Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 18, 2012

Indiana House Dems Want to Challenge Fines in Court

Indiana House Democrats say they'll go to court to challenge the $1,000-a-day fines they face for their legislative boycott over the right-to-work bill.

Democratic leader Patrick Bauer says he believes the House leadership doesn't have the legal authority to deduct the fines from pay checks of members. A similar court challenge is pending from fines imposed on Democratic legislators who took part in last year's five-week boycott.

House Republicans voted Wednesday to impose the fines after Democrats skipped the House session for the fifth time in 10 days it has tried to meet this month.

Republican Speaker Brian Bosma says he intends to begin withholding the fines immediately from the boycotters' paychecks. He says the deductions are legal.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 18, 2012

Champaign Avoids Two Cuts in Public Service

The city of Champaign has managed to avoid two cuts in public service that were proposed as part of cuts to the city budget.

One of the cuts would have involved closing the front desk at police headquarters on evenings and weekends. But Deputy Police Chief Troy Daniels said the department had decided they can keep the desk open with reduced staff. Daniels says the front desk serves a vital role in public safety --- notably for people trying to reach a police officer without a phone.

"There have also been times when people ran into the police department because someone's chased, or they've recently been injured, or they've been in the area and it's freezing cold outside and there have nowhere else to go," Daniels said. "Under the new arrangements, police officers will come in off of patrol at times to fill in for front desk personnel who go on break."

At the same time, members of the Champaign firefighters union have agreed to wage and time concessions in a deal that will keep the 2nd engine company at Fire Station Four fully staffed. The union is providing 55-percent of the funding through wage and time concessions in a side-letter agreement that will run until June 30, 2013. Fire Chief Douglas Forsman said that means they can drop plans to reduce available fire companies on the west side of the city.

"We were always attempting to limit the impact by essentially browning out the least busy fire company in the city," Forsman said. "However, there was going to be an impact, no question about that. And that has been avoided."

The two proposed cutbacks had been among the most controversial ones proposed during last year's cuts to the Champaign City budget. Both became issues during last year's mayoral and city council elections.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 18, 2012

Indiana Republicans Approve Fines on Boycotters

Indiana House Republicans have approved $1,000-a-day fines against Democratic legislators who are boycotting over a right-to-work bill.

The Republicans approved the fines in a voice vote Wednesday morning as most of the Democratic representatives gathered in the Statehouse Rotunda for what they called an open caucus meeting to discuss the bill to ban union contracts with mandatory representation fees.

The Democrats began their meeting surrounded by hundreds of union supporters, with more watching from the balconies above.

Republican Speaker Brian Bosma had demanded that Democrats end their boycott and give the House enough members present to begin debating proposed amendments to the bill.

Most Democrats resumed their walkout after questions arose about the constitutionality of the statewide referendum they're seeking on the proposal. Bosma calls their action a delay tactic.

Categories: Business, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 18, 2012

Ind. Unveils its 1st License Plate for Gay Youth

Indiana's first specialty license plate that benefits gay causes is now available for purchase.

The Bureau of Motor Vehicles says the Indiana Youth Group plate has been available since Dec. 28. The plate bears a logo with hands in rainbow colors reaching up out of a circle.

Some $25 from sales of each $40 plate goes to the group serving lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth.

Youth Group Director Mary Byrne tells The Indianapolis Star ( http://indy.st/zl90uE ) that Indiana is the second state in the nation with a specialty plate benefiting gay youths. She says Maryland was the first.

The Youth Group sued the state in 2010 after the BMV twice turned down its request for a specialty plate. Both sides later reached an agreement and the plate was approved.

(Photo courtesy of BMV)


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 18, 2012

Urbana to Intervene on Illinois-American Water’s Rate Hike Request

The city of Urbana hopes to have a say before Illinois American Water's local rates go up as much as 18 percent, or roughly $7, this fall.

The city council's 6-1 vote means Urbana will spend up to $8,000 in legal fees to join Champaign, Savoy, St. Joseph, Sidney and Philo, with hopes of reducing the amount of the company's latest rate hike request before the Illinois Commerce Commission.

Illinois-American wants to raise them for 308,000 customers, seeking $38 million in revenues.

