Illinois Public Media News
A top state Democrat says pension boosts for public employees in Illinois should require more support in the General Assembly before becoming law.
House Speaker Michael Madigan is proposing a constitutional amendment to require a three-fifths vote of the House and Senate for any legislation that increases retirement benefits. A simple majority is required now.
The state owes its pension systems $80 billion and a committee appointed by Gov. Pat Quinn is set to deliver its recommendations for fixing the problem next week.
Spokesman Steve Brown says Madigan's idea would force public officials to think more "seriously'' about pension sweeteners which increase the pension debt.
The Legislature would have to approve the idea by May 6 to put the question before voters in the November election.
Illinois lawmakers are once again debating a bill that could help ease the state's bursting prison population at a time when there are plans to close several correctional facilities.
But it may take some work to convince Gov. Pat Quinn to go along with the plan in reintroducing a program that he suspended two years ago due to problems surrounding it.
In 2010 Quinn put on hold the state's Meritorious Good Time program (MGT) which reduced the sentences for inmates considered non-violent. Quinn pulled it after he learned that more than 1,000 inmates did not serve the required minimum of 60 days and committed more crimes once back on the streets.
But some saw it as an election year political move.
Since that time, more than 4,000 inmates have been added to the ranks, pushing Illinois' total prison population to 49,000. The state's prison system is designed to handle a mere 33,700.
Some lawmakers and prison advocates are pushing Quinn to reinstate the MGT program to ease overcrowding and making unhealthy living conditions even worse.
"The decision to suspend Meritorious Good Time was the result of an election cycle political firestorm. Good time credits became widely and inaccurately described ... became the ammunition for political attacks between Illinois candidates and branches of government in 2009 and 2010," Malcolm Young, director of prison re-entry strategies at Northwestern University law school's Bluhm Legal Clinic, told an Illinois House Criminal Law Committee meeting in downtown Chicago on Wednesday.
Young supports passage of House Bill 3899 that would reinstate MGT. Chicago Democratic State Rep. Arthur Turner introduced the bill.
"It provides a reasoned, manageable, beneficial framework or approach to the challenge of implementing the good conduct program. It's an approach that would alleviate today's prison crowding crisis and accomplish other public policy goals," Young said.
Quinn's deputy chief of staff, Toni Irving, told the House committee that the old MGT law is no longer valid.
"The statute is outdated and at the time the statute was created, certain offenses that we now consider violent, i.e. DUI, can't be excluded," Irving said. "So, MGT as it currently exists isn't really a sound policy. It would require something brand new."
Irving added that Quinn is reviewing a similar bill introduced in the state Senate (SB2621) but is so far uncommitted to supporting it.
"We are certainly interested in working with the Legislature in making sure that we have a collaborative effort. I think it's super important that the legislature be very involved in this process since it's the legislature also determines the budget for the Department of Corrections and often times these things are linked to programs that are then defunded in the process," Irving said. "There has to be a connection between those two."
The push for early release of certain prisoners will grow if Quinn's plans to shut as many as 14 state juvenile prisons, several adult transition centers and a super max prison to save money as the state addresses budget issues.
(AP Photo/Seth Perlman,File)
A Champaign resident who escaped the Nazi Holocaust is sharing his story this weekend, as part of the Day of Remembrance events leading up to next week's Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Doctor Heini Halberstam was born in Czechoslovakia, and separated from his mother during the Nazi occupation. He believes she died in a labor camp. Halberstam said that changed his life forever.
"In 1938, I was 12 and a half, and I was on one of the Kindertransports," Halberstam said. "And as the train pulled out of the station, I suddenly knew that I would have to look after myself."
The Kindertransports were rescue missions that brought thousands of mostly Jewish children from Nazi-controlled territories in the months leading up to World War II. Halberstam grew up to become a mathematician specializing in number theory. He's now an emeritus professor at the University of Illinois.
