Health Benefits Exchange, Control of Rate Increases, and Higher Percentages of Premiums Going to Health Care Among Recommendations

CHICAGO - March 2, 2011. A state panel convened by Governor Pat Quinn to guide Illinois' implementation of national health care reform released its initial recommendations today. The Health Care Reform Implementation Council urged the creation of a health benefit exchange -- called for in the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA) -- through which individuals and small businesses would be able to purchase health coverage at competitive prices. The panel also recommended that state regulators be given the authority to approve or deny health insurance rate increases, and that insurance companies be required to spend at least 80 percent of premium dollars on health care for policy holders.

"I would like to thank the members of the Council for the thoughtful and thorough analysis and outreach effort that they have conducted across our state," Governor Quinn said. "The unifying theme heard at the Council's meetings was that the ACA must be implemented quickly, efficiently and fairly in order to make comprehensive health insurance affordable and accessible to all Illinoisans. The council will continue leading the state's implementation efforts and reporting periodically on their progress to ensure we meet our goals."

Governor Quinn created the Health Care Reform Implementation Council by Executive Order in July 2010. The group was tasked with providing recommendations for implementation of the ACA, many provisions of which take effect in 2014.The panel held a series of five hearings around the state to gather input from health-care stakeholders, including providers, insurers, and consumer advocates.

"Governor Quinn has directed the state agencies that will play a role in implementing health care reform to work together to deliver on the promise of the Affordable Care Act," said Michael Gelder, chair of the council and Governor Quinn's senior health policy advisor. "As we implement the federal reforms, this council will continue to meet with the goal of improving the health of Illinois residents by increasing access to health care, reducing treatment disparities, controlling costs, and improving the affordability, quality and effectiveness of health care."

The report estimates that by 2014, more than 1 million uninsured Illinois residents will obtain health coverage. Between 500,000 and 800,000 individuals will be covered under the state's Medicaid program with full federal funding. An additional 200,000 to 300,000 people will purchase their insurance through the health benefit exchange, with premiums subsidized by the federal government.

The Council's report recommends that legislative action should begin this year on many of the steps that will be needed to implement the ACA. The report recommends passage of state legislation to give the Department of Insurance the power to approve or deny health insurance rate increases; the ACA gives state exchanges the authority to regulate rates.

The panel also called for legislation to meet a requirement in the federal law that insurance companies spend a minimum percentage of premium dollars on health care. For individuals and groups of 50 employees or less, 80 percent would have to be spent on health care; for large groups, the minimum would be 85 percent.

In the initial report delivered to Governor Quinn, the panel also recommends:

  • Passage of state legislation to bring Illinois in compliance with the ACA's requirement for internal review and external appeal for health insurance claims that are denied.
  • Amendment to state law that would make it easier to create non-profit, member-run health insurance cooperatives that will be eligible for funding under the ACA.
  • Passage of state legislation to bring Illinois in compliance with federal law that requires parity for mental health coverage in group health insurance policies and HMOs.
  • Seeking the maximum available federal funds to upgrade the state's data system so to accurately verify eligibility and keep track of individuals that shift between Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program and private insurance purchased through the Exchange.

The report notes that further study and input will be needed from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services before decisions can be made on a variety of issues, including the exact nature of the Exchange and whether the state should adopt a Basic Health Plan that would specify the health benefits offered by the Exchange.

In addition to Mr. Gelder, the chairman, the members of the Council include : vice chairs Julie Hamos, director of the Department of Healthcare and Family Services and Michael McRaith, director of the Department of Insurance; Dr. Damon Arnold, director of the Department of Public Health; Charles Johnson, director, Department on Aging; Michelle Saddler, secretary, Department of Human Services; James Sledge, director, Central Management Services and David Vaught, director of the Office of Management and Budget.

To view the full report, go to:


(Kansas City, Kan., March 3, 2011) - Through May 2, EPA Region 7 will accept proposals from eligible applicant schools and entities for the Agency's 2011 Environmental Education grants to develop new programs promoting environmental stewardship in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska communities.   

