Low-income families will benefit from laws

SPRINGFIELD – As Labor Day approaches, two new state laws will make life a little easier for the lowest-income working families in Illinois.

"Americans honor work, yet too often, we fail to reward it," said Jerry Stermer, president of Voices For Illinois Children.

Record number of freshmen attending UI

Jeff Pittelkow already has an interesting twist to his freshman year. When he received his residence hall room assignment, he found out he was around the corner from his sister, Liz, who happens to be the resident adviser for the adjacent wing.

Pittelkow should have plenty of fun telling the story to his fellow freshmen, who constitute the largest class ever admitted to the University of Illinois. Unofficially, 6,768 first-year students will start classes in 2003, about 400 more than last year. There were about 22,271 freshman applications, compared with 21,484 in 2002.

Air traffic controllers against privatization

SPRINGFIELD – Air traffic controllers from across the region gathered at Capital Airport to protest the possible privatization of their jobs at the Springfield airport, Willard Airport in Savoy and other similarly sized airports across the country.

Controllers said on Monday that the safety of the public will be put at risk by a White House initiative to contract out the service traditionally operated by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Nursing home plans to appeal $15,000 fine

SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois Department of Public Health on Friday fined the Champaign County Nursing Home $15,000 for two alleged violations stemming from incidents that occurred last year, but the nursing home has requested hearings to appeal both.

The 243-bed facility does not have to pay the fine until a final decision is made on the appeals, Illinois Department of Public Health spokeswoman Tammy Leonard said.

$6 million released for UI facility

SPRINGFIELD – Gov. Rod Blagojevich recently thawed a $6 million grant to the University of Illinois to help move the Illinois Natural History Survey into more spacious facilities at the UI Research Park.

The survey, which is part of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, has been seeking relief from its cramped quarters on the UI campus for more than a decade now, said Chief David Thomas.

Governor signs bills easing UI unionization

CHICAGO – Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed two bills Tuesday that will make it easier for faculty at the University of Illinois to gain union representation.

The bills were signed at a meeting of the AFL-CIO Executive Council in Chicago. One bill (SB1360) reverses a 1995 amendment to the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act that required faculty at the University of Illinois' three campuses to organize as a single unit. Another (HB3396) provides automatic recognition of a union for public and educational employees if a majority of workers sign cards indicating a desire to be represented by a union, eliminating the need for an election.

Winkel will donate cash from Ryan fund

SPRINGFIELD – State Sen. Rick Winkel, R-Champaign, resisted political pressure during his last campaign to give up the $24,500 in donations he had taken over the years from former Gov. George Ryan's campaign fund.

"I am going to wait and see what the prosecutors and the courts do," he said at the time. "If the George Ryan campaign is found guilty as charged, then my campaign committee will donate a sum to charity equal to the amount that it received."

Biodiesel in area's future?

SPRINGFIELD – Dubbed the "all-American" fuel, biodiesel is the buzz these days from Lollapalooza summer music fest, to Berkeley, Calif., to the Springfield bus system.

Now the Champaign County Economic Development Corporation and The Atkins Group have confirmed that a California-based biodiesel production company has approached them about building a $20 million plant in Champaign County.

Local donors generous to Blagojevich

SPRINGFIELD – East Central Illinois was very good to Gov. Rod Blagojevich this summer.

In campaign finance disclosure documents released Thursday evening, the Friends of Blagojevich campaign committee reported $215,330 in contributions in the first six months of this year, $50,000 of which came from Champaign-area contributors during June.

West Nile virus returns to Champaign County

SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois Department of Public Health confirmed Wednesday that a dead blue jay found July 25 in Champaign has tested positive for West Nile virus, a disease that infected 900 Illinoisans last year, resulting in 66 deaths.

Most people infected with the virus show no symptoms, but some may develop a mild fever or headache three to 15 days after being bitten by a mosquito carrying the West Nile virus.