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August 30, 2014, 1:14 pm
970 WMAY News

Long-Awaited Fracking Rules Released

Long-awaited new rules on fracking have been submitted by state officials. 


The updated rules from the Department of Natural Resources are intended to provide greater environmental protection and more transparency for the public when companies use hydraulic fracturing to extract oil and natural gas from far below the Earth’s surface. 


The proposed rules must still go through a public comment period of at least 45 days.  Oil and gas companies have been angry about lengthy delays in getting those rules in place.


Attorney General Investigating Alleged Abuse Of Buffet Restaurant Workers

That Chinese buffet restaurant you like might be serving up some violations of labor laws. 


Attorney General Lisa Madigan is investigating widespread complaints that immigrant workers at those buffet places are being subjected to long hours with no breaks, no overtime pay, and substandard living conditions. 


Madigan isn’t naming any specific establishments yet, but says some of those under scrutiny are in Central Illinois.

Dana-Thomas House Hit By Flooding; Staff Still Assessing Damage

Thursday’s torrential rains have caused some damage at the historic Dana-Thomas House. 


The Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home was closed to visitors Friday after flooding that affected the basement of the structure… where the home’s bowling alley and billiards room are located. 


State historic preservation officials say fast action by staffers and cleaning crews minimized the damage… but it’s unclear yet if any of the floors or other items will need restoration work.


It's unclear when the home will reopen.  Anyone hopnig to visit this weekend should call ahead at (217) 782-6776 for updates.

Heavy Rain Causes Flooding Through Springfield Area

It’s becoming increasingly common in Springfield… an intense downpour followed by widespread flooding.


Most of the waters have receded now, but getting around the city Thursday night proved to be enormously challenging after two-and-a-half inches of rain fell in about an hour. Numerous streets and viaducts were flooded… several cars were stranded in water up to their windows on South Sixth Street, just south of the Hoogland Center for the Arts.


The Hoogland and other downtown buildings also experienced flooding as storm sewers were overwhelmed. And many people are still trying to get water out of their basements this morning.

State Retirees Won't Pay Health Insurance Premiums Beginning October

State government retirees won’t have health insurance premiums deducted from their pension checks, starting October 1st.


A Sangamon County judge has issued a preliminary injunction blocking the state from taking that money… but the ruling came down too late to add the money back into September checks.


The state has been collecting those premiums since last year and will apparently have to refund the money with interest… although it’s not clear how or when that will happen.


Judge Steven Nardulli’s ruling is based on the recent Illinois Supreme Court decision which found that free or subsidized health care benefits for public sector retirees are protected under the state constitution.

Student Immunization Deadline Today

Today is the day… students in District 186 must have proof that they have all their required vaccinations by the end of the day, or they won’t be allowed to return to class on Tuesday, after the holiday weekend.


District officials did not have an updated count Thursday of how many students still haven’t turned in that paperwork, but say the number is dropping every day.


Sangamon County public health officials say they were told earlier in the week that as many as 800 students didn’t have the paperwork on file at that time.


The health department held a vaccination clinic Thursday… and another one, by appointment only, is planned for today at SIU Healthcare. To schedule an appointment, call 545-8000.

Higgins Expected to Challenge McMenamin in Ward 7 Race

One of the Springfield aldermanic races next spring could have a familiar feel.


As 970 WMAY News was the first to report, Maldaner’s Restaurant owner Michael Higgins is seeking a rematch against Ward 7 Alderman Joe McMenamin.


McMenamin beat Higgins and another challenger in a three-way race in 2011.


Higgins plans a formal campaign announcement in September. McMenamin is also expected to seek re-election next year.

Extensive Flooding Hits Springfield

Another torrential rainstorm has led to widespread flooding across the Springfield area.


Several cars were stranded up to their windows in standing water on South Sixth Street, just south of the Hoogland Center for the Arts.  Numerous other main roads and side streets were also left impassable from the floodwaters. Most viaducts were closed, and a flash flood warning was issued into early Friday morning.


Motorists are reminded to use extreme caution, especially in low-lying areas and near streams and ditches.  Never drive into standing water, which can be deceptively deep.

Clinics Scheduled As Deadline Looms For Student Vaccinations

Friday is the deadline for District 186 parents to show proof that their children have the required vaccinations… or those kids won’t be allowed back in class after the Labor Day weekend. 


As of earlier this week, Sangamon County health officials say they were told as many as 800 students still lacked the shots or documentation. 


The Sangamon County Public Health Department scheduled a special immunization clinic for Thursday [running until 6pm] to provide those last-minute shots so that kids won’t miss any classes. Another clinic is planned at SIU Healthcare on Friday.


New Public Smoking Crackdowns Underway

More efforts are underway to clamp down on second-hand smoke… even in outdoor or almost-outdoor spaces.  S


everal Springfield parks have designated “kid-friendly park zones” where people are asked not to smoke outdoors near where kids are playing.  But there is no specific penalty for ignoring the request. 


