217 Today: Friday, June 25, 2021

Friday, June 25, 2021

Today’s headlines:

  • State Democratic leaders are touting a Wall Street agency bumping Illinois’ credit rating outlook from negative to positive this week as the state continues to recover from the COVID-19 recession.

  • In May of last year, Champaign County home sales were at their lowest point due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but those sales recovered quickly.

  • At the start of the pandemic, food stamp recipients began receiving more money each month due to state emergency declarations. With some states moving to end their emergency declarations, that extra help is going away.

  • Community and faith leaders in Champaign-Urbana are hosting events through the weekend in an effort to halt gun violence in the community.

In today’s deep dive, we hear from a Republican political strategist about what new Congressional maps could mean for the state’s five GOP members of the U.S. House.

Reporting today contributed by Hannah Meisel, Jim Meadows and Dana Cronin.

217 Today: Thursday, June 24, 2021

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Today’s headlines:

  • Some Democrats in the Illinois Senate are beginning to push for allowing non-citizens to vote in local school board elections.

  • When schools in Illinois re-open for the new school year, they’ll still have to take precautions against the coronavirus.

  • Illinois could become the first state to require the teaching of Asian American history in public schools if Governor Pritzker signs legislation passed by state lawmakers earlier this month.

  • Champaign-Urbana Public Health officials report 244 doses of COVID-19 vaccines were administered Tuesday.

In today’s deep dive, environmental groups have been fighting for years to have toxic coal ash removed from retention ponds near the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River. Now, it may finally be happening.

Reporting today contributed by Derek Cantu, Michelle O’Neill and Vivian La.

217 Today: Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Today’s headlines:

  • The U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs says it’s working on a fix to allow veterans who got their COVID-19 shots at VA facilities to participate in Illinois’ vaccine lottery.

  • A new plan that just passed in Springfield and a recent report from the State Board of Higher Education come to the same conclusion: it’s time for Illinois to use an equity-focused formula to fund colleges.

  • With only 30% of its population fully vaccinated against COVID-19, Vermilion County is turning to incentives for help.

  • The Macon County Health Department is offering walk-in Pfizer vaccination clinics in Decatur today.

In today’s deep dive, we head to McLean County to learn how health officials and faith leaders are trying to combat vaccine hesitancy among those yet to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Reporting today contributed by Hannah Meisel, Peter Medlin, Farrah Anderson and Eric Stock.

217 Today: Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Today’s headlines:

  • The University of Illinois plans a return to mostly normal class schedules in the fall, but vaccinations for COVID-19 will be a requirement for students.

  • One of Governor J.B. Pritzker’s top advisors is leaving his administration. Former Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes has served as Deputy Governor for Budget and Economy for 2 1/2 years.

  • In Rockton, concerned residents packed a local banquet hall Monday night to discuss the ongoing chemical fire at the Chemtool facility.

  • Champaign County officials reported just two new cases of COVID-19 Monday, and the current number of active cases fell again to 56, including six county residents in the hospital with the virus.

In today’s deep dive, we hear from a resident of Rockton, Illinois a week after an explosion and fire at a chemical plant displaced residents of the small Northern Illinois town.

Reporting today contributed by Jim Meadows, Sean Crawford, Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco and The 21st Show.

217 Today: Monday, June 21, 2021

Monday, June 21, 2021

Today’s headlines:

  • Six months after a state lawmaker went through prostate cancer treatment largely in private, he’s going public to encourage men to get checked.

  • The Illinois General Assembly this spring approved a measure to allow people convicted of engaging in sex work to expunge their criminal records.

  • Following state and national trends, Champaign County is seeing an uptick in deaths from drug overdoses.

  • Beginning today, people on the University of Illinois Urbana campus who have verified COVID-19 vaccination records will no longer have to test for the virus to gain building access.

In today’s deep dive, the 2018 Farm Bill allowed farmers to start growing hemp, but in at least one Midwestern state, the number of licenses issued is on the decline.

Reporting today contributed by Hannah Meisel, Derek Cantu, Christine Herman and Brian Grimmett.

217 Today: Friday, June 18, 2021

Friday, June 18, 2021

Today’s headlines:

  • State government offices, including driver services facilities, will be closed today to observe Juneteenth, which President Joe Biden signed off on making a federal holiday yesterday.

  • More students will be prepped to enter the cannabis industry thanks to a new class offered at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

  • Uniting Pride of Champaign County is continuing their Pride Month related events this weekend with a queer clothing swap.

  • All vaccinated Illinoisans are eligible for $10 million dollars in either cash prizes or scholarships in a COVID-19 vaccine lottery the state launched Thursday.

In today’s deep dive, we learn about a new book that documents the punk rock scene in Peoria in the 1980s and ’90s.

Reporting today contributed by Hannah Meisel, Dana Cronin, Carolina Garibay and Tim Shelley.

217 Today: Thursday, June 17, 2021

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Today’s headlines:

  • The Illinois House Wednesday approved sweeping gun legislation expanding mandated background checks to person-to-person gun sales.

  • Illinois’ budget beginning July 1 will include automatic cost of living adjustments for state lawmakers, and a class-action lawsuit filed by a former Republican House member could open the door to the state having to dole out 10 years in back pay.

  • Juneteenth is this Saturday and celebrates the end of slavery in the United States. In Champaign County, organizers are preparing Juneteenth events to celebrate African American culture and remind people of issues affecting the community today.

  • As of Wednesday, about a quarter of Black residents and a third of Hispanic residents in Champaign County are fully vaccinated, compared to about 44% of White residents.

In today’s deep dive, a conversation with John Hanlon, who is retiring. Hanlon is the director of the Illinois Innocence Project who helped change the state of Illinois.

Reporting today contributed by Hannah Meisel, Derek Cantu, Vivian La and Edith Brady Lunny.

217 Today: Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Today’s headlines:

  • Lawmakers headed back to Springfield for a couple of days in order to take a vote on massive legislation that would get Illinois on the path to 100% renewable energy by 2050. But a deal on major energy and climate legislation in Springfield appears to have fallen apart — at least for now.

  • The parent company of Chemtool is apologizing for a fire that continues to burn in northern Illinois. Seventy workers at the Rockton grease plant were evacuated safely Monday.

  • Local organizations are teaming up to help more people of color get the COVID-19 vaccine.

  • A large group of police supporters marched from the Champaign Police Department to Tuesday’s night’s city council meeting.

In today’s deep dive, with nearly half of Illinoisans fully vaccinated against COVID-19, some people are relishing a return to normalcy, while others are struggling with anxiety. A psychologist explains where this anxiety might come from and ways to cope with it. 

Reporting today contributed by Hannah Meisel, Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco, Farrah Anderson and Shahla Farzan.

217 Today: Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Today’s headlines:

  • Illinois Senate President Don Harmon says he thinks lawmakers are close to a compromise on a massive energy proposal.

  • Health officials are warning residents in northern Illinois to stay away from potentially dangerous debris after a chemical fire Monday.

  • Artists from the Champaign-Urbana area will once against be showcased at the 19th annual Boneyard Arts Festival this weekend.

  • Almost 94,000 people have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in Champaign County, which is about 52% of the county’s vaccine-eligible population.

In today’s deep dive, most states don’t allow trans people to correct their names on marriage certificates, even after going through a legal name change. But legislators and advocates hope to make Illinois the second state to permit marriage certificate name changes.

Reporting today contributed by Tony Arnold, Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco, Jim Meadows and Christine Hatfield.

217 Today: Monday June 14, 2021

Monday June 14, 2021

Today’s headlines:

  • In an effort to address the so-called digital divide exacerbated by the pandemic, the Federal Communications Commission is temporarily providing low-income Americans discounted Internet access.

  • A federal judge has stopped debt payoffs for Black and other minority farmers.

  • The police department of the University of Illinois is launching a new initiative to provide help to people experiencing mental health crises.

  • Champaign-Urbana public health officials report the number of active COVID-19 cases has declined for the 15th straight day – down to 94 on Sunday. The number of hospitalizations held steady at seven for the third day in a row.

In today’s deep dive, a look at how therapy dogs are helping to expand mental health services in schools.

Reporting today contributed by Derek Cantu, Seth Bodine, Christine Herman, and Peter Medlin.

217 Today: Friday June 11, 2021

Friday June 11, 2021

Today’s headlines:

  • Illinois is officially in “Phase Five” of Governor J.B. Pritzker’s economic reopening plan today, as new cases of COVID-19 and hospitalizations for the virus continue to plummet. The new phase means no more pandemic-induced capacity restrictions on businesses or social gatherings or masks necessary for vaccinated Illinoisans. 
  • The Illinois Department of Public Health says more than 68% of Illinois residents who are 18 or older have received at least one dose of vaccine. The health department says 209 people with COVID-19 were in intensive care units statewide, one of the lowest counts during the pandemic.

  • Illinois has finally dedicated money to reducing fertilizer runoff from farmland.

  • To celebrate Pride Month, Uniting Pride of Champaign is hosting several events this month, including a Pride Dance Party Saturday, June 12 at the Rose Bowl Tavern in Urbana.

In today’s deep dive, an independent Illinois watchdog group released a report detailing neglect and abuse at a residential school for students with disabilities in Aurora.

Reporting today contributed by Dana Cronin, Hannah Meisel, Peter Medlin, and Carolina Garibay. 

217 Today: Thursday June 10, 2021

Thursday June 10, 2021

Today’s headlines:

  • Just days after Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed off on new legislative district boundary maps drawn by Democratic lawmakers, Illinois Republicans sued over the new maps in federal court Wednesday.

  • The sponsor of the Keystone XL oil pipeline says it’s pulling the plug on the contentious project. But the rest of the Keystone pipeline system will continue to send crude oil to Illinois.

  • Nurse practitioner Kate Srikant, co-owner of KP Healthcare in Champaign, is providing free mental health screenings in celebration of Pride Month. Screenings are open to anyone, regardless of sexual orientation.

  • Illinois lawmakers want to replace a statue of Martin Luther King, Jr. across the street from the state Capitol building in Springfield and put the new one in a more prominent place.

  • The Illinois Department of Public Health says it will expand the use of the University of Illinois covidSHIELD saliva test into elementary schools across Illinois.

In today’s deep dive, even though only 3% of Americans are currently farmers, a lot of people still identify as part of the agricultural lifestyle. That community has found a home in a video game.

Reporting today contributed by Hannah Meisel, Vivian La, Derek Cantù, and Jonathan Ahl.

217 Today: Wednesday June 9, 2021

Wednesday June 9, 2021

Today’s headlines:

  • Repeal of parental involvement in abortion laws was proposed in three states this legislative season, and advocates viewed Illinois as most likely to give approval, but it didn’t happen.

  • Illinois drivers who tow items using a utility trailer will be able to pay considerably less for their trailer plates.

  • The Danville Veterans Affairs office is undergoing a major employee recruitment effort to hire everything from housekeepers to physicians.

  • Champaign County reported its 152nd COVID-19 related death Tuesday. Local health authorities have reported three COVID-19 deaths over the past two days. Eleven new cases of the coronavirus were reported in Champaign County on Tuesday.

In today’s deep dive, a Vermilion County health official explains why COVID-19 vaccination rates are lagging there.

Reporting today contributed by Maureen McKinney, Derek Cantu, Farrah Anderson and Tinisha Spain.

217 Today: Tuesday June 8, 2021

Tuesday June 8, 2021

Today’s headlines

  • On Monday, Joanne Geigner helped raise the rainbow flag above the Urbana City Building in honor of Pride Month.

  • The Flash Index to the Illinois economy increased to 105.3 for May. That’s the second consecutive month above 100, which means economic expansion.

  • A bipartisan group of downstate lawmakers is making a final appeal for municipally-owned coal-fired power plants, like the one owned by City Water Light and Power in Springfield, to be spared from a 2035 closing date.

  • Champaign County reported Monday that a man in his 50’s is the 150th person to die from the coronavirus. As of Monday, there are 114 active cases in the county and 15 people hospitalized.

In today’s deep dive, increasingly, farmers don’t own the land they work. That’s particularly true in the country’s breadbasket and can have environmental consequences.

Reporting today contributed by Reginald Hardwick, Jim Meadows, Hannah Meisel and Dana Cronin. 

217 Today: Monday June 7, 2021

Monday June 7, 2021

Today’s headlines:

  • Governor J.B. Pritzker signed into law legislative district maps to govern elections for the next 10 years. 
  • Champaign County is reporting a new death from COVID-19. The public health department says a man in his 80s is the 149th person to die from the illness. There are 122 active cases in Champaign County right now.

  • The head of the Illinois Public Health Department told a college graduating class in western Illinois to write their own stories, and make those stories Pulitzer Prize winners.

  • The number of Illinois children needing foster care has increased by about ten percent over the last year.

In today’s deep dive, when colleges like the University of Illinois switched to online-only learning last year, many people expected the end for many marginalized students. But a new study is painting a different picture.

Reporting today contributed by Hannah Meisel, Rich Egger, Brian Moline, and Carolina Garibay.

217 Today: Friday June 4, 2021

Friday June 4, 2021

Today’s headlines:

  • In the wake of an ongoing federal investigation that’s nabbed political types from Chicago to Springfield, Democratic lawmakers earlier this week pushed through ethics legislation that Republicans say is weak, but they still voted for it.

  • The state legislative maps approved by the Illinois General Assembly last week created a number of narrowly shaped districts that now include two cities.

  • As Illinois inches toward more fully reopening, parents with young children may wonder how COVID-19 guidance applies to them.

  • In Champaign County, health officials announced eight more coronavirus cases. There are currently 153 active cases – the lowest it’s been since late August of last year.

In today’s deep dive, Governor JB Pritzker spoke with Illinois Public Radio government and politics editor Hannah Meisel about where negotiations stand on a massive energy bill before lawmakers go back to Springfield for a vote on a final deal.

Reporting today contributed by Hannah Meisel, Derek Cantu, and Christine Herman.

217 Today: Thursday June 3, 2021

Thursday June 3, 2021

Today’s headlines:

  • Lawmakers left Springfield Tuesday without a final vote on a plan to both prevent the threatened closure of three nuclear power plants or lay down tough standards for clean energy in Illinois moving forward. But Governor JB Pritzker says he believes a deal is imminent.

  • Central Illinois Congressman Darin LaHood says Congress will have to look beyond the gas tax to pay for a new infrastructure bill regardless of the final price tag. The federal gas tax hasn’t been increased in nearly 30 years.

  • With COVID-19 vaccination rates in Illinois declining, the state department of health is looking for ways to incentivize Illinois adults to get the shot.

  • Carle announced Wednesday that it’s permanently closing the Kohl’s Plaza COVID-19 vaccine clinic on Sunday. 

In today’s deep dive, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by police last year, many school leaders vowed to better reflect and serve their students. One year later, we look at what’s changed in education. 

Reporting today contributed by Hannah Meisel, Eric Stock, Dana Cronin, and Peter Medlin.

217 Today: Wednesday June 2, 2021

Wednesday June 2, 2021

Today’s headlines

  • After weeks of negotiating with nuclear giant Exelon, there’s a tentative deal for state subsidies to keep power generators online, but another issue threatened to blow up bargaining over the holiday weekend. 
  • As of this morning, there’s a new place for medical helicopters to land in Champaign County. It will allow the hospital system to bring patients in via flight for life-saving procedures.

  • Pride month is here, and LGBTQ+ folks and allies in Champaign will celebrate this weekend at a Drag Picnic at West Side Park.

  • State health officials reported just over 400 new cases of COVID-19 across Illinois Tuesday and eight additional deaths from the virus. That’s the lowest single-day case total in more than a year. 

In today’s deep dive, the COVID-19 pandemic has threatened the mental health of many Midwesterners, including children. One state in the region has been trying to standardize mental health services for kids.

Reporting today contributed by Hannah Meisel, Reginald Hardwick, Carolina Garibay, and Natalie Krebs. 

217 Today: Tuesday June 1, 2021

Tuesday June 1, 2021

Today’s headlines:

  • Six months ago, Illinois voters rejected Governor Pritzker’s signature graduated income tax plan. Since then, the governor has been warning of difficult budget choices, but that didn’t end up happening.

  • Birthing hospitals in Illinois are invited to participate in a new effort to improve outcomes for moms and babies.

  • Katie Dana, specialist in entomology at the Illinois Natural History Survey, said Brood X of Cicadas is appearing in four eastern Illinois counties. But in 2024, she said two different broods will emerge in the Chicago area and downstate.

  • For the first time in over a year, city facilities in Champaign will open to the public today Tuesday. The city is requiring people to wear a mask while requesting in-person customer service.

In today’s deep dive, a few times a year, farmers have to do a dangerous task; go inside large grain bins to take care of their harvest. Last year, more than 30 of them were trapped inside silos in the U.S., according to Purdue University. But a new robot could help keep farmers safe.

Reporting today contributed by Hannah Meisel, Reginald Hardwick, Christine Herman, and Melissa Rosales.

217 Today: Friday May 28, 2021

Friday May 28, 2021

Today’s headlines:

  • A State Police investigation continues into the fatal shootings of Champaign Police Officer Chris Oberheim and a suspect, Darion Lafayette. State police have released security and bodycam video of last week’s pre-dawn shooting, and a state’s attorney’s report says a second officer’s shooting of Lafayette was justified.

  • Democratic U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth says she’s not surprised to see Senate Republican leaders plan to block the creation of a commission to investigate the U.S. Capitol attacks on January 6.

  • Democrats on the Champaign County Board are expected to override a veto of their new district map, at a special meeting Friday night at 6:30 p.m.

  • The Vermilion County Health Department is holding vaccination clinics next week for the Moderna and Johnson and Johnson vaccines. Illinois National Guard personnel will help with the clinics, which are set for Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday mornings at the health department office on South College Street in Danville.

In today’s deep dive, parts of eastern Illinois are beginning to hear a brood of cicadas finally coming above ground after 17 years. Katie Dana, specialist in entomology at the Illinois Natural History Survey, discusses what to expect from these cicadas and what to do if you see them.

Reporting today contributed by Jim Meadows, Eric Stock, and Reginald Hardwick.

217 Today: Thursday May 27, 2021

Thursday May 27, 2021

Today’s headlines:

  • An estimated 2,000 friends, family, and police officers filled a church in Decatur Wednesday for the funeral of Champaign Police Officer Chris Oberheim who was killed last week while answering a domestic disturbance call. While the funeral was private, the public was encouraged to come out and view the procession that followed.

  • Governor JB Pritzker claims that in order for the state budget avoid suffering painful reductions in spending, the General Assembly should cut nearly $1 billion in corporate tax loopholes. But one of those tax incentives on the chopping block is a tax credit for Illinoisans who donate to organizations that award non-public school student scholarships.

  • Federal prosecutors are alleging former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan’s chief of staff lied to a grand jury.

  • Champaign County public health officials reported 32 new COVID-19 cases today Wednesday. The number of active cases fell slightly from Tuesday to 216, but the number of county residents hospitalized with COVID-19 jumped from four to 14. 

  • Nearly 87,000 Champaign County residents are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Health officials say that’s more than 47% of the vaccine-eligible population and 41% of the county’s total population.

In today’s deep dive, Western Illinois University’s new riverfront campus in Moline was supposed to allow Western to grow in the Quad Cities, but instead, enrollment has shrunk. This has led to criticism from some leaders in the Quad Cities about the university’s direction.

Reporting today contributed by Jim Meadows, Derek Cantu, Tony Arnold, Herb Trix, and Rich Egger.

217 Today: Wednesday May 26, 2021

Wednesday May 26, 2021

Today’s headlines:

  • Illinois’ constitution mandates the legislature re-draw their own district boundaries every decade, the year after a Census, but the state’s judicial districts haven’t been touched since the early 1960s.

  • The Illinois Senate Tuesday voted to repeal a 1989 law criminalizing the transmission of HIV.

  • It’s been one year since George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer. Black Lives Matter activists in Illinois are reflecting on what has and hasn’t changed since then.

  • Hundreds of first responders attended the visitation for a Champaign police officer Chris Oberheim Tuesday in Decatur. Authorities say Oberheim was shot and killed last week while responding to a domestic disturbance call at an apartment complex on North Neil St.

In today’s deep dive, in the wake of the George Floyd murder and the following protests, the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus drafted a series of reforms centered on creating more equity in several areas including health care.

Reporting today contributed by Hannah Meisel, Dana Cronin, and Maureen McKinney.

217 Today: Tuesday May 25, 2021

Tuesday May 25, 2021

Today’s headlines:

  • Champaign Police Officer Chris Oberheim, who was killed last week, will be laid to rest Wednesday.

  • Illinois higher education institutions are getting emergency relief funding from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.

  • April home sales were up sharply from a year ago in Illinois, while rising more modestly in Champaign County.

  • There were no new COVID-19 cases reported on the University of Illinois Urbana campus from testing conducted on Sunday. That’s the third straight day with no new cases on campus.

In today’s deep dive, animal disease labs across the country stepped up to meet the need for COVID-19 testing. Because of their experience tracking animal diseases, the labs had the infrastructure to test and monitor the coronavirus.

Reporting today was contributed by Reginald Hardwick, Tim Shelley, Jim Meadows, and Seth Bodine.

217 Today: Monday May 24, 2021

Monday May 21, 2021

Today’s headlines:

  • The fight over how to draw Illinois’ legislative districts for the next ten years is set to reach a fever pitch in Springfield this week. Democrats who control the remap process published their proposed maps Friday night.

  • Fewer rural people are vaccinated than their urban counterparts. That’s according to a new report from the CDC.

  • Students at the University of Illinois protested Saturday after several transgender students were dead named at graduation ceremonies. They’re calling for better treatment for transgender students.

  • Another Champaign County resident has died after contracting the coronavirus, bringing the county-wide death toll to 148. Officials also announced 36 more COVID-19 cases over the weekend.

In today’s deep dive, spring festivals are back after many small towns had to cancel them due to the pandemic. Many of these small towns depend on tourism for money for small towns and their businesses.

Reporting today contributed by Hannah Meisel, Dana Cronin, Farrah Anderson and Katie Peikes.

217 Today: Friday May 21, 2021

Friday, May 21, 2021

Today’s headlines:

  • A police processional escorted the body of a slain Champaign police officer Thursday from Urbana to Decatur.

  • Sex education teaching standards would be updated in Illinois under a bill that passed the State Senate Thursday.

  • A bipartisan group of state lawmakers is urging Gov. JB Pritzker to reopen the state’s unemployment offices to the public after they’ve been closed for over a year due to the pandemic.

  • The Champaign County Board voted 14 to 7 along party lines Thursday night to approve a new county board district map to be used for the next decade.

In today’s deep dive, the increase of vaccinations has led to the re-emergence of live theater performances in Champaign-Urbana. 

217 Today is produced by Carolina Garibay. Reporting today contributed by Jim Meadows, Christine Hatfield, Derek Cantù, and Owen Henderson. 

217 Today: Thursday May 20, 2021

Thursday May 20, 2021

Today’s headlines:

  • Officials say the investigation into the fatal shooting of a Champaign police officer is ongoing.

  • Students in Illinois would be required to return to in-person learning this fall under a resolution unanimously approved by the State Board of Education.

  • The Champaign County Board will hold a public hearing and a vote Thursday evening on new boundaries for the districts that county board members represent.

  • University of Illinois President Tim Killeen announced Wednesday that Avijit Ghosh is the system’s interim executive vice president.

In today’s deep dive, most people know Black Lives Matter through large protests, but we look at another way the group is trying to save Black lives.

Reporting today contributed by Dana Cronin, Christine Hatfield, Jim Meadows, and Jess Clark.

217 Today: Wednesday May 19, 2021

Wednesday May 19, 2021

Today’s headlines:

  • A lawsuit filed by 22 Illinois school districts alleges Gov. JB Pritzker is not doing enough to emphasize spending on education.

  • The ACLU of Illinois says a Black member of the Eastern Illinois University men’s swim team is ending a lawsuit filed against police officers who mistakenly detained him.

  • Researchers at the University of Illinois say they’ve developed a new and faster COVID-19 test that’s portable and affordable enough to use at home.

  • The Macon County Health Department is offering a Pfizer vaccination clinic for individuals 12 and up on Wednesday.

In today’s deep dive, a look at how the pandemic has changed the way drag performers in central Illinois build their audiences as live drag shows begin to return.

Reporting today contributed by Derek Cantu, Jim Meadows, and Marissa Plecia.

217 Today: Monday May 17, 2021

Monday May 17, 2021

Today’s headlines:

  • With two weeks remaining in the General Assembly’s spring session, lawmakers’ attention will turn toward the state budget, and how to fill a $1.3 billion revenue shortfall.

  • City leaders in Champaign are calling for an end to gun violence, as the number of shooting incidents increases.

  • With the COVID-19 pandemic’s end in sight, rates of food insecurity are on the decline.

  • The cities of Champaign and Urbana, along with the University of Illinois, have relaxed masking requirements following updated guidance from the CDC.

In today’s deep dive, we’ll find out how some University of Illinois graduates felt about the modified commencement ceremonies held over the weekend.

Reporting today contributed by Hannah Meisel, Jim Meadows, Dana Cronin, and Sabrina Lee.

217 Today: Friday May 14, 2021

Friday May 14, 2021

Today’s headlines:

  • Gov. JB Pritzker’s office is shielding itself from blame in the massive COVID outbreak at a state-run veterans’ home that killed 36 residents last fall.

  • Six Flags Great America is offering 50,000 free tickets for newly vaccinated Illinoisans in an effort to rev up the state’s stalled COVID vaccination progress.

  • The University of Illinois’ new solar farm outside of Savoy is entering its final phase of construction.

  • The Champaign-Urbana Public Health District is offering a walk-in clinic with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at its office on Friday from 8:30a.m. to 3p.m.

In today’s deep dive, we spend a morning with the Illini rowing team at Clinton Lake. WILL student reporter Amanda Brennan takes us there.

Reporting today contributed by Hannah Meisel, Jim Meadows, and Amanda Brennan.

217 Today: Thursday May 13, 2021

Thursday May 13, 2021

Today’s headlines:

  • One of Illinois’ most influential business associations says the state is facing a severe labor shortage because of enhanced unemployment benefits. Gov. JB Pritzker disagrees.

  • As the state introduces a new tourism campaign, advocacy groups say tourism recovery will help Illinois stay competitive in the national and global economies.

  • Local health departments are working with the Asian Health Coalition to raise awareness about Hepatitis B infection.

  • Children as young as 12 could start receiving the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine as soon as Thursday in Champaign County.

In today’s deep dive, the pandemic is forcing colleges in central Illinois and elsewhere to reconsider ways they can support student parents as they return for in-person classes this fall.

Reporting today contributed by Hannah Meisel, Christine Hatfield, Christine Herman, and Carolina Garibay.

217 Today: Wednesday May 12, 2021

Wednesday May 12, 2021

Today’s headlines:

  • The head of an investigation into a deadly COVID-19 outbreak at the LaSalle Veterans’ Home says confusion over pandemic protocols within the facility likely made the crisis worse.

  • Local health departments are gearing up for the extension of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to people as young as twelve.

  • Gov. JB Pritzker used local road projects in Champaign County as a backdrop to announce the latest round of Rebuild Illinois grants.

  • A train derailment on the Canadian National tracks Tuesday night closed roads around Pesotum.

In today’s deep dive, navigating the health system to find help for mental health challenges can be difficult for young adults. We learn more from Side Effects Public Media.

217 Today: Tuesday May 11, 2021

Tuesday May 11, 2021

Today’s headlines:

  • With Illinois heading toward a full economic reopening next month, the state’s Department of Public Health is launching a program to vaccinate workers in office buildings around the state.

  • An Illinois Congressman says it’s vital for the United States to help contain the COVID-19 pandemic as it continues to worsen in India.

  • Midwest farmers will likely need to pay higher prices if they want to buy more land.

  • Champaign-Urbana public health officials reported 15 new cases of COVID-19 Monday. The number of active cases fell to 323, the lowest number in nearly three weeks.

In today’s deep dive, we follow the journey of one dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, from its manufacturing, to its final destination in Archie Thomas’ left arm.

Reporting today contributed by Hannah Meisel, Seth Bodine, and Steve Burger.

217 Today: Monday May 10, 2021

Friday, May 7, 2021

Today’s headlines:

  • Illinois lawmakers are debating whether to permanently allow temporary nursing assistants to take on the duties of a certified nursing assistant in long-term care facilities.

  • U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) says he hopes negotiations with Republicans on President Biden’s $3 trillion infrastructure bill will produce results “soon.”

  • Champaign County health officials say they’re trying to make it as easy as possible for people to get the COVID vaccine, as demand for the vaccine is dropping.

  • The University of Illinois Urbana campus reported no new COVID-19 cases from testing conducted on Friday. It was the first day in months with no new cases.

In today’s deep dive, a look at the City of Danville’s building demolition program. Illinois Newsroom’s Jim Meadows reports on why the city hopes tearing down now will lead to rebuilding in the future.

Reporting today contributed by Derek Cantu, Christine Herman, and Jim Meadows.

217 Today: April 30, 2021

Friday, April 30, 2021

Today’s Headlines:

  • Gov. JB Pritzker has made public a long-awaited investigation into a COVID outbreak at the LaSalle Veterans’ Home last fall that killed 36 residents. 

  • A new report from the Illinois Department of Public Health finds Black women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women. 

  • A committee at Eastern Illinois University voted unanimously this week to recommend that a building named for Stephen A. Douglas be renamed. 

  • Faculty, staff and students at the University of Illinois who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will soon no longer have to get tested for the illness. 

In today’s deep dive, it’s morel mushroom season in much of the Midwest, and people are scouring river bottoms to find the hollow, sponge-like, edible mushrooms. 

Reporting today contributed by Hannah Meisel, Christine Herman, Jim Meadows, and Melissa Rosales. 

217 Today: April 23, 2021

Friday, April 23, 2021

Today’s headlines:

  • Illinoisans who want to own guns would have to be fingerprinted before getting or renewing their concealed carry license under a measure advancing in the Illinois House.

  • The Illinois House Thursday night voted unanimously to pass a measure ending the use of isolation time out rooms in schools and banning restraining children while on their stomachs.

  • For the second straight year, Muslims in the Champaign-Urbana community is observing Ramadan in the middle of a pandemic.

  • Public health officials in Champaign-Urbana reported 21 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday. The number of active cases in the county fell by more than a hundred to 320.

In today’s deep dive, we look at a new program that aims to close the racial achievement gap in Champaign Unit 4 Schools.

Reporting today contributed by Hannah Meisel, Jose Zepeda, and Jim Meadows.

217 Today: April 16, 2021

Friday, April 16, 2021

Today’s headlines:

  • Video of the fatal Chicago police shooting of Adam Toledo shows the 13-year-old raising his arms above his head the moment he is shot.

  • COVID-19 is seeing a new resurgence in Region 2 of Illinois. The president of OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria says his hospital is currently at 81 percent capacity.

  • The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture is expected to announce updates to a program that could result in more farmland being set aside for conservation.

  • Champaign-Urbana public health officials reported 27 new cases of COVID-19 cases Thursday. The number of active cases in the county fell slightly to 453, and the number of county residents hospitalized remained steady at 13.

In today’s deep dive, we hear the fifth and final story in our Midwest waterways series from Harvest Public Media. Today, we look at a 400-mile river highway that ships soybeans and grain around the world.

Reporting contributed by Patrick Smith, Tim Shelley, Dana Cronin, and Seth Bodine.

217 Today: April 9, 2021

Friday, April 9, 2021

Today’s Headlines:

  • The Illinois Department of Public Health reported more than 3,700 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday. Health officials also reported more than 154,000 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine were administered on Wednesday, a new daily record.

  • An Illinois House committee gathering input from different parts of the state on redistricting heard from the Champaign-Urbana area on Thursday.

  • Champaign-Urbana public health officials reported 46 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday. They say more than 52,000 people have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19 in Champaign County, about 30 percent of the vaccine-eligible population.

In today’s deep dive, a conversation with Christian McBride. The Grammy-winning bassist and bandleader is the host of NPR’s Jazz Night in America, which debuted on WILL-FM last weekend.

Reporting today contributed by Jim Meadows.

217 Today: April 6, 2021

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Today’s headlines:

  • Voters are choosing candidates Tuesday for local offices from mayor to school board. Polls are open until 7 p.m.

  • Gov. JB Pritzker stopped in Champaign on Monday to discuss money coming to schools from the American Rescue Plan Act.

  • Republican Congressman Rodney Davis is calling for the governor to live up to campaign promises surrounding legislative redistricting.

  • State public health officials reported more than 2100 new cases of COVID-19 Monday. The seven-day rolling case positivity rate remains steady at 3.8%.  

In today’s deep dive, medical school is challenging for everyone, but Black students can face an especially difficult road. We get a closer look from Side Effects Public Media’s Farah Yousry.

Reporting today contributed by Lee Gaines, Jim Meadows, and Farah Yousry.

217 Today: Friday April 2, 2021

Friday, April 2, 2021

Today’s headlines:

  • One state lawmaker wants to make submitting standardized test scores to colleges and universities permanently optional.

  • Republican Congressman Rodney Davis is telling his fellow Republicans to trust the science and get vaccinated for COVID-19.

  • Rantoul village officials say the first commercial development near the new Family Sports Complex is in the works.

  • COVID-19 positivity rates in Illinois continue to rise, and active cases in Champaign County are up to 354.

In today’s deep dive, as the COVID-19 vaccine becomes more available, people need to be sold on taking the shots. In Latino communities, several issues could hinder the rollout from reaching the most vulnerable.

Reporting today contributed by Derek Cantu, Mary Hansen, Jim Meadows, and David Condos.

217 Today — March 31, 2021

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Today’s headlines:

  • Illinois Republicans are again calling for an independent commission to draw Illinois’ new legislative maps.

  • A bill introduced in the Illinois House earlier this year would require the state to tackle gun violence as a public health issue.

  • Dozens of people gathered outside the Champaign City Building Tuesday to protest anti-Asian violence.

  • More than 48,000 people have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19 in Champaign County – that accounts for about 28 percent of the county’s vaccine-eligible population, and about 23 percent of the entire population of Champaign County.

In today’s deep dive, Illinois Newsroom’s Jim Meadows takes us to Rantoul, where residents are electing trustees by district for the first time, rather than at-large.

Reporting today contributed by Hannah Meisel, Christine Herman, Gavin Good, and Jim Meadows.

217 Today — March 30, 2021

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Today’s headlines:

  • U.S. Senator Dick Durbin says he hopes Democrats and Republicans can come to an accord which avoids the elimination of the filibuster.

