Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 31, 2011

Ill. Gov. Quinn Signs Historic Civil Unions Legislation

Civil unions for gay and lesbian couples are now the law of the land in Illinois.

About a thousand people crowded into the Chicago Cultural Center on Monday afternoon to watch Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn sign the historic law. The state's General Assembly approved the legislation 61-52 in the House and 32-24 in the Senate.

"We believe in civil rights and we believe in civil unions," Quinn said before signing the bill.

"Illinois is taking an historic step forward in embracing fairness and extending basic dignity to all couples in our state," John Knight, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Project of the ACLU of Illinois, said in a written statement issued hours before the bill-signing.

The law, which takes effect June 1, gives gay and lesbian couples official recognition from the state and many of the rights that accompany traditional marriage, including the power to decide medical treatment for an ailing partner and the right to inherit a partner's property.

Five states already allow civil unions or their equivalent, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Five other states and Washington, D.C., let gay couples marry outright, as do some countries, including Canada, South Africa and the Netherlands.

Illinois law will continue to limit marriage to one man and one woman, and civil unions still are not recognized by the federal government.

Opponents argue the law could increase the cost of doing business in Illinois, while Quinn has said it will make the state more hospitable to businesses and convention planners.

The legislation, sent to Quinn in December, passed 61-52 in the Illinois House and 32-24 in the Senate.

Some hope civil unions are a step toward full marriage for gay and lesbian couples, although sponsors of the civil union bill have said they don't plan to push for legalizing same-sex marriages, which have limited support in the Legislature.

Curt McKay served from 1998-2008 as the first full-time director of the University of Illinois' Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Resource Center. McKay said the legislation is a huge victory, but he added that there is still more that can be done to provide equal opportunities for LGBT groups.

"A number of the opponents of civil unions in Illinois use as their reason for being opposed that the next thing we'll ask for is same sex marriage," McKay said. "I think providing for LGBT people full inclusion under the laws of the state of Illinois in terms of being equal in every way a straight person is accepted is the final goal."

Some conservative groups said the new law is a stepping stone toward legalized same-sex marriage.

"Marriage was not created by man or governments," David E. Smith, executive director of the Illinois Family Institute, said Monday. "It is an institution created by God. Governments merely recognize its nature and importance

Cardinal Francis George and other Catholic leaders also vigorously fought passage of the law. The measure doesn't require churches to recognize civil unions or perform any kind of ceremony, but critics fear it will lead to other requirements, such as including same-sex couples in adoption programs run by religious groups or granting benefits to employees' partners.

(With additional reporting from the Associated Press)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 31, 2011

Quinn Expected to Sign Civil Unions Into Law

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn today is expected to sign a bill that legalizes civil unions. About 1,000 people are expected to be on hand for the ceremony at the Chicago Cultural Center.

Illinois legislators approved civil unions late last year. The bill would allow same sex couples hospital visitation rights and the ability to share insurance policies. State Rep. Greg Harris was instrumental in getting the bill passed.

"This is a huge moment for people in Illinois and people feel that they have a lot of their future invested in this," Harris said.

But David Kelly, with the Illinois Family Institute, said he opposes the legislation. He said civil unions could lead to the state allowing gay marriage.

"Marriage always will be the union of one man and one woman," Kelly said.

Gov. Pat Quinn calls the legislation a civil rights issue. Once signed, the measure will go into effect June 1st.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 28, 2011

Postal Service to Conduct Consolidation Study of Champaign Facility

Post offices across the country are facing cuts to make up for an $8.5 billion loss in revenue, and Champaign is no exception.

The U.S. Postal Service has experienced a 20 percent decline in mail volume since 2007, which it attributes to an uptick in e-mails and online payments. It plans to start a three-month review, known as an Area Mail Processing (AMP) study, looking at operations at the Champaign Processing and Distribution Facility on North Mattis Avenue. Postal Service spokesman José Aguilar said a decision will be made in a few months on whether to move the facility's stamp cancellation services to Springfield and Bloomington.

"Right now we're looking at every operation we can to save on fuel, save on work hours, set ourselves up, so that the machinery is running at its optimal capacity," Aguilar said.

The post office employs 205 people, and Aguilar said there is a possibility that a portion of those employees could be re-located or lose their jobs. However, he noted that there are several vacant positions at the Champaign facility, and he said there could be opportunities for displaced workers to fill those jobs. After the review is complete, the U.S. Postal Service will gather input from employees and customers before making a decision.

Categories: Business, Economics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 28, 2011

IGPA Director Emeritus Samuel K. Gove Dies at 87

The director emeritus of the University of Illinois' Institute for Government and Public Affairs is being remembered as a soft-spoken individual with a passion for government and public service.

Samuel Gove passed away died in Urbana Friday after a short illness. He was 87. Gove was with IGPA from 1950 until 1985, but was also active in government, serving on transition teams for Governors Dan Walker and Jim Edgar.

Former legislator and comptroller Dawn Clark Netsch served with Gove on the board of Illinois Issues magazine, which he founded. She said civic education for young people was really important to Gove.

