Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 30, 2011

Illinois’ Ban on Capital Punishment to Take Effect

(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)

Starting Friday, Illinois' ban on capital punishment will take effect, but advocates on both sides of the death penalty debate say their work is not done.

State lawmakers voted in January to abandon capital punishment, and Gov. Pat Quinn signed the legislation in March. That happened more than a decade after the state imposed a moratorium on executions out of concern that innocent people could be put to death by a justice system that had wrongly condemned 13 men.

Gov. Quinn also commuted the sentences of all 15 inmates remaining on death row who are now serving life sentences in prison with no hope of parole.

Fifteen other states have also abolished the death penalty.

With the law in place, it would seem that The Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty could declare "mission accomplished." But the group's director, Jeremy Schroeder, said that is not the case.

"I wish I could tell you we're all retiring," Schroeder said. "But unfortunately there will always be some need for the Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty."

Schroeder admits his group is downsizing, and has considered changing its name to "the Coalition Against the Death Penalty." Schroeder said the key task going forward is to make sure the ban remains.

However, critics like State Representative Dennis Reboletti (R-Elmhurst) are working to overturn it.

"I still believe, as studies do show, that the death penalty is a deterrent to these most heinous of crimes," Reboletti said.

Reboletti's legislation stalled in the House this past session, but he said he believes there is enough support for it to pass.

The Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty says it's poised to fight back legislation to overturn the ban.

Illinois has executed 12 men since 1977, when the death penalty was reinstated. The last execution was Andrew Kokoraleis on March 17, 1999. At the time, the average length of stay on death row was 13 years.

(AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 30, 2011

Illinois Group Gets $1.4 Million to Help Migrants

The U.S. Department of Labor is giving an Illinois group $1.4 million to provide job training and other services to migrant farmworkers.

The department said Wednesday the money will go to the Illinois Migrant Council. The money is part of $78.3 million being provided by The National Farmworker Jobs Program to 52 groups around the country to pay for job training, employment services and other needs for seasonal farmworkers and their families.

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said the money is intended to help migrant farmworkers and their families lead more stable lives. Another $5.7 million will go to 16 groups across the country to provide housing assistance for migrant farmworkers.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 30, 2011

Quinn Expected to Sign Budget

Illinois' new budget takes effect Friday, the first day of the fiscal year. The state won't have enough money to pay businesses that are waiting for state payments.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is expected to sign the state budget Thursday. He can accept the blueprint as lawmakers sent it over, or slightly amend it. State law restricts how much he can change.

Regardless, the budget won't include enough money to catch up on old bills. One person waiting to get paid is Ralph Ditchie, who runs two day care center for adults.

"I'm just a little guy from the south side of Chicago who started a business, and about five months ago, they owed us three-quarters of a million dollars," Ditchie said.

The state has caught up a little in what it owes Ditchie. But the delay he and others have gotten used to is not expected to ease up, even after Quinn signs the budget.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 29, 2011

Emanuel to Unions: Concessions or 625 Possible Layoffs

Hundreds of city workers could face layoffs if they don't agree to make concessions that would save the city $20 million, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Wednesday.

Emanuel said that he will not have to lay off workers if he and the unions reach an agreement by a Thursday night deadline, but added: "If they don't agree to it, then 625 people and their families will lose that job. And that's not necessary."

The mayor would not say whether layoff notices would go out immediately.

Emanuel said he still hopes unions can be his "partner" in helping close a multimillion dollar budget gap left to him by former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley. In order to balance the 2011 budget, the Daley administration struck an agreement with labor to make workers take several unpaid days off, for an annual savings of $30 million. But that agreement expires Thursday at midnight, leaving it up to the Emanuel administration to negotiate with labor on concessions for the second half of the year.

Emanuel has said he is against imposing more furlough days on city workers. But he declined to offer specifics on the $20 million in savings he proposed to Chicago Federation of Labor President Jorge Ramirez when they met on Tuesday, other than to say that they comprise several "work rule and workplace reforms and efficiencies" that he said are common practice among private sector unions.

The 625 workers who could be laid off have been identified as a "precautionary" measure, Emanuel said. But he declined to say which workers might face layoffs, or what city services they could affect.

A statement Wednesday afternoon from union leaders claims there have been no negotiations between them and the city. Jorge Ramirez from the Chicago Federation of Labor and Tom Villanova of the Chicago & Cook County Building Trades Council said union workers have already sacrificed a lot, and should not be blamed for the city's budget problems.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 29, 2011

Blagojevich Sentencing Still Not Scheduled

The corruption re-trial is over, and now former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich awaits his sentencing.

Blagojevich was found guilty Monday of 17 of the 20 counts charged against him. With all the counts added up, Blagojevich could face as much as 300 years in prison.

Attorney Joel Bertocchi is a former federal prosecutor. He said it is highly unlikely Blagojevich would face that severe of a sentence, but he said the fact that the ex-governor did not accept responsibility for the charges won't help either.

"Mr. Blagojevich, I think, may present an unusual case," Bertocchi said. "Not only did he go to trial, but he made an awful lot of public noise about not accepting responsibility for the charges that the government leveled against him."

Bertocchi said six to 11 years could be closer to what the judge may be considering. It is uncertain when Blagojevich will be sentenced.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 29, 2011

Gov. Quinn Says Lawmakers Should Send Him Gambling Bill

(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Radio)

Legislation to authorize five new casinos in the state is waiting for Gov. Pat Quinn's signature, but the governor cannot sign the measure just yet.

