up to tell senators how they want the boundaries drawn.
Kyle Hillman lives in Chicago's Rogers Park neighborhood, and said the community is a poor fit for its current district.
"There's a high crime rate and it has one of the largest food kitchens in the metro area, and yet it is included in a district that is mostly consisting of lakefront homes in Evanston in New Trier," Hillman told the Senate Redistricting Committee.
Others complained their neighborhoods span several districts, watering down the community's influence.
"The greater Chinatown community area is a vibrant and cohesive community. Its interests are not served by being split into multiple districts, as it is currently," said Bernie Wong of the Chinese American Service League.
C. Betty Magness with the group IVI-IPO urged the senators to ignore politicians' addresses when they draft the boundaries.
"Districts should not be drawn to favor or discriminate against incumbents, candidates or parties," Magness said.
Another issue that came up Monday has to do with the addresses of prisoners. Right now, they are counted as residents where they are incarcerated, which is most often downstate.
"Prisoners should be counted where they originate from, instead of where they're currently housed," testified Lawrence Hill with the Cook County Bar Association.
The Illinois House could actually vote to make that change as early as Tuesday, according to the bill's sponsor, state Rep. LaShawn Ford. But the Chicago Democrat said it would not take effect until the next redistricting - ten years from now.
Monday's hearing was the first of at least five public forums for the Senate committee. Lawmakers have until the end of June to approve a new legislative map, or the process will be put in the hands of a special commission.
Traffic is moving again along Green Street between Wright and 6th Streets in Champaign's Campustown after crews tore down the 2nd floor and attic of a building damaged by a fire.
The building houses Mia Za's Cafe, Zorba's restaurant, and Pitaya clothing boutique. Officials say the fire started above the ceiling of Mia Za's. At the height of the blaze, fire personnel from Urbana and Champaign used 11 fire engines, four ladder trucks and two squads to fight the blaze.
Champaign city planner T.J. Blakeman says owners of affected businesses surveyed the damage over the weekend, and he says it could be a while before they figure out what they will do next.
"I really hope that they're able to find a space and re-open in campus," Blakeman said. "The students really want that."
Blakeman says nearby businesses did not suffer major damage since the fire was contained to the one building. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
St. Louis-based beer giant Anheuser-Busch (BUD) is buying Chicago-based Goose Island brewery for $38.8 million.
Anheuser-Busch says the deal, announced Monday, will help Goose Island meet growing demand for Honkers Ale and its other brands. Anheuser-Busch has distributed Goose Island beers since 2006.
Goose Island founder and president John Hall will stay as chief executive officer. He says the company couldn't brew some of its specialty beers fast enough to keep up with demand - and the deal with Anheuser-Busch will help with that.
"Chicago is going to continue to be our principle market," he said. "We will probably expand into some new markets, but we're not going to do any of those things until we supply the markets we're in right now."
Hall said Goose Island's roughly 120 employees will still operate in Chicago. Hall also said the beers will remain the same - and that he wouldn't have agreed to the deal if it involved changing the recipes.
Chicago's two Goose Island brew pubs are not part of the deal; they will continue operating. The deal needs regulators' approval and is expected to close in the second quarter this year.
Anheuser-Busch is buying 58% of Fulton Street Brewery, Goose Island's legal name, for $22.5 million and the remaining 42% from Portland, Ore.-based Craft Brewers Alliance for $16.3 million.
(Photo courtesy of Goose Island)
Students at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville may not realize there's a big-name fugitive on campus.
Aldemaro Romero is the school's dean of arts and sciences, son of a famous Venezuelan musician, and a wanted man in his homeland.
The Venezuelan government has accused him of "treason to the motherland." That happened almost 20 years ago when he was working as a scientist and denounced Venezuelan fishermen for illegally killing dolphins for shark bait.
Romero fled to the United States and says it would be "suicidal" to go back.
He's been a dean at SIU in Edwardsville since 2009.
Romero recently donated 50,000 resource materials to the university archives. These include research notes, audiotapes of whale sounds and FBI reports on his run-in with Venezuelan authorities.
(Photo courtesy of Southern Illinois University)
The leader of Indiana's House Democrats says their lengthy boycott that ended Monday was worth it to try to stop what he called a radical Republican agenda that tried to dismantle labor unions and public education.
House Minority Leader Patrick Bauer says the Democrats' walkout gave the public time to learn about the GOP agenda, and allowed lawmakers to negotiate concessions on some of the bills they opposed. Bauer says Democrats won a battle but that they recognize 'the war goes on'' as Republicans continue what he calls an attack on the middle class.
Most absent Democrats face fines of more than $3,000 for the boycott.
