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Harvest Desk
10:00 am
Thu April 10, 2014

Vertical Farming: Lofty Vision, Uncertain Future

Flourescent or LED lamps provide the spectrum of light to sustain plant growth in vertical farms.
Peter Gray/WUIS

Farmers are making inroads supplying local food to hungry city "foodies", but many producers are trying to grow more food in urban centers. City real estate is at a premium, so some producers are finding more space by using what’s called “vertical farming,” and going up rather than spreading out.

Growers across the country are heading indoors, using greenhouses and hydroponics – growing plants in a water and nutrient solution instead of soil and using lamps to replace sunlight. Vertical farming takes that to a new level.

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Charter Schools
8:55 am
Thu April 10, 2014

Charter Schools: The Fix Ailing Districts Need?

Students at Ball Charter
Rachel Otwell/WUIS

Nearly two decades ago when the state legislature paved the way for charter schools, Republicans were in control and touted them as an innovative way to improve education by removing many rules and regulations. Now there are about 145 charter school campuses across the state, the vast majority in Chicago. Supporters say they are the change an ailing education system needs, but it's a contentious topic. In this report, the first of a two-part series, we visit a charter school and explore the differing opinions about them:

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Election 2014
5:48 pm
Wed April 9, 2014

The Stain Of Corruption: Candidate Endorsements

William Cellini
Credit WBEZ

  Gov. Pat Quinn's campaign is blasting his Republican opponent, Bruce Rauner for getting endorsed by Springfield insider William Cellini. But Quinn has his own checkered endorsement history.

Cellini, a lifelong Republican, went to prison for his role in a campaign contribution shakedown scheme tied to the administration of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

The Quinn campaign is criticizing Rauner for not doing enough to denounce Cellini, but when reporters asked him about it in the Capitol, Quinn said: "Well I don't want to get into politics here."

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Harvest Desk
4:44 pm
Wed April 9, 2014

Illinois Farmer: Drones Teach You A Lot In A Hurry

Matt Boucher of Dwight, Ill. flies his unmanned aerial system from the back of his pickup.
Boucher Farms

Fourth-generation family farmer Matt Boucher took his first unmanned aerial vehicle (what we might commonly refer to as a “drone”) out of its box last Christmas.

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Illinois Jobs Now!
4:38 pm
Wed April 9, 2014

Raising Gax Tax "Unwise," Says Quinn, But Offers No Other Ideas

Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider announces an $8.6 billion, six-year transportation construction program, with Gov. Pat Quinn at her side.
Credit Amanda Vinicky

  Illinois will invest another eight point six billion dollars into roads, bridges and other projects. It's the latest installment of a major infrastructure plan lawmakers passed in 2010. Now, Governor Pat Quinn is calling for a new one. But he's not saying where the money should come from.

The 2010 infrastructure program - known as Illinois Jobs Now! - has funded thousands of miles of road repairs so far -- paid for by higher taxes on alcohol, candy and soft drinks; a higher license plate fee; and revenue from video poker.

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Statehouse
4:37 pm
Wed April 9, 2014

S&P: Next Two Months 'Critical' For Illinois Finances

Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

A major credit rating agency says the next two months will be "critical" for the future of Illinois' finances. The key question is whether to make a temporary tax hike permanent.

Like most of the big credit rating agencies, Standard & Poor's has been bearish on Illinois finances — lowering the state's credit rating four times in recent years.

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StARS Event
11:06 am
Wed April 9, 2014

Students Showcase Their Work At UIS Symposium

Credit UIS

The University of Illinois Springfield campus will give examples of what students have been up to at the upcoming  Student Arts and Research Symposium (StARS).  

From research to art projects, it's all on display. 

"It's an extremely supportive environment," said senior Brianna Werner.  "Both from faculty and other students.  Students come and do class projects at the (symposium). They'll take pictures with you. Take pictures of your posters."