  • Public colleges and universities in Illinois are asking the Governor and Illinois Department of Public Health to force college students to get coronavirus vaccines or not attend classes on campus in the fall.

  • Voters in Rantoul are electing their village board from districts for the first time in the April 6 election.

  • Positivity rates for COVID-19 continue to rise in Illinois. The seven-day case positivity rate for the state was at 3.3% Monday, continuing a steady rise from the 2.6% percent a week ago.

In today’s deep dive, a year into the pandemic, COVID-19 has put an enormous strain on the health care system, from the influxes of COVID patients to staffing shortages and budget crunches.

217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts. Reporting today contributed by Tim Shelley, Charlie Schlenker, Jim Meadows, and Natalie Krebs.

217 Today — March 26, 2021

Friday, March 26, 2021

Today’s headlines:

  • More than two-thirds of staff at Illinois prisons rejected their chance at getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

  • A bill state legislators say would expand voting rights is on its way to the governor after passing the Senate. It would increase vote by mail options and allow curbside voting.

  • Larger cities in Illinois have home rule powers automatically. Smaller towns have to ask voters for permission. That’s what’s happening in Savoy on April 6.

  • More than 47,000 people have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19 in Champaign County. That accounts for about 28% of everyone 16 and older – and about 23% of the entire population of Champaign County.

In today’s deep dive, after a long year with virtually no live, indoor music performances, we’re beginning to see a few green shoots of hope this spring. We get details on chamber music performances from Sinfonia da Camera coming up next week.

217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts. Reporting today contributed by Patrick Smith, Christine Hatfield, and Jim Meadows.

217 Today — Dec. 16, 2020

Wednesday December 16, 2020

Today’s headlines:

  • Gov. J.B. Pritzker has proposed $700 million in cuts to this year’s budget to close a projected nearly $4 billion shortfall.

  • All Illinois hospitals are expected to have doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to administer to their first wave of employees by next week.

  • Medical workers in Peoria and Chicago received the first COVID-19 vaccinations Tuesday. Health care employees are among the top priorities for the first COVID-19 vaccines.

  • Public Health officials reported nearly 7,400 new COVID-19 cases in Illinois yesterday, including 117 deaths. Those included Champaign County’s 76th COVID-related fatality, a woman in her 70s.

In today’s deep dive, we hear the first in a two-part series on how COVID-19 can be especially dangerous for people with diabetes. That story is from Side Effects Public Media.

217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts and hosted by Brian Moline. Reporting today contributed by Hannah Meisel, Tim Shelley, Jim Meadows, and Farah Yousry.

217 Today — Dec. 15, 2020

Tuesday December 15, 2020

Today’s headlines:

  • Illinois received its first shipment of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine Monday.

  • The University of Illinois still doesn’t have emergency use authorization from the FDA for its COVID-19 saliva test, but anticipates having it by January.  

  • Illinois public health officials reported 7,214 new COVID-19 cases yesterday, and an additional 103 deaths.  

  • Hospitals in Central Illinois are preparing to receive their first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

In today’s deep dive, months into the pandemic, misinformation about COVID-19 continues to circulate online. Side Effects Public Media’s Steph Whiteside debunks a few of the most common myths.

 217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts and hosted by Brian Moline. Reporting today contributed by Sean Crawford, Lee Gaines, Christine Herman, and Steph Whiteside.

Monday December 14, 2020

Today’s headlines:

  • Part of the Electoral College vote process takes place in Springfield today.

  • Illinois public health officials reported more than 17-thousand new COVID-19 cases over the weekend, as well as an additional 242 deaths. Sunday marked the eleventh day this month that the statewide death toll surpassed 100.

  • Champaign County reported 192 new COVID-19 cases over the weekend. The county currently has more than 1,000 active cases.

  • Illinois’ unfunded pension liability grew again last year to a new high of $144 billion, according to new analysis released by the state last week.

  • The University of Illinois has fired head football coach Lovie Smith, with one game remaining in his fifth season with the program. Smith compiled a 17-39 record at Illinois.

In today’s deep dive, The United Way of Champaign County has compiled a list of holiday volunteering opportunities. We learn more from Illinois Newsroom’s Christine Herman.

217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts and hosted by Brian Moline. Reporting today contributed by Hannah Meisel and Christine Herman.

217 Today — Dec. 11, 2020

Friday December 11, 2020

Today’s headlines: 

  • Governor JB Pritzker’s administration is sending Illinois National Guard medical staff to assist with Coronavirus testing and screening at three of the state’s four veterans’ homes.

  • The governor’s office last week announced the 50 counties in Illinois that would be first in line for vaccine distribution for healthcare workers, a demographic with the highest death rates from COVID-19, but now there’s some reallocation of those doses to counties with regional hospitals. 

  • Yesterday, the Illinois Department of Public Health announced more than 11,000 additional COVID-19 cases across the state. 196 more Illinoisans have died from the virus since yesterday. The state’s seven-day average positivity rate is 9.5%, down slightly from Wednesday.

  • A group of migrant farmworkers is suffering ongoing health problems after being sprayed with pesticides in a central Illinois cornfield last year. Now they’ve filed a lawsuit.

In today’s deep dive, for many mothers giving birth during the pandemic, pregnancy has not gone as planned. To learn about these experiences, a pair of researchers is collecting pandemic birth stories from across the country.

217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts and hosted by Brian Moline. Reporting today contributed by Hannah Meisel, Dana Cronin, and Darian Benson.

Thursday December 10, 2020

Today’s headlines:

  • The state’s Department of Public Health reported more than 8,200 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday – and 179 additional deaths from the virus.

  • A huge increase in firearm purchases nationwide this year has exacerbated an already backlogged system for gun owners to register with the State of Illinois. 

  • Illinois health officials want people to be prepared for the possibility of mild and temporary side effects from the coronavirus vaccine.  

  • Just three Democrats will run for mayor of Urbana in the upcoming primary election. The city’s Electoral Board voted yesterday to remove former basketball player, Verdell Jones III, from the ballot. 

  • Two more people have died from COVID-19 in Champaign County, according to the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District. Since the pandemic began, 72 people have died from COVID-19 county-wide. 

In today’s deep dive, Kirby Medical Center in Piatt County is one of 53 “critical access hospitals” in Illinois. That’s a federal designation for hospitals providing essential health services in rural areas. Christine Herman talks with their CEO.

 217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts and hosted by Brian Moline. Reporting today contributed by Hannah Meisel, Jim Meadows, and Christine Herman.

217 Today — Dec. 9, 2020

Wednesday December 9, 2020

Today’s headlines:

  • Republican lawmakers are proposing changes to Illinois’ constitution that would allow for recall elections in Illinois — something currently reserved only for the governor.

  • The state’s Department of Public Health reported more than 7,900 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday, which brings the statewide total case count to more than 800,000.

  • An effort to prevent farmer suicides is likely to reach a vote on the senate floor this week.  

  • The Fighting Illini men’s basketball team knocked off tenth-ranked Duke last night 83-68 in Durham, North Carolina. 

In today’s deep dive, the Mississippi River town of Grafton, Illinois has had issues with flooding over the years, but we’ll learn from Illinois Newsroom’s Lecia Bushak how those flooding events are happening more frequently and more severely in recent years.

217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts and hosted by Brian Moline. Reporting today contributed by Hannah Meisel, Amy Mayer, and Lecia Bushak. 

Tuesday December 8, 2020

Today’s headlines:

  • Governor J.B. Pritzker says he’s focused on cuts to help balance Illinois’ budget. He sidestepped a question about a broad tax increase during a briefing on Monday.

  • Congressman Rodney Davis says President Trump is within his rights to mount a legal challenge to the election — but he expects a new president will be sworn in January 20th.

  • The Champaign County Board chose Kyle Patterson to be its new chair at last night’s organizational meeting.

  • llinois reported nearly 8,700 new COVID-19 cases yesterday, and 90 additional deaths. Champaign County reported 148 new COVID-19 cases yesterday. The county currently has 1,001 active cases, with 20 patients hospitalized.

In today’s deep dive, we take a closer look at data from the University of Illinois on who got infected with the coronavirus during the fall semester, and where they lived, both on and off campus. We learn more from Illinois Newsroom’s Lee Gaines.

217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts. Reporting today contributed by Sean Crawford, Ryan Denham, Jim Meadows, and Lee Gaines.

Monday December 7, 2020

Today’s headlines:

  • Former State Senator Marty Sandoval died over the weekend after a battle with coronavirus. 

  • A trio of Republican lawmakers is calling on Governor JB Pritzker to deal with problems with fraud related to claims to the Illinois Department of Employment Security. 

  • Balance sheets for farms may look better at the end of 2020 than they have in years. That’s according to the US Department of Agriculture’s latest forecast. 

  • Over the weekend, more than 17,000 coronavirus cases were recorded across the state, along with 281 additional deaths. More than 13,000 Illinoisans have now died due to the virus. In Champaign County, health officials announced 222 new COVID-19 cases over the weekend. Three more deaths were also recorded. Currently, there are nearly 1,000 Champaign County residents who are in isolation with the virus.

In today’s deep dive, the past eight months have taken a toll on Illinois’ teachers, who were already in short supply prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. A new report from the University of Illinois’ Institute of Government and Public Affairs highlights the challenges teachers are facing and recommends specific actions to hire and retain quality educators.  

217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts and hosted by Brian Moline. Reporting today contributed by Hannah Meisel, Maureen McKinney, Amy Mayer, and Lee Gaines.

217 Today — Dec. 4, 2020

Friday December 4, 2020

Today’s headlines:

  • Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger is blaming Democratic Governor JB Pritzker for not controlling a fatal COVID outbreak at an Illinois veterans’ home.

  • Illinois’ blood supply is again experiencing a critical shortage as the Coronavirus pandemic wears on.

  • State health officials announced nearly 11,000 new COVID-19 cases yesterday and almost 200 additional deaths. 

  • Farmers are feeling more pessimistic in the aftermath of the presidential election.

In today’s deep dive, more than 80% of all ICU beds are now occupied according to data from the state’s department of public health. That’s raising concerns about hospitals potentially filling up in the coming weeks. Illinois Newsroom’s Christine Herman talks with an emergency room doctor.

217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts. Reporting today contributed by Dave McKinney, Hannah Meisel, Dana Cronin, and Christine Herman.

Thursday December 3, 2020 

Today’s headlines:

  • An Illinois House panel is opening an investigation into a COVID-19 outbreak at the state-run veterans’ home in LaSalle.

  • Despite a pre-Thanksgiving drop in the number of Illinoisans hospitalized with Coronavirus, that number still exceeds the peak in hospitalizations from COVID’s first wave in the spring.

  • The Urbana Park District and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources recently completed the first phase of a restoration project at Crystal Lake Park.

  • Champaign County reported 151 new COVID-19 cases yesterday. That brings the total number of cases reported in the county to more than 11,000. Macon County reported four COVID-19 related deaths yesterday, and 73 new cases. Coles and DeWitt Counties reported one COVID fatality each, along with dozens of new cases.

In today’s deep dive, drug manufacturers have released promising early results for their COVID-19 vaccines, but skepticism among Americans remains high — especially for African Americans. Details from Side Effects Public Media’s Carter Barrett.

217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts and hosted by Brin Moline. Reporting today contributed by Hannah Meisel, Lecia Bushak, and Carter Barrett.

Wednesday December 2, 2020

Today’s headlines:

  • Illinois has planned for how it will distribute a COVID-19 vaccine. But there could be changes as the process moves along.

  • The Flash Index stalled in November, interrupting five months of slow recovery from a steep drop caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • The total number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. could increase by millions within the next two months.

  • Illinois public health officials reported more than 12,500 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday. They also reported 125 new deaths in the last day, for a total of more than 12,000 since the pandemic began.

In today’s deep dive, we’ll learn more about the challenges that central Illinois hospitals are facing with COVID-19. Eric Stock talks with a pair of Carle nursing officers.

217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts and hosted by Brian Moline. Reporting today contributed by Sean Crawford, Jim Meadows, Shahla Farzan, and Eric Stock.

Tuesday December 1, 2020

Today’s headlines:

  • Despite slight drops in COVID-19 positivity rates and overall hospitalizations statewide in the past two weeks, the entire state of Illinois will remain under stricter mitigations for much of December.

  • Two separate coronavirus vaccine makers have already asked federal regulators for emergency use authorization following promising clinical trials, and a third may do so this month.

  • Essential workers are more likely to be exposed to the coronavirus — and often face additional barriers to getting tested.

  • Public health officials in Illinois reported 85 more deaths from COVID-19 today, and more than 6,100 new cases — both confirmed and probable.

In today’s deep dive, during the first three months of the pandemic, the number of Americans dying, not just from COVID-19, increased compared to previous years

That’s it for today. 217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts and hosted by Brian Moline. Reporting today contributed by Hannah Meisel and Christine Herman.

Monday November 30, 2020

Today’s headlines:

  • Thousands of Illinoisans will cast their votes tomorrow in township caucus-style elections all over the state, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Like larger hospitals in Illinois, rural hospitals are having a hard time finding enough nurses, doctors and other staff to treat an influx of COVID-19 patients.

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has been tough on in-person shopping, especially at small, local businesses. Those are just the type of businesses hoping to grab shoppers’ attention, during a promotional event that starts tomorrow in Champaign.

  • Public health officials in Illinois reported 57 more deaths from COVID-19 yesterday, and more than 7,100 new cases.

In today’s deep dive, millions more Americans are facing food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ll learn about a new data-driven map tracking food insecurity rates from Illinois Newsroom’s Dana Cronin.

217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts and hosted by Brian Moline. Reporting today contributed by Hannah Meisel, Mary Hansen, Jim Meadows, and Dana Cronin.

217 Today — Nov. 25, 2020

Wednesday November 25, 2020

Today’s headlines:

  • One in four people hospitalized in Illinois are COVID-19 patients –even as the rate of COVID diagnosis has slowed down in the last two weeks.

  • Champaign Unit 4 Schools distributed nearly 500 Thanksgiving meals to families this week.

  • Hospitals in central Illinois are exploring ways to increase capacity to care for an increasing number of COVID patients.

In today’s deep dive, health reporter Christine Herman continues her check-ins with area hospitals amid the continued rise in COVID-19 cases. She talks with Dr. Jared Rogers with OSF Heart of Mary Medical Center in Urbana.

217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts and hosted by Brian Moline. Reporting today contributed by Hannah Meisel, Lee Gaines, and Christine Herman.

Tuesday November 24, 2020

Today’s headlines:

  • As the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Illinois continues to climb, the state health department is changing how it defines hospital capacity.

  • The average cost of all the ingredients for a classic Thanksgiving meal is the lowest it’s been in a decade, despite the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • In east-central Illinois, hospitals are filling up with COVID-19 patients as rates of community transmission continue to rise.

In today’s deep dive, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Illinois Department of Public Health warn this Thanksgiving could become a super-spreader COVID-19 event if the proper precautions aren’t taken. We learn more about those precautions from Tim Shelley.

217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts and hosted by Brian Moline. Reporting today contributed by Mary Hansen, Dana Cronin, Christine Herman, and Tim Shelley.

Monday November 23, 2020

Today’s headlines:

  • The state of Illinois reported just over 10,000 new COVID-19 cases yesterday, and the number of hospitalizations fell slightly to just over 6,000. Officials reported 76 additional deaths.

  • Criminal defendants in Cook County saved more than 31 million dollars over a six-month period after cash bail was no longer required in most felony cases.

  • Champaign County has passed 10,000 total COVID-19 cases after reporting 194 new cases yesterday and one additional death. Forty-six Champaign County residents have now died of COVID-19.

  • Illinois food banks are gearing up for the incoming cold weather and the holiday season.

  • The University of Illinois reported 12 new COVID-19 cases on its Urbana campus from tests conducted on Saturday. There have been nearly 3,900 confirmed cases on campus since students returned in August.

In today’s deep dive, at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, ethanol producers feared what mass quarantines would do to their bottom lines. About half of U.S. plants shuttered their doors. Most plants have reopened, but some are questioning if the industry should go back to business as usual.

217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts and hosted by Brian Moline. Reporting today contributed by Dave McKinney, Maureen McKinney, Dana Cronin, and Christina Stella.

217 Today — Nov. 20, 2020

Friday November 20, 2020

Today’s headlines:

  • Governor JB Pritzker yesterday called on longtime Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan to resign if he won’t appear in public and answer questions about a bribery scheme.

  • Illinois state health officials are continuing to urge residents to stay home for the holidays and avoid large indoor gatherings of any kind. They announced more than 1,400 additional COVID-19 cases today, along with 168 more deaths.

  • Champaign County health officials announced 140 new cases yesterday. There are more than 1,200 active cases in the county and 16 people are hospitalized. The county’s seven-day average positivity rate, excluding University of Illinois tests, is 9.6%.

  • The US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights is investigating a complaint alleging that Jewish and pro-Israel students on the University of Illinois’ Urbana campus have faced a hostile environment of anti-Semitism and that the university’s response was inadequate.

In today’s deep dive, as the fall semester comes to a close on the University of Illinois Urbana campus, we’ll find out what lessons officials have learned reopening the campus during a pandemic.

217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts and hosted by Brian Moline. Reporting today contributed by Hannah Meisel, Lee Gaines, and Christine Herman.

Thursday November 19, 2020

Today’s headlines:

  • Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan’s longtime confidante is facing federal corruption charges.

  • COVID-19 is now the third leading cause of death in Illinois as the state sinks deeper into the second wave of the pandemic.

  • Champaign County reported 225 new COVID-19 cases yesterday. There are nearly 1.600 active cases in the county, up from 772 on Monday. Officials reported one additional death, pushing Champaign County’s total to 41.

  • Macon County health officials reported two more deaths from COVID-19 yesterday and 132 new cases.

  • In Vermilion County, officials announced the 29th COVID-related death, a person in their 60s. They announced 61 new positive cases, and the number of active cases increased slightly to 261.

In today’s deep dive, Carle’s five central Illinois hospitals are seeing a rise in COVID-19 patients in recent weeks. Carle recently launched a program aimed at freeing up hospital beds –by providing virtual monitoring to COVID-positive patients safely at home. We learn more about that program from Christine Herman.

217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts and hosted by Brian Moline. Reporting today contributed by Dave McKinney, Mary Hansen, and Christine Herman.

Wednesday November 18, 2020

Today’s headlines:

  • For the past week, there have been more Illinoisans hospitalized with coronavirus than there were when the state experienced its first COVID-19 peak in the spring. As a result, Governor JB Pritzker announced increased restrictions on businesses throughout the state.

  • Earlier this year, the Supreme Court ruled that the Clean Water Act applies to groundwater contamination – which can leak into waterways like lakes or rivers. Environmental groups are fighting to define how that ruling applies to Illinois rivers.

  • Decatur Public School officials announced yesterday that they will follow guidance from the Macon County Health Department and have students learn virtually through at least January 15th.

In today’s deep dive, the continued stress from COVID-19 has heightened mental health problems nationwide. Some experts say that has led to an increase in drug overdoses.

217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts and hosted by Brian Moline. Reporting today contributed by Hannah Meisel, Lecia Bushak, and Darian Benson.

Tuesday November 17, 2020

Today’s headlines:

  • The Illinois Department of Public Health reported more than 11,600 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday, and 37 additional deaths from the virus. 

  • The Macon County Public Health Department has recommended that schools switch to remote learning through at least January 15th. Macon County Public Health Administrator Brandi Binkley made the announcement during a press conference yesterday evening.

  • Governor JB Prizker says the state will first look at budget cuts to help fill a $5 billion hole in the state budget. He says only after cuts will he consider any additional taxes. 

In today’s deep dive, the coronavirus pandemic has made it difficult for small farmers to find places to butcher their meat. We’ll hear about one state’s efforts to break the logjam by helping small meatpacking operations increase capacity.

217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts and hosted by Brian Moline. Reporting today contributed by Hannah Meisel, Lee Gaines, and Jonathan Ahl.

Monday November 16, 2020

Today’s headlines: 

  • Governor J.B. Pritzker says he cannot guarantee that Illinois will have enough hospital beds as the pandemic surges.

  • A group of grad students at the University of Illinois has identified more than two dozen mutations in the novel coronavirus.

  • Macon County announced that six more people died due to COVID-19 over the weekend –all of whom were in their 70s and 80s.Health officials also reported 244 new cases of COVID-19 over the weekend.

In today’s deep dive, we hear how voters rejecting the graduated income tax amendment earlier this month could affect funding for K-12 schools in Illinois.

217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts and hosted by Brian Moline. Reporting today contributed by Maureen McKinney, Christine Herman, and Lee Gaines.

217 Today — Nov. 13, 2020

Friday November 13, 2020

Today’s headlines:

  • Governor JB Pritzker is warning of another possible stay-at-home order for Illinois as Coronavirus stats keep climbing.

  • Today is the last day for in-person classes at the Champaign Unit Four and Urbana school districts until January. Both districts say they’re switching to remote instruction only, starting Monday per recommendations from the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District. 

  • Meanwhile, Carle is announcing new restrictions for visitors beginning today. They will allow no visitors for patients at Carle Hospital, except under extenuating circumstances.

  • As for the numbers, the state of Illinois set new records yesterday for the number of new COVID-19 cases — and the number of people hospitalized with the disease.

In today’s deep dive, as COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to rise across Illinois, we’ll hear from Decatur Memorial Hospital’s Chief Medical Officer to see how they’re coping. He talks with Illinois Newsroom’s Christine Herman.

217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts and hosted by Brian Moline. Reporting today contributed by Hannah Meisel, Jim Meadows, and Christine Herman.

Thursday November 12, 2020

Today’s headlines:

  • Illinois set another record yesterday for COVID-19 cases. The state Department of Public Health reported more than 12,600 cases and 145 deaths, the highest fatality level since May.

  • Cash bond could be eliminated in Illinois if a push by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus is successful.

  • Voters in 23 counties have passed advisory referendums supporting separate statehood for downstate Illinois. Twenty counties passed the question in last week’s election alone.

  • survey of IHSA schools shows a majority of respondents don’t plan to play basketball over the winter. Only about three dozen say they plan to start the season on time. More than 200 other schools are still undecided.

In today’s deep dive, we’ll hear from the administrator of the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District, as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Champaign County, across Illinois, and throughout the country.

217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts and hosted by Brian Moline. Reporting today contributed by Maureen McKinney, Eric Stock, and Jim Meadows.

Wednesday November 11, 2020

Today’s headlines:

  • COVID-19 patients are filling hospital beds in Illinois at levels close to the state’s peak in coronavirus infections this past spring with no signs of slowing.

  • Two regions in central Illinois are seeing COVID hospitalization rates more than three times the amount they experienced in the spring.

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has reduced the number of Veterans Day activities this year. But some will still be held, including a program in downtown Urbana this afternoon.

  • Five more people in Champaign County have died from COVID-19 since Monday (11/9).The Champaign-Urbana Public Health District is now reporting a total of 37 deaths from the virus.

  • The University of Illinois’ Urbana campus is urging all faculty and staff to increase testing from once to twice per week due to a surge in cases among campus employees.

In today’s deep dive, with men dominating the farming world, farm equipment is designed to be used by male farmers. Illinois Newsroom’s Dana Cronin will tell us what’s being done to help female farmers.

217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts and hosted by Brian Moline. Reporting today contributed by Hannah Meisel, Sean Crawford, Jim Meadows, and Dana Cronin.

Tuesday November 10, 2020

Today’s headlines:

  • Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker is blaming COVID-19’s sharp resurgence in part on local officials’ lax enforcement of state rules.

  • The City of Urbana is exploring a new geothermal energy program to help de-carbonize heating.

  • During a Board of Education meeting last night, Champaign Unit 4 Schools officials discussed plans to return middle and high school students to some form of in-person instruction come January.

  • Champaign County announced 40 new COVID-19 cases yesterday, for a total of more than 7,100. Currently, there are 420 active cases of the virus and 32 total deaths.

In today’s deep dive, Indiana’s state prisons have been plagued by staffing issues for years. But the Miami Correctional Facility suffers the most, and the pandemic has only made staffing issues worse.

217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts and hosted by Brian Moline. Reporting today contributed by Hannah Meisel, Lecia Bushak, Lee Gaines and Jake Harper.

Monday November 9, 2020

Today’s headlines:

  • The outgoing and incoming representatives in Illinois’ 15th congressional district have differing opinions about the news of Joe Biden’s election as president.

  • Students at the University of Illinois say they are breathing a sigh of relief that the 2020 presidential election seems to have reached an end.

  • The number of confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases continued to mount over the weekend in Illinois, with more than 22,000 cases reported over the weekend. The state’s seven-day case positivity rate has continued to grow, and is now at 10.6%.

  • Champaign County reported three deaths linked to COVID-19 over the weekend, for a total of 32 deaths due to the coronavirus since the pandemic began.

In today’s deep dive, as the harvest season comes to a close, there’s one midwest farmer looking at harnessing the most modern technology for his livestock.

217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts and hosted by Brian Moline. Reporting today contributed by Jim Meadows, Farrah Anderson, and Amy Mayer.

217 Today — Nov. 6, 2020

Friday November 6, 2020

Today’s headlines: 

  • Some high-powered Democrats are calling on House Speaker Michael Madigan to resign as chair of the Democratic Party of Illinois.

  • Illinois passed another grim COVID-19 milestone yesterday. More than 10,000 Illinoisans have now died after testing positive for the virus.

  • Champaign County reported 60 new COVID-19 cases yesterday. The County is now dealing with nearly 600 active cases. The average number of new daily cases in Champaign County has more than doubled in the past three weeks.

  • More than two-thirds of U.S. adults say the 2020 election is a significant source of stress — up from 2016 when just over half of people said the same.

  • Newly counted mail-in ballots have widened a still-narrow lead for the Democratic challenger for Champaign County Circuit Clerk. Susan McGrath is now 120 votes ahead of Republican incumbent Katie Blakeman, in the county’s closest election contest.

In today’s deeper dive, the Jupiter String Quartet has a concert today, a virtual one of course. We talk with the quartet and a University of Illinois environmental sciences professor about a piece that’s a tribute to the “beauty and vitality of the natural world.”

217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts and hosted by Brian Moline. Reporting today contributed by Tony Arnold, Mary Hansen, and Christine Herman.

Thursday November 5, 2020

Today’s headlines:

  • Governor J.B. Pritzker says Illinois is at a crossroads financially after his plan to change the state’s income structure failed.

  • Democrat Betsy Dirksen Londrigan thanked her supporters, volunteers and campaign staff, after losing to Congressman Rodney Davis for a second time. And she urged voters to stay active in the political process.

  • State public health officials reported more than 7,500 new COVID-19 cases yesterday. That’s the second-highest level of cases in a single day since the coronavirus pandemic first hit Illinois last February.

  • Champaign County reported 171 new COVID-19 cases yesterday. There are more than 600 active cases in the county.

In today’s deeper dive, Republican Rodney Davis won re-election in the 13th Congressional District, which many observers considered a tossup, but his margin of victory was a surprise.

217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts. Reporting today contributed by Sean Crawford, Tim Shelley, Jim Meadows, and Ryan Denham.

Wednesday November 4, 2020

Today’s headlines:

  • While Democrats hoped to flip Illinois’ 13th congressional district, Republican incumbent Rodney Davis won a fifth term last night.

  • Champaign County’s chief elections officer, County Clerk Aaron Ammons, says the county received more than one thousand mail-in ballots yesterday (11/3).

  • With a few thousand mail-in ballots still outstanding, some Champaign County race results are still uncertain.

In today’s deeper dive, there are still votes to be counted, but it looks like governor JB Pritzker’s signature graduated income tax measure could be headed toward defeat.

217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts and hosted by Brian Moline. Reporting today contributed by Mary Hansen, Hannah Meisel, Cesar Sanchez, and our entire Illinois Newsroom team of reporters.

Tuesday November 3, 2020

Today’s headlines: 

  • Governor JB Pritzker is urging Illinoisans to be patient with election results ahead of a highly unusual Election Day in the middle of a pandemic.

  • Many local college students voting in their first election say that they have already taken advantage of early voting. Several say issues like human rights, racial justice and climate change are most important to them.

  • Illinois’ daily COVID-19 cases continue to climb as the state implements mitigation efforts across several regions. Average daily case numbers have risen by 86% in the last three weeks.

In today’s deeper dive, there’s lots of speculation on whether we’ll have election results on Election Night —or if it will take longer to know who voters have chosen for president. We learn more from Illinois Newsroom’s Jim Meadows.

217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts and hosted by Brian Moline. Reporting today contributed by Hannah Meisel, Jim Meadows, and Chris Evans with his team of University of Illinois student journalists.

Monday November 2, 2020

Today’s headlines: 

  • Illinois is one of 32 states where mailed ballots can be processed in advance of Election Day. But there could still be delays in calling winners for many races.

  • The Illinois Department of Public Health reported nearly 15,000 new cases of COVID-19 between Saturday and Sunday.The state also reported 81 additional deaths from the virus. 

  • With election season coming to a close, many Illinois students are casting their ballots for the first time. That story from Olivia Butts.

  • Gov. J.B. Pritzker also announced yesterday that COVID-19 mitigation measures would take effect beginning Wednesday in Region 2, which includes Bloomington, Peoria, and the Quad Cities. Mitigation measures take effect today in Region 6, which includes Champaign County and 20 other counties in east-central Illinois.

In today’s deeper dive, in the dueling campaigns for and against Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s push for a so-called “Fair Tax,” are the echoes of past attempts at tax reform in Illinois. We get that story from Hannah Meisel.

217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts and hosted by Brian Moline. Reporting today contributed by Mary Hansen, Olivia Butts, and Hannah Meisel.

217 Today — Oct. 30, 2020

Friday October 30, 2020

Today’s headlines: 

  • A hearing this afternoon in a Champaign County courtroom will give a group of local Republicans their first chance to make their case against County Clerk Aaron Ammons.

  • The region of central and western Illinois, which includes Springfield and Quincy, Thursday joined states facing additional mitigation efforts to fight COVID-19.

  • Public health officials have advice for how people can celebrate Halloween safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In today’s deep dive, a number of companies are scrambling to develop a COVID-19 vaccine and get FDA approval. In the meantime, states are finalizing plans to distribute the vaccine. We get that story from Side Effects Public Media’s Carter Barrett.

217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts and hosted by Brian Moline. Reporting today contributed by Jim Meadows, Maureen McKinney, Christine Herman, and Carter Barrett.

Thursday October 29, 2020

Today’s headlines:

  • Several regions across Illinois are seeing a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases. The state has responded with increased restrictions –including a ban on indoor dining.

  • Bloomington State Senator Bill Brady calls for Senate hearings on mitigation rules as Coronavirus positivity rates spike statewide. The Republican minority leader tells reporters mitigation efforts threaten to destroy the livelihood of many bar and restaurant owners.

  • Candidates for Illinois’ 13th congressional seat representing parts of Springfield, Champaign-Urbana and Bloomington Normal are making their final appeals to voters.

  • The percentage of positive COVID-19 tests in Region 6 — which includes Champaign and 20 other counties in east-central Illinois — is steadily rising. When test results from the University of Illinois are excluded, the seven-day positivity rate is now above 8 %  — putting the region at risk of additional mitigation.

In today’s deeper dive, a record number of Illinoisans are casting their ballots by mail in the November election. We’ll find out how those ballots are processed, and what ballot rejections could mean for election results.

217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts. Reporting today contributed by Christine Herman, Eric Stock, and Mary Hansen.

Wednesday October 28, 2020

Today’s headlines: 

  • Governor JB Pritzker stopped in Champaign yesterday to discuss plans to create two downstate manufacturing training academies.

  • Chicago is the latest area of Illinois to have COVID-19 restrictions imposed. Governor JB Pritzker has announced NO indoor service at bars and restaurants will be the rule starting Friday. Smaller gathering sizes will also be in effect.

  • Officials on the University of Illinois Urbana campus reported 74 new COVID-19 cases yesterday. The single-day positivity rate from tests conducted on Monday was 0.67%, both numbers are the highest since September 8th.

In today’s deeper dive, stress caused by the pandemic can make people with addiction vulnerable to relapse, but some people getting treated for addiction prepared them for what was to come. Illinois Newsroom’s Christine Herman has details.

217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts. Reporting today contributed by Lee Gaines, Sean Crawford, and Christine Herman.

Tuesday October 27, 2020

Today’s headlines: 

  • Well over half of Illinois’ population will be living under coronavirus mitigation measures as of Wednesday. Those state mitigations —which include banning indoor bar and restaurant service —will be extended to two more regions of the state as Illinois sees an aggressive new wave of COVID-19.

  • Cases of COVID-19 continue to spike in the Rockford area. The Winnebago County Health Department yesterday reported 343 new cases of coronavirus from over the weekend.

  • As COVID-19 cases surge across the country, domestic violence is also on the rise. Domestic violence cases have increased worldwide by about 20% since countries imposed lockdow nmeasures, according to the United Nations. The Illinois domestic violence helpline is 1-877-863-6338.

  • Champaign County reported 42 new COVID-19 cases yesterday. That brings the county’s total case count to more than 59-hundred. Currently, there are more than 300 active cases and seven people are hospitalized.

In today’s deeper dive, there have been three debates between the candidates in Illinois’ 13th Congressional District, but none in the adjacent 15th District. Illinois Newsroom’s Jim Meadows tells us why.

217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts. Reporting today contributed by Hannah Meisel, Chase Cavanaugh, Lecia Bushak, and Jim Meadows.

Monday October 26, 2020

Today’s headlines:

  • Congress passed a $2-trillion dollar federal stimulus package at the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic —some of which was meant for local governments. But local governments are still fighting the governor’s office for that money.

  • Nearly half the processed venison tested in central Illinois had small fragments of lead, according to a new study done by Illinois Wesleyan University scientists Given Harper and Aaron Wilson.

  • Conservative lawmakers under the banner of “Restore Illinois” toured the state last week to promote their support for President Trump and opposition to Governor JB Pritzker.

  • Over the weekend, Illinois health officials reported more than 10,000 new confirmed COVID-19 cases, including 87 additional deaths. The average number of new daily cases has doubled since the beginning of the month – as has the state’s seven-day positive testing rate, which now stands at 6.1%.

In today’s deeper dive, state representative Darren Bailey says he’ll continue his court battle against Governor Pritzker’s use of emergency powers during the COVID-19 pandemic. He speaks with Illinois Newsroom’s Jim Meadows.

217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts and hosted by Brian Moline. Reporting today contributed by Hannah Meisel, Charlie Schlenker, and Jim Meadows.