The bill seeks to add casinos in Danville, Chicago, Rockford, Lake County and southern Cook County. Quinn has criticized the plan, calling it "top heavy." Though, he has said he could envision a casino in Chicago if it is properly done.

To buy some more negotiating time, Senate President John Cullerton is using a parliamentary procedure to hold the bill. Gambling supporters hope adjustments can be made to the legislation so that Quinn will sign it in the fall.

"He's obviously expressed concerns publicly on some of the provisions in the bill," Cullerton said on Monday. "So we're taking the time to go over the bill with the governor to make sure if there's any changes that he wants, that he can make those through a trailer bill."

During a visit to Champaign Tuesday afternoon, Quinn said lawmakers should just send him the gambling measure.

"I have 60 days to review the bill," Quinn said. "In this case they're holding it. I don't know what that's all about. I find it kind of a maneuver. I don't think that's necessarily the best way to go, but they can do what they want to. We're still going to analyze the bill from top to bottom."

The measure also seeks to add slot machines at horse racing tracks, Chicago's airports and the state fairgrounds. Supporters of the legislation say increasing the state's gambling industry would bring in $1.6 billion dollars in upfront fees and $500 million dollars or more annually.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 29, 2011

Remembering Organist Warren York

Remembering Organist Warren York

Warren York was a plumber by trade, but audiences in Champaign knew him as a self-taught musician. For nearly 20 years, York entertained audiences at the city's Virginia Theater. After restoring the Wurlitzer in the old vaudeville house, he played in between movies at Roger Ebert's annual film festival, and during other events.

In a 2006 interview with WILL, York talked about his efforts to care for the organ.

"In some instances, when you've got a pretty good sized organ, it may take a year or so to rebuild it," York said. "But this one (the Virginia's) we like to keep in their (audiences) ears a little bit."

Longtime Virginia theater manager Leonard Doyle says the man's talents never ceased to amaze him.

"The notes and everything were in his head," Doyle said. "He played with no music, and somebody would ask him to play a piece of some sort, and he knew it. But he was a tremendous organist, and Warren is going to be very much missed in the community."

A series of health problems forced York to quit playing the organ in 2009. He passed away Monday morning at the Illiana Health Care system in Danville. York was 73. Graveside services are Wednesday at 1 p.m. at Clements Cemetery in Urbana.

There's already an effort underway to honor Warren York, benefiting the ongoing restoration of the organ. Donations may be made to the Warren York restoration fund at the Champaign Park District.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 28, 2011

Blagojevich Likely to Lose State Pension

Convicted former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is likely to lose his $65,000 annual state pension.

Director of the General Assembly Retirement System Timothy Blair said according to state law, any elected official or public employee convicted of a felony committed on the job, is ineligible for retirement benefits.

"No other benefits would be payable," Blair said. "So that's happened several times, in most of the retirement systems. That would apply to people who are teachers, state employees, and of course members of the General Assembly Retirement System. And that's the provision that George Ryan was subject to."

Blair said employees like Ryan can get back contributions they made to their pensions. He said Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office will be asked to make a recommendation on whether Blagojevich should lose his pension. Then the board will take a vote based on that opinion.

A spokeswoman for Madigan's office said the former governor must first be sentenced before the pension can be denied.

It is uncertain when he will be sentenced.

The 54-year-old Democrat could start collecting his state pension on his next birthday December tenth.

Blair said he hopes the pension board will have a ruling before that.

Blagojevich could get $15,000 a year in federal retirement for the years he served in Congress. He could start drawing his federal pension at age 62.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 28, 2011

Gov. Pat Quinn Signs Workers’ Compensation Reform

New regulations clamping down on workers' compensation abuses in Illinois have been signed into law.

The changes include a 30 percent reduction in medical payments. Other provisions include letting payments for carpal tunnel syndrome last only 28 1/2 weeks, instead of 40. New guidelines also will make it harder for intoxicated workers to win claims.

During a visit to Champaign Tuesday afternoon, Governor Pat Quinn praised the measure, saying the changes are reasonable.

"The reforms we enacted I think will help workers and maintain their right to get compensation for an injury and at the same time be fair to the employers, and not in any way take advantage of them," Quinn said.

But State Senator Shane Cultra (R-Onarga) said the workers comp legislation does not go far enough. He said it could do a better job connecting injuries that happen as a result of a job, rather than at a job.

"With causation, it's like putting a band-aid because you're still going to have claims filed that probably shouldn't be filed and attributed to workers' comp," Cultra said.

The changes to workers' compensation are expected to cut between $500 million and $700 million from the $3 billion workers' compensation system.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 28, 2011

Attorney: Ex-Ill. Gov. With Wife Before She Died

Former Illinois Gov. George Ryan was with his ailing wife as she was taken off a respirator and died at a Kankakee hospital.

That's according to former Gov. Jim Thompson. He tells WBBM-TV that Ryan was released from his prison in Terre Haute, Ind., to visit his wife. Thompson says the couple spent her final hours together.

Lura Lynn Ryan died Monday evening. She'd been diagnosed with lung cancer and hospitalized for apparent complications from chemotherapy.

Thompson says Ryan had been secretly released on four occasions since January to be with his wife of 55-years.

Court records show Ryan's attorneys petitioned an appellate court Friday to allow Ryan to leave the prison and visit his wife, but the court denied the request. Thompson says the prison warden allowed the visits.


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