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Unionized workers in several state agencies were set to lose their jobs in a week. But they'll keep them, at least for awhile longer. IPR's Amanda Vinicky reports.

Governor Bruce Rauner's office confirms: layoffs of unionized state employees are on hold. That's due to a lawsuit filed by a trio of unions.

"While it's within the authority of the governor to initiate a layoff, under the contract they can only do so for a legitimate reason." Anders Lindall is the spokesman for AFSCME, which represents some 107 workers affected by the news.

The head of the effort to rescue use of the Mitsubishi Plant says there have been some nibbles on a buyer. Kyle Ham heads both the Economic Development Council for Bloomington Normal and the Mitsubishi Task Force.

"I am personally aware of automakers that are looking at the facility and have begun to do the due diligence process."

Ham says the plant has not been on the market that long and possible buyers have a lot of work to do.

Some have argued the Bloomington Budget Task Force process was a charade to give Aldermen political cover to make unpleasant choices in higher taxes and budget cuts. But, Task Force Chair David Sage says there are two valuable things the task force provided, first an honest assessment from established leaders about the choices before the city.

Police in Normal say they have arrested a Bloomington man for selling cocaine. 50 year old Troy Randle Senior was taken into custody. Detectives say they also seized more than $2,700 in cash, 46 grams of crack cocaine, three grams of powder cocaine, and a Lexus four door vehicle.
 

The Jan Brandt Gallery in Bloomington celebrates National Hispanic Heritage month by displaying works by Mexican-American artists.  During the installation of some of those works, Laura Kennedy spoke with an artist whose prints and sculptures have been inspired by recent tragic events in Mexico...

Mike McCurdy / WGLT

The community budget task force has presented its final recommendations to Aldermen and the community. Aldermen also took action on one of the funding recommendations in the task force presentation - a one-percent sales tax increase. WGLT's Mike McCurdy talked with two members of the task force during Sound Ideas.

Adler Planetarium

Riding a bicycle from Chicago to St. Louis is a long ways on a bike. But it’s no comparison to the vast distances in the galaxy or universe, distances measured in light years or the distance light travels in a year. Dr. Lucianne Walkowicz is an astronomer with Chicago’s Adler Planetarium and a TED Senior Fellow. She’s also in the middle of a 300 mile bike ride, designed to bring some perspective to the universe.

Exploring Mental Illness Through Photography

Sep 20, 2015

A young artist is hoping to challenge preconceived ideas about mental illness in her latest work.  Laura Kennedy walked through the exhibit at the Rachel Cooper Gallery at Illinois State University.

 

 

More young people will have the opportunity to show livestock at future Illinois state fairs. Fair officials say they plan to expand the age requirements for junior livestock shows beginning in 2016 to match requirements for nationally recognized events. The change applies to both the Illinois State Fair in Springfield and southern Illinois' DuQuoin State Fair. Currently, participants must be between 10 and 18 years old. Starting next year the age range will be 8 to 21.

Trustees of a suburban Chicago college have voted to void the contract of its embattled president about a month after beginning the process of firing him. College of DuPage trustees voted 4-3 Thursday night to void Robert Breuder's contract. He's on paid administrative leave and is set to retire in March. Board of Trustees attorney Timothy Elliott says the board contends that it now doesn't have to give Breuder a severance deal worth $763,000 after voiding his contract. The severance deal ends his tenure three years early, and law enforcement is investigating the deal and other issues.

Aaron Schock Documents Dribble Out

Sep 18, 2015

Aaron Schock has submitted 72 more documents to a federal judge that he is arguing shouldn't be released to prosecutors as part of an investigation into the former congressman. Schock's attorney filed a memo to US District Judge Sue Myerscough. The judge will review the 72 new documents along with others and decide if they will be given to prosecutors. Schock's attorneys are expected to file a brief later this month telling the judge why they think the documents shouldn't be released.

Early Childhood Programs May See Funding

Sep 18, 2015

Families with babies, from birth until they're three years old, are eligible for state assistance to help their children learn and grow. It's called early intervention. But without a budget ... Illinois stopped paying the therapists who provide these services. Now, the comptroller and the governor's administration says they've come up with a way to pay again ... even though Illinois still has no budget in place. IPR's Amanda Vinicky reports.

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The son of former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is the newest House member, replacing a disgraced former congressman in a reliably Republican district in central Illinois. Republican Darin LaHood was sworn in today, and Republicans now hold 247 of the 435 House seats, the most since 1931.

Lawmakers have quietly made it tougher for smokers to find a public place to light up.  A committee of lawmakers has tweaked a definition in the Smoke Free Illinois Act to ban smoking in any public place with a floor and ceiling, whether or not the walls are retractable or permeable.

Documents obtained by The Associated Press show that three people in Gov. Bruce Rauner's administration began doing work for him while on the state comptroller's payroll. Emails show that two employees were arranging hiring for the governor's Cabinet agencies just weeks after the Republican was elected.

Illinois' unemployment rate dropped to 5.6 percent in August but state officials point out that the number of people with jobs also declined. The Illinois Department of Employment Security said in its monthly report on statewide unemployment Thursday that the jobless rate fell from 5.8 percent in July. Nationwide unemployment was 5.1 percent in August. The department said Illinois lost a net 900 jobs in August. The number of unemployed workers fell 3 percent to 362,500. Department director Jeff Mays said the figures indicate many people continue to leave the workforce.

