Illinois Public Media News
Congressman John Shimkus (R-Collinsville) is running for re-election in the re-drawn 15th Congressional District, which includes parts of Champaign County, and all of Vermilion, Douglas, Edgar, Coles and Moultrie Counties.
Last week, Shimkus sat in on the U.S. Supreme Court's final day of hearings about the federal health care law. He told Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers that there are parts of the law he supports, but he said requiring people to purchase health insurance or pay a penalty goes a step too far.
He also discussed a bill he has introduced that would protect retailers, engine manufacturers, and fuel producers from lawsuits related to E15, a new fuel combination that is made up of 15-percent ethanol. And Shimkus looks ahead to the November general election.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
Newly-released health rankings offer a mixed bag for east central Illinois counties.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, in conjunction with the University of Wisconsin, has released County Health Rankings for the state of Illinois, which rank the 102 Illinois counties according to a variety of health factors and outcomes.
Champaign County ranked relatively high on the list, at 26th in the state; but Vermilion County fared much lower, at 95th.
Vermilion County Health Department Public Health Administrator Shirley Hicks suggests leaders and the public should use the information in the rankings to "build a healthier community."
Douglas County received the 7th highest ranking in the state, by far the best among East Central Illinois counties.
A wide range of measurements determine the rankings - they include access to medical care, graduation rates, unemployment, crime rates, air quality, and access to healthy foods, among many other factors.
This is the third year these rankings have been released.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's effort to ban Illegal synthetic drugs has included collecting more than $50,000 in drugs on Tuesday from Champaign stores.
Madigan's office targeted Champaign and Bloomington-Normal as part of 'Operation Smoked Out.' Illinois is among the states that have banned the bath salts and synthetic marijuana. By far the largest amount - more than 1,800 packs, were seized from the Smoke Shack at 208 E. Green Street. The drugs have a street value of about $44,000. Meanwhile, more drugs valued at $13,000 were taken from Global Tobacco at 202 E. Green.
"With these businesses sitting in the heart of our campus community, keeping our teens and students safe is a priority for our department," said Champaign Police Chief Anthony Cobb. "The Champaign Police Department thanks the Attorney General's office and associated agencies for a proactive approach to removing synthetic drugs from our city streets."
The synthetic drugs are known to contain chemical compounds that mimic the effects of cocaine or methamphetamine.
In the Normal area, about $50,000 in synthetic drugs were surrendered by six tobacco and convenience stores.
"Bloomington, Normal, and Champaign have significant numbers of college students who have been enticed to purchase and use these illegal and dangerous products," said Attorney General Madigan. "Retailers in these college towns should be aware that law enforcement will soon be walking through their front door to ensure that these dangerous, illegal drugs are not for sale."
Madigan's office has proposed legislation to target the retail sale of synthetic drugs.
(Photo courtesy of the Illinois Attorney General's office)
A photograph of an African-American Civil-War veteran is the first of its kind to be included in the collection of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield.
Nathan Hughes was a farmer and Union soldier, and like Abraham Lincoln he was born in Kentucky and moved to Illinois.
Kathryn Harris is with the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library. She said the donated photo shows Hughes and his second wife. She said it is likely they were wealthy since they were able to afford having a photograph taken and their clothes suggest a certain level of affluence.
Harris said it is important to add a photo of an identifiable African-American to the collection.
"A lot of people are not aware of the number of African Americans who served in the Union Army and the Union Navy and that there were over 1,500 from just Illinois who served in various regiments," Harris said.
Hughes was a member of the only African-American Union regiment created in Illinois. The photograph and other materials, including his obituary, will soon be on display.
U.S. Rep. John Shimkus (R-Collinsville) has introduced a bill in Congress to prevent lawsuits related to problems with E15, a fuel that increases the use of ethanol to 15 percent.
The new gasoline combination represents a major contrast to a majority of the ethanol fuel currently sold in the United States for passenger cars and pickups, which are comprised of 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent gas. The federal government is determining whether to make the fuel available to consumers.
The Environmental Protection Agency recommends that E15 be used for vehicles manufactured as early as 2001, but critics worry people may mistakenly use it in older models.
The American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers has challenged the government's efforts to offer E15. In a statement, the group's President Charles Drevna said with a lawsuit pending, the EPA should not rush to force E15 to the marketplace.
"EPA's hasty attempts to speed introduction of E15 before necessary testing is complete could endanger the safety of American consumers, threatening their vehicles and gasoline-powered equipment with possibly severe damage," Drevna said. "This action is more about political science than real science because it is designed to protect the ethanol industry rather than the American people."
Shimkus' bill is known as the Domestic Fuels Act of 2012 (HR 4345). It has gained support from Republicans and Democrats in the House, and there is a similar measure that has been introduced in the U.S. Senate.
