Illinois Public Media News
Illinois is getting more than $7.7 million to help cover the costs of repairing roads and bridges damaged by last year's flooding and windstorms.
Gov. Pat Quinn and Sen. Dick Durbin announced Monday that the money will be coming from the U.S. Department of Transportation's emergency-relief funds.
The Illinois Department of Transportation will dole out more than $4.7 million to help northwest Illinois communities affected last July by strong wind and rains that totaled more than 12 inches. That's meant to defray costs of repairing drainage and roadway washouts, in addition to slope failures.
Southern Illinois communities affected by widespread heavy rain and flooding last spring largely along the Mississippi and Ohio rivers will get roughly $3 million.
(AP Photo/Jim Suhr)
A panel of Indiana lawmakers used a window of opportunity Tuesday after Democrats ended a three-day boycott to send divisive right-to-work legislation to the full House of Representatives.
The committee voted 8-5 along party lines to advance a ban on contracts that require workers to pay union fees for representation. Republican Chairman Douglas Gutwein and Democratic Rep. David Niezgodski periodically shouted each other down as Democrats attempted to introduce a handful changes to the bill. Other Republicans on the House Employment, Labor and Pensions Committee remained largely quiet through the testy voting session.
Indiana could become the first state in more than a decade to approve right-to-work legislation. National advocates have tried without success to push the measure in New Hampshire and other states following a wave of Statehouse victories by Republicans in 2010.
The right-to-work measure is the first bill to be voted on by a House panel this session and could advance to the Senate as early as Friday if Democrats stick around long enough. The boycott by House Democrats last week stalled work on the measure. And Democratic House Minority Leader Patrick Bauer said when his caucus returned to the House chamber Monday that they may boycott again to block the bill.
Union protesters who packed the House chamber for the vote booed at Republicans and cheered for Democrats.
Gutwein said Tuesday that a batch of Democratic amendments to the bill were drafted too late to be considered during the voting session.
"What are you afraid of?" asked Rep. Craig Fry, D-Mishawaka. "You have plenty of votes to pass this bill."
Gutwein countered Democrats, saying that opponents had plenty of time to speak out last week during a five-hour hearing on the measure.
"They're ruled out of order and that's it," he said of the amendments.
Opposition to an immigrant detention center planned for the Chicago south suburb of Crete appears to be growing. About 150 area residents overflowed a Crete Township Hall meeting room Monday night to hear from critics of the project.
In recent days, meanwhile, both candidates in a tough Democratic primary battle for the area's U.S. House seat have come out against the plan.
Immigrant advocates who led the meeting said federal officials are planning a medium-security facility holding foreign nationals awaiting deportation. The speakers voiced concern about the detainees' human rights.
Crete residents raised their own issues. "We don't have a fire department or police department here that can service that," retiree Robert Hughes said after the meeting. "And If I ever go to sell my house again, who's going to want to buy my house? I'll be living three blocks away from the prison."
Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced last summer that the agency had "tentatively selected" Crete for the facility, which would be run by Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America. ICE on Monday sent a statement that says the village, the federal government and CCA are still working on details. "If and when a formal selection occurs, the appropriate notifications will be made," the statement says.
Hughes and other Crete residents accused the village of trying to keep the plan a secret.
Village Administrator Tom Durkin said Crete officials learned about the 750-bed project from CCA in November 2010. He said the village board would hold a hearing before approving the plan: "It's premature to bring anything to the public yet because, at this point, it's an idea. It's not a real project at this point."
Durkin said the center would be built on farmland just southeast of Burville Road and Main Street, an intersection less than a mile from Crete Village Hall. He said the facility would generate "tens of millions of dollars in property taxes" each year and create more than 150 jobs.
The Democratic primary candidates include Debbie Halvorson, a Crete resident and former U.S. representative who announced her position on the detention center after Monday night's meeting.
"The fact that it's being privately built and managed is one of the problems," Halvorson said. "We've got 12 million people here illegally, they're not going away, and we can't keep building more detention centers."
Halvorson's stand followed a Friday statement from the incumbent, Jesse Jackson, Jr. "I don't want the south suburbs to become famous for prisons and for breaking up families," the statement says.
The first focus group meeting for potential subscribers to Champaign-Urbana's big broadband project had its share of questions, and there were answers for most of them.
The UC2B project for underserved areas won't be fully on line for about a year. But the first neighborhoods could see it as soon as April. Those include parts of Garden Hills - home for Robert Siedenberg:
"I knew there was fiber to the corner of my yard - I never dreamed it would come to the house," he said. "That's wonderful."
Siedenberg has had internet issues for much of his 10 years in North Garden Hills. After moving there, he discovered his home's all-copper phone lines were 50 to 60 years old. That meant the phone company would frequently switch service to an unused line, for basic dial up service.
"That would be good for a year or two, and by good, I mean it would be functional," said Sidedenberg. "And then we'd have outages again."
Those eligible for UC2B have learned they can expect to pay about 20-dollars for monthly service, and at a speed that's expected to surpass what Comcast and others and provide. It will also serve as an intranet service, allows users to produce content, and connect to anchor institutions like schools and hospitals. Consultant Diane Kruse says she's excited with the response.
"Often, when you're in this business, you're thinking about the plans, and you're deep into the spreadsheets and the numbers and the operating models and the policies," she said. "It's easy to lose focus on the customer."
Canvassers of bid-broadband neighborhoods have hit most areas once, getting replies from about 400 households so far.