External affairs manager Chris Bacon said much of the request is for infrastructure like fire hydrants, valves, and more than four miles of water main. The company will spend $180 million statewide on these upgrades. Meanwhile, $10.5 million in revenues would make up for a decline in water usage among customers.

Alderman Charlie Smyth said that part of the request isn't fair.

"It really bothers me that people who have conserved, who have cut their costs, are going to get punished via this rate increase," Smyth said. "I think that's totally inappropriate."

But Bacon said customers will be better off in the long run.

"The more customers conserve water, the less improvements that we have to make, making repairs to costly mains, wells, pipes, things of that nature," Bacon said.

If the ICC approves the full amount of the request, it would also mean rate increases of about 25 percent for small local commercial customers. Illinois American made the request last October, and expects the process to take about 11 months.

Alderwoman Heather Stevenson cast the lone dissenting vote. Citing tight finances, she says the $8-thousand should be spent on something else with no guarantee the rate hike request will be reduced.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 18, 2012

World Champion Cardinals Honored by President Obama

At a ceremony at the White House Tuesday, the St. Louis Cardinals were called the "greatest comeback team in the history of baseball."

President Barack Obama made the declaration as he honored the Cardinals for their World Series Championship last year. Despite being a White Sox fan, the President thanked the Cardinals for an amazing season.

"And I also want to thank them for visiting Walter Reed this morning, spending time with our wounded warriors over there," Obama said. "That's what this organization's all about. It represents baseball at its best and I wish them all the best this season. Congratulations."

The team presented President and Mrs. Obama with World Series bats and Cardinal jerseys with the number 44 on their backs (Obama is the 44th President of the United States.)

The President said he was impressed with the team's ability to make up a 10 1/2 game deficit.

"Through skills and guts and -- I think the team would agree -- just a little bit of luck, just a touch, this team made the playoffs," Obama said. "Even though they trailed in each of the series that followed, they somehow had the spirit and the determination and the resolve to survive."

Two important members of last year's team were missing Tuesday: retired manager Tony LaRussa, who had a prior engagement, and former first baseman Albert Pujols - now with the Anaheim Angels -- who declined the invitation.

(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Categories: Government, Politics, Sports

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 18, 2012

Allegiant to Connect Flights from Bloomington to Orlando

Starting in May, an airline carrier will begin providing flights from Bloomington's airport to Florida's Orlando-Sanford International Airport.

AirTran currently offers flights each week into and out of Bloomington to Florida, but that airline will end service in June. Carl Olson, who is the director of the Central Illinois Regional Airport, said Allegiant Air will maintain a new connection to Florida.

"There are other business destinations that we're interested in looking at, but you have to go where the customers are," Olson said. "You have to realize that an airport is a business that has to serve our customers, and our customers in Central Illinois want to go to Central Florida."

Allegiant currently operates flights between Peoria and Tampa, as well as Las Vegas and Phoenix.

With AirTran's imminent departure this summer, the Bloomington airport is expected to lose about 40-percent of its service. AirTran's jets carry 117 passengers while Allegiant flies 150. Olson said he could not comment on efforts to retain that lost business, but he said AirTran's flights have averaged 90-percent capacity and he anticipates similar results with Allegiant Air.

Allegiant begins Thursday and Sunday service between Bloomington-Normal and the Orlando area on May 16, just weeks before AirTran ends its flights. Allegiant is offering $75 one-way introductory fares for this summer if booked by Feb. 6.

Meanwhile, Vision Airlines recently ended service between Champaign's Willard Airport and an airport near Fort Myers, Florida.

Categories: Transportation

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 17, 2012

Jeff Fisher Officially Announced as Rams Head Coach

The new head coach of the St. Louis Rams says he's up for the challenge of turning around a football team that has won just ten games over its last three seasons.

The Rams officially announced Jeff Fisher as the team's coach at a press conference at Rams Park in Earth City today. Fisher replaces Steve Spagnuolo, who was fired a day after the 2011 regular season ended. News of Fisher's move leaked out last week.

Fisher is an "experienced, confident head coach who has been in a lot of different situations," said Rams owner Stan Kronke as he introduced Fisher today. "His teams are tough. I've sat and watched them, we've had occasion to experience them. He's a great coach, he's a great teacher, he's a great leader."