Dr. Halberstam will speak about his experiences Sunday evening, April 15th, at 7, at a community-wide commemoration of Holocaust victims at Sinai Temple, 3104 W. Windsor Road in Champaign. He will also speak in Peoria at the Congregation Anshai Emeth Social Hall, 5614 North University Street, at the Holocaust Remembrance Day service on Thursday, April 19, at 6:45 PM.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
A professor emeritus of the University of Illinois has been removed as an online contributor by the conservative National Review magazine for comments he made about white nationalism.
Robert Weissberg taught political science on the U of I's Urbana campus from 1975 until 2002, and now lives in New York. He spoke last month at a conference in Tennessee hosted by American Renaissance, a magazine known for white supremacist and anti-immigrant views. Weissberg agrees the conference was controversial, but also argued in his speech that white nationalism is a dead end.
"What I suggested as an alternative, just so you know, was that people who want that kind of existence should move to areas that are largely white," Weissberg said.
A former head of political science at the U of I says Weissberg's 'disappointing' comments are from an embittered man who wasn't engaged in his work, and left the campus on poor terms. Peter Nardulli, who now heads the U of I's Cline Center for Democracy, says Weissberg spent much of his time running a retail store in Champaign. He suggests university trustees strip him of emeritus status, calling it his only claim to credibiilty.
"That would be my basis for dissociate himself from the university," Nardulli said. "I mean, emeritus status does not bring with it anything but a title, but when your title is affiliated with a particular institution, that institution should have something to say about it."
But policies from the U of I Provost's office for granting emeritus status do not include language for removing that title.
Weissberg says the National Review is 'going out of its way to enforce a Stalinist ideology' and notes other publications still publish him on line, including American Thinker and Family Security Matters.
Let the campaign speeches begin.
Eight of the candidates for the Republican nomination for Congress in the new 13th district will try to persuade a McLean County audience to support them next Monday.
Whoever is selected in a weighted vote by 14 county party chairs across the re-drawn 13th District will replace retiring Urbana Republican Tim Johnson on the November ballot.
McLean County Party Chair John Parrot says they will give five minute presentations to a GOP luncheon, and the audience will ask questions at the end.
Included are: Jerry Clarke of Urbana (a former chief of staff to Johnson), State Representative Dan Brady of Bloomington, Mike Tate of Springfield, State Representative Adam Brown of Decatur, David Blumenshine of Bloomington, Rodney Davis of Taylorville, State Senator Kyle McCarter of Lebanon, and State Senator Sam McCann of Carlinville.
Parrot says this will be the first gathering of the contenders. The winner will face presumptive Democratic nominee and 3-time candidate David Gill in November.
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
The two candidates vying for the Republican nomination in Indiana's U.S. Senate race debated Wednesday night in Indianapolis.
Richard Lugar has represented Indiana in the U.S. Senate for more than three decades, but State Treasurer Richard Mourdock hopes to change that by defeating him in the May 8 primary.
Lugar is respected for his foreign policy expertise, but Mourdock didn't shy away from taking stances on international issues on everything from defending Israel to the U.S.'s relationship with Russia.
"I think they are more foe than friend," Mourdock said. "Looking ahead, I think we are going to see more troubling times with Russia. We have to be a strong nation. We cannot withdrawal from the world. We've got to stop leading from behind."
Lugar said Russia is neither a friend or foe, but a country that the U.S. needs to deal with. Mourdock occasionally struggled answering intricate policy questions, meanwhile, that played more to Lugar's strengths.
In one case Mourdock seemed to errantly state that a federal ethanol mandate that started in 2005, began in 2011.
Both candidates think reducing the size of government and repealing the federal health care law are good ideas.
Mourdock touted his conservative credentials, but Lugar said his conservative roots go deep too, from his service in the Navy to managing a family farm.
"These are the conservative elements of my life and they are expressed in my votes," Mourdock said. "The work we have been doing both in the economy as well as in foreign policy to bring security for America."
In one of the clearest distinctions between the two men, Mourdock called for an end to corn ethanol subsidies, something Lugar has routinely backed citing Indiana's heavy reliance on agriculture.