About 18 people eligible for the service attended the first focus group meeting on UC2B in Champaign Monday night. Questions ranged from whether a senior on a fixed income could receive a lower rate, and whether current providers, like Comcast would end up offering more competitive rates as a result of UC2B.
The University of Illinois' Board of Trustees will consider a student fee increase when they meet next Thursday in Chicago.
The rate hike covers services such as information technology, transportation, and maintenance. Randy Kangas, who is the U of I's associate vice president for Planning and Budgeting, said the change would amount to a $5 a semester increase for each student on the Urbana campus, going from $1,436 to $1,441.
"It's much smaller than (in previous years)," Kangas said. "There aren't any big initiatives. We're not building the rec center."
Trustee Ed McMillan, chair of the board's budget and audit committee, said he is confident the proposal will be approved by the Board of Trustees.
"Last year there was a little confusion over whether all the fees had been approved by all the campuses," McMillan said. "This year those basics have all been touched on each campus in each group, and as best as I can tell, everyone's in agreement going forward with the proposals that have been put forward."
As part of the fee proposal, students on the Chicago campus would pay $3 more each semester, and students on the Springfield campus would pay $18.50 more per semester.
The university's Board of Trustees will also consider increasing undergraduate student housing rates each semester by $118 dollars in Urbana, $99 in Chicago, and $100 in Springfield.
Last week, Moody's Investor Service downgraded Illinois' credit rating to the lowest of any state in the country. The state still owes the University of Illinois more than $242 million in unpaid bills, which is about $200 million less than what it owed a year ago.
The head of the University of Illinois' fundraising arm says he's stepping down at the end of 2012.
University of Illinois Foundation President Sidney Micek will serve as president through December, and then remain with the Foundation part time, working on special fundraising initiatives. The foundation has raised nearly 3-billion dollars under Micek, much of it through the U of I's Brilliant Futures campaign.
In a press release, U of I President Michael Hogan says Micek's leadership will yield dividends for generations to come. The foundation notes that private funding is partially responsible for many newer facilities on the Urbana campus, including the Alice Campbell Alumni Center and Business Instructional facility.
The foundation expects to name Micek's successor before he leaves the job.
As the University of Illinois investigates anonymous emails about a controversial new enrollment management plan, a group promoting collective bargaining for university faculty says that plan should be put on hold.
The Campus Faculty Association at the U of I Urbana campus wants a moratorium on President Michael Hogan's new, more centralized, enrollment management plan, in light of the emails.
The writer of the emails claimed to be an anonymous faculty senator, and brought up disagreements among Conference members as they considered a report critical of some parts of the plan. But a computer science professor traced the email to a computer registered to Hogan's chief of staff, Lisa Troyer, who resigned last week, citing personal reasons.
Campus Faculty Association spokesperson Susan Davis says it's clear to her group that the administration has been trying to put undue pressure on the Faculty Senates Conference as it considers "a very significant change in the way students are admitted to the U of I". Davis says the enrollment management plant should be sent back to the faculty senates at all three U of I campuses for a thorough review.
Leadership on the Faculty Senates Conference have been reluctant to blame the emails on Troyer, before the university's investigation is complete. They note the possibility her computer may have been hacked. Troyer has not returned a call seeking comment.
An Indiana House committee has scheduled its initial vote on divisive labor legislation that has brought hundreds of union protesters and sparked a three-day boycott by Democrats.
The House Employment, Labor and Pensions Committee plans to meet Tuesday morning to vote on right-to-work legislation. House Democrats made the initial vetting possible when they joined House Republicans Monday.
The bill would make Indiana the first state in more than a decade to ban contracts that require workers to pay union fees for representation.
House Democratic Leader Patrick Bauer said Monday his caucus was returning "just for today'' and that Democrats may boycott again.
Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma says the bill could get a final vote in his chamber as early as Friday if Democrats stick around.
A new minor-league basketball team based in Bloomington, Illinois begins its regular season Sunday afternoon. The Central Illinois Drive will meet the St. Louis Phoenix, at Soldan International Studies High School Arena in St. Louis. It's the first regular season game for both teams in the five-year-old Premier Basketball League.
The two teams play again on Friday evening, January 13th, for the Drive's first regular season home game, at the U-S Cellular Coliseum in Bloomington.
The Central Illinois Drive go into the season, following a 96 to 90 home court win over the Chicago Muscle on New Year' Eve.
The Drive are coached by former Chicago Bulls and Golden State Warriors player A-J Guyton. The team lineup includes former ISU player Tony Lewis and former Bradley University players Daniel Ruffin and Matt Salley.
The St. Louis Phoenix played last season as the St. Louis Pioneers in the American Basketball Association.
The Central Illinois Drive is the third minor league athletic team to come to Bloomington in recent years. The Bloomington Blaze of the Central Hockey League and the Bloomington Extreme of the Indoor Football League are also based at Bloomington's U-S Cellular Coliseum.
A commission studying Illinois education says forcing small school districts to merge could cost state government billions of dollars.
The huge price could kill any chance that the Classrooms First Commission will recommend mandatory consolidation. Several commission members told The Associated Press that there is little support for that approach.
The commission was created after Gov. Pat Quinn proposed reducing the roughly 870 Illinois school districts down to just 300. He said that would save $100 million in administrative salaries.
The commission looked at a hypothetical plan to merge all individual high school and elementary districts. It concluded the mergers would cost state government at least $3.7 billion. That's because the state is required to help new districts pay staff and teachers.
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