In previous years, EPA issued Environmental Education grants from its headquarters in Washington, D.C.  This year, EPA regional offices, including the Region 7 office in Kansas City, Kan., will directly award grants between $15,000 and $100,000.

Proposals for 2011 grants should be mailed to Denise Morrison, Environmental Education Coordinator, Office of Public Affairs, EPA, Region 7, 901 North 5th Street, Kansas City, Kan., 66101. Proposals must be received by 5 p.m. (CDT) May 2, 2011; those received after the due date will not be considered.

A solicitation notice announcing the grants program is available online at  For additional information, contact Denise Morrison at  

Environmental Education grants provide funding to local education agencies, state education and environmental agencies; colleges and universities; not-for-profit organizations; and non-commercial broadcasting entities. Tribal education agencies controlled by an Indian tribe, band or nation, including schools and community colleges, may also apply.  

Proposed projects should involve designing, demonstrating or developing innovative education tools and materials. Projects also should involve environmental education activities that go beyond disseminating information.

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Learn more about EPA's Environmental Education grants:


LAREDO, TexasAllegiant (NASDAQ: ALGT) today announces it will begin nonstop seasonal travel service between Laredo, Texas, and Orlando, Fla., via Orlando Sanford International Airport (SFB). The seasonal service will operate May 20through mid-August. The company, known for its exceptional travel deals, is offering fares as low as $59.99* one-way between both cities. Guaranteeing the lowest prices on its hotel packages, customers will also save an additional $20 off their air when they book with an Allegiant preferred hotel.

"We're pleased to again offer an affordable and convenient way for our customers to get away this summer," Andrew C. Levy, Allegiant Travel Company President, said. "We are confident the Laredo community will appreciate the value of flying nonstop to Orlando and the great deals we offer on hotels and car rentals."

"The City of Laredo is extremely excited to join Allegiant in this wonderful announcement of additional service to Orlando during the summer months," said City of Laredo Mayor Raul G. Salinas.  "These new flights will help make dreams come true for Laredoans who want to meet Mickey Mouse, dance with Disney Princesses, fly along with Harry Potter, or get slimed at Nickelodeon. Allegiant has had great success with Laredoans that take advantage of the company's great fares, excellent service and nonstop flights to wonderful destinations."

The new flights will operate twice weekly between the Laredo International Airport (LRD) and Orlando Sanford International Airport (SFB) with service Monday andFriday. Flights will depart Laredo at 7 p.m. arriving in Orlando-Sanford at 10:55 p.m. Flights leaving Orlando-Sanford will depart at 4:20 p.m. arriving in Laredo at 6:20 p.m. (all flight times are local).  The company began nonstop service to Las Vegas June 8, 2006.

With plenty of shopping, dining, outdoor activities and entertainment, Orlando offers vacationers the perfect getaway.  Located in the heart of Central Florida, Orlando is home to the world's most exciting theme parks including Walt Disney World, Universal Studios and SeaWorld.  Orlando's famous International Drive is more than 10 miles long and features more than 100 hotels, 450 stores, several attractions and two major outlet malls.  Orlando is also home to more than 175 golf courses, many ofwhich were designed by pro golfers such as Greg Norman, Tom Watson, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.

Allegiant is more than an airline, it is a full-service travel company that offers great value to its customers through its hotel and car rental packages.  The company partners withmore than 40 hotels in the Orlando and Daytona Beach areas including: Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort, the Hilton in the Walt Disney World Resort, Royal Plaza in the Walt Disney Resort, Regal Sun Resort, Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando Resort, Holiday Inn Hotel at Universal Orlando Resort, Renaissance Orlando Resort and SeaWorld andFairfield Inn & Suites Orlando at SeaWorld. Allegiant provides low-cost car rental service through its partnership with Alamo Rent a Car.

Allegiant's guarantees the lowest price on air and hotel vacation packages through the company's Low-Price Pledge. If the customer finds an air and hotel package for less, Allegiant will issue up to two free roundtrip tickets per itinerary to use on a future Allegiant flight to the same destination.  Allegiant is also rewarding customers who book an air and hotel package through the company with an instant $20 savings on roundtrip airfare, making it even more affordable to book an air and hotel package.