217 Today — Oct. 23, 2020

Friday, October 23, 2020

Today’s headlines: 

  • A national political watcher is now rating Illinois’ 13th Congressional District as a toss-up. Dave Wasserman, U.S. House Editor for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, says incumbent Republican Rodney Davis was slightly favored, but the unpopularity of President Donald Trump in the district is giving Democrat Betsy Londrigan an edge.

  • If elected, Vice President Joe Biden plans to dramatically increase federal spending on public K-12 and higher education. But a campaign representative says his first priority is making sure schools can safely reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • The Housing Authority of Champaign is now a designated EnVision Center – meaning it can receive federal assistance for its programs, including low-income housing and job training. It’s the only center of its kind in Illinois, outside of the Chicago area.

  • Illinois health officials reported more than 4,900 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 yesterday, the highest single-day case count since the pandemic began.

In today’s deeper dive, about a third of all Illinois counties are at a warning level for COVID-19. Among them is Macon County in central Illinois. We hear from Macon County Public Health Administrator Brandi Binkley.

217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts and hosted by Brian Moline. Reporting today contributed by Tim Shelley, Lee Gaines, Dana Cronin, and Christine Herman.

Thursday October 22, 2020

Today’s headlines: 

  • Illinois has developed its plan for distributing a COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available. As Sean Crawford reports, there are a lot of unknowns.

  • Researchers at SIU are taking part in an effort to help further understand the novel coronavirus by sequencing its genome.

  • The University of Illinois published the third version of its Illinois Climate Action Plan, or iCAP, this week, and it’s officially been signed by Chancellor Robert Jones. The sustainability plan includes steps for the Urbana-Champaign campus to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

  • Officials in Vermilion County reported two more deaths from COVID-19 Wednesday, a man and woman, both in their 70s. Eleven people have died from the disease in Vermilion County. Officials there reported 37 new cases yesterday.

  • In Macon County, officials reported one additional death from COVID-19 yesterday, the 52nd in that county.

In today’s deeper dive, handling the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a mental health challenge for many people. Experts anticipate this winter will be even worse.

217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts and hosted by Brian Moline. Reporting today contributed by Sean Crawford, Steph Whiteside, Lecia Bushak, and Darian Benson.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Today’s headlines: 

  • Two more regions of Illinois will be put under Coronavirus mitigations by the state as COVID-19 continues its resurgence this month.

  • Six Champaign County Jail inmates recently tested positive for COVID-19. But Sheriff Dustin Heuerman says the larger jail population was not put at risk.

  • Champaign County authorities say they have identified the woman whose skeletal remains were found in a farm field in 1995. Now, they’re asking people who knew her to come forward with any information they have.

  • Macon County reported 74 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday and three deaths — two men, in their 70s and 80s, and a woman in her 80s.Vermilion County reported 21 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday. Coles County reported ten new cases.

In today’s deeper dive, Northern Illinois University is expanding COVID-19 testing efforts into what some might consider unexpected places: wastewater.

217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts and hosted by Brian Moline. Reporting today contributed by Hannah Meisel, Jim Meadows and Peter Medlin.

Tuesday October 20, 2020

Today’s headlines: 

  • Governor JB Pritzker is again defending his administration’s handling of a deluge of unemployment claims as the economic effects of the Coronavirus pandemic drag on.

  • After more than three days of COVID-19 positivity rates above eight percent, Governor Pritzker has ordered southern Illinois back to Phase Three of the state’s COVID-19 reopening plan starting Thursday.

  • A derecho windstorm in August knocked over cornstalks across much of Iowa and parts of Illinois. We learn how that has affected harvest.

  • The University of Illinois academic senate has approved a revised spring schedule that would cancel spring break and delay the start of the semester by one week.

In today’s deeper dive, with more territory than some states, Illinois’ 15th District covers a large section of southeast and south-central Illinois. Illinois Newsroom’s Jim Meadows talked to some of the 15th District’s residents as they prepare to elect a new representative.

217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts and hosted by Brian Moline. Reporting today contributed by Hannah Meisel, Kevin Boucher, Amy Mayer, and Jim Meadows.

Monday October 19, 2020

Today’s headlines:

  • Starting Monday, voters in Champaign County can cast their ballots in person and early, at twelve different locations.

  • Ameren and five other energy companies recently announced plans to build out a “vast network” of public vehicle charging stations across the Midwest.

  • Thousands of Women’s Marches took place across the country over the weekend. Illinois Newsroom’s Dana Cronin reports from one in Champaign.

  • Monticello High School will move to fully remote learning this week, after three students tested positive for COVID-19.

In today’s deeper dive, we’ll learn about memorial funds honoring a local musician who died earlier this year. Nick Rudd was a stalwart on the Champaign-Urbana music scene for decades.

217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts and hosted by Brian Moline. Reporting today was contributed by Jim Meadows, Ryan Denham, and Dana Cronin.

217 Today — Oct. 16, 2020

Friday October 16, 2020

Today’s headlines: 

  • The confirmation hearing of Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett wrapped up yesterday in the US Senate. We hear from an Illinois Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

  • A team at Washington University in St. Louis is testing whether lab-made antibodies could be used as a treatment for COVID-19.

  • The C-U Women’s March and Rally starts tomorrow at noon at West Side Park in downtown Champaign.

In today’s deeper dive, Black farmers in the Midwest historically struggled with all the challenges facing other farmers, but they also were held back by systemic racism. We’ll learn more about the challenges of being a Black farmer in the Midwest from Harvest Public Media’s Amy Mayer.

217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts. Reporting today contributed by Lecia Bushak, Shahla Farzan, and Amy Mayer.

Thursday October 15, 2020

Today’s headlines:

  • As the holiday season gets closer, state public health officials are urging safety at family gatherings during the Coronavirus pandemic.

  • The Supreme Court this week ruled that counting for the 2020 census can stop. Illinoisans have until today to self-respond to the population survey.

  • Champaign Unit 4 elementary school students will have the option to return to some in-person instruction at the end of this month.

  • The Illinois Department of Public Health has changed how COVID-19 data for east-central Illinois is reported. The University of Illinois testing data, which was previously included in Region 6, will be reported separately to better identify testing needs and trends in this part of the state, according to Illinois health officials.   

In today’s deeper dive, sexually transmitted infections – or STIs – have been on the rise for years. But the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted public health efforts to address the issue. We learn more from Side Effects Public Media.

217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts and hosted by Brian Moline. Reporting today contributed by Hannah Meisel, Mary Hansen, Lee Gaines, and Natalie Krebs.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Today’s headlines: 

  • Illinois has reached another grim milestone in the fight against the Coronavirus: More than 9,000 people have died from COVID-19.

  • Both candidates in the 13th Congressional District played to organized labor during a debate held in Normal.

  • Preliminary state data shows the opioid epidemic is worsening in Illinois –and those at greatest risk of an overdose are Black men in their 50s.

  • The National Weather Service has issued a wind advisory for much of Central Illinois today. Chambana Weather meteorologist Andrew Pritchard says we could see wind gusts of up to 45 miles per hour this afternoon. Look for mostly sunny skies and a high of 80 degrees.

In today’s deeper dive, we’ll hear about a new federal grant to help fight human trafficking in Central Illinois from officials with the Center for Prevention of Abuse in Peoria.

217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts and hosted by Brian Moline. Reporting today contributed by Hannah Meisel, Charlie Schlenker, Christine Herman, and Tim Shelley.

Tuesday October 13, 2020

Today’s headlines: 

  • With three weeks to go until Election Day, more than half-a-million Illinoisans have already voted in the November election.

  • Democratic Senator Dick Durbin says the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett are happening under a cloud. Durbin made his opening remarks on Monday. The hearings continue Tuesday with questioning of Judge Barrett.

  • Besides all the races for local, state, and federal office, some Illinois residents will make another key decision this fall — whether Justice Tom Kilbride will serve another term on the state supreme court. He’s up for retention, and needs to receive at least 60% “yes” votes.

  • Illinois reported more than 2700 new COVID-19 cases Monday, along with 13 additional deaths from the virus.The seven-day positivity rate for the state is at 4.3%, up nearly a full percentage point from a week ago.

In today’s deeper dive, the Champaign County Forest Preserve District is looking for more revenue to maintain its parks. We learn about a property tax referendum on the ballot from Illinois Newsroom’s Jim Meadows.

217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts and hosted by Brian Moline. Reporting today contributed by Hannah Meisel, Ryan Denham, Herb Trix, and Jim Meadows.

Monday October 12, 2020

Today’s headlines:

  • Ameren customers who want to put solar panels on their homes might be out of time to take advantage of a program that pays customers for unused solar power.

  • Farmers are more optimistic now than they have been since the pandemic started.That’s according to the Ag Barometer, a monthly survey put out by researchers at Purdue University and CME Group.

  • Students and employees of school districts in Piatt County now have access to free rapid COVID-19 testing through Kirby Medical Center—a rural hospital in Monticello.

  • Illinois’ daily COVID-19 cases have increased by 20% in the last three weeks after a slight plateau in September. On Saturday (10/10), the statewide seven-day positivity rate rose to 4% for the first time in a month.

In today’s deeper dive, millions of farmworkers throughout the U.S. work every year to plant crops, harvest them, and do everything in between. Among them are migratory workers, who leave their homes for months at a time to take on what’s often a risky job. Dana Cronin and Christine Herman have that story.

217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts and hosted by Brian Moline. Reporting today contributed by Hannah Meisel, Dana Cronin, Lee Gaines, and Christine Herman.

217 Today Podcast — Oct. 9, 2020

Apple Podcasts  Spotify Podcasts  Google Podcasts  RSS Link

Friday, October 9, 2020

Today’s headlines: 

  • Governor JB Pritzker is warning of painful budget cuts if the graduated income tax plan fails at the polls next month.

  • In August, a tornado ripped through the Walnut Grove Vocational Farm in Kirkland. We get an update on how the farm is getting back to normal.

  • Illinois residents who use Facebook could be eligible for up to 400 dollars from a class-action settlement.

  • Over the past week, Champaign County has reported five additional deaths from COVID-19 –including a male in his 30s and four females in their 80s and 90s.In addition, 32 new COVID-19 cases were reported Thursday.

In today’s deeper dive, we’ll learn more about a constitutional amendment on the ballot this November that would change the state of Illinois’ income tax structure from a flat tax to a graduated one. Jenna Dooley talks with Capitol News Illinois bureau chief Jerry Nowicki about the ballot question and legal opposition.

217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts and hosted by Brian Moline. Reporting today comes from Hannah Meisel, Connie Kuntz, Christine Herman, and Jenna Dooley.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Today’s headlines: 

  • Most Urbana District 116 students will continue to learn remotely—at least until January. 

  • Governor JB Pritzker is pushing lawmakers to pass criminal justice reform when they return to Springfield in November.

  • Drop, Cover and Hold On. Those are the directions for everyone taking part in the annual Great Shakeout Earthquake Drill next Thursday.

  • Coles County recorded its 35th death related to COVID-19 yesterday (Wednesday 10/7), along with 19 newly confirmed cases of the coronavirus.

In today’s deeper dive, farmers are trying to figure out what they can expect from the next president, whether it’s Joe Biden or four more years of Donald Trump. We learn more from Jonathan Ahl of Harvest Public Media.

217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts. Reporting today contributed by Lee Gaines, Hannah Meisel, Jim Meadows, and Jonathan Ahl.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Today’s headlines:

  • A legislative committee looking into the relationship between longtime Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan and Commonwealth Edison won’t meet again until after the November 3rd election.

  • People housed in county jails who haven’t been convicted of a crime but are awaiting trial are eligible to vote. But 2020 is the first year county jails in Illinois are mandated to offer a vote-by-mail system.

  • Vistra Energy announced it would close its remaining coal-fired power plants in Illinois within the next decade as a move toward clean energy.

  • Champaign County reported 35 new COVID-19 cases yesterday (Tuesday 10/6). The county’s total is now more than five thousand. 364 of those cases are active, with two people hospitalized.

In today’s deeper dive, among the many people adjusting to a new normal during the pandemic are school bus drivers. We check in with drivers in Rockford to see how they’re handling COVID-19.

217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts. Reporting today contributed by Hannah Meisel, Peter Medlin, Lecia Bushak, and Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco.

Tuesday October 6, 2020

Today’s headlines:

  • Governor JB Pritzker is calling a lawsuit filed Monday to derail his signature tax plan “desperate.”

  • Illinois will require residents to swap out their current smoke detectors forones that have a ten-year sealed battery.

  • Champaign County health officials announced 62 new COVID-19 cases Monday (10/5), with the county’s total now surpassing five thousand. 

In today’s deeper dive, Republican Congressman Rodney Davis and his Democratic challenger Betsy Dirksen Londrigan talked about healthcare, the COVID-19 pandemic, racial justice, and a lot more, in a one-hour debate broadcast live Monday night on WILL radio and TV. Illinois Newsroom’s Jim Meadows has details.

217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts. Reporting today contributed by Hannah Meisel, Rich Egger and Jim Meadows.

217 Today — Monday, Oct. 5, 2020

Today’s headlines: 

  • 13th District Congressman Rodney Davis and Democratic challenger Betsy Dirksen will be asked about issues ranging from the economy to police reform when they meet Monday in Champaign for a broadcast debate.

  • Springfield police say three months of investigation into a deadly workplace shooting has yielded few details to help find a motive.

  • Illinois is sending $80 million worth of CARES Act money to more than 450 of the state’s poorest school districts — including Danville’s. 

In today’s deeper dive, the pandemic has drastically changed how we watch movies. That’s having a big impact not only on movie studios, but also local theaters.

217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts. Reporting today contributed by Jim Meadows, Sean Crawford, Lee Gaines, and Tim Shelley.

217 Today Podcast — Oct. 2, 2020

Apple Podcasts  Spotify Podcasts  Google Podcasts  RSS Link

217 Today — Friday, Oct. 2, 2020

Today’s headlines: 

  • Pressure on Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan is ramping up as one of his fellow Democrats announced a challenge to his speakership yesterday.

  • Champaign County reported its 2nd COVID-19 death in as many days yesterday, for a total of 22 deaths from the coronavirus. The Champaign-Urbana Public Health District reported 56 new COVID-19 cases yesterday.

  • Farmers across the country received federal aid as China put tariffs on crops like cotton and soybeans. Farmers in the South got the highest average payments, largely because of the crops they grow.

In today’s deeper dive, getting the flu vaccine is a simple way to protect yourself — and those at greatest risk — from influenza. And as the COVID-19 pandemic carries on, public health officials say it’s more important than ever this year.

217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts. Reporting today contributed by Hannah Meisel, Seth Bodine, and Christine Herman.

217 Today — Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020

Today’s headlines:

  • At the beginning of the pandemic, many people took up gardening as a hobby. So-called “COVID gardens” popped up all over Illinois. Now that it’s time to harvest, Illinois Newsroom’s Dana Cronin checked in with some COVID gardeners to see how the season went.

  • Illinois public health officials are unveiling guidance for celebrating Halloween during a pandemic.

  • COVID-19 moved more schools and work online, heightening the need for internet access. Many rural communities still do not have access to high speed internet. A new study shows how state and local governments can help, or hinder, bringing it to them.

In today’s deeper dive, staff retention is a long-standing issue within the Indiana Department of Corrections. There are consistently hundreds of vacancies across the state’s 18 adult prisons. But the problem has gotten worse during the pandemic.

217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts. Reporting today from Dana Cronin, Seth Bodine, Tony Arnold and Jake Harper.

217 Today — Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2020

Today’s headlines:

  • Illinois lawmakers gleaned new information from a Commonwealth Edison executive who testified before them. That’s in the wake of the utility’s own admission that it took part in a bribery scheme to influence House Speaker Michael Madigan.

  • Governor J.B. Pritzker announced Tuesday that one of his staff members tested positive for COVID-19. Governor Pritzker and all other close contacts with the staff member will isolate for the next 14 days.

  • The saliva-based COVID-19 test developed on the University of Illinois’ Urbana campus has never operated under FDA authorization — despite prior claims that it did. 

  • Champaign Unit 4 school officials outlined a plan for a mix of in-person and distance learning for elementary students in the second quarter at Tuesday night’s school board meeting. The plan would begin October 26.

In today’s deeper dive, The Rantoul Press is closing after more than 140 years of publication. Illinois Newsroom’s Jim Meadows reports on the paper’s history and the factors that led to its closing.

Reporting today from Tony Arnold, Lee Gaines, Christine Herman, Lecia Bushak, and Jim Meadows. Olivia Butts is our producer.

217 Today — Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020

Today’s headlines:

  • U.S. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois says he wants to see another COVID-19 relief bill move through Congress — that includes a “dramatic investment” in coronavirus testing. He made his comments at a stop on the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus.

  • A recent court ruling requires the U.S. Census Bureau to keep to its timeframe proposed last spring — extending the decennial population count through the end of October. The bureau previously announced plans to end the count a month earlier, but that could affect Illinois’ redistricting process.

  • An Illinois Newsroom investigation has found that multiple school districts across the state do not track how many students are arrested or referred to law enforcement in school-related incidents each year, despite the fact that districts are required to report this data to the U.S. Department of Education.

  • The seven-day rolling positivity rate for COVID-19 on the University of Illinois Urbana campus is slowly increasing. After testing data released yesterday, it’s up to 0.41%, from a low of 0.31% on September 21. Officials announced 28 new cases of COVID-19 on campus Monday.

And in today’s deeper dive, Illinois Newsroom’s Jim Meadows looks at the race for Champaign County Treasurer, which was a low-profile office until last year, when a backlog of work led to complaints from both taxpayers and taxing bodies.

Reporting today was contributed by Christine Herman, Mary Hansen, Lee Gaines and Jim Meadows. Olivia Butts is our producer.

217 Today — Monday, Sept. 28, 2020

Today’s headlines:

  • Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan does not plan to testify this week before a special investigative committee probing his role in a bribery scheme involving ComEd.

  • Several advocacy groups are again readying support for proposals that would offer paid sick leave in Illinois.

  • Shoppers looking for their favorite cuts of meat should see plenty of them. Beef and pork production are nearly back to normal after disruptions caused by COVID-19.

  • Amid a legal battle over the 2020 Census counting deadline, some groups in Illinois are advocating for more time.

  • The Macon County Health Department building will be closed Monday because of a confirmed case of COVID-19 “associated” with the department. Officials say they will thoroughly clean the building and contact trace any close contacts with the person who tested positive.

  • The Illinois Supreme Court hires diversity and inclusion officer, a former associate chancellor at the University of Illinois Springfield.
  • Eastern Illinois University sees enrollment numbers continue to grow, even in the pandemic. 

  • Bloomington is getting $2 million from the federal government to remove lead from 92 housing units.

  • Expired licenses in Illinois now need to be renewed by Feb. 1, 2021. 
  • Bloomington-Normal has had to halt many of its annual traditions because of the pandemic. 

Today’s in-depth report comes from Side Effects Public Media’s Natalie Krebs. There’s a lot of COVID-19 data available through state and federal resources. But those numbers can be confusing — or raise questions, so some data trackers are taking matters into their own hands.

217 Today is produced by Olivia Butts. Reporting today contributed by Capitol News Illinois, Maureen McKinney, Amy Mayer, Dana Cronin and Natalie Krebs. Music by the Kilborn Alley Blues Band.

News Around Illinois — Sept. 25

TOP STORY — Friday, September 25

Teen Charged In Kenosha Shootings Fights Extradition

The 17-year-old charged in the shooting deaths of two protesters in Wisconsin is fighting his extradition from Illinois, but his attorneys didn’t outline their strategy during a brief hearing on Friday and legal experts say there isn’t much the teen can do to stop it, Associated Press’s Scott Bauer, Kathleen Foody and Teresa Crawford report

Kyle Rittenhouse surrendered to police in his hometown of Antioch, Illinois, a day after prosecutors say he shot and killed two protesters and wounded a third on the streets of Kenosha on Aug. 25. If convicted of one of the most serious charges he faces, he would be sentenced to life in prison.

Rittenhouse’s attorneys have said he acted in self-defense and have portrayed him as a courageous patriot who was exercising his right to bear arms during a night of unrest over the police shooting of Jacob Blake, who is Black. And his arrest has become a rallying point for some on right, with a legal defense fund that has attracted millions in donations. But others see Rittenhouse as a domestic terrorist whose presence with a rifle incited the protesters.

Rittenhouse appeared via video for a hearing in a Lake County, Illinois, court on Friday, where his attorney asked for more time to prepare his arguments against extradition, without detailing what they would be. Rittenhouse, wearing a face mask, said only “Good morning, your honor” during a hearing that lasted less than 10 minutes.

One of Rittenhouse’s attorneys, John Pierce, made clear that he is opposing Rittenhouse’s return to Wisconsin to face the charges. Pierce asked for a month to prepare arguments challenging extradition that he said involve “issues of some complexity, frankly that have not arisen in the country for some time.”

Judge Paul Novak gave the defense 14 days to review papers and file pleadings ahead of an Oct. 9 hearing — the second such delay that has been granted to Rittenhouse. Whatever the judge rules can be appealed.

SNAPSHOTS — Friday, September 25

Union nurses say they have deal at U of Illinois Hospital. Union nurses at the University of Illinois Hospital have reached a tentative agreement on a new four-year contract, they announced Thursday. According to the Associated Press, the contract includes a promise to hire 160 more nurses to cut down on patient loads, promises of more protective gear, hazard pay for working during the coronavirus pandemic and other guarantees, the Illinois Nurses Association said in a statement. The move follows a weeklong strike by 800 nurses that ended Saturday morning when they went back to work without an agreement, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. The agreement still needs the approval of a majority of the approximately 1,400 union nurses in a vote Monday.

Illinois GOP Dismiss ‘Scare Tactics’ Over Graduated Income Tax. Republicans are pouncing after a top Illinois Democrat suggested that all residents could see their income taxes increase if voters reject a tax increase on wealthy residents, reports WBEZ’s Tony Arnold. Under Illinois’ current tax code, residents pay 4.95% of their income to the state. Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker has led an effort to change the state constitution so income above $250,000 would be taxed at a higher percentage. Voters will decide its fate in November’s election. In trying to gin up support for the switch, Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton on Thursday issued this warning: If the graduated income tax ballot measure fails, then lawmakers could raise the flat tax by “at least 20%.” House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, of Western Springs, said Friday the comment amounted to a “scare tactic” meant to intimidate voters into supporting the amendment just as early voting is beginning. No Republicans in the state legislature voted to put the graduated income tax amendment on the November ballot. They’ve argued that the proposal to raise taxes to 7.75% on income above $250,000 will lead to an outmigration of those residents.

Illinois Governor JB Pritzker Visits Carbondale To Urge Residents To Complete the Census. With the looming September 30th Census deadline, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker stopped in southern Illinois on Thursday to remind residents that each person who fills out the census, means over a thousand dollars will come to Illinois from the Federal government, WSIU’s Kevin Boucher reports. The Governor assured residents that the information will not be shared with police or immigration agencies.

TOP STORY — Thursday, September 24

Illinois Officials Urge Peaceful Protests For Breonna Taylor

Illinois officials disparaged a Kentucky grand jury’s decision on Wednesday to bring no charges against Louisville police for the killing of Breonna Taylor during a drug raid gone wrong, but they asked anyone participating in local protests in response to be peaceful, the Associated Press reported. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot urged for peace in the community.

“In this moment, each of us has an opportunity and really an obligation to reflect on how we will take in this news and what we will do with it. Breonna Taylor’s family has consistently called for peace and urged people who are acting in her name to do so in a way that builds, not destroys community.”

Activist priest the Rev. Michael Pfleger told protesters gathered in the middle of a South Side Chicago intersection that they should peacefully let those who represent the status quo know of their unhappiness with the Taylor decision.

“We’re here tonight because we do care. And we’re here because we want to say, ‘We object and we don’t accept it. Somebody has to be held accountable.’”

Governor J.B. Pritzker also called for peaceful protests.

“Our hope is that people will listen to what we’ve said here today, and people will protest peacefully. Because Breonna deserves to have her name said.”

SNAPSHOTS — Thursday, September 24

Illinois best in COVID-19 testing, Pritzker says. Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Wednesday continued to champion Illinois as a leader in testing for the coronavirus during a period when he faces some of the sharpest criticism for his social restrictions to stop the virus, the Associated Press reports. Two days after announcing that Illinois had become the fifth state to conduct more than 5 million tests, the Democrat said it is averaging 52,000 tests a day to become “the best testing state between the two coasts.” “Those accomplishments contribute mightily to our ability to monitor and squash the spread of the virus in our communities,” Pritzker said at a news conference in Chicago. “Together with targeted mitigations, our testing leadership means that Illinois has had the lowest positivity rate among all of our neighboring states for the last few months.” Pritzker has faced withering criticism in recent weeks for refusing to backtrack on his decision to postpone some fall sports — including much-beloved high school football — because of the risk of transmitting COVID-19, the illness caused by coronavirus infection.

Woman accused of murder, sexual trafficking in St. Louis Co. An East St. Louis, Illinois, woman is facing charges of sexual trafficking of a child and second-degree murder for crimes that happened last year in St. Louis County, the Associated Press reports. Authorities on Wednesday announced the charges against 21-year-old Makyia Fowler, who is jailed on $500,000 bond. She does not have a listed attorney. A probable cause statement alleges that Fowler was working in November with the man who was killed, Darren Woods, to recruit and promote a juvenile for sexual acts. The statement said Fowler and Woods, while staying at a hotel, took sexually explicit photos and videos of the juvenile, and posted some of it on the internet as advertisements.

SEIU Local 73 Strike On Second Week Of Strike. Organized workers at the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Rockford continued their strike this week as contract negotiations continue, WNIJ’s Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco reports. They’ve been calling for improved personal protective equipment as well as fair wages. Teamsters Local 325 said it stands with the SEIU workers. They said their members won’t cross the picket line, and they won’t pick up any waste at the UIC strike locations until further notice. 

Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall Arrives In East Peoria. The Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall arrived in East Peoria with full fanfare on Wednesday morning, WCBU’s Tim Shelley reports. The Quiet Pride Motorcycle Club of current and former military personnel escorted the memorial, along the East Peoria Police Department, Tazewell County Sheriff’s Office and Illinois State Police in a procession down Washington Street. The Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall is a 3/5 scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. All 58,272 names of U.S. service members who fought and died in the Vietnam War, and those who are unaccounted for, are included. Justin Hale and East Peoria Commissioner Dan Decker have quietly worked on the plan to bring the memorial to the city for nearly two years.

TOP STORY — Wednesday, September 23

Illinois, Too, Prepares For Breonna Taylor Announcement

The Illinois National Guard is in a “state of readiness,” in anticipation for the announcement from Kentucky’s attorney general regarding whether charges will be filed against officers who killed Breonna Taylor, the Associated Press reports

The announcement was made Tuesday by Gov. Pritzker. He also said that the National Guard will be under the direction of the Illinois State Police, should the use of the National Guard be necessary. It is not known when the announcement from Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron will be made.

Taylor, a Black emergency medical worker in Kentucky, was shot multiple times March 13 by Louisville officers who entered her home using a no-knock warrant during a narcotics investigation. The warrant used was connected to a suspect who did not live there, and no drugs were found inside the home. The use of no-knock warrants has since been banned by Louisville’s Metro Council.

Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, told police he fired one round after Taylor’s door was broken down, and Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly entered. Walker said he thought someone was breaking into the house and didn’t know it was police entering. Mattingly was wounded in the shooting.

Last week, the city of Louisville settled a lawsuit from Taylor’s family for $12 million and pledged several police reforms as part of the agreement.

SNAPSHOTS — Wednesday, September 23

Illinois revises marijuana licenses process after complaints. The announcement follows complaints that the process favored politically connected and rich applicants over minorities and veterans who were supposed to benefit, Associated Press’s Sophia Tareen reports. Recreational marijuana sales started in January under an Illinois law that, like similar efforts elsewhere, was touted for so-called social equity provisions designed to address racial disparities and other inequities in the decades long war on drugs. Black Illinois residents are seven times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white residents, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Under procedures announced Monday, rejected applicants will be able to submit revised applications after the state notifies them of any “deficiencies” in their applications.

Horseman takes ride on Chicago expressway, tying up traffic. A man who calls himself the “Dread Head Cowboy” was taken into custody after riding his horse on Chicago’s Dan Ryan Expressway during the height of the Monday evening rush hour, the Associated Press reports. Adam Hollingsworth was escorted by a phalanx of motorcyclists as he rode his horse on the southbound lanes of the expressway, sometimes at a gallop, for several miles. On a Facebook Live feed while he was riding, Hollingsworth said he wanted everyone to know kids lives matter. “Until kids’ lives matter, nothing else matters,” he said. Hollingsworth’s ride resulted in extensive delays on the expressway, with traffic backed up for miles. He was taken into custody by Illinois State Police after he rode up an exit ramp. His horse was taken away in a Chicago Police Mounted Patrol horse trailer.

Green Party’s U.S. Senate Candidate Advocates Universal Health Care, Steep Military Budget Cuts. Rockford attorney David Black is running as the Illinois Green Party’s candidate for U.S. Senate, reports WCBU’s Tim Shelly. Black spoke Tuesday in downtown Peoria in front of the “Peace” and “Harvest” sculptures commissioned by the U.S. government’s Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression. The candidate said while Democratic incumbent Dick Durbin has “done some good things” during his quarter-century in the Senate, he hasn’t gone far enough on cutting military spending or bolstering access to health care. Black said he wants to cut the military’s budget by at least 50%, backs the Green New Deal, and supports universal health care. Black said a court ruling lowering the threshold of signatures needed to qualify for the ballot this November due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has led to a more diverse field of candidates.

Special Needs Housing Hard To Find In Central Illinois. Representatives who work for central Illinois social service agencies and nonprofit organizations say finding safe, affordable housing is not easy — but it’s an even bigger challenge for someone who has special needs, reports WGLT’s Colleen Reynolds. The comments came during an Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA) Listening Tour on Tuesday — one of several across the state to assess the current and future housing needs in the state. IHDA is also surveying residents for additional input for its Housing Blueprint initiative. Chuck Hartseil of Autism McLean says results of a study his organization conducted with support from Professor Frank Beck and graduate students at Illinois State University’s Stevenson Center found there are significant concerns about the safety of adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) because they face challenges communicating their needs. In some cases, Hartseil says, they live in group homes and don’t have an easy way to report abuse and neglect.

TOP STORY — Tuesday, September 22

Illinois Passes 5 Million Mark For Number Of COVID-19 Tests

On Monday, officials said the state has conducted more than 5 million COVID-19 tests, the Associated Press reports. Illinois joins California, Texas and Florida in administering over 5 million tests, according to the COVID Tracking Project. Gov. J.B. Pritzker has pushed for widespread, aggressive and accessible testing in the state. 

“In a pandemic, widely available testing and faster results mean our people are safer.”

The University of Illinois’ saliva-based test has received national attention for its effective testing of the large student and faculty population. (Though, the testing wasn’t able to prevent a spike in cases when students first returned to campus.) In late August, the U of I’s testing made up 20% of all tests administered in the state and 1.5% of all tests nationwide. Now, Illinois State University is adopting the U of I’s model, and testing will be available to the rest of the Champaign-Urbana community.

Illinois Newsroom’s Coronavirus Information Center has the latest news about the COVID-19 pandemic in Illinois, along with up-to-date resources and guidance from local, state and federal agencies. 

SNAPSHOTS — Tuesday, September 22

U.S. Census Bureau urges Illinois residents to respond by the end of the month. Illinois residents are being encouraged to respond to the census before the end of the month, WNIU’s Chase Cavanugh reports. Sherrie Taylor, senior research specialist at Northern Illinois University’s Center for Governmental Studies, said while 96% of people in the state have responded, some groups like renters and minorities are more difficult to get counted. 

  • On Sunday, community groups in Chicago offered two free loads at a coin laundry if customers filled out the census. 
  • A court battle is currently happening to try and extend the census deadline. 

Bradley lifting student quarantine Wednesday but many restrictions will remain. COVID-19 restrictions will remain in place at Bradley University as the all-student quarantine is lifted on Wednesday, WCBU’s Tim Shelley says. The all-student quarantine was first put into place two weeks ago as more students were testing positive. Bradley University President Steve Standifird says another spike would lead to another all-student quarantine. 

Peoria Public Schools Board OKs classroom return plan for grades 2–4. Second, third and fourth graders will return to school beginning Oct. 26 as part of the Peoria Public Schools’ return plan, according to WCBU’s Joe Deacon. Kindergarteners and first graders will return to in-person learning on Oct. 5, and contained special needs students will go back Oct. 12. District 150 Superintendent Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat says that she and her committee monitoring COVID-19 metrics have been working together on the proposal

Southern Illinois University football to host Southeast Missouri State on Oct. 23. Southern Illinois University and Southeast Missouri State will play at Saluki Stadium in late October, WSIU’s Brad Palmer reports. The news comes after the Big Ten announced it will resume its fall season next month after originally postponing it. 

TOP STORY — Monday, September 21

High Court Front-Runner Hailed By Right, Feared By Left

Amy Coney Barrett is a front-runner to fill the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat on the Supreme Court. The Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge is a reliable conservative, devout Catholic and an “ideological heir” to the late Antonin Scalia, the Associated Press’ Michael Tarm and Michael Biesecker reported. Trump has already said he will nominate a woman, and Barrett was on his shortlist two years ago to fill Justice Anthony Kennedy’s seat when he retired. 

Who is Amy Coney Barrett? Read more from Illinois Newsroom’s 2018 profile

  • Trump nominated Barrett to the 7th Circuit three years ago. 
  • If appointed, Barrett, 48, would be the youngest justice on the court, and her tenure would last decades. 
  • She is an originalist, believing that judicial decisions should be made based on the meaning of the text at the time it was written.

Across the state and country, people are mourning RBG. Illinois leaders released statements remembering the late justice. Illinoisans held vigils and gathered in her honor. NAACP Bloomington-Normal branch President Linda Foster encouraged people to become civically engaged and mobilize in Ginsburg’s memory. 

“Justice Ginsburg taught us to fight, no matter how high the hill is to climb, just start climbing. We know the power of injustices, and what it feels like.” 

SNAPSHOTS — Monday, September 21

CUB’s ‘Conflict’: How A Utility Watchdog Got Millions From The Utilities It Watches. Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan’s ties to utility giant ComEd are being looked into by a special investigation committee. New reports by WBEZ’s Dave McKinney and Dan Mihalopoulos found that the Citizens Utility Board — a consumer advocacy group that can’t accept power company money — took $11.5 million from ComEd-funded foundations.