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Harvest Desk
9:46 am
Wed April 9, 2014

Empowering Women Farmers In Central Illinois

Rachel Broughton and husband Perry, Springfield area entrepreneurs

 An area organization with the goal of propelling women entrepreneurs into "economic and social spheres of power" wants to do the same for female farmers. 

Women Entrepreneurs of Central Illinois, WE-CI, will be talking about the role of gender in farm operation Wednesday, April 9.  

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Illinois Constitution
9:10 am
Wed April 9, 2014

Madigan on Voting Rights: 'We Don't Know What The Future Holds'

House Speaker Michael Madigan, right, acknowledges voter suppression has not been a big problem in Illinois.
Credit Amanda Vinicky/WUIS

The Illinois House has approved a proposal to add protections for voting rights to the Illinois Constitution.

The measure is sponsored by House Speaker Michael Madigan himself.

In explaining why he thinks it's necessary, he recalled the federal Voting Rights Act, and the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision to "modify" parts of that law.

"That modification by the Supreme Court has apparently brought on efforts in other states to enact legislation that some of us would consider to be voter suppression," Madigan says, pointing to voter ID laws.

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Election 2014
6:31 am
Wed April 9, 2014

Rauner: "I'm Not Anti Union At All"

Republican nominee for governor Bruce Rauner gives a speech at the Sangamo Club in Springfield, blocks from the statehouse.
Credit Hannah Meisel

  Republican candidate for governor Bruce Rauner says common perceptions about him have it all wrong: he's not against unions and he doesn't want to take away public workers' pensions. Rauner was in Springfield Tuesday for a Sangamon County Republican Foundation fundraiser.

Unions worked hard to prevent Rauner from getting the GOP nomination --- and why not. He constantly talked during the primary about how "government union bosses" were to blame for much of Illinois' ills.

But since he became the nominee, I've yet to hear him publicly use the phrase. I asked him:

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Election 2014
12:14 am
Wed April 9, 2014

Cellini Back On The Political Scene, Backs Rauner

Bruce Rauner, the GOP nominee for governor, speaks with individuals at a Sangamon County Republican Foundation reception.
Credit Amanda Vinicky

Springfield powerbroker William Cellini is back on the political scene, following his release from prison late last year. He was found guilty of participating in an extortion scheme when Rod Blagojevich was governor.

Cellini attended a Sangamon County Republican Foundation event Tuesday night, which featured Bruce Rauner, the party's nominee for governor.

Cellini says he backed State Senator Kirk Dillard in the Republican primary race. But now he's behind Rauner.

"Well I've been a Republican all my life and he's the Republican candidate," Cellini said.

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Regional
10:12 pm
Tue April 8, 2014

Napa Contract Left In Committee Again, Concerns Over Non-Union Employees

Credit springfield.il.us

Several Springfield Aldermen raised concerns about laying off three non-union employees if an agreement with NAPA Auto Parts goes through.

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Regional
3:42 pm
Tue April 8, 2014

Illinois Considering East-West Amtrak Route

Credit wuis

State lawmakers are backing the creation of an east-west passenger rail corridor across Illinois.  
The Illinois House unanimously approved a non-binding resolution Monday endorsing a possible Amtrak route from the Quad Cities in the west to Danville in the east.  

The Springfield bureau of Lee Enterprises newspapers reports that the route would include stops in Galesburg, Peoria, Bloomington-Normal and Champaign-Urbana.  
No cost estimate was discussed.  
Republican state Rep. Don Moffitt of Gilson is sponsoring the proposal.  

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IHSA
12:18 pm
Tue April 8, 2014

Lawmaker Wants Closer Oversight Of IHSA

  Illinois lawmakers want to take a closer look at the Illinois High School Association ... the organization that sanctions spots and extracurricular competitions statewide. Critics fear it will end in a takeover.

Football, chess and water polo matches — not to mention band, drama and scholastic bowl competitions — are all governed by the IHSA. It's a non-profit-group, based in Bloomington.

But while it's not government-run, Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, says it was created by the General Assembly.

