Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 04, 2011

IL Nursing Homes: We’ve Already Cut Our Budgets, Can’t Afford Another 6%

A group representing nursing homes in Illinois says the governor's proposed budget cuts would leave many of them struggling to provide adequate care, or even to survive.

The Health Care Council of Illinois' membership is mainly privately-run nursing homes, but they accept many patients relying on Medicaid. For one home in Champaign where patients and staff rallied this morning, that amounts to 70 patients out of 118 paying for their care through Medicaid.

Governor Pat Quinn's plan to ease the state's budget deficit includes a 6% cut in Medicaid funding. Health Care Council director Pat Comstock said such a cut would further hurt a system that already provides the least nursing home assistance of any state in the nation.

"Every facility will be impacted differently, but facilities may more and more make a decision not to take Medicaid residents, and then the poorest of the poor and the frailest of the frail won't have anywhere to get services," Comstock said. "Some facilities are undoubtedly going to close."

Comstock acknowledges that state senators are considering less drastic cuts - 3-percent instead of 6-percent. But she says for each dollar nursing homes lose from the state for Medicaid patients, they lose another dollar in federal matching funds -- a total of $140 million less in reimbursements if the state follows through with its $70 million proposed reduction.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 04, 2011

Pence Sets Call with Backers on Ind. Governor Bid

Republican Rep. Mike Pence plans to talk with supporters on an invitation-only conference call Thursday morning, when many political observers expect Pence will announce his intentions to run for Indiana governor in 2012.

Pence said this week that he's made up his mind about whether he'll run for governor. He planned to tell supporters about his decision during a call Monday, but delayed the announcement because of the death of Osama bin Laden.

In an e-mail sent Wednesday to supporters and obtained by The Associated Press, Pence rescheduled the call for 10 a.m. Thursday.

Most political observers expect Pence to run for governor after he ruled out a White House bid and resigned the No. 3 GOP House leadership slot after winning a sixth term in November.

Categories: Biography, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 04, 2011

Don Gerard Sworn In as Champaign’s Next Mayor

The first city council meeting for Champaign's new mayor was an uneventful one. But Don Gerard will work to fulfill part of his campaign platform starting next week.

Gerard was sworn into office before the packed city council chambers Tuesday, a night where all votes were unanimous and the bills before the council prompted little conversation. But at next Tuesday's study session, the new mayor and council will revisit the cost-cutting proposals of ending overnight front desk hours at the police station, and reducing staff at one fire station. City leaders say $2-million in cuts are needed.

Gerard says he wants to look into spending some reserve funds and saving jobs. He says it's all in the interest of the taxpayer.

"I want to bring them all the services they deserve, and all the services they're paying for," said Gerard. "We have money in rainy day accounts, and I think it's raining. So I think it's time to decide if we can move some of that money around a little bit, and get us through as we meet the economic recovery here."

New District 5 Council member Paul Faraci, also sworn in Tuesday night, says he has no intention of cutting police or fire services. The state economic official says he was 'energized' by Tuesday night's crowd, and is anxious to get his feet wet.

"There's a lot of work to do, and we've got a lot of hard decisions to make in the future," Faraci said. "But I think the quality of the staff, the experience of the sitting city council and our new mayor, I look forward to getting a lot of things accomplished."

And Mayor Gerard wants to turn his attention to another group suffering from the poor economy - teenagers. He wants to start up a citywide teen summer job program.

"What are we doing with a generation of teenagers who have been displaced by adults who have taken part-time jobs and so forth just to make ends meet," said Gerard. "The job market in Champaign is really tough right now. The best way to keep our streets safe and our community healthy is have teenagers working."

In other business, Champaign's city council has gone on record opposing the state's decision to drop Health Alliance. The council Tuesday unanimously backed a resolution urging that the decision be re-examined. Company CEO Jeff Ingrum told the council that more than 30,000 state employees in Champaign County are covered by Health Alliance, and the state's decision could impact the local economy by more than $30-million. Ingrum says members would essentially be 'left to choose between their doctors and their wallets.'

