Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford says the state should give government employees an option between pension plans and then defend the change in court.
The Republican said Tuesday he thinks giving current employees a choice between the current, guaranteed payment pension plan and a new 401(k)-style program would not run afoul of the state constitution. The constitution bars cutting retiree benefits.
A major union says the idea wouldn't raise the same "constitutional red flags'' as simply reducing benefits.
But the Association of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees says Rutherford's proposal wouldn't fix the state's pension problems.
Rutherford says the state cannot afford to fund pensions in its current form. He says the switch would help restore solvency.
The landlords who operate the Cherry Orchard Village apartments have been found guilty of failing to legally connect sewer and septic systems for six out of their eight apartment buildings.
Champaign County Presiding Judge John Kennedy fined Bernard and Eduardo Ramos more than $54,000. They must pay $100 per day for 379 days for the unlawful discharge of sewage, $100 per day for 160 days for renting out the property during the health code violation; and $200 for not having a proper construction permit and license when they tried to repair the sewage and septic systems.
The Ramoses have 180 days to pay the fines. They are also barred from accepting tenants until the sewage problems are addressed.
Cherry Orchard has traditionally been a destination for migrant workers who come to the area during warmer months. Julie Pryde, the administrator with the Champaign Urbana Public Health District, said the ruling couldn't have come at a better time.
"I was just getting extremely nervous that this was taking so long because summer was getting closer and closer," Pryde said. "We know from history that the place would be completely filled up by then."
The Ramoses have owned more than 30 properties in Champaign County and have faced hundreds of code violations.
Last year, the County amended its nuisance ordinance because of the severity of conditions at Cherry Orchard. The modified ordinance includes a dozen criteria that a building must follow to be considered safe, including access to clean drinking water, plumbing that meets state health codes, and not using extension cords to provide power to a dwelling unit.
Planning and Zoning Director John Hall said many of the conditions outlined in the amended ordinance exist at Cherry Orchard. Hall said his department submitted a complaint with the Champaign County State's Attorney's office under the amended nuisance ordinance to take aim at structural problems that he says exist at Cherry Orchard.
"Well, if there aren't any people living there now, there will someday," Hall said. "And at that point, I would imagine the situation would be even worse by then. If no one lives in a building, it only continues to deteriorate more. It doesn't stop deteriorating just because no one lives there.
Champaign County Assistant State's Attorney Christina Papavasiliou said her office would only move forward with the nuisance complaint if the buildings on the Cherry Orchard property aren't repaired and tenants continue living there.
"If people do occupy the premises again, we have another complaint to file," Papavasiliou said.
The Ramoses immediately filed an appeal following Monday's court ruling.
The Service Employees International Union Local 73 has reached an agreement with the University of Illinois over a new contract.
The union represents about 800 food and building service employees on the Urbana campus who threatened to go on strike Monday if an agreement couldn't be reached. But SEIU field organizer Ricky Baldwin said union members voted with overwhelming support over the weekend to approve a contract, which includes about a three percent pay raise.
"I think it's the best contract we could have gotten, and we're proud of that," Baldwin said. "We know we wouldn't have gotten it without the solidarity of our members, and also our campus allies."
The U of I and the union have been negotiating over a new contract since last summer. Workers began regularly picketing in December. In March, a federal mediator was brought in to help facilitate the contract negations.
Baldwin said a major victory in the contract is a provision allowing workers with seniority to be able to choose certain jobs, rather than leaving it up solely to managers.
"We've been trying to get that for about 20 years," he explained.
Baldwin noted that some workers who have had disciplinary problems or who are doing a poor job in the workplace may be ineligible for this right.
During the contract negotiations, SEIU officials accused the University of replacing some union positions with lower-paid workers, mainly students. Baldwin said that issue is not addressed in this latest deal, but he hopes it is included after the contract expires in July 2012.
An Indiana House committee Friday barely passed an immigration reform bill, even after the bill's most controversial provision had been removed.
In a six-to-five vote along party lines, the House Public Policy Committee approved Senate Bill 590, which now moves to the full Indiana House for consideration next week. The bill no longer includes a provision that would allow state and local police to question anyone they suspect is in the United States illegally. That section was similar to a law passed in Arizona last summer. The Arizonan measure has been blocked from implementation by a federal judge.
But it is possible representatives could try to amend SB 590 before the full House votes during second and third readings. If the bill survives that process, it will move back to the Indiana Senate. That's where the bill's original sponsor, state senator Michael Delph, a Republican from suburban Indianapolis, is lukewarm to his now watered-down proposal.
"I introduced a bill that I wanted to see become law," Delph said Friday in Indianapolis. "This is not that bill."
Political blogs and news reports now speculate that the bill could fail passage because it has been altered too much.