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Income tax
12:34 am
Tue April 8, 2014

Tax Watchdog Group: Income Tax Doesn't Hurt Businesses, Property Tax Does

Credit flickr/danxoneil

  Opponents of Governor Pat Quinn's proposed income tax increase say it will chase jobs out of Illinois. A new report that challenges that assumption.

What to do about Illinois' expiring income tax hike has been the star of the debate this spring. The governor threatens cuts unless its extended, while Republican leaders say keeping the higher tax rate is a bigger threat to the economy.

Ralph Martire, director of the Chicago-based Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, says that's a misunderstanding. He says property taxes are the true obstruction of economic growth.

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Science
5:56 pm
Mon April 7, 2014

Author Explains The Demise Of The Passenger Pigeon

It's hard to believe that in the early 1800's, roughly 40 percent of the birds in North America were passenger pigeons.  Yet, a century later, the species was hunted to extinction.  The last one died in captivity in 1914.

Naturalist Joel Greenberg has written about this cautionary tale.  He will give the Illinois State Museum's Science Series lecture Wednesday in Springfield. His book is titled "A Feathered River Across The Sky: The Passenger Pigeon's Flight To Extinction."

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Regional
4:14 pm
Mon April 7, 2014

Sangamon County Auditor Announces Mayoral Bid

Palazzolo at Lincoln Park during his official announcement seeking office of Springfield mayor.
Credit WUIS/Lee Strubinger

The Sangamon County Auditor says his experience at the county level makes him most qualified to be the city's top executive.

Spring rain held off at Lincoln Park as Paul Palazzolo officially announced his intent to run for mayor of Springfield next year.

Palazzolo served as Sangamon County Auditor since 2002 and says he has a track record of transparency.
Four years ago he said he was running for mayor, but dropped out after failing to get the backing of the county's GOP organization.  The mayor's office is officially non-partisan.    

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State Government
8:41 am
Mon April 7, 2014

Is Cap And Trade A Financial And Environmental Solution For Illinois?

Prof. Don Fullerton
Credit University of Illinois

An Illinois professor says state government could improve it's financial predicament and lower greenhouse gas emissions at the same time.  

Don Fullerton is proposing what's known as a "cap and trade" program where a limit is placed on emissions. 

Going above the level would cost money for operations like coal fired power plants.  But even he admits it's unlikely to happen anytime soon. 

Read Fullerton's proposal in the article below:

Taxing Waste, not Work: Cap-and-Trade as a Revenue Source

By Don Fullerton

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Constitutional Amendment
6:35 am
Mon April 7, 2014

Legislators Vote Against Capping Their Careers

Credit flickr/danxoneil

  Voters may still get the chance to decide if they want to limit how long legislators can serve ... but no thanks to legislators themselves.

Although elections have been compared to popularity contests, as a whole, "politicians" aren't all that popular.

Which may be way polls show voters find the idea of term limits so appealing.

Unless, of course, you're a legislator.

Senator Darin LaHood, a Republican from Peoria, nonetheless introduced a term limits plan.

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UIS Theatre
6:00 am
Mon April 7, 2014

'How I Learned To Drive' At UIS

Missy Thibodeaux-Thompson

The theater department at University of Illinois Springfield is known for putting on thought-provoking and modern plays. The one premiering this weekend is no exception, called 'How I Learned to Drive' it follows the tale of a woman looking back at her adolescence, a time wrought with some pretty heavy issues. Rachel Otwell recently spoke with the director, Missy Thibodeaux-Thompson and actor and co-dramaturg Christina Craig: 

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State Week
3:03 pm
Fri April 4, 2014

Listen To State Week - April 4, 2014

This week, a proposal for a state constitutional amendment on voting rights, a proposal for a graduated tax rate, and suggestions for a pension change for the city of Chicago.

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Statehouse
2:55 pm
Fri April 4, 2014

State Manager Fined; Had Employees Do His Homework

A former Illinois Department of Employment Security manager has been fined for directing his co-workers to do his college homework on taxpayer time.  

An April 3 report by Executive Inspector General Ricardo Meza  says 63-year-old Clyde Redfield was fined $2,500. He resigned from his $71,000 job in 2012 after the allegations surfaced.  