Fisher was until last year the head coach of the Tennessee Titans, where he went 142 and 120 over 17 seasons, losing to the Rams in Super Bowl XXXIV. He said he'd always intended to take the year off to refresh, and St. Louis and the Miami Dolphins were the two top contenders for his services.

"My decision was very, very simple," Fisher said. "It was based on a collective vision as far as the future of this franchise. More specifically, it's restoring this franchise to a place of significance. It's an opportunity to take another trip as champions to the White House." (Fisher's official introduction came the same day the St. Louis Cardinals were honored at the White House for their 2011 world championship.)

The Rams, Fisher said, played hard all last season, despite winning just two games. He acknowledged the team has some holes, but says he has faith in third-year quarterback Sam Bradford.

"I think you have to look back at his success and his production in his first year," Fisher said. "This year was difficult for a lot of reasons - the lock-out, the lack of time together in the offense."

The Rams must still find a replacement for general manager Billy Devaney, who was fired along with Spagnuolo. Team vice president Kevin Demoff -- whose father is Fisher's agent -- says Fisher will be part of that search.

The deal Fisher signed just before his introduction is reportedly worth about $7 million a year over five years. As Kroenke put it, "it'll keep him here for a while." But Kroenke sidestepped a question as to whether the Rams will remain in St. Louis for the entire length of Fisher's deal.

"There's a team in place that deals with all that so we'll see how that process sorts itself out. It's a thing that takes place over time," he said.

A clause in the team's lease of the Edward Jones Dome would allow it to leave the city as soon as 2015 if major upgrades aren't made to the Dome. The city must present its proposal for those upgrades by Feb. 1.

(AP Photo/Wade Payne)

Categories: Biography, Sports
Tags: sports, people

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 17, 2012

Ind. House Dems Block Right-to-Work Vote

Indiana's House Democrats are again blocking divisive right-to-work legislation because of what their leader calls a Republican "trick.''

Democratic House Minority Leader Patrick Bauer said he learned Monday night of a Republican plan to undermine the Democrats' effort to put right-to-work legislation on the ballot. Democrats boycotted the House again Tuesday in response.

But Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma says Bauer is reneging on a promise that Democrats would vote on the legislation Tuesday.

Bauer says he's having state and outside lawyers review the referendum proposal. He says Democrats could boycott for at least a few more days.

The House of Representatives had planned to vote later Tuesday on the referendum proposal and 43 other amendments to the bill. The Republican proposal would ban unions from collecting mandatory representation fees.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 17, 2012

Kraft Foods Inc. to Cut 1,600 Positions

(Story updated and corrected at 2:06 PM, 1/17/12)

Kraft Foods Inc. says it will cut 1,600 positions in North America this year as it prepares to split its business into two independent companies --- one for groceries, the other for snack foods.

The suburban Chicago-based food company said Tuesday that it plans to eliminate the positions throughout the U.S. and Canada primarily from sales, corporate and other business units. About one fifth of the job eliminations are currently open positions.

Kraft spokesperson Joyce Hodel said the company has not yet made decisions about its manufacturing facilities, so the job cuts will not affect its facility in Champaign. The Champaign plant produces Kraft grocery products, including Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, Miracle Whip and Kraft salad dressings.

However, Kraft does plan to close its management center in the Chicago suburb of Glenview by the end of 2013. In addition, the company will move its Beverages unit and Planter brand to the Chicago area by December 2012. Both units are currently located in other states.

"Making these tough choices is never easy, and we recognize the impact these changes will have on many of our people and their families," according to a statement by Tony Vernon, the executive vice president and president of Kraft Foods North America and CEO of the future grocery company. "But our plan for a more nimble company, combined with the current economic and competitive pressures, led us to this point. Taking the necessary steps now will enable us to continue investing in our beloved brands to drive growth."

The corporation has approximately 127,000 employees across the world, including 46,500 in North America.

Kraft announced in August that it would split its snack and grocery business into two companies - a global snacks business and North American grocery business. Kraft said these moves are needed to help the businesses run more effectively.

Categories: Business
Tags: business

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