Allegiant's offer is not available on all flights and must be purchased by March 23, 2011, for travel by Aug. 16, 2011. Reservations may be made through the company's website at www.allegiant.comor by calling Allegiant's travel experts at 702-505-8888.

About the offers*:

Seats are limited. Fares are one-way and not available on all flights. Must be purchased by March 23, 2011, for travel completed by Aug. 16, 2011. Prices do not include PFC, segment tax or Sept. 11th security fee of up to $10.70 per segment. A segment is one take-off and one landing. A convenience fee of $14.99 per passenger will apply when booked on A convenience fee of $14.99 per passenger, plus $14.99 per segment, will apply when purchased through Allegiant call centers. Purchases made at any Allegiant Airport Ticket Office will not incur a convenience or call center fee. For ticket counter hours of operation, please visit When purchased at the time of booking, a checked bag fee of up to $29.99 per bag will apply per person, per segment. If purchased at flight check-in, a fee of $35 per checked bag, per person, per segment will apply for the first two bags checked. Additional higher fees will apply for three or more checked bags. Fare rules, routes and schedules are subject to change without notice. Restrictions apply. $20 savings based on a two-night, air and hotel purchase; valid at select Allegiant hotels. Low-Price Pledge valid on air and hotel packages only. Competitive price cannot include Allegiant air service.  See for details.

Allegiant, travel is our deal.

Las Vegas-based Allegiant Travel Company (NASDAQ: ALGT), is focused on linking travelers in small cities to world-class leisure destinations such as Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix-Mesa, Orlando, Fla., and Tampa/St. Petersburg, Fla.  Through its subsidiary, Allegiant Air, the company operates a low-cost, high-efficiency, all-jet passenger airline offering air travel both on a stand-alone basis and bundled with hotel rooms, rental cars and other travel-related services.  In 2010, Allegiant was ranked number one for low-cost carriers in Aviation Week's Top Performing Airline study and ranked 25 on FORTUNE magazine's Fastest-Growing Companies list.  Receive breaking news from Allegiant by visiting Allegiant's Facebook Fan Page at follow Allegiant on Twitter at



Wasilla-raised singer/songwriter Megan McCormick has just confirmed an extension of her U.S. tour with dates beginning in March. Meanwhile, McCormick continues to wow the critics with her debut album, Honest Words, a 12-track collection of brooding prose and instrumental mastery.

Born into a family of musicians, the 23 year old singer relates to music on a cellular level, with a guitar in hand by age 9. By the age of 18, McCormick landed her first major tour with bluegrass guru, Valerie Smith. In 2008, McCormick made a strategic move to Nashville where it took her little more than a year to secure a deal with the prolific Rykodisc records

McCormick's perfected trade is certainly in the darker places.  Whether it's the taut, Stevie Ray Vaughan-evoking "Shiver," the lacerating lost souls' recognition in "Drifting," or the torchy foreboding of meltdown that is "Pick Up The Phone," her heart on her sleeve and her truth in your face seems to be this singer's natural stance.

Here's what the critics are saying:


"Just 23, the Nashville singer/songwriter sounds as if she's lived a life and a half on her potent 'Honest Words' album." - USA Today

"A bluesy, lovelorn showcase for singer-songwriter McCormick's bright alto and growly guitar." - O, The Oprah Magazine

"The old cliché about young artists displaying talents beyond their years sure seems like a truism in the case of 'Honest Words.'" - All Music Guide

"[Megan McCormick] blurs the lines between blues, rock, and alternative-country." - Relix

Megan McCormick Mar. 2011 Tour Dates

3/02      Columbus, OH                         The Basement

3/04      Milwaukee, WI                        Gribali's

3/05      Johnson City, TN                     The Down Home

3/09      Raleigh, NC                             Berkeley Café

3/10      Charlottesville, VA                   Southern Café

3/11      Roanoke, VA                           Kirk Music Hall

3/13      Richmond, VA                         Canal Club Downstairs

3/15      Larchmont, NY                        Watercolor Café

3/16      New York, NY                         Rockwood Music Hall (Stage 2)