"He was very determined and very insistent on that - and never forgot it, always kept coming back to it," Netsch said. "So that was another part of his character. He had not only a strong sense of what government should be, but a strong sense of how young people should be bred into it, if you will."

Netsch said Gove expressed his opinion in a quiet way.

"He was not a bombastic, flamboyant, in-your-face kind of a personality," she said. "But he had strong views on some things, and he certainly had very strong ways of expressing those."

Gove also conducted 17 statewide assemblies, one of them, in 1962, set issues for the 1970 Constitutional Convention. Robert Rich, the current director of IGPA, said Gove was "Mr. Illinois.'

No visitation or funeral services are planned. A celebration of Gove's life will be planned for a later date.

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 28, 2011

Volunteers Count Homeless Population in Champaign County

Every two years during the last week of January, communities across the country try to answer a difficult question: How many people are living without permanent shelter? This point in time survey is the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development's effort to determine the number of homeless people nationwide and understand more about their characteristics. CU-CitizenAccess reporter Dan Petrella went along on this year's count in Champaign-Urbana.

(Photo by Acton Gorton/CU-CitizenAccess)

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WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 28, 2011

Winter War Gaming Convention Opens in Champaign

More than 400 gamers from east-central Illinois and across the country are expected to attend the 38th annual Winter War Gaming Convention during the January 28-30 weekend at the Hawthorne Suites in Champaign.

Convention Chairman Don McKinney said the Winter War convention is the longest continuously running convention in the Midwest devoted to adventure gaming, as compared to video games.

"This is old-school, table-top, face-to-face gaming," McKinney explained. "Board games where your opponent is sitting across the table from you. Some of them have been computerized, but we're planning the table-top, board game style here.

McKinney said gaming events at Winter War 38 also involve play with painted figures and battlefield simulation. There are also events where games where players who usually compete over the Internet such as Forgotten Realms and Pathfinder Society can engage with players in person.

Winter War was started by students at the U of I Urbana campus in the 1970s, and was held on campus for several years. McKinney said as the convention grew, it moved to now defunct Chancellor Hotel, before moving to its present home at the Hawthorn Suites. McKinney said what was once an event for students now attracts players of all ages --- he notes that both he and his college-age son will be playing.

Winter War 38 runs day and night, through Sunday afternoon, January 30.

Categories: Biography, Recreation

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 27, 2011

Service Workers at the University of Illinois Vote to Authorize Strike

A union representing 800 University of Illinois service employees voted with overwhelming support Thursday to give its members the right to walk off the job.

Contract negotiations between the Service Employees International Union Local 73 and the U of I have gone on for six months. The union is asking for new contracts that include better pay and employee benefits for campus building and food service workers.

Union organizer Ricky Baldwin said the U of I has proposed salary cuts and pay freezes for the workers, which the union has rejected. The university is currently waiting on more than $400 million in state payments. Baldwin said he understand that the U of I is going through some tough economic challenges, but he said union workers are still entitled to better pay and employee benefits.

"We understand that the economy is not good, the budget is not good, but we also know the university has a lot of money," Baldwin said.

Baldwin cites a 37.5 percent salary increase for U of I President Michael Hogan over what former university President B. Joseph White was earning. He also points to the university paying outside consultants $1.7 million to train administrators to 'Plan to Plan', and Board of Trustees giving the green light to raising the U of I's overall operating budget by 3.9 percent.

"They're giving top administrators raises," Baldwin said. "They can afford to give us 30-to-40 cents an hour. It won't break the bank."

Baldwin said workers could walk off the job within a few months if a deal is not reached.

Meanwhile, U of I spokeswoman Robin Kaler said any discussion of a strike is premature and counterproductive.

"The University remains confident that the parties will be able to reach an agreement through good faith negotiations," Kaler said.

The two sides will return to the bargaining table Friday at 9 a.m. at the Florida Avenue Residence Halls. An hour before the meeting, union workers will be picketing.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 27, 2011

Ill. High Court: Emanuel Can Run for Chicago Mayor

Rahm Emanuel will stay on the ballot. That's the word from the Illinois Supreme Court. In a stinging rebuke, the Court overturned an appellate court ruling that found Emanuel failed to meet a one-year residency requirement to run for Chicago mayor. The Supreme Court majority opinion said the "novel standard adopted by the appellate court majority is without any foundation in Illinois law. "

The justices unanimously found that the appellate court was wrong in overruling decisions by the Chicago Election Board and a Cook County Circuit Court judge that Emanuel had fulfilled residency requirements.

"Only when abandonment is proven is residency lost," according to the majority ruling. "Again, because it is uncontested that the candidate was a Chicago resident at least until January 2, 2009, when he resigned his office as Representative from the Fifth Congressional District of Illinois, the Board correctly determined that the relevant question was not whether the candidate had established residency in Chicago, but rather whether the objectors had proved by a preponderance of the evidence that thecandidate had abandoned that residency at any time during the one year period before the February 22, 2011, election."