If support does fall short, it would mark the fourth consecutive year that Delph tried but failed to move a "get tough" immigration bill through the Indiana legislature. That is despite the fact that, unlike in previous years, Delph's own party, the GOP, controls both the Indiana House and the Indiana Senate. Republicans have not warmed up to Delph's original bill, which opponents had argued would open police to charges of racial profiling.
One Republican committee member, Rep. Tom Knollman (R-Liberty), said he would have voted against the original bill. Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, also a Republican, does not support granting police the ability to question those suspected of being in the country illegally. His priority in the immigration reform debate is to target businesses that hire illegal immigrants.
But Delph says getting police involved is now allowed under federal law.
"The most controversial part of this bill, at least according to press accounts, has been with this issue with enforcement with law enforcement," Delph told the House committee at a hearing Thursday. "The Congress in its wisdom gave state and local governments several years ago the power to use state and local enforcement basically as a force multiplier. That's part of the bill."
The revised House bill would revoke certain tax credits for businesses that hire illegal immigrants and would check the immigration status of criminal offenders. It also would require the calculation of how much money illegal immigration costs the state; then, the state would send a bill to to the U.S. Congress for reimbursement.
When a worker is injured on the job, Illinois has a system in place to determine if, and how, a company should compensate its employee. But businesses say the workers compensation system is out of date and abused. They're campaigning for a major overhaul of the process. They may succeed. At a meeting of local chambers of commerce and independent business owners on Tuesday, April 12 in Springfield, Governor Pat Quinn and leaders in the Illinois General Assembly said changing the status quo is a top tier goal. But as Illinois Public Radio's Amanda Vinicky reports, it's a politically dicey task, considering the push backfrom unions, trial lawyers, and doctors.
Businesses that have been clamoring for a redo of the workers compensation system liked much of what they heard from the state's political leaders who say it's also their priority. Chamber of commerce members and independent businesses owners met in Springfield on Tuesday.
Businesses say the workers compensation system is so expensive and abused ... companies don't want to locate in Illinois.
Governor Pat Quinn appears to have gotten the message.
"We've got to take on the need to reform our workers compensation system," Quinn said to applause from the gathering. "We can do it."
Another Democrat, Senate President John Cullerton, called it the most important piece of legislation that can be passed this spring to improve the state's business climate.
"We must act immediately to bring that system under control and make it competitive with that of other states," Cullerton said.
The GOP's General Assembly leaders signaled their support too.
"We need a dramatic overhaul of workers' comp," Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno said.
But Cullerton told the business leaders there's not enough support to pass any plan right now. He said it will take compromise to win approval from powerful interest groups representing trial lawyers, hospitals, unions and businesses. He said that a plan by Governor Quinn to cut costs and professionalize practices is a good first step, noting there is room for compromise on a key dispute ... whether employees should prove injuries were caused by their current job.
Businesses say paying for work-related injuries is too costly.
The head of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees says higher education in the state must do a better job forging relationships with business and political leaders.
Board Chairman Chris Kennedy says in the two years he's been a trustee, the university has begun reaching out more to those in business and government. Kennedy is in charge of Chicago's Merchandise Mart. He says the U of I has to show the impact investments in higher education can make on the economy. He adds colleges and universities in Illinois have failed to successfully convey the message. Kennedy says too few business leaders even know the names of Presidents and trustees at the state's colleges and universities.
"Even if we could name them, we probably haven't received a call or opened an invitation from them to join in building a relationship with someone like Duck Durbin or Mark Kirk," Kennedy said. "These university leaders are not pushing the business leaders to become engaged with federal officials or to try to improve funding for the research institutions in our state."
Kennedy says that lack of coordinated effort has had a devastating effect on the ability to garner a larger share of federal research dollars. He made his remarks at the University' Springfield campus.
It appears the cause of the fire that shut down two restaurants and a clothes store in Champaign's Campustown district will remain undetermined.
City fire department spokeswoman Dena Schumacher says investigators removed a number of items while doing a physical inventory of the building in the 600 block of Green Street, and the specific origin of the fire remained undetermined.
The March 23rd fire started somewhere in the southeast corner of the ceiling of Mia Za's café. The building also houses Zorba's restaurant and Pitaya clothing.
The eastbound lane of Green between Sixth and Wright streets will remain closed through at least next Monday, while crews remove debris resulting from the fire. The adjacent sidewalk will remain closed during that time as well.
The Cherry Orchard Village apartments lie just south of the abandoned Chanute Air Force Base near Rantoul - and like the base itself, Cherry Orchard has seen better days. Now the two landlords who manage the eight-building complex are charged with failing to maintain it - to the detriment of its tenants, mainly migrant worker families. Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers has been collaborating with the investigative journalism group CU-Citizen Access. He reports on the legal battle to bring Cherry Orchard up to code.
(English language voice over by Jenn Kloc)
(With additional reporting from Pam Dempsey and A. H. Gorton of CU-CitizenAccess)