3/18      New Haven, CT                       Café Nine

3/19      Washington, DC                       The Corner Store

3/22      Wilmington, NC                        Soapbox Laundrolounge

3/25      Nashville, TN                           3rd & Lindsley

3/27      Knoxville, TN                           Relix

3/31      Atlanta, GA                              Highland Ballroom

4/20      Davenport, IA                          The Redstone Room

4/21      Cedar Falls, IA                         The Tub

4/23      Chicago, IL                               Martyr's

Commission Highlighted at Feeding Illinois' Anti-Hunger Conference

SPRINGFIELD - March 2, 2011. Governor Pat Quinn today announced 22 appointments to a commission aimed at eliminating hunger in Illinois. The Governor's announcement coincides with Feeding Illinois' 2nd Annual Anti-Hunger Conference in Springfield, where legislators and experts gathered to develop methods to address hunger.

"Too many of our children, parents and seniors don't have food to put on the table every day," said Governor Quinn. "We must do everything we can to put an end to hunger Illinois, and this commission will help us to reach that important goal."

During July 2010, Governor Quinn signed Senate Bill 3158, sponsored by Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) and Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez (D-Cicero), creating the commission. The commission will be housed under the Department of Human Services and will address hunger, as well as promote health and wellness.

"There has been no more significant example of need during the current economic conditions than the dramatic increase in food assistance. I was proud to sponsor the legislation creating the Commission to End Hunger, and it is my hope that the work of the commission will provide solutions to the Governor and legislature to make certain no Illinoisan goes to bed hungry," Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) said.

Individuals appointed to the commission include government officials, lawmakers and individuals from a variety of nonprofit organizations and advocacy groups:

  • Cristal Thomas, Deputy Governor
  • Kappy Scates, Lieutenant Governor's Office
  • Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez (D-Cicero)
  • Rep. Patricia Bellock (R-Hinsdale)
  • Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park)
  • Sen. John Millner (R-Carol Stream)
  • Kate Maehr, Greater Chicago Food Depository
  • Mary Ellen Abbott, Illinois Hunger Coalition
  • Marla Goodwin, Jeremiah's Food Pantry
  • Barb Karacic, Holy Family Food Pantry
  • Tracy Smith, Feeding Illinois
  • Amy Rynell, Social IMPACT Research Center, Heartland Alliance
  • Kathy Ryg, Voices for Illinois Children
  • Dan Lesser, Shriver Center
  • Esperanza V. Gonzalez, Illinois Migrant Council
  • Mark Ishaug, AIDS Foundation of Chicago
  • Ahlam Jbara, Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago
  • Gary Tomlin, Economic Development, Knox County
  • Nicole Robinson, Kraft Foods
  • Juanita Irizarry, Chicago Community Trust
  • Terry Solomon, African-American Family Commission
  • Joe Antolin, Latino Family Commission

Illinois' eight food banks serve approximately 1 million individuals per year, according to Feeding Illinois. The commission will explore how Illinois' facilities may better coordinate and gain access to federal funding to meet those needs. It will also indentify barriers to access and develop sustainable policies and programs to overcome those barriers. The commission will also promote and facilitate public-private partnerships to augment services.

The commission will develop an action plan every two years, review the progress of this plan, and ensure cross-collaboration among government entities and community partners. They will also work to identify funding sources that can be used to fight hunger and improve nutrition.


ROCK ISLAND, Ill. - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Rock Island District awarded a contract to repair pier houses at Dams 16, 17, 21 and 22 in the cities of Illinois City, Quincy and New Boston, Ill.; as well as New London, Mo.

The contract, which totals $648,300, was awarded to Lamar Construction, Inc. of Edwards, Ill. The contractor will repair four to five pier houses at each dam, removing parapet flashing and the built up roof down to the concrete plank deck. The work will also involve replacing damaged concrete planks and the installation of a new single ply membrane roofing system and parapet flashing.