Meanwhile, state regulators are considering new restrictions on smoking in the beer garden or patio areas of bars.  Sangamon County public health director Jim Stone says any rules should include a precise definition of what constitutes a beer garden.


Supporters Of Sherman Cop Cry Foul

Supporters of a Sherman police officer say the veteran cop is being unfairly targeted for speaking out against a police union contract. 


Officer Phil Brown is facing termination over several alleged infractions, including speeding in his squad car and putting military decals commemorating his Naval service on his police vehicle.  But Brown’s union rep and others say the village has ignored normal disciplinary procedures and is simply retaliating against him. 


A state Labor Relations Board hearing is set for next week.

Higgins Seeks Rematch In Ward 7

It looks like a rematch in one Springfield ward. 


Maldaner’s Restaurant owner Michael Higgins is planning to run again for Ward 7 Alderman.  Higgins lost to Joe McMenamin in a three-man race in 2011. 


McMenamin is expected to run for re-election next year.  Higgins plans a formal campaign announcement next week.

Title Loan Companies Fined By State

Several Springfield consumer credit companies have been fined by the state for violating rules that cover who can get such loans. 


Lenders including Illinois Title Loans and Title Max were cited for giving loans to people who didn’t have enough income to cover them… or who had recently obtained other title-backed loans. 


The fines range from $1,000 to $7,000.

Report: Memorial Medical Center Permanent Level 1 Trauma Center

Memorial Medical Center is slated to become the permanent Level 1 trauma center for Central Illinois… ending a longstanding arrangement in which that designation alternated between Memorial and St. John’s Hospital.


The State Journal-Register reports the decision was made by the SIU School of Medicine… in part because of the logistics involved in retraining staff on the details of Level 1 trauma status each year when the designation switches from one hospital to the other.


St. John’s issued a statement saying it has not received any formal notification of the decision… but does not indicate whether it plans to fight the change.

SPD Chief Winslow: Officers Treat Everyone Equally

Springfield’s police chief concedes that some parts of the community view his department as unfair and biased toward certain groups.


But Kenny Winslow insists the department works hard to treat everyone equally. He says data that shows minorities are disproportionately targeted for traffic stops and searches doesn’t tell the whole story.


And he urges anyone with a specific complaint about unfair treatment by a Springfield cop to file an internal affairs complaint.


Winslow will address an NAACP town hall meeting about police relations with the community next Thursday night at Southeast High School.

Downtown Springfield Inc. Facing $50,000 Shortfall

The organization that tries to help downtown Springfield businesses is now in need of some help of its own.


Downtown Springfield, Inc. is facing a $50,000 shortfall after several recent big events fell far short of expectations.


The State Journal-Register reports last weekend’s Old Capitol Blues and BBQ had dramatically reduced crowds because of the very hot temperatures.


DSI plans a fundraiser in September in hopes of raising enough money to make ends meet until the organization’s annual meeting and banquet in January.

Illinois Supreme Court Building Reopens in Springfield

The Illinois Supreme Court is back home in Springfield.


The high court’s historic building across from the State Capitol re-opened Wednesday… after a 14-month, $16 million renovation project.


The project included restoration and renovation of the 108-year-old building… including upgrades to the climate control systems and technology to allow high-def transmissions of Supreme Court arguments.


The justices met in Chicago during the renovations, but will conduct their new term in Springfield, starting September 8th.

Judge Orders Parsons to Produce Documents or Faces Jail Time

The founder of bankrupt THR and Associates has been ordered to produce more documents about his finances… or face possible jail time.


Jeff Parsons appeared in federal court Wednesday… and was given a stern warning by Judge Sue Myerscough to turn over the documents by September 10th.


Former THR employees are suing for millions of dollars in overtime pay and penalties… and say Parsons may be holding on to millions in assets.

IDOT Brings Out The Dead In Labor Day Holiday DUI Campaign

If constant reminders from police don’t convince you not to drink and drive, maybe zombies will do the trick.


The Illinois Department of Transportation is trying a new approach to its public service announcements against DUI over the upcoming holiday weekend… using digital and social media for ads based on the hit show “The Walking Dead.”


Actor Michael Rooker, who played Merle on the hit series, is featured in the ads… called “The Driving Dead.”


Heavy police patrols will also be part of the highway safety push over the Labor Day holiday.

Springfield Police Chief Acknowledges Perception Problem In Some Parts Of Community

Springfield’s police chief acknowledges that some parts of the community don’t have faith that his officers treat everyone equally and fairly.  But Chief Kenny Winslow says that’s a perception he’s working hard to correct. 


Appearing live on the 970 WMAY News Feed, Winslow said traffic stop data that suggests minorities are disproportionately targeted don’t tell the whole story… and he encourages anyone who thinks they’ve been harassed by a cop to contact a supervisor or internal affairs.


