Illinois Public Media News
Wisconsin lawmakers voted Thursday to strip nearly all collective bargaining rights from the state's public workers, ending a heated standoff over labor rights and delivering a key victory to Republicans who have targeted unions in efforts to slash government spending nationwide.
The state's Assembly passed Gov. Scott Walker's explosive proposal 53-42 without any Democratic support and four no votes from the GOP. Protesters in the gallery erupted into screams of "Shame! Shame! Shame!" as Republican lawmakers filed out of the chamber and into the speaker's office.
The state's Senate used a procedural move to bypass missing Democrats and move the measure forward Wednesday night, meaning the plan that delivers one of the strongest blows to union power in years now requires only Walker's signature to take effect.
He says he'll sign the measure, which he introduced to plug a $137 million budget shortfall, as quickly as possible - which could be as early as Thursday.
"We were willing to talk, we were willing to work, but in the end at some point the public wants us to move forward," Walker said before the Assembly's vote.
Walker's plan has touched off a national debate over labor rights for public employees and its implementation would be a key victory for Republicans, many of whom have targeted unions amid efforts to slash government spending. Similar bargaining restrictions are making their way through Ohio's Legislature and several other states are debating measures to curb union rights in smaller doses.
In Wisconsin, the proposal has drawn tens of thousands of protesters to the state Capitol for weeks of demonstrations and led 14 Senate Democrats to flee to Illinois to prevent that chamber from having enough members present to pass a plan containing spending provisions.
But a special committee of lawmakers from the Senate and Assembly voted Wednesday to take all spending measures out of the legislation and the full Senate approved it minutes later, setting up Thursday's vote in the Assembly.
Walker has repeatedly argued that collective bargaining is a budget issue, because his proposed changes would give local governments the flexibility to confront the budget cuts needed to close the state's $3.6 billion deficit. He has said without the changes, he may have needed to lay off 1,500 state workers and make other cuts to balance the budget.
The measure forbids most government workers from collectively bargaining for wage increases beyond the rate of inflation unless approved by referendum. It also requires public workers to pay more toward their pensions and double their health insurance contribution, a combination equivalent to an 8 percent pay cut for the average worker.
Police and firefighters are exempt.
A former death row inmate is applauding Governor Pat Quinn's decision to abolish the death penalty for a couple of reasons.
Randy Steidl spent 12 years on death row, and 17 total years in prison after he was wrongfully convicted of a double-murder in Paris, Illinois. Since his release, Steidl has been an active opponent of capital punishment, citing irreversible errors made in the justice system, but he said life without parole is ultimate punishment.
"Five minutes on that gurney, and your suffering is over with," Steidl said. "I believe if you really want to punish somebody, you put them in cage for the rest of their life where they can think about the crimes they committed. And when they die, they can burn in hell. And you don't risk the possibility of executing an innocent person."
Steidl said even if prosecutors do everything by the book, there's still the possibility of them making a mistake. And as for his own case, Steidl said there are people who are more interested in winning than justice.
A candidate for Danville mayor said he has no intention of dropping his campaign following a discussion with an opponent.
David Quick said he was offered help paying for his campaign if he would abandon his own and join Jim McMahon's effort. Quick said he was offered $28,000 dollars in campaign funds. And Quick said a job offer from McMahon was for an unspecified position within the city or Vermilion County.
Quick said he is not sure what impact their brief discussion will have on the race.
"(McMahon) is now saying he was extending an offer to join the first place with the last place, wanting to combine the funds," Quick said. "People have to make up their own decision. They have to make up their own minds. It was a tough decision to make the decision to come forward, but I owe it to myself and I owe it to the people supporting me to let them know what was said."
McMahon said he made a 'business decision' when making the offer to Quick to merge campaigns, but denies offering him a job. Another mayoral candidate, Danville Alderman Rickey Williams Jr., has said he was offered the position of Vermilion County treasurer through a McMahon supporter.
McMahon denies it, saying he considers that notion 'ridiculous' since current treasurer Sue Stine was re-elected and does a good job.
The three candidates for mayor face incumbent Scott Eisenhauer on April 5th.
Illinois abolished the death penalty Wednesday, 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. Pat Quinn also commuted the sentences of all 15 inmates remaining on death row. They will now serve life in prison with no hope of parole.
State lawmakers voted in January to abandon capital punishment, and Quinn spent two months reflecting on the issue, speaking with prosecutors, crime victims' families, death penalty opponents and religious leaders. He called it the "most difficult decision" he has made as governor.
"We have found over and over again: Mistakes have been made. Innocent people have been freed. It's not possible to create a perfect, mistake-free death penalty system," Quinn said after signing the legislation.
Illinois will join 15 other states that have done away with executions.
The executive director of a national group that studies capital punishment said Illinois' move sets it apart from other states that have eliminated the death penalty because many of those places rarely used it.
"Illinois stands out because it was a state that used it, reconsidered it and now rejected it," said Richard Dieter, of the Death Penalty Information Center, in Washington.
Prosecutors and some victims' families had urged Quinn to veto the measure.
The governor offered words of consolation to those who had lost loved ones to violence, saying that the "family of Illinois" was with them. He said he understands victims will never be healed.
Illinois' moratorium goes back to 2000, when then-Republican Gov. George Ryan made international headlines by suspending executions. Ryan acted after years of growing doubts about the state's capital-punishment system, which was famously called into question in the 1990s, after courts concluded that 13 men had been wrongly condemned.
Shortly before leaving office in 2003, Ryan also cleared death row, commuting the sentences of 167 inmates to life in prison.