Douglas Statue Comes Down, But Lincoln Had Racist Views, Too. The statue of Stephen A. Douglas will be removed from the Capitol lawn in Springfield. Douglas’ political contributions helped forge modern-day Illinois, but he also profited from slavery, the Associated Press’ John O’Connor wrote. Despite being remembered as the Great Emancipator, Douglas’ longtime political rival Abraham Lincoln also expressed white supremacist views, historians say. Monuments of controversial figures across the country are coming down in response to the global reckoning on race sparked by the death of George Floyd. 

Town, Health Officials Reject Nord’s COVID ‘Protest’ Exemption. Normal Town Council member Stan Nord is offering ways to get around ordinances imposing fines for large gatherings during the pandemic, WGLT’s Eric Stock reported. Other town and health officials have publicly said he is wrong. Nord voted against town emergency orders to limit parties and gatherings near campus and require social distancing and masks. He went on Facebook and said people can label gatherings as protests, believing they are exempt from the ordinance. The town’s legal department said this is not. People in the county are generally frustrated and confused over pandemic safety procedures, a WGLT review of complaints found. 

  • Meanwhile, cases in McLean County are down, but are across age groups
  • Will and Kankakee counties are returning to Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois plan, after the region was forced to stop indoor bar and restaurant service over three weeks ago. 

Aid to prevent violence against women goes to 19 agencies. Officials said the U.S. Justice Department has awarded $15.9 million to Illinois agencies to fight domestic abuse, according to the Associated Press. The 19 community agencies awarded are across the state, from Chicago to the Illinois suburbs of St. Louis. 

News Around Illinois: Sept. 18, 2020

TOP STORY — Friday, September 18

Parties Dispute How Far Feds Will Let Madigan Probe Go

The U.S. attorney investigating House Speaker Mike Madigan OK’d a separate probe by a House committee, but Democrats and Republicans do not agree on how far it should go, Associated Press’s John O’Connor reports

John Lausch, U.S. attorney for the northern district of Illinois, told committee leaders by letter that he doesn’t object to its investigation of Madigan’s role in a decade-long bribery scandal outlined in July in a deferred prosecution agreement with utility company ComEd.

Lausch said the committee would not interfere with the federal investigation as long as it doesn’t attempt to link testimony or documents directly to federal prosecutors’ activity.

But the chairman, Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, a Hillside Democrat, said he believes Lausch draws the line at seeking any information that is not already made public in the deferred prosecution agreement. He said he would reject any questions or requests for information that exceeded that boundary.

SNAPSHOTS — Friday, September 18

More than 50 Chicago-area restaurants closed due to COVID-19. According to the Associated Press, The Chicago Tribune found the figure as part of a snapshot that looked at the city’s food and dining scene, six months after the start of the pandemic. Restaurant owners have said they are getting worried as the winter months approach, if the situation does not change.
Ex-Illinois state worker pleads not guilty in slain boy case. According to the Associated Press, one of two former Illinois child welfare workers who investigated abuse allegations involving a 5-year-old boy whose beaten body was found in a shallow grave last year pleaded not guilty Thursday to child endangerment and reckless conduct charges. Andrew Polovin, 48, of Island Lake, entered his plea during a brief hearing in a McHenry County courtroom, a week after he former co-worker Carlos Acosta were arrested. Acosta, 54, is scheduled to appear in court on Sept. 24. Both men are out of custody after each posted $20,000 bonds. Polovin was Acosta’s supervisor at the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services in the months before Andrew “AJ” Freund’s body was found dead near his family’s Crystal Lake home in April 2019, days after his parents reported him missing. The boy’s mother, JoAnn Cunningham, has since pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and his father, Andrew Freund Sr., is awaiting trial.

Two Springfield city council members propose police reforms. The council members propose a bigger role for the police oversight commission and the spelling out the use-of-force rules, among other changes, reports WUIS’s Mary Hansen. Ward 2 Alderman Shawn Gregory and Ward 3 Alderman Doris Turner introduced the ordinance. It features 9 proposals. It’s scheduled to be debated September 29, and can be voted on by October 6.

TOP STORY — Thursday, September 17

Pritzker Nixes Fall Youth Sports, Urges COVID-19 Sacrifice

Gov. JB Pritzker held a press conference Wednesday, saying the focus during the COVID-19 pandemic should be protecting communities and not about families deciding if their sons and daughters should be playing sports, Associated Press’John O’Connor reports. 

“This deadly virus should remind us that there are some individual choices that have enormous life-changing impacts on others,” Pritzker said. “While parents might choose to send their children out onto the playing field, I can tell you that someone else becomes ill because of that decision wouldn’t call that ‘your personal choice.’”

The announcement follows protests that occurred throughout the state that called for kids to be able to play fall sports again. The Illinois Department of Public Health requested an adjusted high school sports schedule from the Illinois High School Association, which they delivered in late July. But now, the IHSA Executive Director asked Pritzker if they can control their own fall sports schedule again. 

SNAPSHOTS — Thursday, September 17

Illinois student arrested in dorm shooting, classes resuming. A Western Illinois University student suspected of shooting and wounding his roommate in their dorm room, prompting the school to cancel classes, turned himself into police on Wednesday afternoon, school officials said. Associated Press’s Don Babwin reports the shooting occurred in a room at Thompson Hall on the Macomb campus at about 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, stemming from what officials said was a dispute between the two roommates. In a news release, the university said that 18-year-old Kavion Poplous turned himself in at a Chicago Police Department station and was then taken into custody by the FBI. Hours earlier, the school announced that an arrest warrant had been issued for Poplous on charges of first-degree attempted murder, aggravated battery and aggravated discharge of a firearm. With the arrest of Poplous, the school said that classes will resume on Thursday. But the school said that the residence halls would remain locked through the weekend to protect students’ privacy. The wounded roommate, who has not been identified by the school, was taken to McDonough District Hospital in Macomb before he was transferred to another hospital. The student underwent surgery, but the school has declined to comment on his condition. 

Gov. JB Pritzker Urges $4 Million In Federal Aid Be Directed Toward Local Election Authorities. Gov. JB Pritzker is pushing the state Board of Elections to use federal aid to help local election authorities prepare for this year’s unusual election, WBEZ’s Tony Arnold reports. He says the board should use $4 million from money from the Help America Vote Act to help recruit poll workers and install drop boxes for those who do not want to drop their ballot in the mail. Over 1.5 million Illinoisans have requested a vote-by-mail ballot.

Former Illinois State Senator Pleads Guilty To Tax Evasion. A former Illinois state senator from the northern suburbs pleaded guilty to felony tax evasion Wednesday, WBEZ’s Tony Arnold reports. Former state Sen. Terry Link, D-Vernon Hills, appeared remotely for his court hearing Wednesday, alongside his attorney. In describing Link’s crimes, prosecutors shared that the longtime Democratic lawmaker was spending money on personal expenses from an account controlled by his campaign committee. He pleaded guilty to underreporting his income on his 2016 tax returns by at least $93,859. Link’s name also surfaced in the federal bribery case against former state Rep. Luis Arroyo, D-Chicago, who was accused last fall of offering to bribe an unidentified state senator $2,500 to help advance legislation legalizing sweepstakes gambling in Illinois. Arroyo pleaded not guilty. WBEZ has confirmed that senator was Link, though the senator adamantly denied he was a government mole.

ISU To Begin Requiring Students Get Tested For COVID-19 ‘Very Soon’. Illinois State University will soon require students to be tested regularly for COVID-19, a shift in strategy that epidemiologists say is key to catching the coronavirus early, university officials said Wednesday. WGLT’s Ryan Denham reports that currently, students with or without symptoms have the option to be tested on campus, but it’s not required (with the exception of a few select groups, like those doing clinical experiences for their major). That will change “very soon,” although the details on who and how many will be regularly tested are not yet finalized, said ISU’s testing coordinator John Baur, a chemistry professor. Students living on-campus will be among those required, he said. This change will happen even before ISU opens its own saliva-based testing lab, which is still 8 to 10 weeks away, Baur said. ISU saw a spike in COVID-19 cases among its students at the start of the fall semester. Over 1,300 students tested positive. The number of new positive tests has tapered off in the last five days—down to the single digits—but so has the number of students being tested.

TOP STORY — Wednesday, September 16

Shooting At WIU

Police are searching for a Western Illinois University student accused of shooting in a residence hall Tuesday night, WIUM’s Rich Egger reports

The suspect, 18-year-old Kavion Poplous remains at large and is considered armed and dangerous. He is a freshman at the university. 

According to WIU spokesperson Darcie Shinberger, the shooting occurred in a dorm room in Thompson Hall. Residents were evacuated and sent to Western Hall, which is known to host large events, such as basketball games.

All classes were canceled for Wednesday, including both online and in-person classes. 

SNAPSHOTS — Wednesday, September 16

Illinois AG: Former ITT students to get $9.4M in debt reliefStudents who were enrolled at now-closed ITT Technical Institute campuses in Illinois are eligible for $9.4 million in student loan debt relief, the state’s attorney general announced Tuesday. According to the Associated Press, Illinois’ share of a $330 million national settlement follows investigations by several attorneys general over student loans offered by the for-profit school. The 47 attorneys general and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reached the settlement with PEAKS Trust, which ran a private loan program for ITT Tech. According to the agreement, PEAKS acknowledged coercing and pressuring students into taking out higher interest loans, has agreed to forgive outstanding loans and end operations. ITT Tech filed for bankruptcy and closed its campuses in 2016, including in Orland Park, Arlington Heights, Oak Brook and Springfield. Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul said students don’t have to do anything to receive the relief.

Chicago warns against Wisconsin travel, cites COVID-19 spike. Chicago officials cautioned city residents Tuesday about travel to Wisconsin, citing a recent COVID-19 spike in Illinois’ neighbor to the north, says the Associated Press. The Chicago Department of Public Health stopped short of adding Wisconsin to a travel advisory list. There are 16 states on the list, including Utah, which was announced Tuesday. City officials said Sith some exceptions, Chicago residents who travel to the states must quarantine for two weeks upon return. Visitors from those states are expected to quarantine while in Chicago.
SEIU Local 73 Strike Ongoing. Members of SEIU Local 73 who work at University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) are on their second day of strike. SEIU Local 73 is calling for the University of Illinois to QUOTE “respect us, protect us and pay us.” The University of Illinois College of Medicine also has campuses in Chicago, Rockford and Peoria. Dian Palmer is the President of SEIU Local 73 and she says the university failed to meaningfully respond to issues including safe working conditions, adequate staffing, and pay increase, reports WNIJ’s Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

TOP STORY — Tuesday, September 15

Department of Children And Family Services Faces A Housing Crisis

The pandemic has tested the capacity of Illinois’ child welfare system. More than 21,000 foster children were in state custody as of June 30, much higher than February projections that estimated a 20% rise in foster children entering the child welfare system by the end of the 2021 fiscal year next summer, WUIS’s Hannah Meisel reports. However, the pandemic has only exacerbated pre-existing problems in the child welfare system. 

By the numbers: Former Gov. Bruce Rauner severely cut programs from Illinois’ human services sector. DCFS found between 2015 and 2019: 

  • Illinois’ shelter bed capacity was cut by 71%, from 159 beds to 46.
  • Illinois lost nearly 500 residential beds and 2,300 foster homes.

Antwan Turpeau, chief operating officer for Chicago-based child welfare agency One Hope United, says the child welfare system has long faced systemic problems perpetuated by high staff turnover and budget cuts. 

“All of those agencies who were providing real true, intimate community resources folded, then certain behavior health programs weren’t there. If kids were discharged and ordered to receive intense family therapy, it didn’t exist, or didn’t exist in a convenient way for families who have means to travel to get that service.”

Illinois child welfare officials have also had to change their operations to monitor children at risk of abuse and neglect. They told a panel of state lawmakers Monday that the pandemic has made their jobs difficult but not impossible. 

SNAPSHOTS — Tuesday, September 15

Feds OK witnesses for legislative panel probing Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan. Witnesses can now be called by the special legislative committee investigating whether Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan engaged in any wrongdoing with Commonwealth Edison, federal prosecutors found Monday. There is a deal on the table between ComEd and the federal government, according to WBEZ’s Dave McKinney and Tony Arnold, that would delay prosecution for three years. U.S. Attorney John Lausch, who is heading the criminal investigation into ComEd’s Springfield lobbying, told committee members not to not stray into “materials or testimony” that is “still confidential” or “in the possession of the federal government.” 

  • “In other words, we can call witnesses, but we can’t really ask them any questions,” Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside said. 
  • State Rep. Patrick Windhorst, R-Metropolis, and two House Republican candidates signed a “No Madigan Pledge,” vowing not to vote Mike Madigan for Speaker of the House in the 102nd General Assembly.

Black Western Illinois University students say they matter. At a recent rally, Black students at Western Illinois University said they deserve better treatment from the administration and from the city of Macomb, WCBU’s Rich Egger reports. The demonstration had previously been planned in response to the murder of George Floyd, but after a former student posted racist comments and the city held a Blue Lives Matter rally, the student organizers changed their approach. Earlier this month, student athletes at the University of Illinois and Illinois State University led Black Lives Matter marches through their campuses. 

Schools find a way to deal with a COVID-19 digital divide. State Superintendent Carmen Ayala says the state board has allocated $80 million toward purchasing computers and connectivity hot spots to assist with online learning. WUIS’s Maureen Foertsch McKinney says 42% of schools have both remote and in-person learning and a third are remote only. Eastern Illinois, Illinois State, Southern, Western and the University of Illinois are some of the universities and colleges who have opened up their internet access for students and their families. Chicago Public Schools officials are distributing 100,000 laptops to bridge the digital divide in the city

Bloomington Council OKs city’s first pot shop. The Bloomington City Council approved the city’s first marijuana dispensary on Monday, WGLT’s Michele Steinbacher writes. In May, the company Jushi opened up a dispensary in Normal, and now hopes to open its second location in Bloomington by December. Under current rules, the state issues no more than two such permits for the McLean County region.

  • Marijuana tax revenue in the state is soaring. The Illinois Department of Revenue said Illinois collected $19.2 million in cannabis taxes last month, up 38% from July.
  • In East Peoria, entrepreneur Roy Source’s plan for a recreational cannabis start-up was also approved yesterday by the Zoning Board of Appeals. City code allows for up to three dispensaries. NuMed is currently the only dispensary in the area.

TOP STORY — Monday, September 14

Pandemic Brings More Domestic Violence, Serious Cases To Bloomington-Normal

Domestic violence cases filed in McLean County court more than tripled from March to July compared to this time last year, , WGLT’s Ryan Denham reports. Prosecutor Mary Kroll, who handles felony domestic violence in the state attorney’s office, says she is swamped with serious cases.

“My caseload is really stacked with very serious cases right now, in a way that it hasn’t been since I came to McLean County several years ago.” 

She says she has seen cases with severe injuries, like broken bones, lacerations and brain injuries, which could be indicative of future lethal violence. 

By the numbers: Across the state, calls and texts to Illinois’ domestic violence hotline have surged.

  • Between March 21 and May 29, calls to Illinois’ domestic violence hotline were up 17% compared to last year during the same period. Between the time the order ended and July 27, calls were up 32% from the previous year.
  • Text message grew by almost 2,000% during the stay-at-home order. Since then, there’s been a more than 3,000% increase over the same time last year.

Back in March, advocates warned that domestic violence survivors would be especially at risk during the stay-at-home order since most wait until their partner leave for work before making a call or sending a text to the hotline. 

SNAPSHOTS — Monday, September 14

Illinois community can keep its iconic cold war missile. Rantoul can keep its Minuteman missile, Mayor Chuck Smith announced three days before the planned dismantling of the Cold War relic. Originally, the Air Force had said the village would not maintain the missile, but U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Illinois, and an aide intervened, according to the Associated Press. After the missile is renovated, it will then be transferred to the National Museum of the Air Force and loaned to the village. The Rantoul rocket was installed at the west entrance of the former Chanute Air Force Base back in 1966. It had remained in place after the Air Force closed the base in 1993. ? Check out this aerial photo of Chanute Field via the Champaign County Historical Archives!

Boys And Girls Club Of Southern Illinois makes accommodations for remote learningThe Boys and Girls Club of Southern Illinois have changed their operations to the meet the needs of children during the pandemic, WSIU’s Benjy Jeffords reports. Students’ temperatures are checked upon arrival and at lunch time. Students sit in pods by grade level to give it more of a school feeling, Tina Carpenter, the director, says.

Risking COVID-19 exposure again is the only option for these temp workers. The Chicago Workers’ Collaborative, an advocacy group for temps, surveyed 130 people who work in food processing, manufacturing, warehousing and logistics. The report, “‘We do not have the luxury of working from home,” found half of workers felt “unsafe or very unsafe” working during the pandemic, according to WBEZ’s María Inés Zamudio. The report also found that companies weren’t disclosing when others got the virus. 

Some Chicago schools are struggling with remote attendance. Chicago schools reported roughly 84% citywide attendance for the first day of remote classes, but some schools had fewer than half of students log in, the Associated Press said. The first day attendance numbers were 10 percentage points lower compared with last year’s first day with traditional classes. Attendance increased citywide over the first three days. School officials say they’re still trying to close the digital divide by distributing 100,000 laptops.

News Around Illinois – Sept. 11, 2020

Illinois Files Lawsuit Against E-Cigarette Maker Juice Man

CHICAGO (AP) — The Illinois attorney general sued e-cigarette maker Juice Man on Thursday, alleging deceptive marketing practices aimed at enticing youth. The move follows a similar Illinois complaint filed in December against Juul, the nation’s biggest e-cigarette maker. Juice Man, based in Dana Point, California, focused on children and teens with flavors like cotton candy and through social media advertising using cartoons and giveaways. The company also misled consumers on the amount of nicotine in its products, according to the lawsuit filed in Cook County. Attorney General Kwame Raoul said the lawsuit caps an investigation and is timely as COVID-19 can cause severe breathing problems. The lawsuit seeks civil penalties and to end the alleged deceptive practices. – Sophia Tareen, Associated Press

Here’s Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Plan To Remove Chicago’s Lead Pipes

After decades of forcing Chicagoans to install lead water lines in their homes, the city is finally launching a program to remove them. Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Thursday announced Chicago’s inaugural plan to address its huge inventory of toxic lead lines – a problem that was exacerbated by some mayors, ignored by others and is now being cautiously approached by the latest. “This is an important first step in a long overdue process,” Lightfoot said at a press conference with officials from the city’s Water and Public Health Departments. With 400,000 lead service lines lurking beneath Chicago homes, the city faces the worst documented lead line problem in the nation. About 80 percent of all Chicago homes are still connected to water mains through these lines, which can release lead into drinking water. Voluntary tests in Chicago detected lead in more than two thirds of all homes tested. And about one third of all tested homes had more lead in their water than is allowed in bottled water. National health authorities stress that no level of lead exposure is safe, as it can contribute to heart attacks, hypertension and kidney problems in adults and impulsivity and learning difficulties in children. – Monica Eng, WBEZ

Aurora Approves $89,000 in New Riot Gear

The Aurora City Council approved the purchase of riot gear for the police department. The move was not without controversy. The Aurora City Council voted 8-3 in favor of a resolution to buy 150 complete sets of the gear for the Aurora Police Department. Supporters say that, after the recent protests in Aurora, the police need the equipment to keep them safe. But Viviana Barajas from the Aurora Rapid Response Team told the council that more riot gear wasn’t the way to go. “I’m telling you that no amount of riot gear is going to stop the protests. No amount of fear mongering on behalf of APD is going to stop the protests,” she continued. “The only thing that will stop the protest, and we’ll finally get community to come together is if y’all listen. Alderman Emmanuel Llamas voted against the resolution. He cited concerns that the purchase seems redundant. He said, “We currently have 50 sets of Riot Gear, and it’s only been used once in the last 25 years. And that came straight from APD at the last city council meeting. Are we really being fiscally responsible by purchasing an additional hundred and 50 sets that we likely will never use?” The estimated cost is $89,000 dollars. The city council also approved a resolution to implement officer-worn body cameras. – Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco, WNIJ

Bloomington Bar Facing Violations Hires Attorney At Center Of COVID Resistance

The owner of a Bloomington bar accused of repeatedly violating COVID-19 safety rules has hired a well-known attorney who has been at the center of resistance to public health guidance statewide. Cadillac Jack’s, 1507 S. Main St., faces three liquor license violations for allegedly not enforcing the state’s mask requirement on several occasions over Labor Day weekend. Authorities ordered everyone to leave the bar early Sunday morning, city officials said. City officials said Cadillac Jack’s was the only establishment to ignore “multiple warnings” as Bloomington Police conducted around 50 compliance checks that weekend. The Bloomington Liquor Commission was scheduled to discuss the violations and the bar’s liquor license during a meeting Thursday afternoon. But that meeting was delayed at the request of bar owner William Bentley’s newly retained lawyer, Thomas DeVore. DeVore, based in southern Illinois, has been involved in litigation across Illinois related to COVID-19, usually in opposition to the Pritzker administration. He represented state Rep. Darren Bailey, a Republican from Xenia, Ill., who made headlines for challenging the legality of the governor’s emergency actions on COVID. Devore also sued the Bloomington-based Illinois High School Association over whether it had the authority to enforce mask mandates for student-athletes. DeVore has argued that bar and restaurant owners are “under political attack.” He’s also cast doubt on the accuracy of COVID-19 numbers released by public health officials. – Ryan Denham, WGLT

ISU President Dietz Says COVID-19 Numbers Don’t Tell The Whole Story

Illinois State University President Larry Dietz in Thursday’s State of the University address painted a picture of an institution that’s doing mostly well, despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Dietz noted a minimal decline in enrollment, after fears that students would instead opt for community college or a gap semester rather than pay full tuition for online classes. He lauded tireless efforts by administrators, faculty and staff to adapt to changing guidance. Dietz commended students, too, for contributions to the Bloomington-Normal community and general willingness to follow the rules—with the exception of what Dietz called a small portion who are acting irresponsibly. “The majority of you are the citizens that make Illinois State University proud,” Dietz said “But some of you can and must do better, or risk your association with this institution.” Dietz also pushed back on media reports that “suggested Illinois State compares poorly to other Illinois public universities” on viral spread. “The truth is, many state universities don’t test nearly as much as Illinois State, and don’t transparently report positive cases as does ISU. Other universities test so often that their positivity rates skew lower through simple division,” Dietz said. “The ultimate fact is the coronavirus impacts Illinois universities in a similar fashion. The more students, the more likely the incidence of coronavirus, and creative counting and reporting doesn’t alter that fact.” Direct comparisons of public universities are difficult. The University of Illinois, for example, invented a new faster, cheaper COVID-19 test and has run it hundreds of thousands of times on students and employees since August. And the Urbana campus has changed testing rules as the school learned from data. The latest iteration requires graduate students, faculty, and staff to test just once a week because 95% of positive tests came from undergraduate students. Undergraduates at the U of I must still test twice per week. Northern Illinois University, by contrast, only began surveillance testing last week. – Dana Vollmer and Ryan Denham, WGLT

News Around Illinois — Sept. 10, 2020

2 Applicants Rejected For Marijuana Licenses Sues Illinois

CHICAGO (AP) — Two companies that were rejected for Illinois marijuana licenses have filed a lawsuit to delay the state from awarding licenses to the winning applicants.  The state announced that only 21 of 700 applicants would proceed to a lottery for 75 licenses. Southshore Restore and Heartland Greens did not make the cut and are suing the state’s Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, which regulates dispensaries, and Bret Bender, deputy director of the Cannabis Control Section. The applicants allege in the suit, which was filed Friday, that the 21 groups are “politically-connected insider companies.” The suit also says that at least one of the 21 companies lists as a manager a person identified on LinkedIn as a risk consultant for KPMG, a firm that scored the applications. Jim McGann, a KPMG spokesman, said in a statement that the person mentioned in the lawsuit was not involved in the scoring process. The suit also alleges that the department’s decision to not give the “unsuccessful applicants any opportunity to challenge their ineligibility is unconstitutional.” A department spokesperson did not return the Chicago Tribune’s request for comment. Lawyers representing the two applicants also did not return the newspaper’s requests for comment. Every applicant in the lottery received a perfect score. The lawsuit alleges that Southshore Restore and Heartland Greens should have, too. – Associated Press

UIS Enrollment Drop “Better Than Expected”

Despite a global health threat and concerns of students taking a gap year, enrollment on the University of Illinois Springfield campus saw only a slight decline. That gives hope the school might be able to weather the disruption brought on by the pandemic. After the first ten days of the fall semester, officials announced the number of students taking classes dropped three percent from a year ago. “So actually we were bracing for a lower enrollment, so that’s why I can tell you it was better than expected,” said Interim Chancellor Karen Whitney. “So financially we are in a stronger position that we anticipated.” Whitney said COVID-19 testing on the campus for all students, faculty and staff appears to be working and she has confidence about completing the semester as planned. In addition, new classes will be offered starting in October and during the traditional winter break. – Sean Crawford, WUIS

Two Ballot Drop Boxes Planned For Springfield

Voters in Sangamon County will be able to submit their mail-in ballots for the November election in two drop boxes instead of sending back through the postal service. The county’s election oversight board approved the nearly $8,000 purchase from Vote Armor of the steel boxes on Tuesday night. The plan is to set them up in the next week. One box is planned for Monroe Street at Ninth Street outside the county building in Springfield, and the other outside the Sangamon County Juvenile Center at 2201 S. Dirksen Parkway. Ballots can be dropped off 24 hours a day. An Illinois law approved in the spring allowed for local election authorities to provide alternatives to mailing back ballots, including the secure boxes and drive-through drop-offs. The law aimed to encourage vote-by-mail amid the coronavirus pandemic. – Mary Hansen, WUIS

Bradley Seeks ‘Reset’ With 2-Week All-Student Quarantine

Bradley University is looking to correct the institution’s COVID-19 course with a two-week all-student quarantine period. Currently, there are about 50 students who have tested positive for the virus, and another 500 who were already in quarantine before University President Steve Standifird made his announcement Tuesday night in an effort to tamp down on additional COVID-19 exposures. Bradley University spokesperson Renee Charles said the raw numbers weren’t the reason for that decision.  Standifird said Tuesday those measures are no longer recommendations, but mandatory. Noncompliance could result in disciplinary measures up to dismissal from campus. She said the goal of the tw0-week quarantine will allow the university to step up enforcement efforts, get everyone on the same page, and interrupt the growth in COVID-19 cases and exposures. The quarantine ends Sept. 23. – Tim Shelley and Joe Deacon, WCBU

Kilbride Seeks Another 10-Year Term on the Illinois Supreme Court

Illinois Supreme Court Justice Thomas Kilbride wants to serve on the state’s high court for another 10 years. Kilbride formally launched his retention campaign on Wednesday. He must get at least 60 percent of the vote in the 3rd Judicial Circuit that includes Peoria, Tazewell, Fulton, Stark, Marshall, and 16 other counties in North and West-Central Illinois. Kilbride was born in LaSalle and has lived in the Quad Cities for the past four decades. He was first elected in 2000, and was retained in 2010 with just over 65% of the vote. During his time as chief justice, from 2010 to 2013, he promoted courtroom cameras and making electronic court filings easier. Peoria County State’s Attorney Jodi Hoos endorses Kilbride. – Tim Shelley, WCBU

News Around Illinois — Sept. 9, 2020

U of Illinois Sues To Stop Nurses Strike This Weekend

CHICAGO (AP) — The University of Illinois Board of Trustees are suing to try to stop nurses at the University of Illinois Hospital from striking this weekend. The lawsuit filed Tuesday in Cook County Circuit Court names the Illinois Nurses Association as a defendant and seeks a temporary restraining order against the job action, saying it would pose a danger to the public. Nurses at the hospital have announced they will begin a seven-day strike at 7 a.m. Saturday after contract negotiations broke down with the hospital over the number of patients under the care of each nurse. The nurses association says UI Health created conditions for the strike by “engaging in delay tactics throughout negotiations.” The lawsuit claims 12 of the hospital’s units provide unique and critical services to patients, and if nurses working there are allowed to strike, it “would constitute a clear and present danger to the health or safety of the public,” the Chicago Sun-Times reported. Those units include the neonatal intensive care unit, the pediatric intensive care unit and the labor and delivery unit, the suit said. – Associated Press

Appeals Court Agrees R&B Singer R. Kelly Should Stay Jailed

NEW YORK (AP) — R. Kelly can remain behind bars awaiting multiple trials on child pornography and other charges in three states, an appeals court in New York said Tuesday as a lawyer for the R&B singer cited another inmate’s attack on Kelly last month as one reason he should receive bail. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan upheld a decision by a Brooklyn federal judge to deny bail to Kelly, 53, who remains in a federal jail in Chicago. He faces state and federal charges in Illinois, Minnesota and New York ranging from sexual assault to heading a racketeering scheme designed to supply him with girls. The Grammy Award-winning singer has denied ever abusing anyone. Prosecutors have said Kelly is a danger to the community and a flight risk. The 2nd Circuit said prosecutors had proven both and that “no condition or combination of conditions could assure against those risks.” The appeals court said the lower court also did not err in finding Kelly failed to demonstrate a “compelling reason” for temporary release. – Larry Neumeister, Associated Press

NIU Enrollment Up In Fall 2020, The First Time In A Decade

DEKALB, Ill. (AP) — Northern Illinois University is reporting it’s first enrollment increase in more than a decade despite the impact of COVID-19 on school operations, officials said Tuesday. NIU officials say fall enrollment rose to 16,769 despite primarily offering on-line instruction and imposing restrictions on campus gatherings. That is up from last year, making it the first enrollment increase since 2008. University officials also credit improved undergraduate retention as a factor in the improved enrollment numbers. Overall retention of first-year students was 78%, up 6% from last year. New transfer students fell 7%, to 1,504 this year. Officials say Northern Illinois continues to have success recruiting students of color. This year, 35% of entering freshmen are Black, the highest that figure has been in university history. Latinx enrollment also grew, accounting for 23% of the incoming class. – Associated Press

Protests, Virus Response Tap Rockford Police Overtime Budget

ROCKFORD, Ill. (AP) — A northern Illinois city used nearly 60% of its police overtime budget through July because of protests and coronavirus training and response, officials said. Rockford planned for $2.7 million for overtime in 2020 and had spent about $1.6 million by July 31, the Rockford Register Star reported. Protests against excessive force and racism have occurred for weeks in Rockford, leading to arrests of people accused of blocking traffic. “Our regularly budgeted OT amount is doing a good job in covering protest costs. … OT is only used when it is deemed necessary for the betterment of the community,” said John Pozzi, the police department’s business manager. “When planning for a protest, or any forecasted event, we focus on covering what is necessary and not deploying unneeded resources,” Pozzi said. – Associated Press

A Law Aims To Improve Mental Health Services At Colleges, But There’s No Money to Make It Happen

A law passed last year aimed at boosting mental health services and awareness at Illinois’ public universities and community colleges still hasn’t received any of the funding schools say they need to bring the law to life. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, mental health advocates say the money is crucial to helping colleges address gaps in services at a time when counseling and resources have quickly shifted online and students are facing increased isolation, stress and anxiety. Schools estimate it would take $17 to $20 million each year over the next three years to fully implement the law across all colleges and universities. A survey conducted by the state found many public universities and community colleges especially lacked strong online services prior to the pandemic. A vast majority did not have any counselors available via telehealth, meaning in-person counselors were forced to quickly shift online without extensive training. About half the public universities and 80% of community colleges do not have a robust online screening tool that can assess students and directly connect them with mental health services. According to the state survey, UIC is the only public university that had some telehealth capability before the pandemic. Even then, telehealth counseling was extremely limited, accounting for less than one staff member’s total counseling availability. – Kate McGee, WBEZ

Demolition To Begin Soon On Old Airport Terminal

The demolition of Central Illinois Regional Airport’s old terminal building is slated to begin this month. The site is the former location of CJ’s Restaurant, which closed in 2018. In a virtual meeting with the Bloomington-Normal Airport Authority on Tuesday, CIRA Deputy Director Javier Centeno said work will begin on Sept. 14 and is projected to last 85 days. Centeno said much of the initial work will involve fencing and environmental compliance. The actual demolition of the structure won’t take place until the third week of October. That work is projected to last 30 days. – Sarah Nardi, WGLT

News Around Illinois — Sept. 8

The Chicago Abortion Fund is funding billboards in Champaign, Peoria and the Chicago suburbs to remind the public that abortion is covered under Medicaid in Illinois. Two years ago, former Gov. Bruce Rauner overturned the Hyde Amendment, which bans most states from using Medicaid to pay for abortions. While neighboring states restrict border access, Illinois is seen as a haven that protects access. The number of abortions for out-of-state residents have nearly doubled between 2014 and 2018, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. —Natalie Moore, WBEZ

ISU Professor On What Could Unlock Better Police–Community Relations

Illinois State University professor Miltonette Craig says in order to improve police–community relations, there has to be a concept of legitimacy in the eyes of the community that is being policed. She believes it is on the police to initiate outreach since they are the authority figures. In the area, Craig says, there are four different agencies — the Normal Police Department, the Bloomington Police Department, ISU Police Department and the McLean County sheriff’s office — working mostly independently of each other, which can lead to disjointed responses and law enforcement. Craig also says cultural competence and sensitivity training could be the first step to improving police-community relations. —Tiffani Jackson, WGLT

Northern Illinois Socialists Organize Labor Day Rally For Post Office

The Rockford Labor Day parade was canceled due to COVID-19 concerns, but the northern Illinois chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) organized a special Labor Day rally. DSA members put together the rally to support the post office and postal workers in response to the sudden partisanship of the post office and operational changes that have contributed to longer wait times and delayed mail. —Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco, WNIJ 

Multicultural Leadership Program Seeks Focus On COVID, Racial Justice

The Multicultural Leadership Program in Bloomington-Normal will work with local nonprofits to address the impacts of COVID-19 and racial injustice. This year’s class of 25 will meet online in the nine-month intensive course. Matt Dratt, the new executive director for the program, says anxiety counseling will be part of the course, given the emotional turmoil the pandemic has caused. The program also partners with agencies that work on immigrant rights, fair housing and career counseling for women and people of color. —Eric Stock, WGLT

After low visitor numbers, Navy Pier closure begins Tuesday

Chicago’s Navy Pier will shut down on Tuesday until the spring. The tourist attraction has struggled bringing in visitors due to the pandemic. Officials say visitor numbers were between 15–20% of a typical summer season. A re-opening date has not yet been announced.  —Associated Press

