Illinois Public Media News
In an effort to improve students' health, legislators want Illinois schools to share good ideas. The measure creates a database districts can access to learn about successful wellness programs offered at other schools statewide.
The legislation's sponsor, Plainfield Democratic Senator Linda Holmes, says many schools already have nutrition and physical education programs in place. But she says others don't even know where to start. "This gives you the ability to go to this database and it will have the best practices of other schools you can look and say 'wow look, we can incorporate this activity our school has this capability," Holmes said. "So it's everybody's best practices, leaving you as school coming not having to try and reinvent the wheel, but finding out what's working in others." Holmes adds that using the database would be voluntary.
Lawmakers also gave their seal of approval to creating a co-op-like relationship between farmers and schools, so local fresh foods can be incorporated into lunch programs. Both proposals now head to the Governor.
Illinois' courts are in the process of getting an update for how judicial evidence is handled. Hearings will be held next week in Chicago and Springfield.
The rules the courts in Illinois follow when handling evidence are scattered in common law, statutes, and court decisions.
Most states have these rules outlined in one authoritative source, but not Illinois. Chief Justice Thomas Fitzgerald wants to change that, which is why he appointed a special committee to write a blueprint of the state's evidence rules.
This committee includes appellate judges, trial judges, law school professors, and legislators. The manual they've designed is intended to make the judicial process more efficient.
Supreme Court spokesperson Joe Tybor says a judge or lawyer could consult the legal manual to determine the validly of the defense's accusation based on previous rulings. "It should help any lawyer, any judge, and any client who needs information to make a decision on how to proceed," Tybor said. The Supreme Court would have to approve the final product.
Mahomet-Seymour school students are scheduled to return to school tomorrow after a threat prompted school officials to evacuate the schools and ultimately dismiss students for the day.
The district received the threat at about 9:00 this morning. The threat involving bombs and firearms originally came to the Mahomet police department, which notified the school district.
Superintendent Keith Oates says the school doesn't often receive bomb threats, and this threat is different from others they've received in the past:
"It's rare and usually it involves just one building or a specific location within a building. So this is a first for us as far as involving all buildings," Oates said
Oates said canine units from the U of I and Urbana police departments swept the buildings and found nothing.
According to Oates, the district's crisis protocol was followed. It includes removing students to two churches. Oates says all of the students were picked up from these off-campus locations.
Vermilion County's financially struggling Health Department is cutting 16 more staff members by June 30th as it looks to maintain minimum state-certified status.
Adminstrator Steve Laker says even operating at that level will rely on another loan from the county - this one for $75,000. The Vermilion County Board will discuss the loan at its meeting Tuesday. The county is also being asked to pick up about 88-thousand dollars in buyouts for laid off employees. Laker says the health department will also implement a four-day work week later this month. "We're going to set a standard furlough day one day a week. The Fridays will be elimated," says Laker. "So our staff time will be elimated from 35 hours to 28 hours a week, and our operations will be a 4-day a week operation."
By July 1st, Laker says his department will only maintain three programs partially dependent on federal dollars. Those programs are communicable disease services, environmental health... and WIC, or the Women, Infants and Children program. Vermilion County's health department is owed more than $600,000 by the state. It started the year with 74 employees, and plans to have 31 when the next fiscal year begins.
The University of Illinois is expected to name its next president by next week. Trustee Pam Strobel confirmed today that the announcement will come between now and next Thursday's U of I Trustees meeting in Chicago. She says the person is a sitting university president or provost. Her comments came after the Trustees' finance committee meeting.
Illinois lawmakers have yet to approve a budget, but Interim President Stanley Ikenberry says trustees still plan on a tuition hike for next year of 9.5 % based on the best information they have. After the committee meeting, he said the U of I will also consider a short-term borrowing measure to make up for a loss of state dollars. Ikenberry says it's frustrating that lawmakers haven't completed their work. He says trustees have to give both the U of I, as well as parents, time to plan. But Ikenberry admits the funds from that tuition increase will fall well short of covering roughly $46 million dollars in lost state support, and a number of comparable budget reductions will still be required.
"I think our philosphy going into this is to ask academic programs and students both to share in this... that's been our practice in the past," said Ikenberry. "And that's what kind of a recommendation would provide for." Ikenberry says it remains to be seen whether the U of I would act on a measure giving short-term borrowing authority to public universities. Governor Pat Quinn has yet to sign the bill. Ikenberry says unless legislators solve Illinois' overall financial crisis, he says borrowing will be likely.
Today, Friday, May 7th, is supposed to be the last day for Illinois legislators in Springfield, based on a self-imposed deadline. With an eye toward adjournment, the Illinois Senate approved a spending plan in the early morning hours. But there's still no final budget agreement.
Partisan differences over the best way to proceed given Illinois' $13 billion deficit are the main holdup. Whether the GOP will continue to remain opposed to Democrats' plan to borrow money remains uncertain.
Unless one or two House Republicans go along with borrowing ... Illinois will skip putting about $4 billion into the state's already underfunded pension systems.
Another central component of the budget gives the governor flexibility to make cuts, borrow from earmarked state funds, further put off paying state vendors, and institute furloughs.
State Representative Greg Harris, a Chicago Democrat, says there's good reason to give Quinn emergency powers.
"As much as none of us like this, we're in very uncertain times and trying to paddle through uncharted waters," says Harris.