Shimkus touts the proposal, saying that by protecting retailers, engine manufacturers, and fuel producers from E15 related lawsuits, he hopes to see E15 and other alternative fuels available at gas pumps.
"One way in which we help decrease our reliance on imported crude oil is the success of ethanol," Shimkus said. "As we move forward, our ability to use that at retail locations is directly proportional to their ability of whether they're going to get sued or not."
The Renewable Fuels Association's President and CEO, Bob Dinneen, has come out in support of Shimkus' legislation. He calls it a thoughtful approach to help speed the country's transition to E15 and higher ethanol blends.
"The bill would avoid unnecessary infrastructure investments by providing gasoline marketers with a commonsense certification pathway for existing equipment that assures safety while accelerating consumer access to these new fuels," Dinneen said. "The Domestic Fuels Act could help deliver price relief at the gas pump for consumers while increasingly liberating this country from its unhealthy, unsafe dependence upon foreign oil."
But the environmental organization, Friends of the Earth opposes the measure, saying E15 could harm people by damaging vehicles and gasoline-powered equipment. Michal Rosenoer, who is an environmental policy advocate with the group, said oil companies should be held liable if something goes wrong.
"The engine damage they're going to incur is going to cost lots of money," Rosenoer said. "Big oil, first and foremost, should not be protected from the liability, but what we need is a more comprehensive liability policy in total."
Before it can be available to consumers, E15 must pass a series of federal tests and become a registered fuel in individual states. At this point, 20 ethanol makers have already registered to sell the fuel, including the Archer Daniels Midland Company in Decatur.
"The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's approval of ADM's E-15 registration is a step toward bringing this homegrown fuel to American drivers," said Matt Bruns, vice president of Corn Processing for ADM. "E15 offers American drivers a cleaner, renewable alternative to traditional gasoline while positively contributing to our country's energy security, rural economic development and environmental improvement."
The Obama administration is looking to assist gas station owners in installing 10,000 blender pumps over the next several years. The federal government also has provided grants, loans and loan guarantees to push the use of bio-fuels.
(AP Photo/Mike Groll, file)
Former Blagojevich Aide Given 2 Year Prison Sentence
A federal judge on Tuesday handed a two-year prison sentence to a close friend and aide of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Ex-Blagojevich Aide Gets Two Years in Prison
A judge has handed a two year sentence to a longtime friend of Rod Blagojevich who stood close to the former Illinois governor as his fortunes rose, but who turned against him after his 2008 arrest.
The warmer-than-usual winter left nine Midwestern states with their warmest March on record, and in Illinois the first three months of the year were the warmest three winter months since 1895.
The Midwestern Regional Climate Center and Illinois Water Survey in Champaign on Tuesday said that Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin all had record warmth for March.
Average temperatures in the states ranged from 57.6 degrees in Kentucky to 42 degrees in Minnesota. Previous records were set in either the mid-1940s or 1910 in all nine states.
Illinois State Climatologist Jim Angel says average temperature for the state last month was 54.9 degrees, 13.8 degrees above normal. The warmest temperature reported in the state was at Chicago's O'Hare Airport on March 21 with 87 degrees. The coldest reported was in Monmouth on March 5 with 5 degrees.
The Water Survey says the statewide average temperature across Illinois from the January-to-March period was 40.9 degrees. That's more than nine degrees above normal.
Declining land values have forced Urbana aldermen to increase the property tax rate for 2012.
With little discussion, the city council last night unanimously raised that rate from a $1.29 per $100 of assessed valuation to $1.32.
But Mayor Laurel Prussing's Chief of Staff, Mike Monson, says the city is levying the same amount as last year, and the move will have virtually no impact on residents' tax bills.
"It's just the sign of the times with the economy, and the real estate bubble," Monson said. "We're still feeling the effects a couple of years later. The exact same thing happened in Champaign. Their rate went up a couple of pennies, and they decided to levy the same amount as last year."
Last week, Urbana City Comptroller Ron Eldridge said the 2011 tax levy marked the first time in his time with the city that he's seen the assessed value decrease. The actual amount went down nearly 2-percent. Eldridge also noted that Champaign's tax rate will still be be slightly above Urbana's (Champaign's rate is $1.3227, Urbana's is $1.3190.)
Without an increase in the tax rate, Urbana would have been dealing with a $200-thousand deficit in the current year's budget.
Illinois sophomore center Meyers Leonard has announced he will declare for the 2012 NBA draft.
Leonard averaged 14 points, eight rebounds for the Fighting Illini. His average of two blocked shots last season led the Big Ten. The graduate of Robinson High School in southeastern Illinois earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors.
In a statement, Leonard said it was a very difficult decision, but he believes the timing is right for him to follow his dream of playing in the NBA.
Illinois hasn't had a first round NBA Draft pick since Deron Williams and Dee Brown in 2005. Williams plays for the New Jersey Nets. Brown was waived by the Dallas Mavericks in 2010.
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