Study Says Inspector General Post Ineffective Unless Truly Independent

If Springfield decides to revive its inspector general position, a watchdog group says it needs to have some teeth. 


970 WMAY’s watchdog partner, the Better Government Association, has been studying inspectors general in the Chicago area… and finds many of them are hampered by limits to their scope and authority. 


BGA President and CEO Andy Shaw says a local inspector general has to have the freedom to investigate every aspect of city government… including the mayor and aldermen… without interference.

Vallas: Rauner Tax Plan Would Cost Local Schools Millions

Governor Pat Quinn’s running mate says Republican Bruce Rauner’s tax plan would slash tens of millions of dollars from Sangamon County schools. 


Rauner has proposed rolling back the state’s income tax rate over a period of several years, ultimately returning to the original three-percent rate.  Quinn wants to keep it at its current level of five-percent. 


Lieutenant Governor hopeful Paul Vallas says Rauner’s plan would mean $50 million a year less for Sangamon County schools than Quinn’s plan… including a $30 million reduction for Springfield District 186.


More Police, Civilian Security On Hand At Lanphier After Gun Incident

A bigger police presence at Lanphier High School is one of several adjustments to security being made after a student was arrested with a loaded gun Tuesday. 


District 186 says two additional civilian security guards were also on hand at Lanphier a day after that incident, which remains under investigation.


Springfield Police Chief Kenny Winslow says there’s always a balancing act between security and allowing schools to be accessible to the public they serve.  And he says cost must also be factored into security decisions.


State Anti-DUI Campaign To Have ''Walking Dead' Theme

It’s a message you’ve heard for years, but state and local officials hope a new way of delivering it will improve its impact. 


IDOT and local law enforcement agencies are again urging people not to drink and drive over the upcoming holiday weekend… and hope a “Walking Dead”-themed PSA campaign on digital and social media will send that message to the demographic groups most likely to be impaired behind the wheel. 


Extra patrols are also planned throughout the Labor Day weekend.

Enhanced Security at Lanphier Day After Student Arrested With Gun

Security will be tighter today at Lanphier High School, one day after a 16-year-old student was arrested for bringing a loaded gun to the school.


District 186 Superintendent Jennifer Gill says the student showed the weapon to several others… but did not threaten those students with it.


A student reported the gun to school officials, who in turn notified police.


Springfield police say the student told them he had the gun for “protection.”


The student was arrested “without incident” and was taken to the Sangamon County Juvenile Detention Center.

Teamsters Say Fired IDOT Employees Improperly Targeted

The Teamsters say 58 IDOT employees who have been targeted for layoffs because they got their jobs through improper political channels should stay on the job.


The State Journal-Register reports the union is challenging the layoffs, saying the workers are being punished for the improper conduct of higher-ups.


55 of the 58 workers are members of the union… and, of them, 21 are based in Sangamon County, including the daughter of former local Democratic Party chair Todd Renfrow.

Conflict Amid Springfield City Council On How to Hire New Coordinator

There’s some conflict on the Springfield City Council over the hiring of a new council coordinator. Joe Davis… who has held the post for two decades… is set to retire early next year.


Alderman Frank Edwards, who chaired Tuesday’s council committee of the whole meeting, appointed a special committee to oversee the selection of a replacement.


But Alderman Joe McMenamin… who was not chosen to serve on that committee… is objecting. He wants to retain Davis on a contractual basis until after a new city council is elected next spring… and then let them choose Davis’s successor.

Mayor Houston's Medical Pot Tax Idea Extinguished

Mayor Mike Houston’s idea to generate revenue through a special tax on medical marijuana sales appears to be fizzling.


Earlier this month, Houston suggested the city could raise money by using its home rule power to assess an additional tax on top of the one-percent sales tax imposed on the purchase of medication.


But a pro-marijuana activist and the state Department of Revenue both say such a tax would not be permitted under state law.


However, the city would get the proceeds from the one-percent sales tax if a medical marijuana business locates within the city limits.

Springfield's Quaker Steak and Lube Closes Abruptly

There’s still no clear indication about why a Springfield restaurant closed its doors without warning this week.


Quaker Steak and Lube was open on Monday, but stopped operations Tuesday.


The restaurant known for its chicken wings opened next to Scheels in October of 2011.


An initial statement from the restaurant chain offered no reason for the closure, but subsequent statements mentioned the harsh winter, the economy, and the failure of a planned outlet mall to open on schedule.

Scheels Donation to Kidzeum will Fund Kidz Fit Klub

Scheels is giving a big boost to the planned Kidzeum in downtown Springfield.


A $100,000 donation will fund a “Kidz Fit Klub” inside the proposed children’s museum.


Exhibits will include an interactive agility and fitness display to teach kids how and why people exercise.


The Kidzeum… with its focus on health and science… has now raised more than $5 million as it works toward a scheduled opening next year.


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