Illinois Public Media News
An Illinois lawmaker has set his sights on a tuition waiver program for children of state university employees as a potential target for elimination.
A bill filed last week by Representative Dave Winters of the Rockford area would remove language that makes children of an employee eligible for a 50 percent waiver on undergraduate tuition at any state institution.
That prospect concerns Winters' fellow Republican representative Chapin Rose of Mahomet. But he also says he was under the impression that universities should make up their own minds on whether to offer the benefit.
"I guess the way I'd look at it is that's a choice that each university has just like any business in terms of their overall compensation package," Rose said. "If they want to give their faculty a raise rather than a 50 percent tuition waiver, that's their business. If they'd rather do a flat salary and a 50 percent tuition waiver, that's their business."
University of Illinois spokesman Tom Hardy says the U of I hasn't taken a stand on the bill yet, saying administrators will want to talk with Winters.
Rose says it would make more sense for the state to get rid of the program that lets General Assembly members offer scholarships to the students of their choice. Winters has not returned a call seeking comment.
A new committee assigned with creating a climate of equal opportunities for all Champaign school students held its inaugural meeting Wednesday.
The Education Equity Excellence committee was put together as part of the Unit 4 settlement of its Consent Decree for racial equity. The panel is made up of district administrators and community members --- including a bilingual teacher, the President of the local NAACP chapter and a former Unit 4 school board member, Nathaniel Banks.
Banks, who stepped down last spring, is the most recent African-American to serve on the school board. Speaking prior the meeting, Banks said the Triple-E Committee's first session would be largely about laying the groundwork for future work. He says the Champaign school district has already made strides towards greater equity in some areas, but that it's a work in progress.
"Unfortunately, it doesn't lend itself to the cycle of elections", said Banks. "So there are long-term issues that the Consent Decree was trying to address, and those issues are still there. Certainly, there's been progress, not only in closing the achievement gap, but also in looking at (programs for) Gifted and Talented (students) increasing the number of African-American students there."
Banks says the Champaign school district also needs to take a hard look at the number of minority students in special education, and discipline issues.
Triple-A Committee member and PTA Council President Nancy Hoetker says she'll be responsible for helping facilitate communications between the the committee and Unit Four's 16 campuses.
The Triple-E Committee is expected to meet at least twice per semester.
Governor Pat Quinn admits to knowing about a Department of Corrections program that released violent criminals who'd spent little time in prison. But he says he's ordered a "top to bottom" review to ensure public safety.
Quinn suspended the program over the weekend after reading an Associated Press article. It detailed how about 850 inmates ... some repeat drunk drivers, others serving sentences for weapons or battery violations ... were released after serving only weeks behind bars.
They got out for earning good behavior credits. Their speedy release was made possible because the Corrections Department had dropped a standing policy that required all inmates serve at least 61 days.
Quinn says he knew about Corrections Director Michael Randle's plan. He says so did others. Quinn says it wasn't a secret.
"Now, the execution, implementation of the plan, I've suspended the plan, because I want to review it and make sure it's working the way it should work for public safety", said Quinn.
Quinn wouldn't say if he knew violent offenders would be included.
Illinois' prison system began releasing prisoners early to save money. Quinn says the system is expensive, and there has to be a balance between safety, and saving money.
The governor says he'll talk more about the issue "very soon." His Democratic challenger for the governor's seat, Comptroller Dan Hynes, says the whole affair demonstrates Quinn's poor leadership.
Illinois receiver Arrelious Benn will skip his senior season and enter the NFL draft.
The junior said at a news conference Wednesday he thinks he is ready for the National Football League and wants to take care of his family. But he says he won't forget the U of I.
"As I begin this adventure, I will always be proud to represent the University of Illinois", said Benn. "I will be a role model for inner-city kids and anyone who wonders if they really can realize their dreams. And one more thing, I will finish college --- and Ma, that's a promise".
"OK, I'll take you up on that", replied Benn's mother, Denise Benn, who joined him at the news conference.
"Rejus" Benn was a top prospect out of high school in Washington, D.C., and the Big Ten freshman of the year in 2007. The Illini went to the Rose Bowl that season. He struggled with the team the past two seasons. Illinois was 3-9 this season and Benn caught just 38 passes for 490 yards. But despite his disappointing junior season, Benn is considered a potential high-round pick. Draft expert and former NFL general manager Gil Brandt believes Benn will be a second-round pick.
(Additional reporting by Rob McColley for AM 580 News)
The death of a bird usually doesn't generate much outrage, but Indiana conservation groups say they want to find whoever shot and killed a whooping crane near Cayuga in Vermillion County, in western Indiana.
Someone noticed the carcass of the white, long-legged migratory bird along a county road two weeks ago.
Phil Seng is a volunteer with Indiana's Turn In a Poacher program, which has chipped in money toward a $7,500 reward to anyone with information on the incident. He says the whooping crane is one of the nation's most endangered animals.
"There's only about 500 of them left in the world", says Seng. "And so, they're trying to reestablish the population. It's a big part of our natural heritage, and we certainly feel that it's important that those birds be around for everyone's enjoyment.