News Around Illinois – Sept. 7, 2020

McLean County health officials on Monday reported 46 new cases, including two babies (under age 1) and seven children 17 and under. The health department on Monday provided age-specific information about new cases for the first time in over a week. The department had stopped providing detailed demographic information (e.g., ZIP codes, ages, ethnicity, etc.) as its staff became overwhelmed with case investigation and contact tracing efforts. Now, local leaders can better determine if new cases are from ISU or the larger community. —Ryan Denham, WGLT

What You Need To Know About The Legislative Probe of Michael Madigan

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan will be the subject of a rare legislative inquiry this week. A special House committee, made up of three Democrats and three Republicans, will look into Madigan’s ties to electric utility Commonwealth Edison, and see whether disciplinary action is needed. The committee’s first hearing is scheduled for this Thursday. The legislative inquiry process has historically been reserved for lawmakers accused of crimes, including ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich. —Dave McKinney, WBEZ

Illinois Mail In Ballot Requests Pass 1 Million And Counting

The Illinois State Board of Elections reports more than one million Illinoisans have applied to vote by mail this November. In July, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a law expanding vote by mail, making Election Day an official holiday and sending ballot applications to the five million people who voted in the last three elections dating back to 2018. While election officials across the state are trying to meet the demand, Cook County Republicans filed a federal lawsuit against the expanded vote-by-mail program, claiming it’s a “partisan scheme.” —Sophia Tareen, Associated Press

Illinois Addiction Program Gets $36 Million Federal Grant

Illinois will use a $36 million federal grant on opioid addiction and treatment in hospitals, health centers and community programs. The Illinois Department of Human Services said the grant money will also be used for programs focused on prevention and overdose response, along with expanding treatment options for abuse of methamphetamine and cocaine. —Associated Press

A new report shows that communities of color in the Chicago area are at risk of being undercounted. Compared to 2010, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s report shows the biggest drop in participation from Hispanic communities. Black and Asian communities also have lower response rates. Communities with predominantly white residents are matching their 2010 response rates. The census count determines political representation and federal funding. —Esther Yoon-Ji Kang, WBEZ

News Around Illinois – Sept. 4, 2020

Man Charged In Student’s Death Was Also Charged As Juvenile

CHICAGO (AP) — A man charged in the July killing of a University of Illinois student was one of five Chicago youths accused of murder after another teen was shot to death during an attempted car theft last year, authorities said Thursday. Cook County prosecutors say 18-year-old Steven Davis fatally shot 21-year-old Be’Rasheet Mitchell on July 16. Mitchell was trying to defend his sister, who was Davis’ girlfriend, during a domestic incident when he was shot in the abdomen, authorities said. He died the next day at Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn. Davis was arrested in Galesburg nearly two weeks later and charged with first-degree murder. He is being held without bond in Cook County Jail. Mitchell was pursuing a master’s degree in architecture from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign at the time of his death. – Associated Press

U Of I Lab Working To Reduce Time To Get Results Of Saliva COVID-19 Tests

A couple hundred students, staff and faculty at the University of Illinois Springfield waited more than 48 hours for results from their saliva-based COVID-19 tests taken last week. Initial university instructions said results should be sent within a day or two. A leader with the Veterinary Diagnostic Lab at the Urbana Champaign campus, which has been repurposed to analyze the tests, said the delay is due to the volume of tests the lab is trying to process. On Monday, just over 18,000 samples were processed, said Timothy Fan, a professor of Veterinary Clinical Medicine. He said so many tests coming into the lab has created bottlenecks. The samples now come from three university campuses under the Illinois SHIELD program, the U of I initiative responsible for developing the novel, rapid test for use at the university and beyond. Those coming to work or class at the Springfield campus this fall must get tested once a week, and those living or working at the Urbana-Champaign campus must be tested twice a week. The U of I recently announced a partnership with Greenville University in southern Illinois to provide screening there. Fan said the team is making changes that will increase the efficiency of processing. They plan to use robots to load samples into the machines that analyze them, and want to use smaller test tubes that collect 4 milliliters of saliva through a straw, instead of the 50 milliliters containers used now. Fan said the lab, which the university runs in partnership with OSF Healthcare, is operating 24 hours on weekdays and 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekends. He praised the hard work of the lab techs and assistants. – Mary Hansen, WUIS

COVID-19 Testing Lab Coming To UIS

The University of Illinois’ COVID-19 testing program – SHIELD – plans to put a lab on the Springfield campus, an official with the program confirmed Thursday. The lab would process saliva samples from UIS. Currently, a lab in Urbana analyzes samples from the two campuses and Greenville University. More than 18,000 samples were processed on Monday of this week, according to a professor from the SHIELD team. “We’re going to be able to stand on our own… and serve our teaching and learning interests and serve the greater Springfield area,” UIS Interim Chancellor Karen Whitney said on a virtual town hall Thursday. – Mary Hansen, WUIS

Professor: Pandemic Costs Child Care Providers And Families

A researcher at the University of Illinois recently showed how child care providers have been hurt financially by the COVID-19 pandemic. Elizabeth Powers is an economist at the Institute of Government and Public Affairs. She says measures put in place to slow COVID-19 reduced revenues for childcare centers and restricted the number of slots that were available to families. “Losing 25% to 33 % of their capacity of kids that were attending, on net, they might see a change their balance sheet anywhere up to 50%,” she said. She says then costs rose for the providers when some of the original restrictions were lifted and they were allowed to reopen. That’s because social distancing rules cut down the number of children they could take care of, along with added new staffing and cleaning costs. – Maureen Foertsch McKinney, WUIS

News Around Illinois – Sept. 3, 2020

Illinois House Panel To Investigate Long-Serving Speaker

CHICAGO (AP) — An Illinois House panel convened at the request of Republicans will investigate Speaker Michael Madigan, a long-serving Democrat who has been implicated in a federal bribery investigation, legislative leaders announced Wednesday. Republicans filed paperwork to form the bipartisan committee earlier this week, a move that comes nearly two months after federal prosecutors named the Democrat by title in a criminal investigation on ComEd. The utility company has acknowledged engaging in bribery from 2011 to 2019 in the Capitol. Such an investigative committee, which has been convened two other times since 2012, can recommend discipline, including expulsion, under the Illinois Constitution. Ousting a legislator requires 79 votes of the 118-member House. The committee will have three Republicans and three Democrats. Republicans and some Democrats want Madigan, the nation’s longest-serving House speaker, to step down. Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, has said Madigan “must resign” if the allegations are true. Madigan, who hasn’t been charged, has said he won’t resign and has done nothing wrong. He maintained Wednesday that he’s “never made a legislative decision with improper motives.” – Associated Press

Threats Made Against IDES Employees

Illinois unemployment offices have been closed to public access since the stay at home order was put in effect earlier this year. But Governor J.B. Pritzker said Wednesday there was another safety reason for keeping the doors locked. Pritzker said there have been reports of threats against the Illinois Department of Employment Security and its workforce. The agency has been under scrutiny because of people facing technical difficulties in signing up for benefits. The Governor has blamed the problem on an old system that was unable to handle unprecedented demand. Some lawmakers are saying it’s time for face to face service while the state is experiencing a double digit jobless rate. – Sean Crawford, WUIS

Papers Of Abraham Lincoln Project Makes His Life Accessible To The Public

A long-running effort to make the life of Abraham Lincoln more accessible to the public has reached a new milestone. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum’s “The Papers of Abraham Lincoln” project has added more than 500 documents to Lincoln’s online collection of lost documents revealing details of his life after he left Congress in 1849. The latest documents come from Lincoln’s early political days as an aspiring Whig Party member. During this time, Lincoln becomes a married man, a father, and moves from state politician to U.S. congressman. Lincoln Papers Project Director Dan Worthington said these early professional papers include the first reference to Lincoln’s famous ‘house divided’ idea that showed Lincoln’s outlook on the world during this period, including keeping the union together and abolishing slavery. – Charlie Schlenker and Darnysha Mitchell, WGLT

Fire Destroys Landmark Church In Downtown Rockford

A landmark church in downtown Rockford is nothing but smoldering remains after firefighters worked overnight to extinguish a raging fire that started Wednesday evening. The Rockford Masonic Cathedral towered over the intersection of Kishwaukee, Walnut, and First Ave. on Rockford’s near east side since 1869. City officials confirm it has been abandoned for several years and didn’t currently have electricity. Most recently, it was known as the Metro Christian Centre, which offered services to homeless people. – WNIJ

Bradley University Holds Off On Adopting U of I COVID-19 Saliva Test, For Now

Could Bradley University adopt the University of Illinois’ COVID-19 saliva test? Probably not right away, said Bradley University President Stephen Standifird. Standifird said Bradley is working closely with OSF HealthCare on its COVID-19 surveillance testing efforts on campus. For the time being, he said OSF has recommended holding off on implementing the rapid testing currently available. Standifird said he was looking further into the U of I test that received emergency approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration last month. Bradley University is employing surveillance testing of employees and students each week to assess COVID-19’s prevalence on campus. As of last Friday, nine people had tested positive for the virus. Another 38 people were quarantining. – Tim Shelley, WCBU

Illinois Economy Continues To Grow, But At A Small Rate

The Illinois economy continues to contract, but at a slightly slower rate, according to the latest University of Illinois Flash Index. The monthly Flash Index pegged the Illinois economy at 94.6 for August, continuing a slow improvement after bottoming out in May at 92.8. Any number on the Flash Index less than 100 shows economic contraction. Just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the Flash Index had posted readings above 105 for more than a year. Economist Fred Giertz says a quick return to any economic growth will probably require a coronavirus vaccine. “Short of that,” said Giertz, “I think it’s going to be a continual, one step at a time, getting better, but probably take six months to a year.” On the other hand, Giertz says the economy could go the other way, if it’s hit by a new resurgence of the coronavirus. The Flash Index provides a quick snapshot of the Illinois economy, using a weighted average of state tax receipts. But Giertz says he has to make some ad hoc changes to his formula, because of COVID-19’s impact on the economy, and the state’s schedule for tax payments. – Jim Meadows, Illinois Newsroom

News Around Illinois – Sept. 2, 2020

Legislators Pushing Agenda That Includes Police Reform

CHICAGO (AP) — The Illinois Legislative Black Caucus on Tuesday announced an agenda that calls for action on several areas it identifies as important to its members and their constituents. The caucus announced it is planning a series of legislative committee hearings leading up to the General Assembly’s fall veto session that will focus on criminal justice reform, violence reduction and police accountability; education and workforce development; economic access and equity; and health care and human services. The hearings called by the caucus began Tuesday afternoon with a three-hour legislative committee hearing on law enforcement training and use of force. The issue has become a major one since the May 25 death of George Floyd. – Associated Press

Man Who Admitted Embezzling Millions Sentenced To Prison

CHICAGO (AP) — An Illinois accountant who pleaded guilty to embezzling millions of dollars from a trustee of the Art Institute of Chicago and others to finance a luxurious lifestyle was sentenced Monday to 16½ years in prison. Sultan Issa, 46, of Hinsdale admitted earlier this year Art Institute trustee Roger L. Weston wasn’t his only victim. Issa, who pleaded guilty to wire fraud in January, said he also stole millions from individual investors, including $500,000 from a widow who trusted him to invest funds from her late husband’s estate and three former Chicago Blackhawks players. In handing down the sentence, U.S. District Judge Andrea Wood said Issa’s misconduct was “startling” in its breadth and that he would not have been able to carry out the schemes without first gaining the “trust and affection” of his victims. – Associated Press

Testing Positivity Rate Reaches 10.7%, As MCHD Reports 71 New COVID-19 Cases

McLean County health officials confirmed 71 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, with the county’s testing positivity rate increasing to 10.7%. There are now 807 active cases in the county. That’s down from a record-high 844 on Monday. The active cases include three people in the hospital, with one in intensive care; 804 others are  isolating at home. Illinois State University reported 51 new confirmed cases on Tuesday, bringing the total number of students who have tested positive since returning to campus to 1,023. The university’s testing positivity rate dipped slightly to 23.8%. Illinois Wesleyan has reported 75 cases among its students, including 16 new ones announced Monday. – Dana Vollmer, WGLT

Flower Power with the Great Emancipator

Macomb has a new sculpture of Abraham Lincoln like you have never seen him before. The topiary sculpture features a colorful array of flowers growing out of the 16th president’s beard. “We wanted to do something that was unique, that would be a curiosity, that might draw people to Macomb,” said Jock Hedblade, Executive Director of the Macomb Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. Hedblade said they will experiment with different types of plantings for Lincoln’s beard for different times of the year. He credited the Macomb Beautiful Association and the Centennial Morning Rotary Club with preparing the sculpture for its unveiling, which took place Saturday morning. He hoped other local organizations will donate time and money to help with future plantings. The mixed-media bust of Lincoln is 15 feet high and eight feet wide. – Rich Egger, WIUM

Councilwoman Rita Ali Is Running For Peoria Mayor

At-Large Peoria City Councilwoman Rita Ali is running for mayor. “I’m ready to show little girls and young women, the fathers of daughters, and all residents of this city, that a woman can lead Peoria, and that a person of color can lift Peoria,” she said. Ali would be the first woman and first person of color to lead the city of Peoria, if elected. Ali rolled out a five-point campaign platform at a campaign kickoff Tuesday at her North Peoria home,  focusing on jobs, population growth, neighborhood safety, education, and equity. “I think that we have to grow Peoria against raising property taxes,” she said. “So the way to really grow property taxes is to grow population. And we’re seeing a lot of exodus. People that are leaving Peoria for one reason or another. It may be crime. It may be jobs. But we have to find a way to reverse that, and increase our population.” Ali believes that will begin to resolve some of Peoria’s other problems. One way to do that may be to spark more economic growth by getting more people credentialed to fill workforce gaps, she said. “We have the people, but many of them don’t have the skills that are needed for even the existing jobs we have,” she said. – Tim Shelley, WCBU

News Around Illinois — Sept. 1, 2020

Advocate Warns Of Moving Foster Children To Managed Care

Central Illinois Officers Feel Stress Of Civil Unrest 

McLean County law enforcement leaders say local police departments are feeling the heat after months of intense public scrutiny in response to the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd and other incidents of police brutality. McLean County Sheriff Jon Sandage says he’s heard a lot of officers are looking forward to retirement. In May, Normal Police Chief Rick Bleichner came under criticism for his officers’ response to looting at a nearby Target—Edith Brady-Lunny, WGLT

Chicago Mayor: Pandemic Has Caused $1.2B Hole In 2021 Budget

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the coronavirus pandemic is the “single largest driver” of the city’s economic challenges. On Monday, she predicted a $1.2 billion hole in the 2021 budget. The city’s tourism, transportation and hospitality industries have been hit the hardest, the first-term mayor said. Lightfoot said the city will need federal help to continue combating the pandemic and to address the economic fallout. In early August, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said federal economic aid is necessary to avoid deep spending cuts and layoffs in the state. —Sophia Tareen, Associated Press

Herrin Schools Call For Help To Slow The Spread Of COVID-19

The Herrin School District in western Illinois is warning the community that if they don’t practice social distancing, the district will be forced to pivot to remote learning full time. This comes after new cases in Williamson County were traced back to gatherings where masks weren’t worn and social distancing wasn’t observed. On Monday, an employee at a Herrin Elementary School after school program tested positive. Two siblings at Herrin High School tested positive over the weekend. All close contacts have been identified and contacted. —Brad Palmer, WSIU

More than 50 Black former McDonald’s franchise owners are suing the burger chain. According to the lawsuit filed in Chicago, the 52 plaintiffs said the company steered them to less-profitable restaurants in inner-city neighborhoods with lower sales volumes and higher security and insurance costs. They also said the company provided misleading financial information. McDonald’s Corp. denied the allegation and defended its history with Black franchisees.

News Around Illinois — Aug. 31, 2020

ISU To Set Up Coronavirus Testing Lab 

NORMAL, Ill. — Illinois State University is adopting the University of Illinois’ Shield Program model, the saliva-based COVID-19 test, in response to the surge of cases in the area. Cases have been on the rise in McLean County since college students returned to campus at ISU and Illinois Wesleyan in mid–August. John Baur, a chemistry professor and ISU’s COVID-19 coordinator, said the U of I’s test was appealing for its simplicity and accuracy. Following the FDA’s emergency authorization of the U of I test, Gov. Pritzker said he wanted to expand the test across the state.

Illinois’ High Court Says Face Masks Must Be Worn In Circuit Courts 

CHICAGO — Masks must be worn by anyone entering an Illinois courthouse, according to an Illinois Supreme Court order ruled Thursday. The order also states people with flu-like symptoms, those directed to quarantine by a medical professional or people who have close contact with someone subject to a quarantine should not enter courthouses. The state’s highest court issued an order to allow circuit courts to return to normal operations with social distancing precautions in early June. —Associated Press 

Human Remains Discovered In Illinois River

PEORIA, Ill. — Human skeletal remains found near the Illinois River in Glasford are being investigated by the Peoria County Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff Brian Asbell said the surrounding area where the bones were discovered are being searched, but the terrain and proximity to the river is complicating the investigation. He said excavation may be required. The Peoria County Coroner’s Office is working to identify the sex, age range and other distinguishing features of the skeletal remains in an effort to identify the person. —Tim Shelly, WCBU

As Questions Mount About Roundup Settlement, Black Farmers Sue Monsanto To Stop Herbicide’s Sales

The National Black Farmers Association filed a lawsuit against the agribusiness giant Bayer to stop selling Roundup, its herbicide that has been linked to cancer. The lawsuit, filed in St. Louis, alleges that Black farmers are forced by the agricultural system to spray Roundup and therefore are at risk of developing cancer. The lawsuit argues that Monsanto, which was bought by Bayer in 2018, knowingly failed and continues to fail to adequately warn farmers about the dangers of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup. Johnathan Hettinger, Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting

Looking Back: ‘Big Jim’ Thompson Left A Big Impression On Southern Illinois

CARBONDALE, Ill. — When former Gov. James R. Thompson died in mid–August, Democrats and Republicans expressed their condolences over the the state’s longest-serving chief executive. From renovating major roadways to updating state parks and lodges in the region, the Daily Southern’s Molly Parker explains the impact “Big Jim” had on Southern Illinois. —Molly Parker, The Daily Southern

News Around Illinois – Aug. 28, 2020

Attorney: R&B Singer R Kelly Attacked In Federal Detention

CHICAGO (AP) — The lawyer for R. Kelly said Thursday the R&B singer, who is awaiting trial on child pornography and other charges, was assaulted by a fellow detainee at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago. Attorney Steve Greenberg revealed in a tweet that he learned of the attack on his client Wednesday. Greenberg says he has received conflicting information on the extent of Kelly’s injuries. A spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, citing privacy and safety reason, wouldn’t confirm or deny Greenberg’s report of the attack on Kelly. Kelly, 53, faces several dozen counts of state and federal sexual misconduct charges in Illinois, Minnesota and New York, from sexual assault to heading a racketeering scheme aimed at supplying him with girls. The Grammy Award winning singer has denied ever abusing anyone. – Associated Press

Cash-Strapped Chicago Solicits Operators’ Ideas To Launch A New City Casino Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

The city of Chicago is soliciting ideas for a new casino and entertainment district from gaming operators, according to a request for information and a new website released Thursday. Respondents are being asked to identify a location for the casino, outline the number of gaming positions and other amenities that would make the casino a “world-class” destination for tourists and shore up much needed revenue for Chicago. The city is marketing itself as one of the “largest untapped gaming opportunity in the country.” It is also asking respondents to explain how they will address coronavirus concerns when designing the space. Whoever the city picks and is approved by the state gambling board will have to build a temporary casino site while the permanent casino is under construction. Responses to the RFI are due Oct. 21. But the city says offering feedback proposals through this RFI are not required to be eventually considered to run the new casino. – Claudia Morell, WBEZ

Majority Of Illinois Students Will Start Classes Online

Most Illinois school kids will start the school year with remote learning.  That’s according to an Illinois State Board of Education survey of administrators. Of the districts responding, nearly 1.1 million students, roughly 62% of those enrolled, will do their work in an online-only mode.  However, many districts have indicated they could reconsider a return to classroom instruction later in the fall. – Sean Crawford, WUIS

Illinois Cities Face Revenue Shortfall, Ask Feds For Help

Nearly 200 cities told the Illinois Municipal League that they expect to bring in less money from taxes on shopping, gaming, gas and other sources due to the coronavirus pandemic. The responses come from a survey conducted between June and July. Cities expected a median reduction of 20% to 30% in their revenues compared to last year, according to the survey. Nearly half the respondents said they are considering laying off staff or reducing services in order to address budget shortfalls. On a virtual event hosted by Springfield’s mayor, Brad Cole, executive director of the Illinois Municipal League, said the results are what he expected to hear. Cole said they’re lobbying the federal government to ask for help. – Mary Hansen, WUIS

B-N’s Movie Theaters Set For Reopening

For the first time in months, you’ll be able to go see a movie in Bloomington-Normal on Friday. The Marcus Theatres location in west Bloomington will reopen Friday after a long coronavirus shutdown. A reopening curbside event Wednesday night led to cars lined up and down Wylie Drive looking to claim free giant bags of popcorn and movie passes. State rules limit capacity to 50 guests or 50% of theater capacity—whichever is less. At Marcus Theatres, reserved seating will allow groups to sit together. There will be two empty seats between groups for social distancing. Marcus guests are encouraged to order concessions in advance. The AMC Classic Normal 14 theater is scheduled to reopen Sept. 3. Its auditoriums will operate at 40% capacity or less. Like Marcus, AMC has signed on as a member of the industry’s CinemaSafe protocols. The Normal Theater in Uptown has not yet reopened but, as part of its reopening plan, is now surveying patrons about their comfort levels with attending in-person showings, wearing masks, and buying concessions. When the theater does re-open, it will run at a maximum capacity of 50 guests (out of around 400 seats). – Ryan Denham, WGLT

News Around Illinois – Aug. 27, 2020

Women Gets 6 Years For Driving Off Unfinished Highway Bridge

URBANA, Ill. (AP) — A central Illinois woman who admitted being drunk when she drove off an unfinished bridge onto a highway, seriously injuring a man, has been sentenced to six years in prison. Ashia Marshall, 30, wept in court Wednesday as she expressed remorse for what she called the “most disastrous and humiliating time in my life,” The News-Gazette reported. The Champaign woman had pleaded guilty in June to aggravated driving under the influence in the September 2019, crash in Champaign. Assistant State’s Attorney Brooke Hinman said Marshall drove through construction barriers onto a bridge being rebuilt over Interstate 57 before her car vaulted down the embankment onto the highway’s west side. It was stopped by a concrete barrier before entering I-57′s southbound lanes. Both of the two men who were passengers in Marshall’s car were injured, and one of them suffered chest injuries, a collapsed lung and a damaged kidney. – Associated Press

Illinois Nonprofit Gives Diapers To Families During Pandemic

CARTERVILLE, Ill. (AP) — A Carterville-based nonprofit has been providing nearly 1,500 diapers a month to low-income families in need during the coronavirus pandemic. The Got You Covered Diaper Program has distributed more than 12,000 diapers in the first half of 2020 — about 40% more than last year, according to co-founder Evelyn Fuqua. The pandemic has definitely fueled the need for more diapers, because more families are facing hardship than ever before, Fuqua said. She said she campaigns for diaper donations through Facebook. Fuqua, a former Crainville mayor and councilwoman, said she and co-founder Michelle Parker-Clark formed Got You Covered in 2018 after noticing a need while volunteering at a homeless shelter. Some parents would return to the shelter asking for diapers to help get them through the night or a week. – Associated Press

Golden Apple Starts Program To Address Teacher Shortage In Downstate Illinois

Illinois is still facing another crisis alongside COVID-19—a shortage of teachers. And one impacts the other. Over half of teachers are over 50 years old, and some are immunocompromised themselves or have relatives who are. Teachers care deeply about their classrooms, but they may be rethinking what it means to be in a classroom or packed hallways with a bunch of kids. Golden Apple has supported teachers for over 30 years, and it’s attacking the shortage problem with a new program called Accelerators. Accelerators is teacher residency program that expands the teacher pipeline by targeting seniors in college who are not currently education majors as well as career changers with bachelor’s degrees who would like to become teachers. Golden Apple recruited 30 candidates for the summer of 2020, and they will receive their teacher licenses by 2021. After licenses are obtained the teachers will be able to enter the teaching profession full time in the 2021-22 school year. Candidates must live in southern, central, or western Illinois and agree to teach in partner communities for at least four years. – Camberyn Kelley and Ryan Denham, WGLT

Demmer Decries Exelon Threat To Close Byron Plant

Exelon announced Thursday that it intends to retire its Byron Generating Station and Dresden Generating Station in fall 2021. Byron is licensed to operate for another 20 years. The company said Byron and Dresden employ more than 1,500 full-time employees and 2,000 supplemental workers during refueling outages. According to a statement, Exelon President and CEO Christopher Crane said the announcement gives communities time to prepare. The company said Dresden and Byron face revenue shortfalls in the hundreds of millions of dollars because of “declining energy prices” and “market rules that allow fossil fuel plants to underbid clean resources in the PJM capacity auction.” Exelon said the LaSalle and Braidwood nuclear stations in Illinois are also at high risk for premature closure. The attempt to get new rules out of Springfield may be complicated in the wake of a bribery scandal with ComEd, Exelon’s subsidiary. From Illinois State Representative Tom Demmer: I am deeply disappointed with today’s announcement that Exelon intends to close the Byron Nuclear Plant in September 2021. The plant is home to hundreds of good-paying jobs and contributes millions of dollars in property taxes to fund schools, public safety, and local government. It also generates a significant amount of clean, reliable electricity without any carbon pollution. I will not take this decision as final. The Exelon statement itself said “we will continue our dialogue with policymakers on ways to prevent these closures”. I will work with the Governor’s office and my fellow legislators to ensure that Byron has a seat at the table and a voice in the discussions about Illinois’ energy policy. – WNIJ News

WIU COVID-19 Dashboard

Western Illinois University reported 16 students living on the Macomb campus tested positive for the coronavirus. The information comes from the university’s newly released COVID-19 dashboard. Western reported two of the students have recovered. The other 14 cases remain active. The dashboard defines recovered as: “resolution of fever without fever-reducing medications for 3 days (72 hours), improvement of respiratory symptoms, and at least 7 days have passed since symptoms first appeared.” Around 30 cases from the Macomb campus are pending. 1,084 students living on the Macomb campus tested negative. In addition, no faculty or staff members on either campus have tested positive, and no students tested positive at the Quad Cities campus. – Rich Egger, WIUM


News Around Illinois – Aug. 26, 2020

Illinois Expands Rules On Wearing Masks During Indoor Dining

CHICAGO (AP) — Illinois officials have expanded rules requiring masks while dining indoors, saying Tuesday that customers must wear face coverings during each interaction with servers and other restaurant workers. State officials said the requirements — including while servers are an taking order or bringing a bill — go into effect Wednesday and follow a recent increase in COVID-19 cases. Also starting Wednesday, indoor dining won’t be allowed in Will and Kankakee counties following consecutive days of a positive test rate of 8%, roughly double the statewide rate. Currently, customers are required to wear masks except while eating and drinking. The revision extends the requirement to all interactions with employees while seated. – Associated Press

Dismissing Some Claims, Judge Allows A Lawsuit Against The Chicago Impound Program To Proceed

A federal judge is allowing parts of a lawsuit challenging Chicago’s vehicle impoundment program to move forward, marking yet another development in the years-long unraveling of the city’s towing practices. The lawsuit was filed last year by the Institute for Justice, a legal group which calls itself “the National Law Firm for Liberty.” The suit alleged the city’s impound program was unconstitutional because it assessed excessive fees. Federal District Court Judge Mary Rowland dismissed that part of the suit, but allowed other parts of it to proceed under a claim the program violated state law on proportionate penalties. A recent WBEZ investigation revealed that over the past decade, Chicago police initiated hundreds of thousands of impounds during arrests for misdemeanors in predominantly Black neighborhoods. WBEZ also revealed that officials had intentionally raised caps on impound storage fees in an attempt to generate additional revenue. – Elliot Ramos, WBEZ

McLean County’s Testing Positivity Rate Climbs Past 8% With 50 New Cases Reported

McLean County’s COVID-19 testing positivity rate has surpassed 8% — a benchmark that, if continued, could trigger tighter restrictions under the Restore Illinois plan. The rolling 7-day positivity rate is now 8.2%. That comes as the McLean County Health Department (MCHD) reported 50 new confirmed COVID-19 cases Wednesday. Of the new cases, 28 are among people in their 20s. Another 15 are among those ages 18 and 19. This continues an upward trend in infection among college-age people. Two other cases are patients under the age of 10. Four COVID-19 patients are currently hospitalized, while another 450 are isolating at home. The county’s cumulative positivity rate (since the pandemic began) has climbed to 3%. Meanwhile, Illinois State University reported 353 student cases Wednesday. That’s up from 273 cases Monday, the last time the university’s data was updated. ISU’s testing positivity rate stands at 19.3%. – Dana Vollmer, WGLT

Need Body Cameras? Sell City Hall

The City of DeKalb is selling the old City Hall building and using some of those funds to buy body cams for police. Not everyone is on the same page. Between the dash cam footage of Elonte McDowell’s controversial arrest late last year and the recent protests that followed the death of George Floyd, DeKalb community members have been calling for leaders to reimagine not just the culture of local policing but how police are funded. Bill Nicklas is DeKalb’s City Manager. He had an idea to sell the former city hall building and use the proceeds to outfit all police officers with body cameras. That’s because, Nicklas said, city operations were able to move to a smaller location this summer. Nicklas said the City put out a request for proposals and received three applications from local developers under serious consideration: Mason Properties, Irving Construction, and Pappas Development.  The first proposal to the City Council came from Jim Mason, and he promised to buy the building for $400,000 dollars and release it back to the city after his death. Pappas Development promised the largest sum for the old municipal building, $600,000 dollars. Nicklas says he recommended the Pappas proposal to the City Council for two reasons: “One, certainly for the taxpayers,” he said. “This is a tremendous offer, both in the acquisition price and also in what they can generate over time for the TIF district.” – Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco, WNIJ

As Fall 2020 Semester Opens, SIU Makes Plans, Changes

Students are back in class both on- and off-campus across the Southern Illinois University system, and administrators hope they can continue through the fall semester with little interruption. SIU Carbondale classes are roughly 40% online this semester, with 30% in-person and another 30% in a hybrid model. President Dan Mahony is cautiously optimistic that balance will make it easier to pivot, should COVID-19 spike again. When it comes to enrollment, numbers won’t be released for another week – but Mahony and other administrators say there’s room for optimism in the preliminary data. – Jennifer Fuller, WSIU

News Around Illinois – Aug. 25, 2020

IDOT Accused by Former Employees Of Racial Discrimination

BELLEVILLE, Ill. (AP) — A group of current and former employees of the Illinois Department of Transportation are accusing the agency of a history of systemic racism, particularly in its operations in southern Illinois. Lee Coleman, a former Transportation Department Equal Employment Opportunity officer, told the Belleville News-Democrat that years of documenting, reporting and complaining about racial issues in the agency has not resulted in any action. The 15-year department veteran says the political party of the incumbent governor or legislative majority has made no difference. The Department of Transportation has a $23.4 billion budget for 2020 and has allocated $2.3 billion for District 8’s five-year plan for highway improvements, Coleman said. The district is the second largest in the state, encompassing 12 southern Illinois counties. Coleman and others are demanding workplace equity and a policy that helps end racism on the state’s highway projects. – Associated Press

Illinois, Missouri Get Award for Mississippi River Bridge

PITTSFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Illinois and Missouri’s partnership that replaced the 92-year-old Champ Clark Bridge over the Mississippi River has earned the two states a regional transportation award for the second year in a row. Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Omer Osman said the regional transportation award for Midwest states comes from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. The bridge connecting the two states along U.S. 54 took top honors in the “Quality of Life/Community Development, Medium Project” category. Illinois and Missouri shared the cost of the $60 million bridge, which links Louisiana, Missouri and Pike County in Illinois, about 90 miles (145 kilometers) northwest of St. Louis. The project doubled the width of the original bridge and eliminated a 40-ton weight restriction while adding lanes for bikes and pedestrians. – Associated Press

Illinois Tourism Had Another Record Year, Before Pandemic

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Illinois set another record for tourism before the coronavirus pandemic essentially shut down normal life around the world, state officials said. The Illinois Office of Tourism Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity announced Friday that the state welcomed 120 million visitors in 2019. That was the ninth consecutive year that Illinois saw tourism growth. Officials noted that COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, has devastated the tourism industry and has shuttered schools, businesses and required people to stay at home for periods. The U.S. Travel Association estimates that tourists spent $43.1 billion in Illinois last year. That was a 3% increase over the prior year. – Associated Press

Former Gov. Edgar And Other Moderate Illinois Republicans Say They’ll Vote For Joe Biden

Former Illinois Republican Gov. Jim Edgar and a pair of other prominent GOP moderates here broke ranks with President Donald Trump Monday and said they’d be voting for Democrat Joe Biden, just as Republicans opened their national convention. The pronouncements by Edgar, former U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood and ex-Illinois Republican Party chair Pat Brady set a divisive tone for state Republicans and put on display the serious schism within the Party over whether Trump deserves another four years in the White House. – Dave McKinney, WBEZ

ACLU Wants Independent Monitor of Care For Transgender Prisoners In Illinois

A group of transgender women has asked for an independent monitor of the Illinois Department of Corrections because the agency has not improved those inmates’ care as ordered by a judge last year. Some of the women,  who are housed at  prisons throughout the system, have harmed themselves or attempted suicide, said  Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the ACLU of Illinois. “In many instances, you have the circumstance where the women who are being held in male facilities are subjected regularly to strip searches… by male guards, which is humiliating and degrading and leads to serious kind of consequences,” he said. According to a document filed by the ACLU in federal court Friday, IDOC has continued the  “practice of depriving gender dysphoric prisoners of medically necessary social transition, including. . . assigning housing based on genitalia and/or physical size or appearance.” An IDOC spokesperson said the agency would not comment on pending litigation. According to Yohnka, the Department of Corrections’ representatives admitted  under oath that practices, such as strip searches by male guards, continue. – Maureen Foertsch McKinney, WUIS

Agreement Reached For Fall Classes At WIU

Western Illinois University’s administration and the University Professionals of Illinois, which represents faculty, have agreed on a plan for holding classes during the fall semester. The two sides reached the deal after meeting all day on both Friday and Saturday. The union said the agreement gives faculty members and academic support professionals the choice of how they want to hold their classes and work with students. It also provides for additional safety measures against the potential spread of COVID-19. You can read details of the agreement here. – Rich Egger, WIUM