Bauer and the boycotting Democrats planned to return to the Statehouse Monday evening to get back to work. The party stayed in Urbana for 34 nights. Kristen Self, the Finance Director for the Indiana House Democratic Caucus, estimates the party's hotel bill was over $100,000. Legislators paid for food and other expenses out of their own pockets.
(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Indiana Democrats are ending their legislative boycott after staying in Urbana for nearly six weeks, and were planning to return to the statehouse in Indianapolis by Monday afternoon.
The more than 30 members of the state's House of Representatives have stayed at the city's Comfort Suites since the evening of February 22nd. But they could be seen busily packing their cars just before noon.
"There's really not a lot of agreement so far, but there's been a lot of headway made," said Democrat Linda Lawson of Hammond. "So we feel very comfortable about going back. We're going to continue the fight. We have a lot of issues and concerns about labor. There's still 40 of us (Democrats) and 60 of them (Republicans), so we have made some great headway."
Other legislators declined to speak to reporters, indicating that House Minority Leader Pat Bauer would address the media later in the afternoon.
The legislative stalemate started over legislation impacting education and labor, but Lawson said there are other areas to address, including the state budget, women's reproductive rights, and gay marriage.
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
Illinois' junior U.S. Senator is worried about the state's business climate after state lawmakers approved increases in both corporate and income taxes.
In a visit to Champaign Friday, Mark Kirk touted his Small Business Bill of Rights. He says the legislation would help reverse the trend of other Governors trying to lure business away from Illinois.
The Senator says one portion of the measure would exempt small employers from federal taxes for 10 years if they commit to investing in vacant commercial property.
"Because nothing was happening there (vacant properties) anyway," Kirk said. "And we want to make central towns and cities exciting to invest in. Or for new innovators, a fast lane at the patent office. Because we know that small innovates 8-times faster per capita than big business."
The portion of Kirk's bill that expedites the federal patent approval process passed the Senate earlier this month. That provision assists business owners with patent filing issues.
Other parts of the legislation seek to lower business health care costs by allowing interstate competition for insurers, and to cut energy costs by promoting the use of hybrid vehicles and more efficient practices.
The DeWitt County Board is staying silent on a proposal to allow PCB's into the Clinton Landfill.
County Board members voted eight-to-four Thursday night against a proposal to formally present a consultant's report critical of the PCB proposal at a federal EPA hearing next month. The hearing on the Clinton Landfill's request for a chemical waste permit --- which would allow PCB's --- is scheduled for April 13th from 6 to 8 PM, at Clinton High School.
One reason cited for voting down a formal presentation is the cost of bringing consultant G. Fred Lee to Clinton to present an updated version of his report. But another one is a 2008 clause in DeWitt County's agreement with landfill owner Peoria Disposal, to remain neutral on their application for a chemical waste permit. County Board member Sherrie Brown made the motion for the consultant's report, and would also like to see the neutrality clause rescinded.
"But ultimately it would lead to litigation," Brown said. "So I believe that in discussing this openly with my fellow board members, that they believe it would lead to litigation, and they're not willing to look at that."
Brown said she thinks the neutrality clause is not legally binding, because it concerns county board policy matters, but DeWitt County State's Attorney Richard Kortiz disagrees.
"When we start talking policy, the way I would look at this, that is more of a nebulous situation," Koritz said. "Maybe more into specific employment issues, or benefits, or we're going to put this area zoned this way or this area zoned that way. Those are policies, as opposed to contractual obligations."
The neutrality clause is part of DeWitt County's agreement with Peoria Disposal that sets out host fees paid to county government for the Clinton Landfill's operation.Koritz said that before the clause was added, the Clinton Landfill's request for a chemical waste permit had the county board's implicit support. But public opposition to the permit has grown, as reflected in the vote on two non-binding resolutions in 2008. Opponents say PCB's would eventually leak out of the Clinton Landfill, threatening groundwater supplies from the Mahomet Aquifer.
Meanwhile, opponents of a chemical waste permit for the Clinton Landfill argue that staying neutral on the issue won't protect DeWitt County from litigation. George Wissmiller of the local group WATCH predicts that the county will face litigation, from whichever side doesn't get its way in the dispute.
U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk says the size of the evacuation zones around the six nuclear power plants in Illinois should be reviewed.
Kirk and fellow U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin held a forum Friday with a panel of four nuclear experts that resembled a congressional hearing to talk about safety in Illinois in the wake of the disaster in Japan.
Four of Illinois' 11 reactors are almost identical to those involved in Japan's nuclear crisis. Exelon Corp. owns the plants and says they're safe.
Officials sought to assure the senators that Illinois plants are safe and have multiple layers of safeguards.
