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Obscure state agency carries heavy burden

Gary Meyer is the first to admit most Illinois consumers probably have no idea what he does, or even that the bureau he works for exists.

As a products and standards inspector with the Illinois Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Weights and Measures, Meyer travels the state measuring and weighing products, whether it's a bushel of potatoes or a container of potato salad.

Praise for shelter aired

CHAMPAIGN – On a cold Saturday morning in December, Charles Doty got up from his cot at the TIMES Center and was shocked by the face that stared back at him in the bathroom mirror.

His eyes were nearly swollen shut. His face, neck and feet were full of fluid. He sat down to have a cup of coffee, thinking he might feel better. A staff member for the homeless shelter hurried over, saying "We've got to get you out of here."

Education plan gets mixed reviews

SPRINGFIELD – A rare Senate committee of the whole hearing lasting more than seven hours Wednesday did little to change the minds of lawmakers wary about Gov. Rod Blagojevich's plan to strip the State Board of Education of its duties and set up a new Department of Education under his control.

"As I learn more and more of the details in the governor's plan, I cannot support his particular takeover effort," said state Sen. Dan Rutherford, R-Chenoa.

Five-man band lets music do the talking

CHAMPAIGN – "The Flintstones Theme" has probably never before been played at the University YMCA's Know Your Universities series, whose topics rarely lend themselves to cartoons.

New York jazzman Cecil Bridgewater changed all that Tuesday with a beboppy rendition of the animation theme, as well as "Take the A Train," in which his five-man band rivaled Duke Ellington's.

Health center can't keep up with demand

CHAMPAIGN – For more than two years, the growing medical needs of low-income and uninsured people have been steadily gaining on what Frances Nelson Health Center in Champaign has to offer.

About a month ago, the clinic could no longer keep up. It started a waiting list for new patients, and those on it now number about 200, said Frances Nelson's site director, Andrea Goldberg.

Insurance legislation advances

SPRINGFIELD – A House committee on Tuesday advanced legislation designed to help companies find the best deals on health insurance, but the insurance industry still has some problems with the bill.

HB 4059, sponsored by state Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, would require insurance companies upon request to provide employers with figures showing the amount of money paid out for health coverage annually and the types of claims paid. Firms would then be able to use that information to get more accurate quotes from other insurers and shop around for the lowest premiums, but may not use the information for any other purposes, Jakobsson said.

Township taking action to deal with medical bills

URBANA – Medical bills for indigent clients have exceeded expectations in Cunningham Township, forcing the township to move to amend its budget and to dip into savings.

Cunningham Township Supervisor Carol Elliott said she budgeted $150,000 for medical bills this fiscal year, which ends June 30, but has already spent $144,000 for the township's approximately 80 general assistance clients, with several bills still outstanding.

Two Urbana teaching jobs among possible cuts

URBANA – Sharply divided school board members added one teacher's job to their list of potential cuts Tuesday, and at least one more job is on the line.

Board President Joyce Hudson didn't attend the meeting because she was sick, but she watched the action on cable television, phoned staff members to communicate her opinions on issues, and when the vote on teachers' jobs and several other issues stalled at 3-3, Hudson came in to tip the balance in favor of those cuts.

Dredging fight will go to trial

URBANA – The stalled Salt Fork River dredging project that has pitted environmental activists against farmers will be going to trial later this month.

Judge Michael Jones set the trial for 9 a.m. March 17 in Champaign County Circuit Court.

Rantoul police purchase 6 Tasers

RANTOUL – Rantoul police Officer Shane Cook says he wishes he had a Taser a few weeks ago when he responded to a call about a domestic dispute.

When Cook tried to break up a fight between a husband and a wife, the husband ran off and jumped through an apartment window. Cook had to chase the man and physically put him down in a parking lot before he could make an arrest.