News Around Illinois – Aug. 24, 2020

Illinois Low Census Response Puts Federal Dollars At Risk

CARBONDALE, Ill. (AP) — A low census response rate in southern Illinois is putting millions of federal dollars for infrastructure improvements, education and social service programs at risk. As of Monday, only about 46% of Carbondale households had responded to the 2020 census survey, The Southern Illinoisan reports. City officials estimate a loss of about $1,600 per year for every person who fails to respond — or $16,000 over a decade. The census count concludes Sept. 30. Most southern Illinois counties’ response rate is significantly below the overall Illinois response rate of 69%. Carbondale Planning Director Chris Wallace said the city’s low response rate is mostly tied to Southern Illinois University students. College students are counted in the community where they attend school, not where their home address is. He says the student population is traditionally hard to reach and the coronavirus pandemic has made it even harder. – Associated Press

Virus Spread Puts 20 Illinois Counties on ‘Warning’ Status

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Rising indicators of the potentially deadly coronovirus have forced Illinois public health officials to place nearly one-fifth of the state’s counties on “warning level” status for the disease. Two or more measurements for the spread of the highly contagious virus have exceeded allowable limits in each of the counties put on warning Friday. The process serves as notice that local officials should take action to mitigate the spread. Twenty of the Prairie State’s 102 counties are on warning status: Bureau, Cass, Clay, Clinton, Franklin, Greene, Grundy, Hancock, Henderson, Jefferson, Logan, Madison, Monroe, Moultrie, Randolph, St. Clair, Union, White, Will, and Williamson. – Associated Press

Champaign County Clerk Predicts Heavy Vote-By-Mail Turnout

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Champaign County Clerk Aaron Ammons says he’s expecting heavy use of mail-in ballots in the November election.  At a Saturday news conference outside Champaign’s Mattis Avenue post office, the county clerk said his office had received over 12,000 applications for mail-in ballots. Ammons anticipates that, with 117,000 registered voters in Champaign County, voter turnout could be from 95,000 to 100,000, with up to 50,000 ballots coming in by mail. Ammons’ news conference promoting vote-by-mail took place on the same day that the House of Representatives passed a bill giving more funding to the Postal Service and reversing changes that have slowed service. Two downstate Illinois Republicans, Rodney Davis and Mike Bost, joined Democrats in voting for the bill, which is expected to stall in the GOP-controlled Senate. — Jim Meadows, Illinois Newsroom

3 Illinoisans Named To State’s Outdoor Hall of Fame

CHICAGO (AP) — Three more people are being inducted into the Illinois Outdoor Hall of Fame for boosting conservation efforts and outdoor recreation opportunities, according to the Illinois Conservation Foundation. The individuals — Mike Conlin of Auburn, Jim Smith of Morris and Bob Wilkins of Shorewood — will be honored at a Chicago gala in April 2021. The trio has “helped set the pace on conservation leadership for years,” said Colleen Callahan, chair of the foundation’s board and director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Conlin retired from the Illinois Department of Conservation and IDNR in 2009 after nearly 40 years. Working as fisheries division chief, he’s credited with initiating an expansion of the state fish hatcheries. Smith and Wilkins are avid sportsman and volunteer IDNR instructors. They’re credited with sponsoring events including fishing derbies and waterfowl education seminars. The Outdoor Hall of Fame has recognized Illinois residents for their contributions to preservation and support of the outdoors since 2002. – Associated Press

Illinois’ Seniors Struggle To Schedule Tests Amid Pandemic

CHICAGO (AP) — Illinois’ incoming high school seniors have been struggling to register for standardized testing ahead of college application season after the pandemic caused testing dates to be canceled. Students weren’t able to take the SAT at schools in April, and ACT tests in the spring and summer were canceled after sites closed, the Chicago Tribune reported. ACT executive Shane King said the company relies on schools for testing sites, but shutdowns made that impossible. He also can’t guarantee that locations booked for September and October won’t be canceled. The SAT, the ACT’s main competitor, tried a different approach. The College Board, which administers the exam, allowed seniors to sign up early for tests that will resume Aug. 29. Some students said they were able to register for an SAT test after they couldn’t land a spot for ACT testing. – Associated Press

News Around Illinois – August 21, 2020

Illinois Reports 1,832 COVID-19 Cases And 27 Deaths

SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois Department of Public Health is reporting 1,832 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 27 deaths. The number of confirmed cases on Thursday come from the state conducting 51,612 tests in the previous 24 hours. The state now has reported 213,721 cases and 7,833 fatalities. The age of cases ranges from younger than one to older than 100 years. Public health director Dr. Ngozi Ezike says the statewide positivity rate over the last week was 4.4%. She says that number has increased over the last four weeks even as the nationwide rate has gone down. – Associated Press

COVID-19 Exposure Closes Local Health Department

SULLIVAN – The Moultrie County Health Department offices in downtown Sullivan are closed to the public for the next week, after the facility was exposed to COVID-19. A statement on the health department website says the decision was made after getting notice of a COVID-19 exposure in their office. Administrator Angela Hogan says the health department office will be partially staffed during the one-week shutdown. She says they’ll continue to provide services “as feasible” by phone. Public Health officials have placed Moultrie County at its “warning level”, after it surpassed crucial thresholds for its seven-day positivity rate and number of new cases in relation to the population. On Thursday, Moultrie County reported three new cases of COVID-19, for a total of 127 cases. The county has less than 15,000 residents. – Jim Meadows, Illinois Newsroom

Duckworth Calls Trump ‘Coward-In-Chief’ During DNC

U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) criticized President Donald J. Trump’s military record in her time speaking at the Democratic National Convention. The Iraq War veteran made her remarks on the same night Joe Biden gave his speech accepting the Democratic Party’s nomination to be president. Speaking from Washington, D.C., Duckworth ridiculed Trump and accused him of not understanding the risks service members take. “Instead, they have a Coward-in-Chief, who won’t stand up to Vladmir Putin, read his daily intelligence briefings, or even publicly admonish adversaries for reportedly putting bounties on our troops’ heads,” said Duckworth. She was a finalist to be former Vice President Joe Biden’s running mate. – Tony Arnold, WBEZ News

One Person Reported Killed In Plane Crash And Ensuing Fire

ROCKFORD — One person was killed when a private plane veered off a runway and caught fire at Chicago Rockford International Airport in Rockford, Illinois. Winnebago County Coroner Bill Hintz did not identify the victim of the Thursday accident. The FAA says the plane that caught fire was a Beechcraft King Air twin-engine plane that can carry between seven and 13 passengers, depending on the variant. Authorities say it is believed the aircraft was taxiing when it ran off a runway and caught fire. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating to determine the cause of the accident. – Associated Press


News Around Illinois – Aug. 20, 2020

Vehicles Hit Illinois Covered Bridge Twice After Reopening

LONG GROVE, Ill. (AP) — A covered bridge in northern Illinois has been damaged twice by vehicles within days of its reopening after a $1 million rebuild repaired severe damage a delivery truck inflicted in 2018. Less than 24 hours after Long Grove’s iconic covered bridge reopened on Friday, it was struck by a chartered bus, and on Wednesday another vehicle struck the more than century-old span, WLS-TV reported. June Neumann, owner of Viking Treasures in Long Grove, said she heard the bus collide with the bridge last weekend. “I said oh no, oh no,” Neumann told the station. – Associated Press

Douglas’ Statute To Be Removed From Illinois Capitol Lawn

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — A statute of Stephen A. Douglas, a senator from Illinois whose national reputation in the mid-19th Century was built on the idea that each new U.S. territory should decide on allowing slavery, will be removed from the state Capitol lawn because he personally profited from slavery, officials decided Wednesday. The board of the Office of the Architect of the Capitol voted unanimously to remove the figure of Douglas, whose career-long nemesis was Abraham Lincoln. A rendering of Pierre Menard, an early Illinois settler, politician and slave owner, also will be removed. Architect of the Capitol Andrea Aggertt told the board that she did not yet have a cost for removal and storage. The action came after House Speaker Michael Madigan asked the board to consider removing portraits and statuary of Douglas in and around the Capitol. The Chicago Democrat said he had recently read Lincoln biographer Sidney Blumenthal’s account of how Douglas profited from family owned slaves. After George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis sparked a nationwide movement to remove Confederate symbols, Madigan decided that references to Douglas should be banished. – John O’Connor, Associated Press

Doctors And Lawmakers Protest Mercy Hospital’s Closure — But Options Are Limited

It was part rally, part reunion near Mercy Hospital in Chicago on Wednesday as dozens of doctors who trained there, Mercy employees and several lawmakers called for saving the historic medical facility from closing in the middle of a pandemic. They crowded corners and chanted: “Save Mercy Now.” They held signs that read: “Mercy For Mercy,” “Black Healthcare Matters” and “We Need Mercy Stat.” And, for a few minutes, the crowd marched on the sidewalk as ambulances passed to and from the hospital that loomed in the background. “I’ve worked in a lot of different hospitals, and this is a place where it’s a huge need for the community,” said Dr. Marcus Wong, who came to the rally from Indiana. He spent three years training at Mercy to become an emergency medicine physician. “It’s not like people can simply go to another hospital.” Mercy treats mainly low-income and elderly people of color — not the type of patients wealthier hospitals want to treat, but those getting sick and dying most of COVID-19. The historic hospital in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood just south of downtown is nearly 170 years old and was the first chartered teaching hospital in the city. It’s a staple for Black Chicagoans, and for Cantonese-speaking residents in nearby Chinatown and surrounding neighborhoods. But after years of losing money and treating patients who need expensive hospital care, Mercy announced in late July that it plans to close the hospital and its outpatient clinics between February and May. Mercy said it’s losing about $4 million a month and needs at least $100 million over five years in capital investments. Instead, Mercy said it plans to open a new outpatient center that would focus on preventative and urgent care to keep people out of pricey hospitals. Closing hospitals with lots of vacant beds in favor of providing cheaper outpatient care has been a national trend. – Kristen Schorsch, WBEZ

IWU Monitors COVID Outbreak Among Students

Illinois Wesleyan University said it is responding to a cluster of 10 COVID-19 cases among students. All 10 live in non-university housing, Dean of Students Karla Carney-Hall and Interim Executive Director of Health/Counseling Vickie Folse said Wednesday. IWU said some of the students in the group that tested positive had symptoms, but many did not. A university spokesperson said the affected students lived in various off-campus residences and not in a single apartment complex or house. Earlier on Wednesday, McLean County health officials announced a new single-day record of 51 new coronavirus cases; it is the third time in the past week that the county has set a new daily record for positive COVID-19 cases. – Charlie Schlenker, WGLT

93-Year-Old Woman is Tazewell County’s Newest Election Judge

93-year-old Hettie Beers is Tazewell County’s newest election judge. She was surprised with a swearing-in ceremony at the Morningside of Washington assisted living complex Wednesday morning after handwriting a letter to Tazewell County Clerk John Ackerman earlier this month volunteering her help. Beers was a long time local elections volunteer in Peoria before moving to Washington. “My precinct was at the Bradley Fieldhouse. And it was just, I thought, really a good thing to do. I taught all my kids about elections and how it’s important,” she said. Beers was a member of the League of Women Voters Greater Peoria chapter, observing the Peoria County Board and the Metropolitan Airport Authority meetings. Beers will assist Morningside’s activities director, Amber Conover, as residents vote on Nov. 3. All Tazewell County long-term care facilities offer assistance with mail-in voting for residents registered to vote. – Tim Shelley, WCBU

News Around Illinois – Aug. 19, 2020

Architect Of The Capitol To Take Up Issue Of Douglas Statue

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Board members of the Office of the Architect of the Capitol on Wednesday will take up a request from the Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan to replace imagery of political giant Stephen Douglas and Illinois pioneer Pierre Menard because of their racist pasts. Madigan called for replacing statues and paintings of the two in July, following the racially charged killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which sparked a nationwide movement to remove Confederate symbols. The board, consisting of the Senate’s secretary and assistant secretary and the clerk and assistant clerk of the House, will discuss its next step toward legislative approval. Menard, who became a successful fur trader in southwestern Illinois nearly 30 years before statehood and was the state’s first lieutenant governor, is remembered by a large statue on the Capitol lawn despite having once owned slaves as late as 1830. Douglas, a Democrat whose personal and political life is intertwined with Abraham Lincoln. The two courted the same woman and faced off in 1858 in a series of debates during a race for U.S. Senate. Their portraits and statues share prominent places in and around the Illinois Capitol. – John O’Connor, Associated Press

Activists Call On Chicago Leaders To Defund Police In The City’s Next Budget

Community and labor groups are taking aim at Chicago’s municipal budget, demanding that the city defund the police by 75% and invest in neighborhoods instead. Activists rallied outside City Hall Tuesday demanding that Chicago shift more than $1 billion away from the Police Department and steer it towards education, health care and social services. Amisha Patel, executive director of Grassroots Collaborative, one of the groups in the coalition, said Tuesday’s event — titled “Black to the Future” — was a kickoff to their campaign around Chicago’s budget talks this fall. At a press conference in front of City Hall, the activists stacked rows of large boxes painted in green to symbolize the $1.8 billion dollars Chicago spends on its police. Next to those, they laid out a few small boxes to represent funds for homelessness, domestic violence and other issues. The goal was to “make very clear the city’s current priorities,” Patel told WBEZ after the event. “Though elected officials like to say, ‘There is no other option, this is the only thing that we can do, we’re so sorry,’ we know the tough choices actually are about defunding the police, stopping corporate welfare, stopping the subsidized developments like Lincoln Yards.” – Esther Yoon-Ji Kang, WBEZ

Young People Make Up Majority Of COVID Cases In McLean County Spike

McLean County health officials announced a new single-day record with 51 coronavirus cases on Wednesday. This marks the third time in the last week the county has set a new record for cases in one day. More than half of the new cases are younger, according to data from the McLean County Health Department (MCHD). Twenty-six of the cases involved people ages 10-19, and 13 cases are from people in their 20s. One case involves a child under age 10. “Even young healthy individuals can have complications from the virus, and some may even need to be hospitalized,” MCHD administrator Jessica McKnight explained. “Everyone is at risk for getting COVID-19 if they are exposed to the virus. Every interaction with persons outside your household should be treated as a risk for transmission.” – Eric Stock, WGLT

ISU Warns Students On Parties, Opens More Testing Sites

More testing options are now available for students at Illinois State University, as President Larry Dietz warned Redbirds against attending large off-campus parties. Photos have circulated on social media over the past few days, showing crowds at apparent off-campus parties on the weekend before classes resumed Monday. Dietz said “what happens at colleges and universities across the state” would impact health and safety metrics Gov. JB Pritzker will use to evaluate whether to pull Illinois back into a more restrictive phase of reopening. It’s unclear how many ISU students are currently residing in Normal. Most classes are entirely online. Dorms are open — albeit with new precautions — and many students had already signed leases at off-campus apartments when the pandemic worsened. Others don’t have another permanent residence which to return. Meanwhile, new testing options are now available for students who are not experiencing symptoms. Testing is now available on the Quad between Schroeder and Edwards halls, as well as at the former fire station, 602 N. Adelaide St., near Cardinal Court, according to the Student Health Services website. Students must show their Redbird ID card. – Ryan Denham, WGLT

More Morton Students Quarantining After Potential COVID Exposures

Morton District 709 currently reports eight COVID-19 positive students district-wide. Another 96 are currently in quarantine, up from 43 on Friday. That’s according to district Superintendent Dr. Jeff Hill, who is communicating COVID-19 cases with students and parents every Friday. He gave an update during the school board’s regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday. No teachers or staffers have tested positive for COVID-19, but 11 are currently quarantining, said Hill, adding the district is coordinating with the Tazewell County Health Department on a daily basis. The health department said Monday that no Morton schools are currently considered outbreak locations. To qualify as an outbreak location, COVID-19 cases would need to be linked back to specific schools or classrooms. Multiple students testing positive for COVID-19 doesn’t necessarily qualify as an outbreak. – Tim Shelley, WCBU

News Around Illinois – Aug. 18, 2020

Illinois Launches Online COVID-19 Hotspot Map For Travelers

CHICAGO (AP) — Illinois public health officials on Monday launched a COVID-19 hotspot map for travelers to assess their risk before leaving the state. The online map shows which U.S. states have an average daily case rate of at least 15 cases per 100,000 people, which is considered higher risk. “This virus does not recognize borders and specific regions and it doesn’t stop at the edge of a region or a county,” Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said at an East St. Louis news conference. “We know that people may have to travel, but potentially based on where you may go that travel may increase your risk of exposure to COVID-19.” She urged travelers to factor in details like how to safely manage airport terminals and rest areas. – Sophia Tareen, Associated Press

SW Illinois Man Allegedly Ran Over His Wife, Killing Her

BELLEVILLE Ill. (AP) — A southwestern Illinois man faces charges alleging that he ran over his wife with a truck, killing her, while he was intoxicated. Teddy Weil, 62, was charged Monday with two counts of aggravated DUI in connection with Saturday night’s death of Donna Weil. The Lebanon, Illinois, man was being held at the St. Clair County Jail on $75,000 bond. The office of the St. Clair County State’s Attorney said Weil struck his wife and another woman, whose injuries have not been specified, while behind the wheel of his Ford F-150. His blood-alcohol level was above the legal limit, according to the county prosecutor, but by how much was also not specified, the Belleville News-Democrat reported. – Associated Press

Legal Move Delays ComEd’s First Installment of $200 Million Corruption Fine

Commonwealth Edison got a temporary reprieve from its due date to pay the first installment of a $200 million fine in a federal corruption case Monday. The delay came after a Chicago lawyer argued ComEd – which is supposed to pay the fine to the U.S. treasury – should instead pay back electricity-delivery customers who were victims of the power company’s long-running Springfield bribery scheme. Executives with the massive public utility had agreed to pay half of the fine within a month of announcing a deal with prosecutors on July 17, court records show. But lawyer Joseph Stewart argued “that restitution is due to non-federal victims of ComEd’s bribery scheme” before any money goes to the U.S. government. Under what’s known as a “deferred prosecution agreement” with prosecutors in Chicago, ComEd agreed to pay the fine to end a federal investigation into what the company admits was an eight-year effort to buy influence in the Illinois Capitol. In the agreement, the benefits of the scheme for ComEd were said to exceed $150 million. – Dan Mihalopoulos, WBEZ

Union Files Complaint Against WIU’s Plans for In-Person Classes

Western Illinois University intends to hold in-person classes beginning August 24 in Macomb and the Quad Cities. But the union representing faculty members is fighting that plan. The University Professionals of Illinois (UPI) said WIU failed to bargain with the union when developing the plan. “They’re still having a significant amount of face-to-face classes and the safety concerns have not been met,” said UPI President John Miller. “We’re bringing 5,000, 6,000, 7,000 students into an area like Macomb and the Quad Cities without the necessary safety procedures. So we don’t think the situation is safe.” Miller said Western should strive to hold classes remotely when possible during the pandemic. He said the university proved during the spring it can do that. He also said all students and employees should be tested for COVID-19 before they come onto campus, and that the best possible filtered air systems should be placed in every classroom. UPI has filed unfair labor practice charges with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board (IELRB). The complaints name Western as well as Eastern Illinois University. – Rich Egger, WIUM

Bloomington To Study Indigenous Peoples Swap For Columbus Day

Bloomington city staff will examine converting the Columbus Day holiday to one honoring indigenous people, with a majority of the city council indicating at least some support for researching the question during a Committee of the Whole session Monday night. Council member Jenn Carrillo promoted the idea, using similar language to an earlier proposal to consider a Juneteenth holiday. Last fall, the Bloomington council passed a proclamation honoring Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Carrillo said she wants to go further, and recent events related to social justice make such action more urgent. – Charlie Schlenker, WGLT

News Around Illinois – Aug. 17, 2020

Illinois Imposes New Metro East COVID-19 Rules After Spike

CHICAGO (AP) — Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced fresh restrictions Sunday for southwestern Illinois after a resurgence of COVID-19 cases. The rules, effective Tuesday, include limiting meetings and social events to the lesser of 25 people or 25% of overall room capacity and closing bars and casinos at 11 p.m. The restrictions follow three straight days of a positive test rate of 8% or higher. Illinois’ current statewide average is 4.1%. The restrictions apply to seven counties including Madison and St. Clair. – Associated Press

Illinois County Tables Decision To Keep Jail’s ICE Contract

WOODSTOCK, Ill. (AP) — A county board has tabled a decision on whether a northern Illinois jail will continuing its agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain immigrants. The contract with ICE has been around since 2004, though the board hasn’t looked at it since 2014. The agreement has brought in an average of $6.8 million a year for the last three years, according to the Northwest Herald. The resolution will come up again at the McHenry County Board’s Sept. 15 meeting after it was tabled at a recent meeting. Board member Carlos Acosta said profiting off immigration detention has made him uneasy. Activists have also expressed concerns about the treatment of detainees. However, others are worried about the loss of revenue. A committee has already rejected the resolution. A message left Sunday for an ICE spokeswoman wasn’t immediately returned. – Associated Press

Illinois State Museum’s Suburban Chicago Gallery To Reopen

LOCKPORT, Ill. (AP) — An Illinois State Museum gallery closed due to the coronavirus pandemic will reopen this month. Museum officials said the Lockport Gallery is set to reopen on Wednesday. The gallery will be open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Visitors are encouraged to use the state museum website to register in advance. Anyone visiting will have a health screening before they enter the gallery. People older than two must wear a face covering. Exhibits include Surplus Scrap. All of the art pieces included in the exhibit are made from material salvaged after a fire in 2017 at the abandoned Joliet Prison. – Associated Press

Illinois Democrats Meet Virtually For DNC As Corruption Questions Surround Their Chairman

The Democratic National Convention that begins Monday is taking on a different look this year as thousands of delegates from across the country are meeting remotely rather than in Milwaukee to avoid the spread of COVID-19. For Illinois Democrats, the convention arrives as the chairman of the state party, Michael Madigan, is facing calls from inside his own party to step aside. Those calls have been coming for the past month after Commonwealth Edison admitted it handed out jobs and contracts to gain favor with Madigan, who is also the longest-serving House Speaker of any chamber in the country. Madigan has not been charged with any crimes, and he’s denied wrongdoing. However, the office of U.S. Attorney John Lausch issued a subpoena to the Speaker’s office last month seeking documents and communication with ComEd officials, in addition to AT&T Illinois, Walgreens and Rush University Medical Center. Meanwhile, four Illinois lawmakers have been charged in the past year, from receiving payments for not doing any work to taking bribes to accepting bribes to tax fraud. 

Will Democrats address the investigation into Madigan this week?

Madigan denies wrongdoing, and he’s not been charged. But he has still faced calls to step aside as Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives and as chairman of Democratic Party of Illinois. The gradual calls for Madigan to resign eventually led to Madigan admitting he surveyed his fellow Democrats to see if he had the votes to stay in power. He concluded that he did, and he has so far refused to step down. That has prompted frequent questions of Democrats as to whether they are with him or against him — much to their chagrin. – Tony Arnold, WBEZ

News Around Illinois – Aug. 14, 2020

Longtime Illinois State Senator Hit With Federal Tax Charge

CHICAGO (AP) — Longtime state Sen. Terry Link was charged in federal court Thursday with filing a false tax return, the latest Illinois lawmaker to face public corruption charges. Link reported an income of $264,450 in 2016 when the “defendant knew that the total income substantially exceeded that amount,” according to the single-page charging document. Often, those charged in these type of filings, called informations, go on to enter plea deals with prosecutors. Link, 73, did not return messages seeking comment.  The Democrat, whose district covers suburbs north of Chicago, first took office in 1997 and eventually became assistant majority leader. He serves on the Legislative Ethics Commission and is chair of the Lake County Democratic Party. Over the years, he has often championed gambling legislation. The charge comes after several other state lawmakers were charged as a result of the federal government’s ongoing criminal investigations into public corruption. – Sophia Tareen, Associated Press

Illinois Meatpacking Plant Sued After COVID-19 Death

NORTH AURORA, Ill. (AP) — The family of a suburban Chicago woman who died of complications related to COVID-19 has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against a meatpacking plant where her husband worked and contracted the virus. The family of Esperanza Ugalde alleges in their lawsuit that Aurora Packing Co. in North Aurora failed to take steps to limit the spread of the coronavirus, the Aurora Beacon-News reported. They also said the company failed to warn employees after it became aware that other employees at the plant were infected. The lawsuit filed in Kane County Circuit Court contends that Ricardo Ugalde, who was a butcher at the plant for 35 years, contracted the virus in late April and that his wife contracted it a short time later and died May 2 at the age of 67. The company did not immediately return a call from The Associated Press on Friday but its website notes that it has “taken a proactive approach to minimize the health risk of spreading the virus.” – Associated Press

Illinois Man Gets 60 Years For Sex With Child Who Got HIV

ROCKFORD, Ill. (AP) — A northern Illinois man who pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a child who later tested positive for HIV has been sentenced to 60 years in prison. Stephen Grimes, 33, was sentenced Tuesday by a Winnebago County Circuit Court judge, who specified that the Rockford man must serve at least 51 years before he is eligible for parole. Rockford police were informed in May 2019 of the possible abuse when a local medical office reported that a child had tested positive for HIV. Grimes was later identified as the prime suspect. According to the Winnebago County State’s Attorney’s Office, Grimes admitted to the sexual abuse. He pleaded guilty in June to criminal sexual assault of a child, criminal sexual assault and criminal transmission of HIV. – Associated Press

COVID Testing At IWU Reveals 4 Positives; Lower Positivity Rate Than County

Four Illinois Wesleyan University students tested positive for the coronavirus when they returned to campus for the start of the school year. As part of IWU’s plans for a mix of in-person and online instruction during the fall semester, it required all students to get tested for the virus upon their arrival. The university said the four positive cases came from 709 tests administered to students, indicating a positivity rate of 0.56%. McLean County’s seven-day positivity rate currently stands at 1.9%. The positivity rate for Illinois’ Region 2, which includes McLean and much of west-central Illinois, stood at 5.5% as of Monday. IWU officials said three of the students are on-campus residents and one lives off-campus. Each has been sent home to isolate. None of the students displayed COVID-19 symptoms. In a news release fromKarla Carney-Hall, IWU’s dean of students, and Interim Executive Director of Health and Counseling Vickie Folse, the university said it plans to test about 750 more students upon their arrival on campus. They said ongoing surveillance testing will be conducted throughout the semester. – Eric Stock, WGLT

News Around Illinois – Aug. 13, 2020

Prosecutors Charge 3 With Threatening Women In R. Kelly Case

NEW YORK (AP) — Federal prosecutors announced charges Wednesday against three men accused of threatening and intimidating women who have accused R&B singer R. Kelly of abuse, including one man suspected of setting fire to a vehicle in Florida. A longtime friend of the indicted singer offered to pay a victim $500,000 to keep her from cooperating in Kelly’s prosecution, authorities said, while a manager and adviser of Kelly threatened to release sexually explicit photographs of a woman who sued Kelly. A Kelly defense attorney said he had “no involvement whatsoever” in any attempt to silence witnesses. Also charged were two Illinois men with ties to Kelly. His longtime friend, Richard Arline Jr., 31, is accused of offering to pay off a woman he believed had “too much” incriminating information against Kelly. Authorities said they set up a wiretap and recorded a call in which Arline claimed he had spoken with Kelly behind bars during a three-way call. Donnell Russell, 45, of Chicago, is charged with harassing a Kelly victim and her mother after the unidentified woman filed a lawsuit against Kelly. Authorities said Russell, a manager and adviser to Kelly, sent a letter to the woman’s lawyer with cropped nude photographs of her and later sent her a text warning her: “Pull the plug or you will be exposed.” It was not immediately clear whether Russell and Arline had attorneys who could comment on the charges. – Jim Mustian, Associated Press

Illinois County Clerks Raise Concerns Over Running November Election

Illinois election officials are raising concerns over pulling off the November election, given the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Among those concerns is the ability to find enough younger, able-bodied poll workers. According to data from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, 58% of poll workers in the 2018 general election were over age 60. U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, a Republican from Taylorville, said that poses safety concerns. That’s a problem, Davis said, because many Americans still prefer to vote in-person, despite vote-by-mail efforts implemented in Illinois this year. Davis said one solution is to offer student loan reimbursement to those who volunteer at a local polling place. Davis introduced the Emergency Assistance for Safe Elections (EASE) Act, a Republican counter plan to the House Democrats’ HEROES Act. Included in the bill is $100 million for student loan reimbursement and recruitment efforts. Staffing isn’t the only challenge local election officials are facing. Sangamon County Clerk Don Gray said the vote-by-mail application mandate is running up costs on paper and postage for an office that already operates on thin margins. There also are concerns that vote-by-mail applications and ballots could overwhelm local election offices—as well as the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). – Dana Vollmer, WCBU

Airport Traffic Improvement Amid Uncertainty

It’s hard for airlines to plan what flights to keep or drop right now. Not only has the pandemic cut off most airline traffic, the passengers who do fly are playing it tight. Fran Strebing, the deputy director of the Central Illinois Regional Airport (CIRA), told Bloomington-Normal Airport Authority board members Tuesday night that vacationers are waiting until the last minute to buy tickets. “The airlines are struggling to control capacity and trying to determine what to put back in and take back out based on very little advance purchase,” said Strebing. Those decisions are more important now, when overall passenger traffic is so low. Strebing said the Bloomington airport did have a small increase in traffic in July. A lot of the progress continues to be flights to Florida. But Strebing said the improvement is relative to the previous month, not the same month last year before the pandemic. – Charlie Schlenker, WGLT

2 Boys Who Drowned In Illinois River ID’d As Young Brothers

BEARDSTOWN, Ill. (AP) — Two boys who drowned last week in central Illinois after being swept into the Illinois River have been identified as brothers. Briston M. Dunmire, 15, and Jorden L. Dunmire, 12, both of Beardstown, died Sunday and preliminary results suggest they drowned, Scott Lummis, the Cass County death examiner announced Tuesday. The siblings were playing in shallow water along the river’s edge on the evening of Aug. 6 near downtown Beardstown when they apparently wandered too far from the bank, became caught in the current and vanished, The State Journal-Register reported. – Associated Press

Urbana Residents To Vote On Township Property Tax

Urbana City Council members are putting a township property tax referendum on the November 3rd ballot. Council members, who also serve as the Cunningham Town Board, voted 7-0 Wednesday night to ask voters if they want to raise the tax levy to support public assistance programs. Cunningham Township covers the same territory as the city of Urbana. Township supervisor Danielle Chynoweth says the town board cut the township tax levy in 2015, when the previous supervisor, Michelle Mayol, reduced the number of people receiving aid. Chynoweth says her office is helping more households today, but will have to cut back without more revenue. The tax levy increase proposed in the referendum would add an estimated $36 a year to the tax bill on a $100 thousand home in Urbana. Chynoweth says that nearly matches what the tax bill would have been with a five-percent increase for each of the last five years. – Jim Meadows, Illinois Newsroom

News Around Illinois – Aug. 12, 2020

Wind Knocks Down Wall Of Fire-Gutted Historic Chicago Church

CHICAGO (AP) — Strong winds caused additional damage to a historic Chicago church but may have also swept in a badly needed “blessing” for a sanctuary where Mahalia Jackson and other famed gospel singers often sang and the man considered the father of gospel music led the choir. Winds that reached nearly 100 mph knocked down the south wall of the fire-damaged Pilgram Baptist Church in northeast Illinois on Monday. Two walls, made of limestone and braced by metal beams, remain intact. The building has been a shell since January 2006, when it was gutted by fire. The building, constructed in 1890 as a synagogue and converted to a Christian church in the 1920s, was designed by the famous architectural firm headed by Louis Sullivan and his partner. It’s the church where Thomas A. Dorsey perfected his cross of the blues with the sacred music into a sound that became gospel music. – Associated Press

Tax Referendum Sought For Public Aid Programs In Urbana

Voters in Urbana could be asked to approve a property tax increase, to keep assistance at current levels for low-income households. Urbana City Council members, in their second role as the Cunningham Town Board, will vote on placing the proposal on the November ballot at their meeting Wednesday night. Township Supervisor Danielle Chynoweth says the increase would add about $36 to the annual property tax on a $100 thousand home in Urbana. She says the revenue raised would go entirely to support “laid-off workers, disabled residents, families facing evictions and homeless residents to be housed and safe.” Chynoweth says the previous supervisor, Michelle Mayol, who served during 2013-2017, cut both the township property tax rate and number of people getting aid. Since taking office in 2017, Chynoweth says she’s helping more people, but has had to spend down township reserves to do so. If the property tax increase is not approved by Urbana voters, Chynoweth says she’ll have to make cuts as well. Urbana City Council members will meet as the Cunningham Town Board Wednesday at 8 p.m., following their 6:30 p.m. council meeting. – Jim Meadows, Illinois Newsroom

State Supreme Court Consolidates Lawsuits On Pritzker Orders

CHICAGO (AP) — The Illinois Supreme Court declined to take on a downstate legal battle over Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s coronavirus-related orders on Tuesday, moving the case to Sangamon County and consolidating it with a similar challenge. The decision comes as the first-term Democrat was expected in a Clay County courtroom this week after a judge rule d Pritzker exceeded his authority in issuing orders aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19. Pritzker’s orders have faced several legal challenges, which courts have mostly upheld. But in Clay County, Republican Rep. Darren Bailey of Xenia sued over the restrictions, claiming Pritzker exceeded his authority under state statutes. Judge Michael McHaney ruled in his favor last month. – Sophia Tareen, Associated Press

State Panel Approves Gov. JB Pritzker’s New Fines For Businesses That Don’t Enforce Mask Mandate

A state panel Tuesday sided with Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker in his fight against COVID-19 by approving a rule that could mean fines of up to $2,500 for “rogue” businesses that don’t require patrons wear facial coverings. The measure was opposed by the GOP and some leading business groups but favored by several influential public health organizations, including the Illinois State Medical Society and the Illinois Health and Hospital Association. The new rule still leaves a patchwork of enforcement standards statewide, because local prosecutors will be the ones deciding whether to pursue fines. Several who opposed the governor’s pandemic response went on record last spring saying they wouldn’t pursue fines for violators. – Dave McKinney and Tony Arnold, WBEZ

ISU Reports COVID-19 Case Tied To Residence Hall

An Illinois State University student in a residence hall has tested positive for COVID-19, a university spokesperson said Tuesday. ISU declined to identify in which residence hall the student was living, or when and where the student was tested. The person who tested positive has left the university for a temporary time to recover, said ISU spokesperson Eric Jome. ISU’s residence halls are open this fall, despite most classes being online. Additional dorm precautions include required face coverings (within common areas) and limited guests. Move-in has been underway since Aug. 7 at ISU’s residence halls and university-owned apartments. The extended move-in period is part of the university’s COVID-19 response. – Charlie Schlenker and Ryan Denham, WGLT