In explaining its decision further, the Supreme Court majority wrote:

"So there will be no mistake, let us be entirely clear. This court's decision is based on the following and only on the following: (1) what it means to be a resident for election purposes was clearly established long ago, and Illinois law has been consistent on the matter since at least the 19th Century; (2) the novel standard adopted by the appellate court majority is without any foundation in Illinois law; (3) the Board's factual findings were not against the manifest weight of the evidence; and (4) the Board's decision was not clearly erroneous."

The decision likely ends the months-long debate over whether Emanuel's time living in Washington, D.C. while working as President Obama's chief of staff meant that he had given up his Chicago residency. A former congressman from the city's North Side, Emanuel has insisted he always intended to return to Chicago after completing his White House service.

This fall, more than two dozen objections were filed with the Chicago Board of Elections seeking to have Emanuel removed from the ballot. The hearings that followed included a nearly 12-hour testimony from Emanuel himself. A hearing officer eventually ruled in favor of the candidate, a recommendation confirmed by the three commissioners on the election board.

On judicial review, the decision was upheld by Cook County Circuit Court Judge Mark Ballard, but reversed by a state appellate court panel this past Monday. In a 2-to-1 ruling, the appeals court found that Emanuel was indeed eligible to vote in the February 22nd election, but was not eligible to be a candidate.

Less than a day later, Emanuel's team appealed the decision, and within hours the Supreme Court agreed to consider the case on an expedited basis. At roughly the same time, the court ordered the election board to include Emanuel's name on all ballots it was printing while the appeal was still under consideration.

The state Supreme Court's decision to keep Emanuel on the ballot likely ends the ballot challenge. Earlier this month, lawyers for both sides acknowledged there was no U.S. Constitutional issue that could land the case in the federal courts.

Emanuel returned to Chicago in October of 2010. This followed the announcement by longtime Mayor Richard Daley that he would not seek re-election to the office.

In a recent Chicago Tribune poll taken before the appeals court ruling, Emanuel held a wide lead over the five other candidates in the race. Emanuel was garnering 44 percent, with former U.S. Senator Carol Moseley Braun winning 21 percent. Gery Chico, a former school board head appointed by Daley, had 16 percent, with City Clerk Miguel del Valle at 7 percent.

Former non-profit director Patricia Van Pelt Watkins and community activist and frequent candidate Bill "Dock" Walls are also on the ballot.

(Photo by Sam Hudzik/IPR)

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 27, 2011

Convicted Chicago Police Official to Keep Pension

Former Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge will get to keep his public pension benefits, despite a federal conviction for lying about the torture of criminal suspects, a police pension board voted Thursday.

The 4-4 vote by the Policeman's Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago means that Burge, 63, will be able to collect rouhgly $3,000 in benefits each month for the rest of his life. Five votes were needed to terminate Burge's pension.

Thursday's vote comes less than a week after Federal Judge Joan Lefkow sentenced Burge to 4 1/2 years in prison for lying about the torture of scores of criminal suspects during the 1970s and 1980s. In 2006, a special prosecutor found Burge likely oversaw the beating, suffocation and electro-shocking of suspects in police custody, but he was never charged for the abuse because the statue of limitations had run out.

Burge's perjury conviction stems from false statements he made in 2003 connected to a civil trial. He was fired from the Chicago Police Department in 1993 for mistreating a suspect. Pension board trustee Michael Shields, who voted against cancelling Burge's benefits, said Thursday's vote had nothing to do with the torture allegations. He said Burge was no longer on the force when he perjured himself.

"I don't want Chicago police officers to, you know, live in fear that 15 years after their retirement - such as Mr. Burge's case - they will be stripped of their pension fund," Shields said. "Jon Burge was no longer serving the police department. He was no longer acting in any official capacity as a Chicago Police Officer."

Illinois pension law says employees should lose their pensions if they're convicted of a felony "relating to or arising out of or in connection with" their job.

Chicago City Treasurer Stephanie Neely, the board member who moved to ax Burge's pension, acknowledged that the perjury took place a decade after he'd left the police department. But she said there's no doubt his actions were connected to his job.

If the trustees had voted to terminate Burge's retirement benefits, he would have been in for a one-time $66,000 payout, and could have appealed the decision to a Cook County court. But Thursday's vote leaves no room for appeal, said a lawyer for the board.

"To me, there was enough gray in the law that I would like to see the appellate court's decision," Neely said.

(With additional reporting from the Associated Press)

Categories: Criminal Justice
Tags: crime

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 27, 2011

Letter: No Presidential Run for Ind. US Rep. Pence

U.S. Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana says he will not seek the Republican nomination for president in 2012.

The Indianapolis Star reports Pence told supporters in a letter Thursday that he will bypass a White House bid. There is no word yet on whether he'll run for Indiana governor.

The congressman's future has been the subject of speculation since he resigned the No. 3 GOP House leadership slot after winning sixth term in November.

The 51-year-old Pence is a darling of social conservatives and had made multiple trips to states that host early presidential primary contests. He lacked name recognition in what's likely to be a crowded field for the 2012 nomination for president.

State law bars Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels from seeking a third term.

(Photo courtesy of Mike Pence)

Categories: Government, Politics

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