Work on the project began Feb. 28 and is scheduled for completion by the end of November. More information about this project can be found on the web at:

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Mark on your calendars and register for these can't miss special events!

REGISTER TODAY: Davenport Parks & Recreation has limited tickets available for our Annual Mother-Son Formal, which will be held on Sunday, March 27th from 5:30pm-8:00pm
at the River Center-Mississippi River Hall. Cost is $30.00 per couple and $15 each additional participant. This includes a flower for each mother, a keepsake made with your son, a buffet dinner, cake and punch and a fun-filled night of dancing. Our Daddy Daughter event sold out and this event fills fast so sign up today!!!

Remember to save the date: Spring Egg-stravaganza/Healthy Families Day on April 16th at Vander Veer Park from 10:00am-1:00pm. You don't want to miss this fun filled family event! Join B100 and Davenport Parks and Recreation to celebrate spring! Bring a basket to Vander Veer Park and begin your morning by participating in an egg hunt. From there, head on
over to the activities for Healthy Kids Day. Bring the entire family to the park and have a great time. The Egg Hunt is divided into appropriate age groups and begins at 10am sharp. Pre-
registration is $2.00 per participant/ Day of event is $5.00 per participant.

For further information on any of the programs or to register, please call the Davenport Parks and Recreation at the River's Edge, (563) 326-7812 or visit the web page at

East Moline, IL/March 1, 2011 - Chad Pregracke's Quad Cities-based environmental group needs volunteers to help in a project to improve the future of area waterways.  Living Lands & Waters, an East Moline, Illinois non-profit organization is planning to distribute 100,000 free oak tree saplings in April as part of LL&W's "MillionTrees Project."  The goal of the project is to improve the health of rivers in the Midwest, by re-establishing hardwoods that have been depleted by over-harvesting, flooding and disease.

Volunteers, including families with children, are invited to take part in tree wrapping events being held throughout March. "Wrapping 100,000 trees takes a lot of work" said Chad Pregracke, founder and President of Living Lands & Waters.  Pregracke adds, "It's a great venue to help the community and educate people on why trees are important."

Trees provide shelter and nut-bearing hardwoods are a viable food source for wildlife and migratory birds.  Slow-growing hardwoods like oaks have a harder time re-establishing themselves without help, and are often crowded out by faster growing species, like cottonwoods, willow and silver maples. Re-establishing hardwoods help increase biodiversity, reduce erosion and run-off and improve water and air quality.

Individual registration is not required, but strongly encouraged.  Groups of 5 or more must pre-register.   Volunteers can stay for an hour or all day.  For questions or to register, please contact Ashley Stover at or at 309.737.5913.

Tree wrapping events will occur at the following places and locations:

QCCA Expo Center, Rock Island:

Saturday, March 19   8am - 4pm

-Sunday, March 20     8am - 4pm

-Monday, March 21   11am - 8pm

-Tuesday, March 22   11am - 8pm

Volunteers should show up at the North Hall of the QCCA Expo Center, 2621 4th Avenue, Rock Island.

LL&W Headquarters@ (17624 Rte. 84 N, East Moline, IL)

-March 1-5, 8am - 5pm                                              -March 14-17, 8am - 5pm                           

- March 7-12, 8am - 5pm                                           -March 28 - April 2,  8am - 5pm

Volunteers will be asked to help with the following:  bundling trees in newspaper, placing trees in bags, tying, tagging, or organizing them.  Participating children MUST be supervised.  Volunteers are asked to wear warm and comfortable clothes that can get dirty.

Trees will be distributed in April to individuals, families, agencies, business and organizations throughout the Midwest.  The saplings will also be distributed to the general public during the QCCA Lawn and Garden Show, March 25-27th on a first come, first served basis. The goal of the MillionTrees Project is to grow and plant 1 MILLION trees.