OSF HealthCare Dedicates Knoxville Avenue Facility

A former grocery store on Knoxville Avenue (in Peoria) has been transformed into a new medical facility that will start welcoming patients later this month. OSF HealthCare held a blessing and dedication ceremony Tuesday for the new Center for Health in what used to be a Cub Foods. OSF purchased the building in late 2018 and spent a 1 1/2 years transforming it into the medical facility. The building will be home to offices dedicated to endocrinology and diabetes, rheumatology, and infectious diseases, and Heartland Clinic, laboratory services and a retail pharmacy. The University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria (UICOMP) Pediatric Resource Center and University Pediatrics also will move into the new space. – Dan Musisi and Joe Deacon, WCBU

News Around Illinois – Aug. 11, 2020

Officials: Beach Crowds Make It Hard To Social Distance

WAUKEGAN, Ill. (AP) — Social distancing is becoming a problem at Illinois beaches as large crowds flock there during the pandemic, officials said. Visitation guidelines have been changed at some Lake County beaches to accommodate visitors, some of whom are from Chicago, where beaches remain closed. Bob Feffer, who has been a site manager at Illinois Beach State Park for 32 years, said he has not seen crowds like the ones during the weekends in July. The state park had about 15,000 visitors on July 25 and 26, the Lake County News-Sun reported. “There were just too many people for social distancing to take place,” Feffer said. “Most of the people came from Chicago. Their beaches aren’t open, so they came here.” The beach is no longer open on the weekends but only during the weekdays from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. David Motley, Waukegan’s director of marketing and public relations, said larger crowds were expected because people have been staying mostly indoors since March. – Associated Press

Lawsuit: Illinois Expanded Mail Voting Is Partisan ‘Scheme’

CHICAGO (AP) — Chicago-area Republicans filed a federal lawsuit Monday alleging Illinois’ expanded vote-by-mail program is a “partisan scheme” to help Democrats get votes and could open the door to election fraud. The lawsuit is the latest GOP effort to curb mail-in voting, which President Donald Trump has called flawed and the greatest threat to his reelection. Though several states rely exclusively on mail-in ballots and fraud related to it is rare, it’s a complicated endeavor that more states are taking on during the coronavirus pandemic. At issue are changes to Illinois’ vote-by-mail program that Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed in June to limit Election Day crowds at the polls. Among other things, it sends vote-by-mail applications to millions of Illinois residents who voted in elections since 2018, makes Nov. 3 a government and school holiday and allows local election authorities to establish secure drop-boxes for collecting ballots. The lawsuit argues the law allows for so-called “vote harvesting,” or the practice of third parties rounding up absentee ballots. The alleged scheme would let those with Election Day off, including Democratic-leaning union employees such as teachers, to collect ballots and “dilute the votes of the Republican Party.” – Sophia Tareen, Associated Press

Effort To Help Area Nonprofits Filled A Need

When the pandemic hit this spring, there were immediate concerns over the basic needs of people and how to make sure those were being met. A joint effort between the Community Foundation for the Land of Lincoln and United Way of Central Illinois came through in a big way. The COVID-19 Response Fund, launched in March, wound up awarding nearly $1 million to 85 organizations as of July. “It was a remarkable thing in my mind, especially in the speed in which money came in and went out,” said John Stremsterfer, the Community Foundation President and CEO. “It wasn’t the measured approach we often take with grant proposals, but I think it was the right approach.” Groups that address food insecurity, health care, housing and more benefitted. Nonprofits like the Central Illinois Foodbank, Contact Ministries and others in Sangamon and surrounding counties received help. “There was particular focus on communities of color that were disproportionately affected,” Stremsterfer said. He said the awarding of grants is complete for now, although a portion of money was retained in the event the fund needs to be tapped again due to a resurgence of COVID-19. – Sean Crawford, WUIS

ISU Random Coronavirus Testing To Cost Up To $3.3 Million

The Illinois State University administration has asked the board of trustees to approve spending up to $3.3 million for coronavirus surveillance testing of students on campus through the end of the year. Trustees will consider the proposal at a special meeting on Wednesday. The cost per test would be $110. The university said it anticipates conducting about 1,500 tests each week through Pekin-based Reditus Labs that said it provides capacity to test up to 500 per day. Testing will be completed at multiple on-campus locations, if approved by the board. Health experts have said surveillance testing is useful to detect transmission hot spots, or better define disease trends. Provost Aondover Tarhule told WGLT last week the goal is to test 3% of the student population on a regular basis. That would be about 600 students from a regular-year student census of about 20,000 people. – Charlie Schlenker, WGLT

News Around Illinois – Aug. 10, 2020

Police Say They Arrested More Than 100 People During Mag Mile Looting

Hundreds of people smashed windows, stole from stores and clashed with police early Monday in Chicago’s upscale Magnificent Mile shopping district and other parts of the city. “We are waking up in shock this morning,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said at a Monday morning press conference with Police Superintendent David Brown. The mayor condemned the looting, saying “what happened in our city last night and this morning of course is deeply painful for every Chicagoan.” Last night’s lootings come months after downtown businesses were hit during protests against police brutality following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Lightfoot said the recent lootings were “brazen and extensive criminal destruction” that were not connected to peaceful demonstrations. “This is not legitimate 1st Amendment-protected speech. These were not poor people engaging in petty theft to feed themselves and their families,” Lightfoot said. “This was straight up-felony, criminal conduct.” At one point, shots were fired at police and officers returned fire. Thirteen officers were injured, but none in the shooting, police said. Many of the businesses that were ransacked had recently opened after Chicago protests of Floyd’s May 25 death in Minneapolis devolved into chaos. Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown said protests and looting were driven by misinformation following a police shooting Sunday in which officers wounded a 20-year-old man in Englewood. Brown said police opened fire after the man shot at police during a foot chase. Immediately following the shooting, it was rumored the person shot by police was 15-years-old. – Hunter Clauss, Patrick Smith, WBEZ. Additional reporting from Associated Press.

Davis Says Capitol Hill Is Overdue For COVID-19 Testing Program

Illinois Congressman Rodney Davis says Congress is overdue to have its own comprehensive COVID-19 testing program, like the one at the White House. The Republican Davis is currently quarantining at his home in Taylorville after testing positive for the coronavirus last week. He accuses Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of stonewalling a testing program, although Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has opposed it as well. Congressional leaders in both parties have turned down past offers of testing supplies, saying they didn’t want Congress to cut ahead of frontline workers when supplies were short. Davis says a testing program is really needed for the 20,000 or so Capitol Hill employees, many of whom must continue working at the Capitol, even when members of Congress are back at home. The 13th District lawmaker says there may now be movement to launch a testing program at the Capitol, but says it should have happened much earlier. – Jim Meadows, Illinois Newsroom

Springfield’s Douglas Park Could Be Renamed For Douglass

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — A Springfield Park Board member is proposing a name change for the city’s Douglas Park, named for the legendary U.S. senator from Illinois, Stephen Douglas, whom research has shown profited from slavery. Lisa Badger tells The (Springfield) State Journal-Register that she will ask the board to rename the northwest-side green space for Frederick Douglass, the 19th Century Black scholar and abolitionist. “It’s just the right thing to do,” Badger said. “A lot of people have woken up to how these landmarks make people feel, and I don’t feel as though we should celebrate people who are offensive to anyone.” – Associated Press

Some Illinois Community Colleges See Summer Enrollment Boost

CHICAGO (AP) — Some community colleges in Illinois have seen an increase in student enrollment over the summer, but officials are waiting to see if that will continue in the fall. College of Lake County, Harper College and the College of DuPage have all reported higher enrollment numbers, the Chicago Tribune reported. New student applications have increased by 4% from last year at DuPage, President Brian Caputo said. He said lower tuition prices could be at play. “We’re certainly optimistic that there will be some sort of bump, but we’re also realistic in that there’s a lot of different variables going on,” Caputo said. Some families have decided to send their children to two-year colleges since most universities expect students to pay the same price for virtual instruction that they would for in-person classes. – Associated Press

Extensive Rehab Project Underway At Peoria Lock And Dam

The Peoria-area’s historic link in the supply chain is getting some much-needed upgrades. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers closed the Peoria Lock and Dam on the Illinois River in late June for a summer-long dewatering and maintenance project that is expected to be finished in October. During a tour of the Creve Couer complex last week, Rock Island District commander Col. Steve Sattinger said the project will help keep river traffic moving effectively. “The work we’re doing now really allows us to reassure the industry that the system is reliable,” said Sattinger. “We should get great service out of the parts we’re installing, out of the work we’re doing for 25 more years.” Crews are replacing miter gate anchorages, installing a compressed-air bubbler system, and rehabilitating hydraulic cylinders. Sattinger said all that work required the lock to be drained. The Peoria Lock and Dam was built in 1939 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The last dewatering occurred more than three decades ago in 1987. – Joe Deacon, WCBU

News Around Illinois – Aug. 7, 2020

City Colleges Of Chicago Faculty And Staff Threaten Strike Over COVID-19 Safety Concerns

Faculty and staff at City Colleges of Chicago are threatening to strike after accusing the administration of failing to ensure a safe work environment for employees required to return in-person during the COVID-19 pandemic. Leaders of the unions representing faculty, clerical staff and adult educators allege the reopening plans at each of the seven colleges in the community college system are insufficient and have not been implemented well. Staff from multiple colleges said at a press conference Thursday that since the schools reopened Monday there hasn’t been routine sanitization, little to no mask enforcement or proper social distancing guidelines. On Tuesday, staff were also alerted a security officer at Olive Harvey College on the Far South Side tested positive for COVID-19. He was last on campus on July 29. The unions are demanding clerical and student services employees return to remote work as they have done since the beginning of pandemic. They also want the Chicago City Council’s education committee to hold hearings on the community college reopening plans, which City Colleges released last month. – Kate McGee, WBEZ

Springfield Names May 31 BLM Solidarity Day, Requires Anti-Racism Training For Employees

The Springfield City Council approved an anti-racism, anti-violence and anti-hatred resolution Wednesday night that would name May 31 as BLM Solidarity Day in honor of the recent Black Lives Matter demonstrations. The resolution also requires anti-racism and cultural competency training for all city staff, commissioners and contractors, and encourages investment in wards 2 and 3, changes suggested last week by Ward 3 Ald. Doris Turner. Despite last-minute amendments proposed by Mayor Jim Langfelder and the NAACP, the council voted in favor of the version discussed last week. Eight of 10 city council members had signed on co-sponsors. – Mary Hansen, WUIS

New Food Map Helps Illinoisans Find Nearby Food Sources

The University of Illinois Extension is launching a community food map on its website so people can find nearby food sources. U of I Extension SNAP-Ed Specialist Caitlin Kownacki called it a “one-stop shop.” Kownacki said more than 2 million Illinoisans rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for food and that’s especially true now because of COVID-19. Still, she said, the website is for everyone. By entering your zip code, you will find nearby food pantries, school and summer sites, farmers markets, even roadside farm stands. The site includes educational opportunites and information about transportation. And it quickly guides people to the places that accept SNAP, LINK, WIC and senior food benefits. To find nearby food sources, click here. – Connie Kuntz, WNIJ

Attorney Helps Students Navigate Housing Options After ISU Shifts To Mostly Online

An attorney representing students at Illinois State University said he expects to get plenty of questions about off-campus lease agreements from students now that the university is moving to mostly online instruction this fall. Ed McKibbin is the students’ attorney in the Dean of Students Office. He said his office has been getting calls from students who don’t want to move back to campus now. – Eric Stock, WGLT

Former WEEK-TV Reporter Denise Jackson Running For 1st District Council Seat

Former Peoria TV reporter Denise Jackson is running for the 1st District City Council seat. Jackson announced her candidacy Thursday on Western Avenue. She said South Side residents were once again told to wait this year on a major revitalization project for the once-bustling corridor first–a plan promised six years ago–while road projects on War Memorial Drive and other thoroughfares to the north moved forward. Jackson, the first vice president of Southside Community United for Change, said the city blamed the delay on the COVID-19 pandemic. – Tim Shelly, WCBU

COVID-19 Cases Rising in Downstate Illinois

Cases of COVID-19 are on the rise in Illinois, leading Gov. J.B. Pritzker to say some regions of the state could be facing new restrictions on bars and restaurants. That could mean a rolling back of the state allowing indoor dining. Pritzker pointed to a pair new statewide COVID-19 infection trends: the largest number of new cases are occurring in young people, especially those in their twenties, and among people located downstate. His concerns were echoed by state Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike, who says the number of cases statewide is trending upward, and positivity rates have increased throughout the state. The numbers still aren’t as high as they were in April and May. But Ezike says wearing masks and keeping a distance from others would help reduce the trend. – Maureen Foertsch McKinney, WUIS

News Around Illinois – Aug. 6, 2020

Treasurer Reports Record Return Of Unclaimed Property

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — The Illinois treasurer’s office on Wednesday announced it has returned a billion dollars of unclaimed property to rightful owners or their survivors in the past five years. Treasurer Michael Frerichs on Wednesday said the amount set a record for any five-year period in the 58 years his office has made the returning of property in state custody to owners a priority. The property targeted for return can include inactive back accounts, unpaid insurance benefits, or the contents of abandoned safe deposit boxes. Frerichs’ office said among the unclaimed property passed on to rightful owners was $19,000 from The (Richard) Pryor Foundation for the Carver Community Center in Peoria the late comedian spent time at as a youth. There was also the $2 million left to various Chicago-area charities by a World War II Army veteran who never married. All of the veteran’s relatives died before him, leaving the money unnoticed in an investment account. – Associated Press

Inmate In Southern Illinois U.S. Prison Dies Of COVID-19

MARION, Ill. (AP) — An inmate at the Federal Bureau of Prisons facility in the southern Illinois city of Marion has died of complications from COVID-19, the agency revealed Wednesday. The Bureau of Prisons said Earl James, 65, died Sunday after testing positive for the virus on July 22. Prison officials did not say why James, a Native American, was incarcerated at the prison or give his home town. As of Wednesday, the Marion facility had 84 inmates and four staff members with active cases of COVID-19. The facility houses about 1,262 inmates. – Associated Press

ComEd Pleads Not Guilty In Alleged Influence-Peddling Scheme

CHICAGO (AP) — Energy utility ComEd pleaded not guilty to bribery at an arraignment Wednesday despite previously admitting wrongdoing in an influence-peddling scheme that also threatens to ensnare Illinois’ most powerful Democrat, state House Speaker Michael Madigan. The not-guilty plea comes after the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago unsealed a deferred prosecution agreement with ComEd in July that revealed the existence of a far-reaching bribery investigation. The plea doesn’t mean the company is now saying it did nothing wrong. Much of the speculation in recent weeks has been on disclosures in the ComEd deal that Madigan, the nation’s longest-serving statehouse speaker, was a prime investigative subject. Madigan has not been charged and has denied any wrongdoing. – Michael Tarm, Associated Press

Illinois Rental Assistance Program To Launch Next Week

Illinois will launch a new rental assistance program that could help approximately 30,000 tenants struggling to keep a roof over their heads, according to the Illinois Housing Development Authority. IHDA is opening online applications Monday for $5,000 grants to catch up on payments since March or cover payments through December. Applications will be accepted between August 10 and 21, but Kristin Faust, executive director of the state agency, encourages people to apply next week. – Mary Hansen, WUIS

How The Pandemic Caused Illinoisans To Pack On The Pounds

Weight gain is becoming an increasingly prominent issue as people spend more time indoors due to the pandemic. It goes by many names. The “Quarantine 15.” “Pandemic pounds.” Time in isolation and fewer opportunities for exercise have expanded area waistlines. Audra Wilson is a clinical dietician at Delnor Hospital in Geneva. She said some of this can be attributed to eating more. This is particularly true for people who may have gotten their meals from elsewhere. The pandemic has also limited certain activities, which Wilson said can hit some groups particularly hard. – Chase Cavanaugh, WNIJ

Donath To Retire As Bloomington Police Chief

Bloomington Police Chief Dan Donath has announced his retirement, less than one year after he took over the department he served for 26 years. “After careful consideration, I’ve decided it’s time to close this chapter of my life and start to write the next,” Donath said in a news release. “Police work is a very rewarding and a very demanding profession. In retirement, I look forward to spending more time with my family and focusing on those moments in life that you just can’t get back.” City Manager Tim Gleason has named assistant chief Greg Scott interim police chief on Sept. 1, when Donath’s retirement takes effect. – Eric Stock, WGLT

Peoria To Get $1.4M In CARES Act Funding

The City of Peoria Council will receive $1.4 million in federal assistance to help small businesses adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. An additional $400,000 has been awarded to the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council. The U.S Commerce Department announced the CARES Act Recovery Assistance grants on Wednesday. The federal money for Peoria is aimed at assisting business owners as they work to rebound from financial instability. The aid will be dispersed through a revolving loan fund. The Commerce Department announced a total of $11.5 million in awards to agencies and EDCs across Illinois. – Joe Deacon, WCBU

News Around Illinois – Aug. 5, 2020

As COVID-19 Cases Rise, Chicago Public Schools To Start Remotely

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot confirmed Wednesday morning that the city’s public school district will hold the first quarter of next year, until Nov. 8, with remote learning only. Lightfoot and the school district are holding out hope that the second quarter can have hybrid learning with most students in school at least two a week. The school district had released a preliminary plan last month that called for a mix of in-person and remote learning for most students. The reversal comes as pressure was building by the Chicago Teachers Union to go all remote and as COVID-19 cases are on the rise in Chicago. Lightfoot did not cite CTU as part of her decision-making process. – Sarah Karp, WBEZ

HSHS Laying Off Workers Due To Pandemic

The Hospital Sisters Health System has announced it is cutting about ten percent of its workforce in Illinois and Wisconsin. The system operates St. John’s Hospital in Springfield and St. Mary’s in Decatur, along with other facilities. Earlier, HSHS issued furloughs and cut executive pay because of a drop in patients seeking elective procedures during the pandemic. Many of those on furlough are being called back, but a written statement from HSHS says the newly announced layoffs are being done “to provide the best chance for a strong, stable future.” The system said a majority of those impacted are non-clinical workers. The number of those affected in central Illinois was not made available. – Sean Crawford, WUIS

Domestic Violence Calls Surge After Stay-At-Home Order Lifts

Franny Cole’s now-estranged husband had been emotionally abusive and financially controlling. She thinks sometimes about what might have happened had she not gathered the strength to leave prior to the coronavirus pandemic. Her sense that Illinois’ stay-at-home order — between March 21 and the end of May – would create stressors pushing abusers to the boiling point is accurate, say advocates of survivors of domestic abuse. Calls to Illinois’ domestic violence hotline were up 17 percent compared to last year during the same March 21 to May 29 period. Normally, from one year to the next, calls hold steady, said Olivia Farrell with The Network: Advocating Against Domestic Violence. The Network runs the hotline in partnership with the city of Chicago’s Department of Family and Support Services. The pace of calls has been even greater since the stay-at-home order was lifted. Between the time the order ended and July 27 calls were up 32 percent from the previous year. Meanwhile, texted messages grew by almost 2,000 percent during the stay-at-home period. Since then, there’s been a more than 3,000 percent increase over the same time last year. The incidence of domestic violence was driven in part by a volatile mix: seclusion, fear of COVID-19 and, for many, loss of employment, Farrell said. “Folks in these isolated situations, and these additional stressors really just lead to increased incidents of domestic violence.” – Maureen Foertsch McKinney, WUIS

Jail COVID Outbreak Raises Concerns About Crowding

The crowding of the McLean County Jail, and its relationship to a COVID-19 outbreak there, took center stage at Tuesday’s county board justice committee meeting. On July 29, the jail reported its first COVID case. By Tuesday, that had grown to five cases, three of which are inmates. At the start of the meeting, livestreamed on YouTube, more than a dozen submitted public comments were read to the committee. Every statement, required to be 5 minutes or less, strongly criticized McLean County Sheriff Jon Sandage’s handling of the pandemic in the jail. But he and States Attorney Don Knapp doubled down on the argument that Gov. JB Pritzker and the state’s continued refusal to take 43 prison-bound inmates from the county jail is to blame. Early Tuesday, following a court ruling that the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) must take the inmates, McLean County jail staff drove 36 prisoners to Stateville Correctional Center near Joliet. But the majority were turned away, said Sandage. Only three were permitted entry. – Michele Steinbacher, WCBU

Rockford ‘Back The Blue’ Rally Met With Protest

Tensions escalated during a “Back the Blue” rally held Saturday on the west side of Rockford. In all, 17 protesters were arrested at that and other events over the weekend. The rally drew hundreds of law enforcement supporters to the Winnebago County Criminal Justice Center. Dozens of counter protesters also gathered to disrupt the rally. Before the event started, there was already a kind of confrontation between the protestors and police. In part, because protesters weren’t let into the “Back the Blue” rally and it wasn’t clear where they were allowed to go. Over a loudspeaker, police warned counterprotesters that they would be arrested if they did not leave the parking lot of the Criminal Justice Center. One officer finally clarified that there was an area set up across the street. Both sides were cordoned off by a plastic netting and had around 20 officers between them. – Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco, WNIJ

News Around Illinois – Aug. 4, 2020

Crews Rescue Ostrich Injured In Fall Into Illinois Ravine

O’FALLON, Ill. (AP) — An ostrich that escaped from a southwestern Illinois farm was rescued after the 300-pound (136-kilogram) bird fell into a ravine and was injured, fire officials said. A veterinarian tranquilized the ostrich before four members of a fire rescue crew entered the ravine near O’Fallon and strapped the bird to a board before it was hauled from the ravine Monday evening using a pulley system. O’Fallon Fire Chief Brad White said the ostrich had fallen about 15 feet (4.6 meters) into the ravine and suffered a long neck laceration that caused it to lose “a good amount” of blood. After its rescue, the ostrich was treated by the veterinarian and returned to its owners at a nearby farm, White told the Belleville News-Democrat. The bird’s owners have about a dozen ostriches that they raise as meat for people who have Lyme disease and cannot consume red meat, he said. – Associated Press

Utility Costs To Soon Catch Up With Consumers Due To COVID-19

The looming end to a statewide rent moratorium is not the only thing sparking financial fear. A ban on utility shutoffs can’t last forever—and a lot of renters and homeowners are behind on their bills. When pandemic fears ramped up in mid-March and Gov. JB Pritzker implemented his first shelter-in-place executive order, the state told utility companies they couldn’t turn off someone’s water or electricity, nor could they charge late penalties. That doesn’t mean utility bills went away. Town of Normal Water Director John Burkhart said unpaid or partially-paid bills are stacking up. “At some point in time, that balance will need to be paid in full, or it will incur costs from the late fees and penalties again, and it could be subject to a shutoff,” he said. When the moratorium ends, it will affect a lot of people. Burkhart said a recent snapshot of delinquent accounts showed nearly 1,000 Normal households are behind on their payments. He said that number is usually closer to 400 or 500. – Dana Vollmer, WGLT

Winnebago County State’s Attorney Says Rep. John Cabello’s Comment Unacceptable

Over the weekend, State Representative John Cabello replied to a Facebook user who asked him if, “now is it time to lock and load? Asking for a friend.” Cabello replied to the comment by saying, “not yet but be ready.” Winnebago State’s Attorney Marilyn Hite-Ross said in a press release that the representative’s rhetoric is unacceptable. She said that, “In my office, if anyone made comments of that nature, they would no longer be employed by my office.” Cabello released a statement on Facebook saying that his comment had been misconstrued. Cabello has served as a police officer and detective. – Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco, WNIJ

Asian Carp Could Play A Role In Tackling Food Insecurity

Food insecurity and the invasive Asian carp are two familiar, longstanding issues for Peoria. But a new stakeholder group believes they’ve discovered a way to use one problem to solve another. The idea of serving Asian carp from the Illinois River at the dinner table isn’t a new one, but previous efforts to convince people to chow down on the fish have floundered. A group of community stakeholders is trying a new approach. They see an opportunity to partner up the new Midwest Fishing Co-op targeting the invasive fish with groups combating food insecurity. “We want to provide them with a fresh, good-tasting product which is very healthy, very high in the Omegas. It has high in protein, and it has a very high iron content,” said East Peoria businessman Roy Sorce, whose facility on the Illinois River’s banks forms a central component of the new Co-op’s supply chain. Sorce recently received approval to quickly freeze harvested fish from the river for shipment to processing facilities. The minced, still-frozen fish are then returned to his business for storage and sale. The co-op is expected to harvest up to 15 tons of Asian carp from the Illinois River each year, stretching from Starved Rock State Park in the north to Peoria in the south. – Tim Shelley, WCBU

East Peoria’s Annual ‘White Trash Bash’ Garners National Headlines Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and record single-day counts of new cases, hundreds of people gathered along the East Peoria riverfront last Saturday for the annual “White Trash Bash.” Photos of the gathering, as well as local media reporting from the scene, show an absence of face coverings or social distancing that public health officials emphasize are the best ways to prevent spread of the coronavirus. Just last week, Gov. JB Pritzker came to Peoria to warn the region was potentially just days away from renewed restrictions as positive case counts and hospitalizations spike. The Fon du Lac Park District Police Department, which operates one of the only maritime police agencies in the region, asked those gathering to use “common sense and social distancing” ahead of the event. On Monday, park district Director Mike Johnson issued a statement saying the police agency doesn’t have authority to enforce Pritzker’s restrictions on crowd sizes and protective measures designed to limit the virus’ spread. “Our maritime duties during this event were to deter crime as outlined in the Illinois Compiled Statutes and respond to water-related emergencies, i.e. boating incidents, injuries, etc.,” said Johnson. – Tim Shelley, WCBU

Proposal to Name New Middle School After C.T. Vivian

A couple elected leaders in Macomb say the community’s new middle school should be named after the Reverend C-T Vivian. The civil rights activist grew up in Macomb. He died July 17 at the age of 95. Board of Education member Jim LaPrad read a statement during the most recent school board meeting to voice his support for naming the building after Dr. Vivian. He later elaborated on his statement during an interview with Tri States Public Radio. He pointed out Vivian was a leader in the non-violent American Civil Rights movement and that President Obama awarded Vivian the Medal of Freedom, which is the nation’s highest civilian honor. – Rich Egger, WIUM

News Around Illinois – Aug. 3, 2020

Illinois Plans A New Vision For Juvenile Justice System

Critics have said the system has been too punitive and too ineffective. More than half of youth who are released end up getting in trouble again. Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton said change is needed. She added the state is shifting from a focus on punishment to one of equity and opportunity. For example, those in custody of the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice are placed in one of five youth prisons hundreds of miles from family. Since they often come from poorer backgrounds, it can be more difficult for family members to travel for visits, especially if child care is necessary. The new plan will focus on placing youth in smaller dormitory-like facilities closer to where they are from. These centers will be brighter, with better lighting, which Stratton said will be suitable for rehabilitation. The larger youth detention facilities will be transitioned to the Department of Corrections to house adults and reduce overcrowding. The plan also calls for investing in wraparound support for youth being held in the system and victim support in communities beset by violent crime. – Sean Crawford, WUIS

Illinois Wesleyan To House Some Students In Hotels To Prevent COVID Outbreak

Illinois Wesleyan University plans to house up to 140 students in hotels this fall to reduce the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak on campus. The university is offering a mix of in-person and online instruction this fall. Students who return to campus can room with someone, or have their own room for better social distancing. That limits the number of available beds to about 1,000. Karla Carney-Hall, IWU vice president of student affairs and dean of students, chairs the university’s fall contingency planning review committee. She said the university will randomly select up to 140 students to live in a hotel while factoring in the amount of time each student needs to be on campus. The university isn’t ready to announce the hotels yet. Negotiations are ongoing with two of them. – Eric Stock, WGLT

Couri Thomas Announces Second Run for Peoria Mayor

Couri Thomas is once again making a run for Peoria mayor. The Peoria Area Food Bank warehouse manager ran head-to-head against incumbent Mayor Jim Ardis in 2017, taking 45 percent of the vote. On Saturday, Thomas announced he’s running again in 2021, saying he will secure public safety throughout Peoria by enhancing education and information, with an eye toward encouraging public services and community activism. He calls for Peoria to become a “beacon of social justice and political change” by laying down political partisanship and working together to improve the quality of life for every citizen. – Tim Shelley, WCBU

UIC Wraps Up Oral History Project On Former Chicago Mayor

CHICAGO (AP) — University of Illinois at Chicago officials have wrapped up a two-year oral history project chronicling the leadership of former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. The project includes 45 videotaped interviews with political advisors, chiefs of staff, family and former presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush. The interviews took place from 2017 and 2019 after the university was chosen to house Daley’s papers and artifacts from his 22 years in office. In a news release, university officials said a website with the information will be ready in the fall as the library isn’t open to researchers during the coronavirus pandemic. – Associated Press

News Around Illinois – July 31, 2020

Homeland Security Has Seized $200 Million From Travelers At O’Hare Airport Since 2000, Report Finds

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has seized more than $203 million in cash from travelers at O’Hare International Airport since 2000 – more than any other airport in the country, according to a report released Thursday. And more than $270,000 was seized at Midway Airport during that time, according to the report. The seizures were done under laws meant to curb drug trafficking and other criminal enterprises, but in most cases there were no charges filed. Around the country, federal agencies seized more than $2 billion at the nation’s airports between 2000 and 2016, according to the report from the Institute for Justice, a non-profit law firm. The government can seize cash amounts greater than $10,000 if not properly documented, but around the country no arrests were made 70% of the time, according to the report. – Elliott Ramos, WBEZ

Rockford Police Internal Investigation Justifies Officer Use Of Force During May 30 Protest

The Rockford Police Department announced that the use of force at a police protest in May was lawful and justified. After reviewing 120 hours of video footage and 90 police reports, the Rockford Police Department concluded that its use of pepper spray, tear gas and less lethal munitions during the May 30th protest were within proper procedure. Mayor Tom McNamara said the decision was unanimous. “Both the Response to Resistance Review Board and the Winnebago County State’s Attorney Marilyn Hite Ross agreed that all actions they’ve reviewed were legally justified,” he said. “This does not stop us from learning from our experiences and working to improve.” Hite Ross announced that her office has pressed charges on 10 individuals, which she estimated was just 3% of the approximately 300 protestors present at the protest. – Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco, WNIJ

Rally Calls For Sharper Focus On Black Contributions, History In Public Schools

A call for change echoed through the streets of Normal on Wednesday night. For parents, students, and teachers, that change should begin in schools. Demanding an increase of Black education and better representation in curricula overall, the Normal West Black Student Union and Next Gen Initiative gathered for a rally at Martin Luther King Park. Speaking to a crowd of about 50, Bloomington High School teacher Brandon Thornton said it’s time for local schools to back up their foundational words with action. – Tiffani Jackson, WGLT

Census Workers Starting to Canvas in Peoria

U.S. Census Bureau workers have started going door-to-door in the Peoria area to boost participation in the nationwide population count. The city has been identified as one of 35 areas in the nation with a high non-response rate, and Peoria City Council member Sid Ruckriegel is encouraging residents to get counted as soon as possible. According to Ruckriegel, estimates indicate every individual yields around $1,900 per year in federal dollars coming back to the community. Ruckriegel said the census also helps to define the diversity among Peoria’s population. – Joe Deacon, WCBU

SIU Carbondale Recognized Again For Outstanding Green Campus.

For the fifth year in a row, SIU Carbondale has earned national recognition for its tree friendly campus. David Tippy, Superintendent of Grounds say getting the community involved is required to win the designation. “In the spring we do a volunteer tree-planting, we’ll plant you know 10 to 25 trees with the help of anybody that wants to volunteer.” – Kevin Boucher, WSIU

News Around Illinois – July 30, 2020

Senators Seek EPA Help To Fix Metro East Public Health Issue

CENTREVILLE, Ill. (AP) — Residents in Illinois’ Metro East region are facing a major public health crisis because of persistent flooding and sewage problems, the state’s two U.S. senators said in a letter sent Wednesday to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Democrats Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin asked the federal agency to enforce environmental laws, conduct water testing and identify solutions to the problems that plague Centreville and nearby communities east of St. Louis. In parts of Centreville, dirt trenches — that haven’t been maintained — instead of storm drains line the streets and drain runoff. Standing water and trash cause overflows into yards and homes. Some streets with storm drains are quickly overwhelmed in a downpour, flooding streets and trapping residents. In the letter to Region 5 of the EPA, the senators noted Centreville, which neighbors East St. Louis, is a low income, African American community of about 5,000 that faces chronic stormwater flooding and sewage issue that have destroyed homes. – Associated Press

Hospital Announces Closure After Operating Nearly 170 Years

CHICAGO (AP) — Chicago’s oldest hospital announced Wednesday it will close next year after the state of Illinois failed to finance its merger with three other money-losing hospitals. Mercy Hospital & Medical Center on the city’s South Side has been struggling for years due to decreasing reimbursements, a decline in the largely African American population in the surrounding neighborhood, and increased capital needs. Administrators say Mercy’s monthly operating losses of $4 million can no longer be sustained. An outpatient facility is in the works that will be able to care for up to 50,000 patients. Although details about timing and location are still being determined, administrators say it will offer everything from diagnostics to urgent care. – Associated Press

ComEd CEO: ‘I Wanted To Apologize On Behalf Of The Entire Company.’