Republicans say the governor has a poor record of managing state finances and argue he can't be trusted with such flexibility.
As the House and Senate look to reconcile on a budget ... a cigarette tax hike, tax amnesty program and possibly allowing video gaming at horse racetracks ... are all options. Whatever the final budget, it's clear legislators won't go through with education cuts that teachers unions say could have led to 20 thousand layoffs at schools statewide.
The Illinois House on Thursday approved giving public universities the authority to borrow money to pay bills. The schools are owed hundreds of millions of dollars from the state.
The controversial change is being viewed as a temporary solution to university cash flow problems. The State of Illinois owes more than $700 million to universities... putting some in jeopardy of being unable to make payroll.
Under this proposal... the universities could borrow based on how much the state owes for the current fiscal year... which expires June 30th. When the state finally comes through.... the schools would be required to quickly pay off the loans.
Urbana Democrat Naomi Jakobsson endorsed the measure.
" When universities are able to do this short term borrowing, able to pay their staff and employees, our young people will continue to receive the world class education they should get from Illinois and that they will be able to get from Illinois", said Jakobsson.
Danville Republican Representative Bill Black concurred. Black says he understands there are concerns about schools taking on the debt ... but he sees no other available option.
"Unless you want the universities to close before the fall semester starts, I suppose you could vote no", said Black. "If you want them to stay open, I suppose as distasteful as it might be to some of us, I have no other alternative. I intend to vote for the bill."
Several lawmakers say they are concerned about allowing the schools to take on the debt... but others argue there is no alternative.
Lawmakers previously sent the Governor a plan to let community colleges establish a line of credit to also cover bills.
Vermilion County is once again on the warning list in a report on Illinois poverty put out by the Chicago-based Heartland Alliance.
The Alliance's "2010 Report on Illinois Poverty" lists Vermilion County among 29 counties in the state with high poverty, unemployment and teen birth rates, and low high school graduation rates. Christian and Kankakee Counties are also on the Warning List. The indicators are only a little better in DeWitt, Macon, Edgar, Coles and Clark Counties --- they've been placed on the report's Watch List.
Amy Terpstra with the Heartland Alliance's research unit says that while some counties are worse off, poverty has gotten worse in all parts of Illinois. But she cites differences between rural and urban poverty.
"When you look at rural areas, you see a lot of access issues", says Terpstra. . "Those people have a hard time getting to the services that they need to help them meet their basic needs. They have trouble getting transportation to jobs. When you start looking at some suburban areas, maybe slightly more urban areas, there's issues about enough resources to go
Overall, the report says about 1.5 million Illinoisans - 12.2% of the total --- were living in poverty in 2008, as the recession began. The study says those already living in extreme poverty have been the hardest hit, and their recovery is expected to be the slowest.
In addition, Amy Terpstra says the wealth of Illinoisans is eroding.
"You look at foreclosures and you look at bankruptcies", says Terpstra, "and you've seen both of those over the last couple of years really skyrocket. And so not only are families losing jobs and not drawing in that income, but their long-term wealth and their long-term stability is being eroded by bankruptcies and foreclosures and debt.
Terpstra says the Heartland Alliance calls on state lawmakers to find new revenue to shore up the state budget and preserve social service programs that help the poor.
The Heartland Alliance is a Chicago-based organization that grew out of that city's old Traveler's Aid Society. Terpstra says they believe that good government policy can help turn around the poverty rate. She says that includes putting "new revenue" into the state budget, and using the money to avoid deep cuts in social services.
NOTE: Updated to include Rutherford statement.
An Illinois budget that would shortchange troubled pension systems and give the governor new power over spending has passed the state Senate.
It was approved 31-26 early Friday and now goes to the House, which is considering a similar plan.
Troubled pension systems would have to wait another six months to get the $3.7 billion the state owes. Pension officials call that a serious blow.
State Senator Dan Rutherford of Chenoa opposed the budget plan.
"Once again the majority of the Illinois Senate has agreed to kick the can down the road", said Rutherford in a news release, "through a grand borrowing scheme, extension of payment delays and once again skipping pension payments. It is unfortunate that Senators only had one hour to view a 2,200 page document that contains the budget. Clearly there is a lack of transparency with this budgetary process."
The budget contains huge lump sums. Gov. Pat Quinn will decide how that money is spent.
A math error means Ameren can receive more revenue than originally anticipated in its request for a rate hike.
The Illinois Commerce Commission has corrected its projections. It says the utility company would get $15 million instead of the $5 million the agency when ruling on the request last week. But ICC spokeswoman Beth Bosch says while the additional $10 million dollars adds to Ameren's bottom line, it should have little, if any, impact on rates. "Because you spread it out over six companies, it doesn't change the rate impact significantly," said Bosch. "Gas rates will still be lower for delivery services. And the electricity rates will still be approximately the same as they were in the previous order." The increase between the rate case ruling released last week and the corrected one amounts about half a percentage point more for Ameren's IP, CILCO, and CIPS electric customers. Bosch says the mistake stemmed from a technical error in the calculation of Ameren's cash working capital.
But Ameren contends there are additional math errors in the ICC's ruling. Spokesman Leigh Morris says fixing 'several significant' mistakes would mean an additional $25 million in revenue, and the utility has filed an emergency motion with the ICC to have that done. But Morris says this decision is separate from whether the utility appeals its original rate hike request of $162 million. Ameren has until May 28th to request a re-hearing with the ICC.
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