Seng says it's hard to figure out why someone would want to shoot a whooping crane, which is distinctive from any other game bird by its striking white color and long legs. He says hunting long-legged wading birds such as herons and egrets is not permitted in Indiana, so it's unlikely that the whooping crane was mistaken for another legal game bird. "We feel that people who shoot animals like this are not legitimate hunters, they're more poachers and thieves", says Seng.
US Fish and Wildlife Service officials say the crane had an ID band on its leg and had been observed alive by a staff member of the International Crane Foundation just three days before it was found dead.
If you have information on the shooting, you can call the Indiana Department of Natural Resources at 1-800-TIP-IDNR.
No one was hurt, but a bank robbery in the heart of Monticello Wednesday caused a stir and led to a soft lockdown for school students.
Administrators decided to keep students inside the buildings for the rest of the school day after a man carrying a semi-automatic pistol held up the First State Bank on the town square. Police Chief John Miller says bank robberies are rare-to-non-existent in his town.
"I talked to a bank employee who's been there for over 44 years, and they don't ever recall the bank being robbed", says Miller. "And someone mentioned that they thought that 65 or so years ago, someone had robbed a bank here in Monticello, but it's been a long time."
Miller describes the suspect as a heavy set white male, about five-feet-nine with olive khaki pants and a large blue hooded sweatshirt, wearing a black covering over his face. No one has been arrested yet. Miller won't say how much money the man got away with when he ran from the bank.
Vermilion County's Board of Health is considering different scenarios for the future of its health department, ranging from maintaining the status quo to closing its doors.
While state funding remains shaky, Department Administrator Steve Laker says a downsizing remains the most likely scenario. He says the department has received about 200-thousand dollars from the state the last two weeks, providing some relief. But the department is still relying on the county to fund areas like payroll, and can't pay back a loan from the county for 300-thousand.
Laker says the county may have to borrow from a bank to cover a revenue shortfall, but he says one other amusing possibility surfaced recently.
"I got a phone call last week from the state treasurer's office wanting to know if we were interested in special loan funds they had," Laker said. "Are we going to borrow money from the state to counter state funding shortages? It's a possibility. They've got some low-interest loan programs. I referred them to the county board chairman."
The state still owes the department about 600-thousand dollars.
Laker says the health department needs to finalize a presentation for the Vermilion County Board by the end of this week. Its meeting on December 29th will decide the structure of the health department for the immediate future.
All options for downsizing include termination of state grant contracts, and cutting some jobs. Laker says programs that could be on the bubble include maternal and child health programs and nursing home screening for senior citizens.
The special agent in charge of the Springfield office of the FBI says its investigation into the October fatal police shooting in Champaign could take several weeks - and then it will take more time for federal officials to deliberate over it.
The FBI is looking into the shooting death of Kiwane Carrington at the request of Champaign police. Supervisory special agent Marshall Stone says the scope of their investigation will be different than the state police-led probe that led to no criminal charges against the officers involved.
"In these types of situations, whether we're talking about police-action shootings or color-of-law cases such as excessive use of force based upon the authority we have as law enforcement officers, those tend to fall under the civil rights statutes," said Stone.
Stone says the final decision on any wrongdoing will be left to the Department of Justice in Washington, which will receive the investigation once the FBI office is finished. He says that investigation may involve their own interviews or it could rely on the state police report.
Carrington was shot while police responded to a reported break-in at a Vine Street house. His family has filed a civil suit against police and officer Daniel Norbits, who fired the fatal shot.
Illinois State Police are investigating circumstances involving a southern Illinois prison inmate taking an employee hostage before the prisoner was shot and killed by authorities.
The Illinois Department of Corrections has not yet publicly identified the 37-year-old inmate involved in Monday's nearly seven-hour standoff at the 2,200-inmate Pinckneyville Correctional Center.
The 62-year-old female employee who was taken hostage was rescued and evaluated by medical personnel. Her medical status was not immediately clear.
Messages left Tuesday with a Corrections spokeswoman weren't immediately returned.
Corrections officials say the offender was serving a sentence for aggravated criminal sexual assault and aggravated kidnapping. The crimes took place in Cook County.
Two new laws taking effect in January will ban the practice of texting while driving in Illinois. A backer of the measures calls them an important first step, but not enough. Gloria Wilhelm's son Matt died in Urbana in 2006. The bicyclist was struck by a motorist who later admitted to downloading a ring tone while behind the wheel.
And Wilhelm suspects it's the cause of more accidents than is being reported. "There's a lot of fatalities out there that haven't really been attributed to this, but there's some unknown causes," says Wilhelm. "So something is causing people to go into another lane and hit someone head on. I think this is a very good start. I really think it's more dangerous than drunk driving because it's more pervasive. More people are talking and texting than driving drunk." The distracted driving laws will also ban instant messaging, personal digital assistants, and portable computers, as well as all cell phone use while driving through a highway construction zone or school zone.
Wilhelm questions why driving everywhere else is so much safer, but says U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood could one day seek legislation that bans cell phone use while driving outright. Wilhelm also notes that more employers are banning cell phone use while driving on business to avoid a possible lawsuit.
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