A new recycling center is expected to open soon in Champaign. The council last night approved a special use permit for the drop-off facility operated by Green Purpose LLC located at 807 Pioneer Street, just to the south of where the city used to operate a facility of its own.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 04, 2011

Legislation to Sell Homemade Goods at Farmers Markets Advances

A measure in the Illinois General Assembly could loosen local health department regulations that prevent people who want to make their own food and sell it at farmers markets.

The legislation, which passed the state Senate, would allow people to sell home-baked "non potentially hazardous food," like cookies, breads, and cakes. These are goods with a lower risk and track record of a foodborne illness.

The measure also includes selling certain types of jam, jelly and fruit butter.

In Illinois, baked goods sold as part of a business have to be prepared in a kitchen that passes a state health inspection. However, there are exceptions when home-prepared goods are sold at a yard sale or during a fundraiser.

In most cases, people who want to sell their own homemade baked goods have to rent or purchase a commercially certified kitchen. Wes King, the policy coordinator with the Illinois Stewardship Alliance, said buying a kitchen that is up to code can cost thousands of dolars, an expense he said many people cannot manage. King said the legislation would provide a stepping-stone for small businesses to startup.

"Instead of having to invest all that money in a commercial kitchen, you can do it out of your home kitchen and sell it at farmers markets," King explained. "Ideally, if you have a really successful product, you'll then move into the level of maybe using a shared kitchen or purchasing your own commercial kitchen."

The measure could have a big impact in Urbana. Back in 2009, the Champaign Urbana Public Health District began enforcing the state's ban on homemade goods at farmers markets, like Urbana's Market at the Square. Lisa Bralts-Kelly, the director of Market at the Square, said the legislation could change that policy.

"Overall, I think it'll be a great thing for farmers markets," Bralts-Kelly said. "It'll bring us back to people being able to find special things that they can't find anywhere else. Also in an economy like this, it kind of boosts entrepreneurialism and gives people a chance to earn some additional money."

State Senator Shane Cultra (R-Onarga), a co-sponsor of the legislation, said he hopes the bill changes the way local health departments in the state regulate food sales.

"There's too heavy a hand of local health departments," Cultra said. "This law does a good job of dividing food products into ones that have potential to be hazardous and ones that aren't."

The legislation requires people to have a food sanitation license, and it states that they must clearly label goods that are prepared in a home.

At least 17 other states have similar policies in place, according to the Illinois Stewardship Alliance.

The measure now heads to the Illinois House of Representatives.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 03, 2011

U of I Academic Senate Cites Concerns Over IT Changes

A plan by University of Illinois administrators to place information technology directly under their control isn't sitting well with the Urbana campus Academic Senate.

The faculty-student body opposed the move Monday on a 61-to-14 vote. U of I Chemistry Professor Al Scheeline said consultants suggested the changes to IT just days before administrators approved them in February.

He said no faculty saw the report in that time, and they still don't have a clear idea of what the impact will be. Scheeline said the suggested savings of $18-million a year by the year 2013 are up in the air as well.

"Were the costs accurately figured out? Were the benefits accurately figured out? Was there sufficient breadth in looking at those costs and benefits? I have to clue to the answer of any of those questions," Wheeler said. "And I don't know we would have come up with any different answer if we had those answers, but the faculty just feels like it's been cut off from asking the right questions before precipitious actions were taken."

The Urbana campus Student Body President says plans to centralize Information Technology could mean a loss of autonomy for many who are used to making decisions at their level. David Olsen said the changes could take power away from faculty and researchers.

"How does academic and research educational IT fit into the broader IT picture, and how will that be impacted?" he said. "Will faculty and students who use these IT resources every day, especially in fields like computer science and electrical and computer engineering, how will those fields be affected?"

As with nearly all the votes taken by the Academic Senate, the vote is merely advisory. The Urbana campus' new Executive Chief Information Officer, Michael Hites, said the changes should allow the university to better prioritize certain projects, but he says some are misinterpreting the change in plans. He said the changes won't impact collegiate support groups or research departments like the National Center for Supercomputing Applications.

The Senate's Executive Committee and IT committee will continue to discuss the plans over the summer. Urbana campus Interim Vice Chancellor and Provost Richard Wheeler said the proof will come in the way the changes work out. But he said serious discussions on IT governance on campus are just getting under way.