The two even disagreed on what exactly ethanol subsidies do to the price of gas, with Lugar saying ethanol was helping to keep prices down and Mourdock saying they were making prices higher. Lugar praised ethanol saying it lowers the price of gasoline and helps Indiana farmers.
"It's a Hoosier product with Hoosiers producing it on farms here that have meant higher values for corn and certainly higher land values in this state."
On domestic issues, the two men often agreed with each other. Lugar at times sought to ally himself with Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, touting Ryan's budget plan, which has become a rallying point for many conservatives.
One exchange fairly defined the tenor of the entire race: When given the chance to shore up his weakest spot, by defining how he is a conservative, Lugar opted for a roundabout answer dealing with his family history and serving in the military.
"These are conservative elements of my life and they're expressed in my votes and the work we have been doing both in the economy as well as in the foreign policy to bring security for America," he said. "We understand conservative values."
The debate was a stark difference from a nasty Republican primary battle that has been dominated thus far by questions over Lugar's residency and his support for President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominees.
Lugar is facing one of his toughest election battles as he seeks a seventh term. A series of polls has shown the tea-party backed Mourdock closing in on Lugar in recent months and conservative groups have upped their attacks in the last two weeks on the longtime senator.
As of last week, a trio of outside groups supporting Lugar had bought $370,000 worth of airtime across the state, while the Club For Growth alone had bought roughly $735,000 to oppose to Lugar.
Super PACs have sprouted up as a potential force in the Senate race, with two forming to back Lugar, and Lugar opponents splitting their spending between the parent group and the PAC.
By far the biggest spender in the air wars, however, has been Lugar himself, who has bought roughly $1.9 million of airtime. Mourdock has paid for $360,000 of airtime, according to spending totals maintained by Indiana Democrats.
Meanwhile, Congressman Joe Donnelly of South Bend, Indiana is running unopposed in the Democratic Primary for the Senate seat.
(AP Photo/Darron Cummings, Pool)
It's been a close race in the Democratic primary for congress in Illinois' new 13th district. But a campaign spokesman for David Gill says Tuesday's official canvassing of ballots at the county level shows the Bloomington physician is the winner.
"We consider this election to be settled", says spokesman Michael Richards. "David's going to be certified by the State Board of Elections on the 20th when they do their statewide, official vote count."
Richards says that according to their own compilation of official canvasses in 14 counties and the city of Bloomington, Gill defeated Greene County State's Attorney Matt Goetten by 162 votes ... with 15,535 votes for Gill and 15,373 votes for Goetten. That's 19 votes more than the margin reported after the primary. Richards says Gill will now focus on the November election --- and the still unknown Republican candidate. GOP leaders will choose a replacement for retiring Congressman Tim Johnson in a few weeks.
Richards says that once the ballot count is certified, any further challenge to the primary election results would be in court.
Illinois Public Media is trying to reach the Goetten campaign for comment. Following the primary, Goetten's campaign said they would not concede, and were waiting for overseas and contested ballots to be counted.
A panel of experts has told a state legislative committee that Illinois' prisons are bursting at the seams. They say immediate action is needed to reverse growing violence and worsening conditions for inmates and guards.
Legal experts and others who work with ex-inmates today urged support for an Illinois House bill that would revive a way to reduce prison populations through early release for good behavior. But a representative for Gov. Pat Quinn says he will not reverse his suspension of that measure without changes.
Quinn shut down the early release program in 2010 after The Associated Press reported that prison officials had implemented an unpublicized, accelerated version that was freeing criminals in as little as eight days.
As the country waits for the U.S. Supreme Court to decide the fate of President Obama's health care act, the president's home state has been working to implement it. But some legislators want to hold off. They hope the court will kill the legislation, or that it would be repealed if a Republican is elected president this fall.
While the Supreme Court case has gotten most of the attention, there's been a state-by-state effort to block major parts of the health care law. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare, encourages states to set up insurance exchanges -- groups that will pool insurance offerings in an attempt to make them more affordable. But the law does not require states to do this, and that's where conservatives see an opening to weaken the Affordable Care Act.