Kirk and Durbin also were interested in making sure the state's stockpile of potassium iodide pills for people in evacuation zones is consistent with new 2010 census numbers.
Meanwhile, officials in Iowa were questioning just how safe are nuke power plants in and near Iowa?
Nuclear power plants in and around Iowa generally are operating safely, but there have been violations in the past as more safety questions arise because of the nuclear crisis in Japan and as Iowa lawmakers consider legislation making it easier to build another plant in Iowa, according to Nuclear Regulatory Commission records.
Illinois has a nuclear plant in Cordova, located on the Mississippi River across from Davenport. Iowa has one nuclear power plant, the Duane Arnold Energy Center near Cedar Rapids. Nebraska has two plants on the Missouri River - The Fort Calhoun Station north of Omaha and Cooper Station near Brownville.
The Des Moines Register on Friday reported the plants have had no fines in the past five years, but have been cited by federal regulators.
The newspaper, which reviewed Nuclear Regulatory Commission records, reported that Nebraska's Fort Calhoun Station is one of three plants in the United States facing the highest level of regulatory scrutiny. That's because the plant's safety systems were found last year to be in danger of flooding, according to records.
Inspectors found the plant didn't have enough sand to fill bags that operators planned to place on a flood wall to protect buildings and equipment.
"We're going through all our procedures in fairly quick order not only for NRC, but also because of events in Japan," said Fort Calhoun spokesman Jeff Hanson.
There's an adequate stockpile of sand in place now, but the plant will continue to be inspected frequently because the violation was consider a "substantial" safety risk.
The other plants in or near Iowa were cited for less serious problems, records show.
In the past five years, the Iowa plant received notification of four violations that occurred between 2003 and 2009, said Renee Nelson, spokeswoman for NextEra Energy Resources, which owns 70 percent of the plant.
No fines were issued. The violations involved a diesel generator problem, a deficiency in drills and planning, failure to complete a checklist before moving fuel bundles and failing to properly notify health personnel.
"Protecting the health and safety of the public through safe power operations is always our top priority. We take any and all feedback from the NRC very seriously," said Renee Nelson, spokeswoman for NextEra Energy's plant in Iowa.
Nelson said two of the findings occurred and were resolved to the satisfaction of the NRC more than two years ago. Both represented "low safety significance," she said.
The other findings were related to events in 2003 and 2004, and were specifically related to proper procedure use, not plant safety, Nelson said.
The NRC determined that the plant "operated in a manner that preserved public health and safety and met all cornerstone objectives," according to the agency's latest assessment released March 4.
Last week, NRC Chairman Gregory B. Jaczko said U.S. nuclear plants "are designed to withstand significant natural phenomena. ... We believe we have a very sold and strong regulatory structure in place right now."
But the Union of Concerned Scientist, a Cambridge, Mass.-based nonprofit that focuses on environmental and safety issues, said U.S. plants have "the same key vulnerability" that led to the crisis in Japan.
"The basic problem is that the Japanese reactors lost both their normal and back-up power supplies, which are used to cool fuel rods and the reactor core," the organization said in a statement.
Victor Dricks, a NRC spokesman in Dallas, whose regional includes the Nebraska plants, told the Register that redundant safety systems, backup power supplies and several methods for shutting down reactors at U.S. plants make disasters such as the one in Japan extremely unlikely.
Most plants get their electricity from two or three high-power lines. If those should fail, there are two sets of backup diesel generators that come on automatically and are housed in buildings designed to withstand tornadoes, fires, earthquakes, floods and tsunamis, Dricks said.
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
The latest government data suggest some states are recovering much faster than others from the recession, including a few that were hit the hardest.
U.S. companies have added jobs for 12 straight months, but the gains have been uneven.
The U.S. Labor Department says the unemployment rate dropped in 27 states in February, including Illinois. It rose in seven states and stayed the same in 16. Last week, the Illinois Department of Employment Security announced the state's jobless rate had fallen to 8.9 percent for Februrary. That's the first time since February 2009 that the unemployment rate has been below nine percent - and the 13th consecutive monthly decline in unemployment rolls.
Job growth in Illinois stands at 1.5 percent, which slightly outpaces the national average of 1.0 percent. The industries posting the biggest job increases in Illinois include Professional and Business Services, Education and Health Services, and Trade, Transporation and Utilities.
Forty-four states have added jobs during the last year, including some that were badly battered during the downturn. Since January 2010, Illinois has added 85,000 jobs, according to the Illinois Department of Employment Security. California added nearly 200,000 net jobs, and Michigan created a net 71,000 jobs during the last year.
Still, six states reported a net loss in jobs in that time, including a few that weren't considered trouble spots: New Jersey, New Mexico, and Kansas.
(AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
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