Anyone interested in volunteering or reserving free oak saplings for planting may contact MillionTrees Project Coordinator, Ashley Stover at or at 309.737.5913. More information on the MillionTrees Project can be found at



Washington, DC - March 3, 2011 - Today, Congressman Bruce Braley (IA-01) joined a bipartisan effort to avoid a government shutdown. After voting to support a temporary spending bill that incorporates cuts from both parties, Rep. Braley released the following statement:

"These are tough times and this measure includes some tough cuts," said Rep. Braley. "But without this bill, we would be facing a government shutdown at the end of this week. I promised to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to avoid a shutdown, and this is the first step. This measure is temporary - but it's essential to ensure that our veterans don't get denied care, that seniors continue to receive their Social Security checks and that crucial programs all over Iowa and the country are not disrupted by a shutdown."


March 9, 2011

Today I have signed Senate Bill 3539, which abolishes the death penalty in Illinois.

For me, this was a difficult decision, quite literally the choice between life and death. This was not a decision to be made lightly, or a decision that I came to without deep personal reflection.

Since the General Assembly passed this bill, I have met or heard from a wide variety of people on both sides of the issue. I have talked with prosecutors, judges, elected officials, religious leaders from around the world, families of murder victims, people on death row who were exonerated and ordinary citizens who have taken the time to share their thoughts with me. Their experiences, words and opinions have made a tremendous impact on my thinking, and I thank everyone who reached out on this matter.

After their guidance, as well as much thought and reflection, I have concluded that our system of imposing the death penalty is inherently flawed. The evidence presented to me by former prosecutors and judges with decades of experience in the criminal justice system has convinced me that it is impossible to devise a system that is consistent, that is free of discrimination on the basis of race, geography or economic circumstance, and that always gets it right.

As a state, we cannot tolerate the executions of innocent people because such actions strike at the very legitimacy of a government. Since 1977, Illinois has seen 20 people exonerated from death row. Seven of those were exonerated since the moratorium was imposed in 2000. That is a record that should trouble us all. To say that this is unacceptable does not even begin to express the profound regret and shame we, as a society, must bear for these failures of justice.

Since our experience has shown that there is no way to design a perfect death penalty system, free from the numerous flaws that can lead to wrongful convictions or discriminatory treatment, I have concluded that the proper course of action is to abolish it. With our broken system, we cannot ensure justice is achieved in every case. For the same reason, I have also decided to commute the sentences of those currently on death row to natural life imprisonment, without the possibility of parole or release.

I have found no credible evidence that the death penalty has a deterrent effect on the crime of murder and that the enormous sums expended by the state in maintaining a death penalty system would be better spent on preventing crime and assisting victims' families in overcoming their pain and grief.

To those who say that we must maintain a death penalty for the sake of the victims' families, I say that it is impossible not to feel the pain of loss that all these families share or to understand the desire for retribution that many may hold. But, as I heard from family members who lost loved ones to murder, maintaining a flawed death penalty system will not bring back their loved ones, will not help them to heal and will not bring closure to their pain. Nothing can do that. We must instead devote our resources toward the prevention of crime and the needs of victims' families, rather than spending more money to preserve a flawed system.

The late Cardinal Joseph Bernadin observed, "[i]n a complex, sophisticated democracy like ours, means other than the death penalty are available and can be used to protect society." In our current criminal justice system, we can impose extremely harsh punishments when warranted. Judges can impose sentences of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Where necessary and appropriate, the state can incarcerate convicted criminals in maximum security prisons. These means should be sufficient to satisfy our need for retribution, justice and protection.

As Governor, I took an oath to uphold our state's Constitution and faithfully execute our laws. Honoring that oath often requires making difficult decisions, but I have found none to be as difficult as the one I made today. I recognize that some may strongly disagree with this decision, but I firmly believe that we are taking an important step forward in our history as Illinois joins the 15 other states and many nations of the world that have abolished the death penalty.

SPRINGFIELD - March 9, 2011. Governor Pat Quinn today took action on the following bill:

Bill No.: SB 3539

Ends the sentence of death for crimes committed in Illinois.

An Act Concerning: Criminal Law

Action: Signed                        

Effective Date: July 1, except Section 15 (Capital Crimes Litigation Act) which takes effect
January 1, 2012.

A photograph of the signing of Senate Bill 3539 is available at:

(Follow the link above and then right click the image and choose Save Image/Picture As)