"There are a lot of pretty good people who are applying themselves to coming up with solutions that will work." said Wheeler.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 03, 2011

Governor Quinn Says He’d Veto Concealed Carry Bill

Governor Pat Quinn said Tuesday he would veto a bill allowing Illinoisans to carry concealed weapons, if it ever reaches his desk.

The measure now being considered in the Illinois General Assembly would allow registered gun owners with requisite training to carry hidden guns in public. Illinois is one of just two states that does not have a provision allowing residents to carry concealed weapons.

But Quinn cited a variety of scenarios, from violence against police to fatal road rage incidents, in saying he will not sign the measure if it passes through the legislature.

"The concept of concealed, loaded handguns in the possession of private citizens does not enhance public safety," Quinn said. "On the contrary, it increases danger."

Quinn's announcement comes as an Illinois House committee is considering the bill, which is sponsored by Democratic state Rep. Brandon Phillips of downstate Harrisburg. With a possible vote on the measure coming the next few days, the governor urged lawmakers to rally against the bill.

"It's defeat, I think, would be a good thing for our state," Quinn said.

The governor said it would be too complicated to allow some municipalities to opt out, saying Illinois "must have a law that applies to a whole state." That's one concession that had been forwarded by the bill's sponsor.

Gun rights advocates say letting Illinoisians carry hidden weapons could help them protect themselves from criminals. But opponents maintain having more guns on the street would only increase violence.

(Alex Keefe/IPR)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 03, 2011

First Witnesses Testify in Blagojevich Retrial

The first witnesses took the stand Tuesday morning, in the 2nd trial of Ex-Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. And Judge James Zagel wasted no time in chiding the defense for asking questions he says are inappropriate.

Like in the first trial, FBI agent Daniel Cain was the prosecution's leadoff witness. Cain testified about the long-running investigation into key members of the Blagojevich administration, and about all the wiretaps used in that investigation.

On cross examination, Blagojevich's lawyers tried to raise doubt by asking why some phone conversations are in evidence and others are not. The judge shut this down, and explained to the jury the legal reasons for excluding conversations- such as, if they were about personal things.

Also on Tuesday morning, John Harris began his testimony. Harris was Blagojevich's chief of staff, and was actually arrested on the same day as the governor. He's testifying for the prosecution in exchange for a lighter sentence, about a number of issues, including Blagojevich's alleged efforts to profit from his power to fill a US Senate seat.

All during the morning's s court action, the ex-governor took notes on a yellow legal pad, as he did the first time around, last summer.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 03, 2011

Schools are Forum for Discussing bin Laden’s Death

On Monday at Chicago's Rickover Naval Academy High School, students-known here as "cadets"-stood in their platoons on the grassy ball field before school.

And along with the regular morning announcements, they listened to Commander Mike Tooker give this historic message:

"In case any of you haven't heard, last night the president came on television and notified the entire world that Osama bin Laden has been taken out by Special Forces."

Tooker made sure students knew that Navy Seals had a hand in that, but he says, overall, students at the city's only naval academy responded fairly quietly to the news.

"It was my own naval science instructors-the other retired military people who work here-they were the ones who raised their hands and started clapping a little bit, and then the students kind of rolled into that and they started clapping as well."

In fact, Tooker says, it's possible that the naval academy's big win in Friday's baseball game against the Marine Corps Academy was the bigger news.

"That actually generated more applause than the fact that Osama bin Laden had been taken out by U.S. Special Forces," Tooker says.

Memories of 9/11 for many of the city's high school students are interspersed with crayons and kindergarten songs. The U.S. has been looking for Osama bin Laden for most of their lives.

Senior Jocelyn Aguilar, 18, watched the second plane hit the World Trade Center on television with her mother, who'd picked her up from school. She was seven at the time. Aguilar says May 2 will remain etched in her mind, as well.

"Oh yeah, I'm definitely gonna remember this day.... You know the whole feeling you got with September 11-this is kind of something that marks as well. "

Aguilar, who plans to enlist in the military when she graduates in June, says students and teachers spent a class period reading news sites about bin Laden's death.

"It's a good thing, but at the same time it's just going to erupt a lot more bad stuff. I'm enlisting in the Marine Corps so I'm definitely going to see a part of that as well. ... It's kind of like a bittersweet feeling."