In his first public comments since Commonwealth Edison admitted a Springfield bribery scheme, CEO Joe Dominguez said Wednesday he was sorry for the power company’s conduct – but quickly added that he did not think the public suffered as a result of the scandal. “I wanted to apologize on behalf of the entire company,” Dominguez told officials at a meeting of the Illinois Commerce Commission, which regulates ComEd and other public utilities in the state. Dominguez quickly pivoted from that mea culpa to show the limits of his contrition. He focused largely on defending the company’s overall performance as excellent – and protecting the legislative gains ComEd achieved during the eight-year-long bribery scheme. – Dan Mihalopoulos, WBEZ

State Senate Resolution Urges ComEd Fine Be Redirected Back To Illinois

Republican State Senator Dave Syverson is co-sponsoring a resolution that encourages the Illinois Congressional Delegation to direct a ComEd federal fine back to the state. ComEd has to pay $200 million to settle allegations it engaged in long-term bribery in Springfield. Syverson said normally the money would go directly to the federal government. “There are some allowances that can be made which either Congress or the U.S. Attorney General could step in and direct those payments back to those who were damaged, in this case the ratepayers.” Syverson argues that homeowners and businesses had to pay higher rates on their bills as a result of ComEd’s actions. So returning this money back would be a form of restitution. – Chase Cavanaugh, WNIJ

ISU To Change Watterson Towers House Names Over Slavery History

Illinois State University said Thursday it will rename floors in the Watterson Towers residence hall in the wake of nationwide upheaval and a renewed dialogue on race and history. Watterson Towers opened in 1968 and every five floors in both towers are called a “house.” The university named those houses for the nation’s first 10 secretaries of state.: Van Buren, Clay, Marshall, Madison, Adams, Pickering, Monroe, Randolph, Smith, and Jefferson. Eight out of the 10 were involved in slavery. Several would be elected president after serving as secretary of state.  Opponents of removing such commemorative names and statues have frequently argued the historical artifacts should not be erased because the contributions of those (mostly) men were and remain valid historical markers, symbols of the national culture, and icons of American identity. – Charlie Schlenker, WGTL

Summer Travelers Can Bring Back COVID To Central Illinois, But No Quarantine Required

Thousands of people are traveling this summer to COVID-19 hotspots and coming back to the Bloomington-Normal and the Tri-County areas — and none of them are being told to quarantine when they return.
Other cities and states, like Chicago and New York, have required a two-week quarantine period for those returning from hotspots, such as Florida and Arizona. But no such requirement exists in downstate Illinois, even as county health officials warn about the risk of out-of-state travel. Peoria County just slipped into a warning level for COVID-19, putting it at risk for new restrictions if left unchecked. Many new cases in Peoria are linked to recent travel to Wisconsin, Iowa, Texas, or Florida — all states with fewer protective measures than Illinois. Chicago requires people traveling to the city from 22 states, including Wisconsin and Missouri, to quarantine for two weeks. Illinoisans going to New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut must do the same. But that’s not required if you take a road trip from Bloomington-Normal to Wisconsin Dells, or fly from Peoria to Florida or Arizona. And plenty of people are taking those trips. – Ryan Denham and Daniel Musisi, WGLT and WCBU


News Around Illinois – July 29, 2020

Illinois Professors Disagree With School’s Fall Proposals

CHICAGO (AP) — Illinois’ college and university professors are pushing back against their school’s proposals for reopening schools amid the pandemic, prompting officials to adopt new norms to accommodate faculty recommendations. Faculty concerns are becoming more urgent after reports say that students returning to college towns are spreading the coronavirus, the Chicago Tribune reported. But despite the risks, some students want to return to campus and get their money’s worth since most schools are not discounting tuition. Illinois State University’s “Redbirds Return” plan that was rolled out in June received immediate push back from faculty members. A proposal, signed by more than 500 employees, students, parents and community members, called for more precautions when students return in the fall. After more than 200 Loyola University faculty members and students signed a petition calling on administrators to make online teaching the default option for everyone, officials announced this month that they would limit face-to-face classes. They previously had plans to offer on-campus and virtual instruction. Most schools have shifted gears to address faculty and student concerns. But Columbia College Chicago is not one of them. Officials still intend to operate on a hybrid schedule in the fall despite faculty opposition. – Associated Press

Wisconsin Among 4 States Added To Chicago Quarantine Order

CHICAGO (AP) — Chicago added Missouri, Wisconsin, Nebraska and North Dakota to the list of states where people who are traveling to the city must quarantine for two weeks as Illinois learned that its own residents must do the same when they travel to New York, New Jersey or Connecticut. Chicago officials said that beginning Friday, anyone from those states who doesn’t comply with the requirement could face possible fines. They issued the quarantine order in early July. Initially, it applied to travelers from 15 states, but it has been updated weekly based on increasing numbers of confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The expansion announced Tuesday brought the total number of affected states to 22. – Associated Press

Lawsuit Seeks $150M In ComEd Refunds After Bribery Scheme

CHICAGO (AP) — A class-action lawsuit seeks $150 million in refunds from ComEd for customer rate increases and other benefits the utility received from Illinois as part of an alleged bribery scheme. The lawsuit was filed Monday in Cook County by three individuals and a Chicago-based company that have been ComEd customers since 2011. “Through rampant and widespread corruption in the form of bribery of Illinois elected officials, ComEd and its parent company, Exelon Corporation, deprived ratepayers of vast sums of money, totaling in the hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars,” the lawsuit alleged. – Associated Press

News Around Illinois – July 28, 2020

County Board Candidate Drops Out After Controversial Tweet

WHEATON, Ill. (AP) — A candidate for the DuPage County board in northern Illinois withdrew from the race after being criticized for a tweet in which she said she laughed while watching a video of a police officer getting hit in the face by a projectile during a protest. Democrat Hadiya Afzal narrowly won nomination in the March primary to run in DuPage County’s 4th District. Afzal, 20, announced her withdrawal from the race late Sunday, saying her post was in poor taste and didn’t represent the values with which she was raised. Afzal, who says she is Muslim and wears a hijab, said she was targeted by a “harassment campaign” after Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz posted on Twitter that her comment was “hateful and sick.” Afzal told the Chicago Tribune on Monday she dropped out of the race on the recommendation of the local Democratic Party. She said she did not want to be a distraction in the fall election. – Associated Press

Mayor Lori Lightfoot Is ‘Deeply Disturbed’ By The ComEd Scandal, And Takes Its CEO To Task For An ‘Inadequate’ Response

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday told the CEO of Commonwealth Edison she’s “deeply disturbed” by the utility giant’s role in an ongoing federal bribery scandal, and that company’s response so far has been “inadequate.” In a letter, sent to ComEd CEO Joseph Dominguez and obtained by WBEZ, Lightfoot said in order to enter into another franchise agreement with ComEd, the company needs to implement a comprehensive ethics reform plan. “ComEd’s breach of public trust is far from over as far as the City of Chicago is concerned,” Lightfoot wrote. “We expect a significant commitment from the company to right historic wrongs through its own internal ethics reforms[.]” She also asks ComEd to align with her administration’s priorities “around energy and sustainability, equitable economic development, utility affordability and transparency.” – Becky Vevea – WBEZ

Pritzker Visits Adams County, Now On COVID-19 Warning List

Governor J.B. Pritzker’s Monday stop in the county seat of Quincy was no social call. Appearing at the Adams County Department of Public Health, he pointed out the numbers there are going in the wrong direction. “What’s happening here is alarming,” he said. “And if these trends continue in a negative direction, the state will need to take immediate action to impose additional mitigations to slow the spread and keep more people from getting sick.” Pritzker said his visit to western Illinois was to provide support and urge everyone to follow guidelines such as wearing a mask in public, frequent hand washing and social distancing. Adams is among four counties in Illinois deemed to be a warning list, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. Peoria, LaSalle and Randolph are also included. – Sean Crawford – WUIS

Sports On Hold At IWU As CCIW Suspends Fall Competition

Illinois Wesleyan University has learned its fall sports season will be suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic. University presidents in the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin (CCIW) announced Monday the league has suspended seasons for men’s and women’s cross country, football, women’s golf, men’s and women’s soccer, women’s tennis, and women’s volleyball. League officials said they would explore the possibility of creating opportunities for them to compete in the spring. – Eric Stock – WGLT

4-H Shows Moo-ve Online During The Pandemic

A lot of events and activities have been canceled the last few months because of COVID-19. But Illinois 4-H is keeping kids busy. Their shows are still happening this year even though judges can’t see the livestock, taste the pies or watch the presentations in person. A typical 4-H livestock show happens at the county fair, where the kids are able to present their animals live in front of judges. But this year is anything but typical. Like every organization, 4-H has had to adjust how they do things. Margaret Larson said, “So we’re hoping to not miss a beat in terms of 4-H.” Larson is the county director the University of Illinois Extension for Jo Daviess, Stephenson and Winnebago Counties. She also oversees their 4-H programs. She said the shows are an important part of 4-H, because they give kids an opportunity to present the projects they’ve been working on in front of an audience and get feedback from judges. – Claire Buchanan – WNIJ

Car Parade In Rockford Against Schools Reopening

In Rockford, a parade of cars filled the streets for a demonstration against schools reopening during the pandemic. Quetzia Ramirez is a parent liaison at Jefferson High School and her sign read, “25+ Students In One Classroom Cannot Social Distance.” The car parade began at 10:00 a.m. at Rock Valley College and included upwards of 50 cars. The cars were covered in signs and writing that expressed concern with schools reopening in the fall. Ramirez said that’s why she joined the car parade in the first place. – Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco – WNIJ

A Fond Farewell to a Civil Rights Champion

Macomb paid its final respects to the Reverend C.T. Vivian, the civil rights leader who grew up in the community. Dr. Vivian died July 17 at the age of 95. More than 100 people attended an outdoor service in honor of Vivian. It took place on a hot and muggy July afternoon. Dr. J.Q. Adams was the featured speaker. He spent 25 years at Western Illinois University, where he is credited with creating and teaching undergraduate and graduate multicultural courses. He also conducted several lengthy interviews with Vivian through the years. He said during one of their conversations, Vivian called the American Civil Rights movement a confrontation for the moral and ethical soul of America. – Rich Egger – WIUM

Bradley: COVID-19 Outbreak Stems From Small, Maskless Off-Campus Gathering

Bradley University said a COVID-19 outbreak among 12 students was traced back to a small, off-campus gathering where no mask-wearing or social distancing happened. The testing and quarantining regimen included not only students attending the party, but those who were in close contact with participants, said university President Stephen Standifird. “It’s difficult to make any conclusive statements about the current situation given the evolving nature of the pandemic. However, in this case, our process for testing, contact tracing and self quarantining appears to have helped limit the spread of the virus,” he said in an email to the campus community on Monday. One staff member also recently tested positive for the virus in an unrelated case. That staff member hasn’t previously been in physical contact with other Bradley employees. Standifird said Bradley University still plans to hold in-person classes this fall, with a remote learning option offered. Staff at high risk, living with someone at high risk, or those covered under the Americans With Disabilities Act also have other work options. – Tim Shelley – WCBU

News Around Illinois – July 27, 2020

Gov. Pritzker Replaces Officials Who Oversaw COVID-19 Response In Nursing Homes

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker’s administration is replacing two top Illinois Department of Public Health officials in charge of the state’s efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19 through nursing homes. Nursing home residents account for more than half of deaths in Illinois tied to the coronavirus, according to state data. The personnel moves come as the state’s daily COVID case numbers begin to shoot up again as the state opens up. Debra Bryars, the IDPH deputy director who headed the Office of Health Care Regulation, left last Monday and has been replaced by Daniel Levad, a long-time IDPH staff member, department spokeswoman Melaney Arnold confirmed. Levad, named the office’s acting deputy director, until recently was chief of an IDPH section focused on intermediate care facilities for individuals with intellectual disabilities. In his new position, he reports directly to Dr. Ngozi Ezike, the IDPH director. As deputy director, Levad will oversee more than 400 staffers — nearly a third of IDPH’s workforce, including dozens of surveyors who inspect long-term care facilities and assisted-living establishments to see if they are protecting residents and staff members from infectious diseases and other threats. – Chip Mitchell – WBEZ

Illinois State Museum Reopens With Safety Measures In Place

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — The Illinois State Museum is reopening with safety precautions in place after closing for four months because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The system’s flagship site in Springfield will open to the public Saturday. The Dickson Mounds site in Lewiston opened earlier in the week. So did the Illinois State Museum’s Research and Collections Center in Springfield, where visitors must make an appointment. The ISM Lockport Gallery will remain closed until further notice. – Associated Press

Bloomington To Review Facility, Supply Needs In $170M Water Master Plan

The City of Bloomington plans to explore additional water supplies to meet an anticipated rise in demand over the next two decades. That’s included in the city’s proposed 20-year water master plan. The city council will consider the plan at its meeting at 6 p.m. Monday at Bloomington City Hall. Massachusetts-based CDM Smith produced the report after a three-year study of the city’s water infrastructure and supply needs. – Eric Stock – WGLT

Unionized Faculty And Staff Want Illinois Colleges, Universities To Start Remotely

Unionized faculty and staff at Illinois’ universities and colleges want their institutions to start almost entirely online this fall.
Employees and professors represented by 40 unions around the state, including seven of the 12 public universities, released a joint statement Thursday laying out concerns with returning to campus amid rising numbers of COVID-19 cases. The call comes days after the Illinois Federation of Teachers, which represents some of the faculty and staff, made a similar demand that all elementary and high schools begin online. – Mary Hansen – WUIS

News Around Illinois – July 24, 2020

Man Guilty of Repeated Rape of Child Gets 20-Year Sentence

URBANA — A central Illinois man has been sentenced to 20 years in prison after admitting to repeatedly raping a child a decade ago. In sentencing Gregory Reed of Mahomet on Thursday, Champaign County Judge Tom Difanis called him “sexually dangerous” man who should never be around children again. The News-Gazette in Champaign reports the 43-year-old Reed pleaded guilty last month to predatory criminal sexual assault of a child between January 2006 and July 2011. Champaign County sheriff’s investigators became aware of the allegations in 2018 when the victim, now an adult, came forward. At the time, Reed was serving a 10-year prison sentence for aggravated child pornography for taking photographs of the girl and her friend as they changed clothing after swimming. – Associated Press

Six Downstate Illinois Counties Sue Over COVID-19 Restrictions

SPRINGFIELD — Residents in six central and southern Illinois counties filed lawsuits Thursday against state-ordered restrictions on social interaction prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.The actions taken in Bond, Clay, Clinton, Edgar, Richland and Sangamon counties seek court orders declaring there is no public health emergency as defined by Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s Public Health Department. Springfield, the state capital, is in Sangamon County.Plaintiffs in each case seek injunctions against Pritzker’s disaster declaration which restricts public interaction to slow transmission of the virus. The state has reported 7,367 deaths among 167,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases _ mostly in Chicago and Cook County. Pritzker’s general counsel said no one should question basic safeguards during a pandemic. – Associated Press

Restraining Order Barring Nursing Home Closing Extended

CAIRO — A southern Illinois judge has extended a temporary restraining order barring a nursing home from executing its closure plan until it has fulfilled all its obligations to residents. When Aperion Care Cairo announced its intention to close last week, families complained to Alexander County officials they felt rushed to select alternative placement for loved ones. Illinois law requires private nursing homes planning to close to first submit a transition plan to the Illinois Department of Public Health for approval. The nursing home then must provide notices to residents and their representatives outlining their rights. In a filing last week, States Attorney Zach Gowin accused Aperion Care of attempting to circumvent the law. – Associated Press

News Around Illinois – July 23, 2020

Illinois Reports July’s Highest One-Day Total Of Virus Cases

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — As parts of the nation struggle with a worse coronavirus outbreak than during its high points last spring in other states, Illinois, where officials continue to congratulate residents for keeping the new virus in check, announced Wednesday an increasing number of newly confirmed infections. Gov. J.B. Pritzker and his state public health director, Dr. Ngoze Ezike, made public pleas to wear masks when outside the home and continue physical distancing and conscientious hygiene to stem the spread of the highly contagious and potentially deadly coronavirus. The state on Wednesday reported July’s highest one-day total at nearly 1,600 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, prompting a warning from the Democratic governor. – John O’Connor – Associated Press

Slaveholder Stephen Douglas’ Name Removed From Chicago Park

CHICAGO (AP) — A park on Chicago’s West Side will be stripped of the name of slave owner Stephen Douglas and may be renamed for abolitionist Frederick Douglass, a city’s parks commission decided Wednesday. The Chicago Park District voted Wednesday to rename the park in the largely black neighborhood, which has held Stephen Douglas’ name since 1869. Proponents have pushed the name change for years. Stephen Douglas was a U.S. senator from Illinois who lost the presidential election to Abraham Lincoln in 1860. He died in 1861. Commissioners know the park will be renamed for Frederick Douglass. However, there will be a 45-day public comment period to ensure the new name has support from residents, organizations and public officials. – Associated Press

Pritzker Extends Eviction Moratorium Another Month

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker is giving more time to those behind on rent or mortgage payments. He’s extending a ban on evictions through August 22. A moratorium was set to expire at the end of this month. Such action includes a new program designed to get as much as 300-million dollars to renters and home owners who need help. Applications will be accepted starting next month. Eligibility will be based on income and having missed housing payments. “Starting August 10, applications will open for renters and then the week of August 28 for homeowners,” Pritzker said. – Sean Crawford – WUIS

IDES Reports National Fraud Scheme on PUA Program

The Illinois Department of Employment Security has uncovered a nationwide fraud scheme impacting every state’s federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program. During a COVID-19 update briefing Wednesday, Governor JB Pritzker said anyone who has not filed an unemployment claim, but has received a debit card or an unemployment insurance letter in the mail has likely been a target of the fraud. “Federal authorities have informed states that your personal identifying information may likely have been obtained in prior breaches of corporate or other databases like the massive Equifax breach.” Pritzker urges anyone who mistakenly received a debit card, don’t activate it. He said anyone who may have been targeted by the fraud scheme, should contact IDES at 800-814-0513. – Brad Palmer – WSIU

10 Normal Firefighters Return To Work; 5 Others Still Recovering From COVID-19

Ten Town of Normal firefighters have returned to work following two weeks under quarantine, while five others remain sidelined as they recover from COVID-19. Fire Chief Mick Humer said it appears one firefighter who contracted the coronavirus had traveled out of state. He said all five who tested positive showed symptoms, but it took time for those symptoms to develop. He said they are all in various stages of recovery. Humer said since the outbreak, all firefighters have been tested twice; all came back negative. – Eric Stock – WGLT

30 Peoria County Jail Detainees Now COVID-19 Positive

Peoria County Sheriff Brian Asbell said an additional eight detainees at the county jail tested positive for COVID-19 overnight, for a grand total of 30 so far. Asbell said he believes all detainee tests will be completed today, leaving the sheriff’s office waiting for results back to determine the overall impact at the jail. Asbell confirmed the initial COVID-19 outbreak on Saturday. On Wednesday, an additional 14 detainees tested positive. Thirteen employees are also off work after testing positive for the coronavirus, while they await results, or quarantine due to potential exposure. The outbreak is also impacting the court system and jail intake procedures. – Tim Shelley – WCBU

News Around Illinois – July 22, 2020

Police: 15 People Were Injured In A Shooting Outside A South Side Funeral

Fifteen people were injured, one person was being questioned and multiple suspects were being sought after gunfire erupted outside a funeral home on Chicago’s South Side where at least one squad car was present, police said. First Deputy Superintendent Eric Carter said mourners outside a funeral home in the 1000 block of West 79th Street were fired upon from a passing black SUV about 6:30 p.m. Carter said several targets of the shooting returned fire. The SUV later crashed and the occupants fled in several directions. One “person of interest” has been taken into custody. Carter said all the victims were adults. The shooting comes as the Department of Homeland Security is planning to deploy federal agents to Chicago to deal with an uptick in violent crime in the city. – Associated Press

Speaker Madigan: The Sparkplug For Republican Ethics Calls

As the minority party at the Illinois State Capitol, Republicans only have a bully pulpit. But when House Speaker Mike Madigan was implicated last week in a utility bribery case, they got more of a megaphone to go with it. Illinois Republicans say Madigan should resign after Commonwealth Edison last week admitted to bribing the speaker through hiring lobbyists and staff he recommended. Madigan has not been charged with any wrongdoing. Members of the Illinois House GOP say that scandal is reason enough for Governor J.B. Pritzker to bring lawmakers back for a special session dealing with ethics legislation. – Bill Wheelhouse – WUIS

Illinois Likely Faces Surge Of Evictions If Moratorium Is Not Extended

Housing advocates fear a massive number of evictions in Illinois after the state’s moratorium expires on July 26. “We have an impending housing crisis in our region,” said Jenny Connelly-Bowen, executive director of the Community Builders Network of Metro St. Louis. The moratorium by Gov. J.B. Pritzker bars landlords from filing eviction suits in court and the police from enforcing suits. It doesn’t mean that tenants are off the hook for rent, they just won’t be evicted if they cannot pay. “The moratorium doesn’t not affect your obligation to pay rent,” said Paul Matalonis, a staff attorney with Land of Lincoln Legal Aid. “You still owe the money, you just can’t file the eviction and eviction orders cannot be enforced while the moratorium is going.” For many Illinoisans, it’s the only protection they have from being forced out of their homes in the middle of a global pandemic. – Eric Schmid – KWMU

LaHood Calls For PPP Retooling, Cost Considerations In Next COVID-19 Relief Bill

Congress returned to Washington this week to hash out a new COVID-19 stimulus bill. Among the issues they’re considering are how to proceed with jobless benefits, liability protections for businesses, and financial support to local governments. U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood, a Peoria Republican, said the Paycheck Protection Program will likely get a boost, as the first round of funding runs dry for some businesses. But he said the program may look different this time. “The biggest thing will be making sure that we are not letting in companies or businesses that don’t need the money,” he said. LaHood said the money should be prioritized for disproportionately impacted industries, like hotels, banquet halls, and restaurants that lack outdoor seating. He said he’d like to develop a formula to assess a businesses losses and financial need. Another priority for the next round of stimulus is money for businesses to cover the cost of personal protective equipment and additional cleaning protocols during the pandemic, he said. – Dana Vollmer – WCBU

News Around Illinois – July 21, 2020

House Progressive Caucus Weighs In On Madigan, ComEd

CHICAGO (AP) — Members of the Illinois House of Representatives’ progressive caucus said Monday longtime House Speaker Michael Madigan must resign if allegations of a bribery scheme involving utility ComEd are true. The 12 caucus members said the allegations disclosed Friday by federal prosecutors in Chicago are “an unacceptable breach of public trust.” They called on Madigan, a Chicago Democrat, and any other elected officials involved in the scheme to step down “if these allegations are true.” – Associated Press

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot Asks Trump Not To Send Federal Agents, Saying It Would ‘Spell Disaster’

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is asking President Donald Trump not to send federal agents to the city, instead imploring him to help the city address violent crime by cracking down on the proliferation of illegal guns across the country, according to a letter obtained by WBEZ late Monday. The four-page letter addressed to Trump Monday and signed by Lightfoot urges the Republican president to provide meaningful support — instead of playing “games.” “What we do not need, and what will certainly make our community less safe is secret, federal agents deployed to Chicago. Any other form of militarized assistance within our borders that would not be within our control or within the direct command of the Chicago Police Department would spell disaster,” the mayor writes. Lightfoot writes that she was responding to a letter he sent in June, but also to recent “statements from you and members of your Administration regarding offers of federal assistance.” – Claudia Morell – WBEZ

Illinois Teachers’ Union Wants Remote Learning To Start School Year

With just a few weeks to go before some schools are set to begin their fall semester, the Illinois Federation of Teachers issued a recommendation on Monday that called for students to begin the academic year learning remotely. It is part of a larger union statement on the new school year. IFT President Dan Montgomery said the rising number of coronavirus cases is a a cause for concern. Montgomery said some schools may be able to maintain safety measures like social distancing. “If that can happen, that’s a good thing,” said Montgomery. “That is an extremely rare occurrence in our experience.” – Sean Crawford – WUIS

Kanye West, Leonard Peltier And Others File For The Fall Ballot In Illinois

Rapper Kanye West was among those submitting petitions for the fall ballot Illinois on the final day for independent and third party candidates to file. West said he is running for president. But he has missed the deadline to file in several states. While he was on time in Illinois, filing does not guarantee a spot on the ballot. Pettitions can be challenged for the number of signatures and their validity. West did not have a vice presidential candidate file with him. Another well known name among those filing is imprisoned political activist Leonard Peltier. He is a vice-presidential candidate on a third party ticket. Peltier is serving a life sentence for the killings of two FBI agents on an Indian reservation in 1975. The Illinois Libertarian Party and other third parties are fielding more candidates in legislative races this year. – Bill Wheelhouse – WUIS

Tammy Duckworth’s Stock Rises As A Possible VP Choice After High-Profile Weeks

In combat and in Congress, Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth has seen a lot of firsts. She was the first female soldier to lose both her legs in the Iraq War. She was the first Thai American woman elected to Congress. And she was the first U.S. senator to give birth while in office. Now she may become the first Asian American woman nominated to be vice president for a major party in the United States. But she remains diplomatic when asked about the pressure Joe Biden is facing to pick an African American woman. “I think that even just choosing a woman is a powerful signal that Joe Biden has made,” Duckworth told NPR’s All Things Considered earlier this month. As Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, nears the announcement of his running mate, Duckworth’s political stock has risen. – Claudia Grisales – NPR

Planning Continues for C.T. Vivian Center in Macomb

Local leaders held a brief wreath laying ceremony over the weekend at the property where the Reverend C.T. Vivian grew up in Macomb. The lot in the 700 block of East Adams Street is currently empty but there are still plans to use that space to honor the late civil rights leader. The idea of building a center of civic and social engagement was announced nearly two years ago, and Byron Oden-Shabazz, President of the McDonough County Branch of the NAACP, said that’s still the plan. – Rich Egger – WIUM

News Around Illinois – July 20, 2020

UIC Gets $22M In Federal Money For Health Research Programs

CHICAGO (AP) — The University of Illinois at Chicago will receive $22 million in federal funding for health research programs over the next five years. The money comes from the National Institutes of Health and goes to the university’s Center for Clinical and Translational Science. The idea is to benefit research that directly benefits patients and communities, according to university officials who announced the funding this month. The center is one of the few in the country that includes research programs from seven health science colleges, including dentistry, pharmacy and social work. – Associated Press

Illinois County Sheriff Tests Positive For COVID-19

CHICAGO (AP) — A county sheriff in southwestern Illinois has tested positive for COVID-19, according to officials. The Monroe County Sheriff’s Department said Sheriff Neal Rohlfing has been in quarantine since he had symptoms earlier this month. He received a positive test on Wednesday, according to a department statement. Officials said department operations have not been affected because of his limited contact with employees. – Associated Press

State Increases Apprenticeship Funding Amid Tough Job Market

CHICAGO (AP) — Illinois is expanding an apprenticeship program that officials hope will help people in underserved communities learn skills and connect with employers amid a difficult job market. Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the state’s Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity announced a $4.7 million investment in the Illinois Apprenticeship Program, through grants to 25 organizations statewide. They say it’ll allow an additional 568 people to participate in training programs over the next two years. That will bring the total state investment in the program to a record level of $20 million, serving 17,000 participants this year. Pritzker said the program will bring together employers, community colleges and local workforce partners as COVID-19 puts “an enormous economic burden” on communities. – Associated Press

Illinois Programs To Get $7M In COVID-19 Relief

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — More than $7 million in federal funding will be going to organizations to help Illinois communities hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, state officials said. The Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority said it will distribute $7.1 million in U.S. Bureau of Justice Assistance money made available through federal stimulus legislation last spring. Groups interested in participating should apply to ICJIA by July 24. Money is available for groups for a variety of purposes, including housing and rental assistance for people involved in the criminal justice system or those who have experienced violence. Funding will also go toward supporting services such as advocacy, case management, legal services and mental health. – Associated Press

Rockford Has Its First-Ever Official City Bird

It’s official: For the first time ever, Rockford has its own city bird. Mayor Tom McNamara announced Friday that the peregrine falcon shall represent the city. The initiative itself was led by 15-year-old Jackie Kuroda. She is a youth board member for Sinnissippi Audubon Society and a member of Illinois Young Birders. A little more than a year ago, she wrote a letter to the mayor and started a petition. She said she led the efforts to designate the bird because of its ability to adapt and overcome. – Connie Kuntz – WNIJ

News Around Illinois – July 17, 2020

ComEd To Pay $200M Over Bribery, Illinois Speaker Implicated

CHICAGO (AP) — Electric utility ComEd has agreed to pay $200 million to resolve a federal criminal investigation into a long-running bribery scheme that implicates Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, federal prosecutors announced Friday. The company has admitted that it arranged jobs, subcontracted work and monetary payments related to those jobs “for various associates of a high-level elected official for the state of Illinois,” the U.S. Attorney’s office said in a news release. That elected official is identified as “Public Official A” in the release. A deferred prosecution agreement for ComEd filed in federal court states that “Public Official A” is the Illinois House Speaker, but Madigan — the the longest-serving state House speaker in modern American history — is not mentioned by name. Madigan’s spokesman, Steve Brown, couldn’t be reached for comment Friday and didn’t immediately respond to a voice message. – Associated Press

Pritzker Lawsuit Seeks Face Mask Order For Illinois Schools

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Gov. J.B. Pritzker took the unusual step Thursday of preemptively filing a lawsuit to ensure school children wear face coverings to prevent the spread of the coronavirus when schools reopen in a few weeks. The action filed late Thursday in Sangamon County Circuit Court by the state attorney general seeks a judge’s approval of Pritzker’s order that schoolchildren, teachers and staff wear coverings over mouths and noses among other measures to reduce the chance that the highly contagious and potentially deadly virus can spread. It’s typical for the governor to be in court as a defendant seeking validation of a policy or action. In this instance, no lawsuit has been filed, but a public school district and two private academies have informed the Illinois State Board of Education that Pritzker no longer has authority under emergency rule-making to require face masks in schools and that they will be developing their own safety rules. – John O’Connor – Associated Press

Rebuild Of Damaged Illinois Covered Bridge Nears Completion

LONG GROVE, Ill (AP) — Work is nearing completion on a $1 million project to rebuild a covered bridge in northern Illinois that was severely damaged two years ago by a delivery truck. Long Grove village President Bill Jacob said work on the steel-reinforced reconstruction of the community’s iconic covered bridge is in the “homestretch” and crews are installing the roof rafters this week. The bridge, which dates back to 1906, had been listed on the National Register of Historic Places in June 2018. Sixteen days later, a box truck plowed into it, severely damaging the structure, the Lake County News-Sun reported. – Associated Press

Rev. C.T. Vivian, Key Civil Rights Leader, Has Died At 95

ATLANTA (AP) — The Rev. C.T. Vivian, an early and key adviser to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. who organized pivotal campaigns in the civil rights movement and spent decades after advocating for justice and equality, died Friday at the age of 95. Vivian began staging sit-ins against segregation in Peoria, Illinois, in the 1940s — a dozen years before lunch-counter protests by college students made national news. He met King soon after the budding civil rights leader’s leadership of the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott, and helped translate ideas into action by organizing the Freedom Rides that eventually forced federal intervention across the South. President Barack Obama honored Vivian with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013, saying that “time and again, Reverend Vivian was among the first to be in the action: in 1947, joining a sit-in to integrate an Illinois restaurant.” – Desiree Seals and Michael Warren – Associated Press

Former Top Cop Had ‘Several Large Servings Of Rum’ Before He Was Found Asleep At The Wheel, Report Says

Fired Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson consumed “several large servings of rum” before driving drunk and apparently passing out for nearly two hours in a city-issued car last fall, according to a new report from Chicago’s Office of Inspector General. But multiple officers failed to conduct a sobriety test and allowed Johnson to drive himself home, the report found. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot fired Johnson last December, weeks before his scheduled retirement, saying he lied to her and the public about the drinking-and-driving incident. – Patrick Smith – WBEZ

ISU Faculty Look For More Course Control As Reopening Nears

Illinois State University faculty took the first steps Thursday toward asserting the power to make their own decisions individually about whether they feel safe teaching face-to-face this fall. More than 400 faculty and invited guests attended an online meeting focused on concerns about ISU’s reopening plan. That plan-in-progress, dubbed Redbirds Return, calls for a mix of face-to-face, hybrid, and online-only courses. Residence hall and dining centers will be open with new restrictions. On-campus coronavirus testing will be available for students. Masks will be required, but enforcement is muddy. – Ryan Denham – WGLT

Pritzker Deciding Whether To Halt Evictions Again

Governor J.B. Pritzker says he is considering extending a moratorium on evictions beyond the end of July. During a stop in Rockford, Thursday, Pritzker was asked if he planned to renew the order when it expires at the end of the month. As part of his emergency orders surrounding COVID-19, the governor had halted evictions for unpaid rent and mortgages in Illinois. With that set to expire in two weeks, the governor said he is focused on the issue. – Mary Hansen and Bill Wheelhouse – WUIS

News Around Illinois – July 16, 2020

At Least 36 Students Test Positive For Virus After Camps

LAKE ZURICH, Ill. (AP) — At least three dozen high school students in northern Illinois have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus after some attending summer sports camps showed symptoms of the disease. Investigations and contact tracing of the infections are tied to the camps held last week at Lake Zurich High School and multiple prior social gatherings, according to Lake County health officials. – Associated Press

ISU Student-Athletes Step Into Racial Justice Conversation

Hundreds of Illinois State University student-athletes huddled this week to discuss the biggest issues of our day—race, justice, and what they stand for. More than 250 student-athletes joined a Zoom forum Monday night, organized by the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC). It was in response to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody and subsequent Black Lives Matter protests. They talked about a lot—from microaggressions students of color have felt on ISU’s campus, to what they think about kneeling during the National Anthem. SAAC wanted to provide a space to discuss issues that crossed among sports, gender, and race. – Ryan Denham – WGLT

Twitter Hack Response Takes Out Weather Service Account During Tornado Scare

The National Weather Service’s Central Illinois office appeared to lose access to its Twitter account Wednesday during several hours of severe weather. Like many authoritative or official accounts, the @NWSLincolnIL account is verified—signified by that iconic blue check mark. It has over 17,000 followers. Twitter temporarily restricted access to verified accounts Wednesday night following a large-scale and coordinated cryptocurrency hack. That unprecedented step came after the Twitter accounts of some of the richest and most famous people on the social media platform were attacked. The @NWSLincolnIL account itself was not hacked. – Ryan Denham – WGLT

Normal FD Gets 5th COVID-19 Positive; County Adds 4 Cases

A fifth Normal firefighter has tested positive for COVID-19 as McLean County health officials announced four new coronavirus cases on Wednesday. The firefighter was part of a group of 15 the town placed under quarantine after a co-coworker contracted the virus while off duty, said City Manager Pam Reece. Three others later tested positive. “Since he was already in quarantine, there was no risk of any additional exposures related to his case,” said Normal Fire Department Public Information Officer Matt Swaney. Swaney added all the infected firefighters are showing symptoms and remain quarantined at home. He said none has required medical intervention or hospitalization. – Eric Stock – WGLT

Chicago Police Aren’t Helping ICE Detain Immigrants, Report Says

In the last three months, federal immigration agents asked the Chicago Police Department to help detain immigrants 14 times. But CPD refused each time, citing the city’s sanctuary ordinance, according to a report obtained by WBEZ. “CPD received 14 such requests for assistance, and did not transfer any individual into a federal agency’s custody,” according to the report sent to Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Joe Ferguson, the city’s inspector general. “Being an immigrant is not a crime. Chicago stands with its immigrant community, especially in the face of politicized immigration enforcement.” – María Inés Zamudio – WBEZ