"Regardless of what you think about the federal health care law, if you support it or oppose it, there are so many unanswered questions, it really doesn't make sense for states to jump into an exchange at this point," said Christie Herrera, director of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a nationwide group of conservative state lawmakers.
Herrera has been urging states to reject their role in the Affordable Care Act. Her organization even published a pamphlet: "The State Legislators Guide to Repealing ObamaCare."
"I think Illinois still has the opportunity to pull out of the health insurance exchange," Herrera said. "Legislation stalled last fall. Indiana, your neighboring state, is in a similar position where they said we're going to jump in, and now they're having second thoughts. So it's not too late for Illinois to reject the health insurance exchange."
State Rep. JoAnn Osmond (R-Antioch) introduced several measures to prevent Illinois from implementing any part of the law until all the legal challenges are decided. She said there are still too many unknowns -- that the administration has been giving out information in bits and pieces.
"I think that the federal government is having just as many problems as we are on state level trying to figure out what works best, and what's going to help our people and our citizens to have access to health care," Osmond said.
A lot of Republicans say ObamaCare is bad policy. But Osmond acknowledges that is not the only reason to oppose it.
"Well I'd be naive to say that this bill is not political," she said. "This bill is political."
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said there are people, especially Republicans, cheering for the program to fail.
"They don't want a victory for President Obama," Durbin said. "Many of them resent any involvement of the federal government in our health care of our nation. Even though when it comes to Medicare, veterans' care and many other aspects of health care, the federal government has played an important role in providing adequate, affordable health care for decades."
Durbin said he is worried about the political tone of last month's arguments before the Supreme Court. But he also said so much of the health care act has already been implemented, it could be impossible to turn back. He said the country is on a path that won't change.
"This law is pointing us in an inevitable direction in America to bring everybody into the peace of mind of insurance coverage and to do something to reduce the increase in cost we face every year," Durbin said.
But that depends on the Supreme Court, and on who wins this fall's elections. As both sides acknowledge, the Affordable Care Act has become a politically dicey issue.
At stake is campaign cash from the insurance industry and the natural urge of politicians not to take action on anything controversial in an election year.
Many conservatives campaigned against the Affordable Care Act in 2010, and with Republicans and Democrats pitted against each other in new districts across Illinois, it's likely to be an issue again this year.
All but one vote for non-binding referenda in Champaign and Urbana's annual town meetings will mean questions on November's ballot.
On a 23 to 10 vote, those in the City of Champaign town meeting Tuesday night backed the idea of a constitutional amendment, placing limits on the legal status of corporations and how much can be spent on campaigns.
Speaking at the meeting, Al Kagan says campaign finance reform isn't a partisan issue. With a U.S. Supreme Court opening the door to large donors he says individuals don't really have a say anymore about what happens in U-S government.
"Think about the kinds of campaign finance reform that have been proposed from both sides of the political spectrum," said Kagan. "And to try to get our elections back on track so that individuals have a voice."
The same item passed unanimously in Urbana's Cunningham town meeting on a 25 -to-nothing vote. Three additional participants there voted yes on a referendum on whether private citizens could exercise certain free speech rights - producing a 28-to nothing tally.
The idea is to let private citizens to engage in non-disruptive activity, like handing out leaflets on private properties like malls or parking lots. Backer Michael Weissman says the idea needed some clarification to ensure the idea was fairly limited, and wasn't extended to sites like apartment buildings.
"It's difficult to just do ordinary leafleting because typically the place where people get out of their cars is some dozens of feet off the public sidewalk," Weissman said. "You don't want to leaflet people in their cars. Just being able to extent to things that feel like public spaces but are technically under private ownership."
The idea was backed unanimously in Urbana's Cunningham Township meeting 28-nothing. Weissman says such activity has already been allowed through the courts in California and New York.
The same issue narrowly failed in City of Champaign Township on a 16 to 15 vote.
The two referenda had been supported by members of the local Occupy C-U movement.
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