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Education
11:50 am
Fri April 4, 2014

Schools Consider New Test Fee Amid Budget Worries

Credit creative commons

State education officials are considering retaining a
traditional college-readiness test for high school juniors but passing the cost along to school districts and possibly the students' families.
 
The move is one cost-cutting possibility after Illinois schools have seen close to $1 billion in cuts since 2009. Educators warn of more drastic cuts if
lawmakers decide not to extend a temporary income tax hike set to expire at the end of 2014.
 
State board officials estimate it will cost $14 million for all high school

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Regional
11:43 am
Fri April 4, 2014

NTSB Report On Taylorville Plane Crash Nearly Done

A detailed report on a fatal central Illinois plane crash could be ready soon, more than 18 months after a dozen skydivers jumped from the aircraft just before it went down.
 
The August 2012 crash in Taylorville killed pilot Brandon Sparrow, who stayed
at the controls when the twin-engine plane stalled and began to roll. It took a
steep dive and crashed just yards from an occupied home.
 
Tom Latson is an investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board. He
tells The (Decatur) Herald & Review (http://bit.ly/1pZz3Xh ) that he expects his

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Graduated income tax
9:47 am
Fri April 4, 2014

Graduated Income Tax Moves Forward After Stumble

  An effort to change Illinois' income tax from a flat to a graduated structure is making headway in the General Assembly. The plan, where the more you earn the more you pay, has been revived after a setback last week.

When another proposal for a graduated income tax was up for debate last week, it was shot down before even getting to the floor. But Representative Christian Mitchell, a Democrat from Chicago, says his proposal is different: Its income-based tax brackets are lower than the previous version.

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Education
1:46 pm
Thu April 3, 2014

Senator Suggests Switching School Funding Distribution

Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, says his kids' art classes are held in a former janitors' closet -- a sign of what happens as a result of Illinois' school funding formula.
Credit Amanda Vinicky

    

Critics of the way Illinois funds schools say it's wrong that the quality of a child's education is based largely on her zip code.

That's because schools are mostly funded by local property taxes. While Illinois takes that into account when determining how much state money to give each district, it's not the predominant factor.

A new proposal, backed by Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, would make local need the number one test.

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DEMO Project
1:39 pm
Thu April 3, 2014

Local Professor Combines Art, Lincoln & Drones

Erica Holst, curator of collections at SAA and artist Mike Miller
Credit Rachel Otwell/WUIS

This weekend two openings will take place on the campus of the Springfield Art Association. One will combine the artworks of University of Illinois Springfield faculty in an exhibit called, Trigger: New Work by UIS Art Faculty. That will be in the new M.G. Nelson Family Gallery. The reception is on Friday, 5:30-7:30pm. The exhibit will run through April 25.  

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Coal industry
12:57 pm
Thu April 3, 2014

Environmental Groups Call For Enforcement Of Coal Regulations

  Environmentalists in central Illinois are calling for tougher regulations on the coal industry. They say coal companies are using land to profit, then leaving residents with a mess.

Director of the Sierra Club's Illinois Chapter Jack Darin acknowledges the regulations the state already has in place. He says the problem is Illinois' lax enforcement of those laws against coal companies.

"Unless they're held accountable for these actions, then what good are the strongest regulations that the state can write?" he said.

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Business
12:01 pm
Thu April 3, 2014

Former Illiopolis Plant Nearly Demolished

Credit csb.gov

State environmental regulators say a former plastics plant in central Illinois where a 2004 explosion killed five people is now all but demolished and cleaned up.
 
The explosion at the Formosa Plastics plant in Illiopolis happened on April 23,
2004. Federal safety officials ruled a worker mistakenly opened a valve on a
high-temperature reactor. The small town is 25 miles east of Springfield.
 
Illinois Environmental Protection Agency spokeswoman Kim Biggs tells The State
Journal-Register in Springfield (http://bit.ly/1lrbXc1 ) that a couple of

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