Brad Basham Photography / bbasham.com and Town of Normal

The Town of Normal is following its twin to the south and developing a new comprehensive plan. The plan, when finished, will guide the Town for the next two decades. The City adopted its plan, guided by the McLean County Regional Planning Commission, earlier this year. And the Town of Normal plan won’t be adopted until late 2016, leaving plenty of time for community and citizen input.

Walt Willey web site

Western legend Wild Bill Hickock was born in Troy Grove, Illinois about an hour and twenty minutes north of Bloomington-Normal. Actor Walt Willey grew up in nearby Ottawa, Illinois before making his career on the soap opera All My Children. Willey learned of the central Illinois connection to Hickok only later in life, and was entranced by James Butler Hickok when he was looking for a one man show to do.

The latest cluster of mumps cases in Mclean County is at Heartland Community College in Normal. Cathy Coverston-Anderson is Assistant Director at the Heath Department.  She says four cases have been confirmed, and there will likely be more.

There is a 12 to 25 day incubation period. So, the cases we see now were infected two weeks ago. Because of that long incubation period we expect to see some more."

"With mumps you are infectious two days before you start to show symptoms."

The head of the Bloomington Library Board says the library will create six new bookmobile stops west of Veterans Parkway. The move partly addresses a flap caused by a lack of west side bookmobile service.

"The staff is concerned about any population feeling that they are not being given the services they are entitled to."

Carol Koos says to start they will be using locations of several discontinued stops that were shut down for lack of use.   

Home Sales Slow Seasonally

Sep 16, 2015

More homes are changing hands compared to a year ago, according to the latest twin city numbers. So far this year, 1,911 homes sold. That's up more than a hundred from a year ago. The increase is nearly 6%.  Amanda Wycoff, president of the Bloomington-Normal Association of Realtors, says inventory on the market is shrinking.

The price of a new home is about $325,000. That's a price decline of about 7% from a year ago. The price of an existing home is up slightly.

Home Medicaid Providers Win In Court

Sep 16, 2015

A federal judge has ordered the State of Illinois to fund Medicaid services for seniors living at home rather than at a nursing facility during the budget impasse. Cindy Cunningham is with two providers who asked the court to force payments. She says the order will help caretakers who have taken out personal loans to keep their companies afloat.

"We have been without payments since July. Our houses are on the line. Our businesses are on the line."

New Foster Care Program Begins

Sep 16, 2015

Illinois' child welfare agency wants to do a better job taking care of its most troubled kids. The idea is kids who have suffered abuse or witnessed violence would be placed with families with no more than two wards per home. Parents in these foster homes would get special training and at least one would stay home full time. Bruce Boyer Directs the ChildLaw Clinic at Loyola University. He says the idea is good, but the question is could the program be implemented in any meaningful way?

Preliminary results from new statewide tests based on the Common Core educational standards show that the vast majority of Illinois high school students fell short of grade-level expectations. Only three in 10 of the high schoolers who took the online version of the new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers exam in the spring met or exceeded expectations in English language arts and literacy. Less than one in five high schoolers met or exceeded expectations on the exam's math portion.

The stone house with the wrap-around porch and large turret is a fixture off Old Route 66 in Lexington. Locals know it as "The Castle." It's the home of longtime residents Chuck Wright (pictured) and his wife, Mary. The Wrights have spent 30 years restoring the residence. Now they are working to turn their property into a carnival-like venue for special events, complete with a restored carousel. In another of our occasional series on Unknown Illinois, GLT's Judy Valente takes you to the play land the Wrights are trying to create in the heart of Lexington.

Faculty members at the University of Illinois campus in Champaign-Urbana aren't happy with a policy instituting background checks that starts early next month. The Senate of the Urbana-Champaign Campus, a group of about 200 faculty members, will vote next week on a resolution that would delay that start date. The resolution says the policy doesn't meet American Association of University Professors standards and isn't mentioned in all job postings. The board of trustees approved the policy last week.

Jared Pohl, Flicker

In what may be the only case of its kind in the country, the Catholic diocese of Peoria returned a Bloomington priest to ministry who served time on felony drug charges. Neither the diocese nor the priest formally publicly disclosed his background to the people who attend the two parishes he serves. The handling of the case raises familiar questions about transparency in the Catholic Church and about balancing an individual's right to privacy with a congregation's right to know.

A resolution asking the Public Building Commission to proceed with McLean County jail renovation and expansion served as a skirmishing point for the mental health service debate. Board member Chuck Erickson voted for measure, but expressed reservations, saying mental illness is not a legitimate reason to expand the jail, protecting the public is.

Erickson, who is also the chair of the County Republican Party, says he fears some are trying to hijack the initiative into more than it really ought to be.

The proposed new budget for McLean County government is 4% higher than last year. County Administrator Bill Wasson says the increase of 3.7 million dollars will go to several areas including the jail renovation and expansion, the Towanda Barnes road widening effort, new phones for the ETSB, and courtroom audio system replacement.

The budget includes a 1.5% pay increase. Four jobs will be cut including one sheriff's deputy, and staff in the state's attorneys and child protection service offices because of state grant cuts.

State Worker Health Payments Halted

Sep 15, 2015

Gov. Bruce Rauner's administration has stopped paying health care claims for at least 146,000 state workers because of the budget mess. The Department of Central Management Services has halted funding for claims covered by the state's self-insurance plans. But payments will continue to private companies operating managed-care plans for another 158,000 workers.  

It's unprecedented for the state to stop paying claims. It's unclear whether health care providers will demand upfront, out-of-pocket payments.  

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