On the other side of the city, students also pondered what the news would mean.

In a fifth period Global Issues class at Kenwood Academy High School on the city's South Side, students worked to put terrorism networks and two wars into context. Their questions guided the discussion-and there were lots of them: Why wasn't bin Laden captured rather than killed? Would the killing affect President Barack Obama's chances at re-election? Are we at greater risk of a terrorist attack now? How do we know for sure that we got bin Laden?

"Does this mean anything for our troops? Like is anybody coming home? Does that fix anything?" one girl wanted to know.

A classmate responded, "I don't think it does, because he's more of a figurehead. Like this isn't really gonna change anything with the war at all."

In a class earlier in the day, students drew parallels between the violence caused by terrorism and gang violence in their neighborhoods.

(Photo by Linda Lutton/IPR)


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 02, 2011

Ind. Congressman Says bin Laden Death Opportunity for Change in Military Focus

A U.S. official says Osama bin Laden died firing at the Navy SEALs who stormed his compound.

A little more than a month before the Al Qaeda leader's death, the Congressional Research Service released a report estimating that U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan in the last decade have cost about $1.3 trillion.

Congressman Todd Rokita (R-Indianapolis) sits on the House's budget committee. Rokita acknowledges that while bin Laden's death is a victory in the war on terror; it's also an opportunity for the United States to recognize another national security threat - its own debt.

"I see this as a silver lining as a breakthrough to the military industrial complex about how we really need to effectively fight the war on terrorism in the 21st century in a way that is economical and lets us live within our means," he said.

Rokita said more money should be going to support special ops campaigns...like the one that brought down bin Laden...and less on wars that drag on for years at a time and hurt the nation's economy.

"I think it might be more efficient and cheaper in the long run than sending brigades and units and boots on the ground all over the world."

Meanwhile, Congressman Tim Johnson (R- Urbana) released a statement, saying he looks forward to peace in the Middle East, and U.S. troops returning home from the region.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 02, 2011

Newark’s Garry McCarthy Named Chicago’s New Police Superintendent

(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)

As expected, Chicago Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel completed his long-awaited search for a new Chicago Police Superintendent Monday by naming Garry McCarthy to the post.

Since 2006, McCarthy has led the police department in Newark, NJ, and before that he served as Deputy Commissioner of Operations for New York City's police department.

McCarthy replaces Jody Weis, who left the superintendent's job when his contract ended earlier this year. Former Chicago Police Superintendent Terry Hillard was tapped to fill out the remaining weeks of his contract.

Under Weis, the department suffered from morale problems as many rank-and-file officers considered him an outsider. Weis came to the job after working at the FBI.

At a news conference on Monday, Emanuel pointed out that despite his lack of experience in Chicago, McCarthy is a second generation law enforcement official who began as a patrol officer and understands the challenges and needs of urban police departments. "He knows how to run a large police force," Emanuel said.

But he also cited McCarthy's efforts in other cities as a key reason behind his selection. "Garry's experience and reputation will bring new ideas and energy to our police department," Emanuel said.

As Deputy Commissioner of Operations for the NYPD, McCarthy was responsible for orchestrating and determining policing strategies for the entire department. In 2006, Newark Mayor Cory Booker tapped him to take over as that city's police chief.

Emanuel praised McCarthy for his efforts to reduce both Newark's murder rate and its civilian complaints. In 2008, Newark led the nation in murder reduction and in April of last year, Newark experienced it's first murder-free month since 1966.

But budget cuts forced Newark to lay off 167 police last year, and so far in 2011, the city's murder rate is 71 percent above its year-ago levels.

Among the first steps McCarthy plans to take as head of the CPD will be to restore the position of First Deputy Superintendent, a position eliminated under Weis' term. Emanuel promised that he and McCarthy would move quickly to implement such a move.

In addition to McCarthy's appointment, Emanuel also stated that Richard Hoff will stay on as commissioner of the Chicago Fire Department. As he visited more than 40 fire stations across the city, Emanuel said firefighters everywhere asked him whether he'd keep Hoff in the role. "This was an easy choice," Emanuel remarked.

Emanuel will be taking over for retiring Mayor Richard Daley on May 16.


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