Illinois' last execution was in 1999.
Quinn promised to commute the sentence of anyone else who might be condemned before the law takes effect on July 1.
New York and New Jersey did so in 2007. New Mexico followed in 2009, although new Republican Gov. Susana Martinez wants to reinstate the death penalty.
Anti-death penalty activists said other states have looked to Illinois as a leader on the issue ever since the moratorium began.
"This is a very significant action on the governor's part," said Mike Farrell, an actor best known for his role on the hit television show "M(asterisk)A(asterisk)S(asterisk)H" and a longtime activist who is now the president of the board of directors of Death Penalty Focus in California.
"This is a domino in one sense, but it's a significant one."
Kristin Houle, executive director of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, agreed, saying Illinois' action "shows the national momentum towards repealing the death penalty."
As Illinois governor in the late 1970s, Republican James Thompson signed a law reinstating the death penalty and was an ardent supporter of capital punishment for decades.
"But for the last several years, I began to have my doubts," he said Wednesday.
Thompson said he came to believe the death penalty did not deter would-be murderers and that the risk of executing a single innocent person outweighed any potential benefits.
Quinn consulted with retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa and met with Sister Helen Prejean, the inspiration for the movie "Dead Man Walking."
A Chicago woman whose teenage son was gunned down in 2006 said she was disappointed in Quinn's decision - a move, she said, that victims' relatives tried to talk him out of a few weeks ago.
Pam Bosley said nobody is in custody in her son's death, but whoever killed him does not deserve to live.
"I don't want them to breathe the air that I breathe," said Bosley, whose 18-year-old son, Terrell Bosley, was killed in front of a church on Chicago's South Side.
Bill Sloop, a truck driver from Carthage, said he was saddened to think that taxpayers would have to continue feeding, clothing and care for Daniel Ramsey, the death row prisoner who killed his 12-year-old daughter and wounded her older sister in a 1996 shooting spree.
Quinn "shouldn't have done what he did," Sloop said.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan appealed directly to Quinn to veto the bill, as did several county prosecutors and victims' families. They said safeguards, including videotaped interrogations and easier access to DNA evidence, were in place to prevent innocent people from being wrongly executed.
Madigan declined to comment on Quinn's decision.
But death penalty opponents argued that there was still no guarantee that an innocent person couldn't be put to death. Quinn's lieutenant governor, Sheila Simon, herself a former prosecutor, urged him to sign the bill.
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.
Kokoraleis, convicted of mutilating and murdering a 21-year-old woman, was put to death by lethal injection.
Two candidates for Danville mayor contend they were each offered a job by opponent Jim McMahon in exchange for giving up their campaigns.
Rickey Williams and David Quick both say they were offered the position of Vermilion county treasurer. Quick tells the Danville Commercial-News he was offered the job by McMahon himself, while Williams says it came through a supporter of the County Board Chairman, and he wasn't sure if McMahon was aware of it himself.
Williams says he has no intention of leaving the race, and has integrity.
"I'm not for sale. Even when I was on the (Danville) city council, someone attempted to bribe me about a liquor license," he said. "I made that public knowledge then. It's against everything I stand for as a person. We need somebody who's going to be forthright, and have the best interests of the people at heart. And backroom deals are not the way to represent the people's voice."
McMahon said Williams' comments make no sense, when considering that County Treasurer Sue Stine was just re-elected to office and does a good job. McMahon admitted that he suggested to Quick that he drop his campaign and team up with him, since their campaigns have similar messages regarding higher taxes, although both names would still appear on the ballot.
"Any time you have bad publicity it could damage your campaign," McMahon said. "But I hope people understand and would rise above this. This is a business decision, trying to help a businessman who basically was in 4th place, to come up and join my team so we could be together as committee traveling forward. What more can you ask for when you got fourth and first working together?"
McMahon also said it makes no sense to offer Quick a job, since he is a successful restaurant owner. Quick could not be reached for comment Tuesday,
(With additional reporting from the Associated Press)
House Democrats continue to stay away from the Indiana Statehouse, despite the fact their absence is now hitting their own pocketbooks.
Indiana House Majority Speaker Brian Bosma hopes to get business started Tuesday. The Republican leader didn't have any luck Monday restarting the session.
"Roll call shows 62 members present. For the beginning of the third week in a row, we fail to have a quorum for the conduct of business, much to the pleasure of the protesters," Bosma said as union organizers could be heard cheering outside the House chamber.
Bosma said the House levied $250 against each absent Democrat. About 30 or so remain in Urbana, Illinois. Fines will continue each day until they return.
Democrats are boycotting the current legislative session because of what they view as anti-union legislation proposed by the GOP.
Democratic Rep. Terry Goodin of Austin said his fellow caucus members are prepared to stay out "as long as it takes" to get Republicans to agree to changes, even if that means staying out past June 30 when the current budget expires.
Goodin says if that happens, Democrats wouldn't be to blame for shutting down the government. He says it's Bosma's responsibility to negotiate and bring back Democrats.
While the standoff inside the Indiana statehouse continues, union groups plan to continue rallying just outside. The Indiana AFL-CIO says it expects thousands of union workers to attend a "We Are Indiana" rally Thursday morning.
(Photo by Michael Puente/IPR)
The president of the state Senate says Illinois should consider taxing the retirement income of some senior citizens.
Chicago Democrat John Cullerton said Monday that Illinois needs to overhaul its "outdated" tax system. As part of that process, the state could tax pensions or 401(k) plans for wealthier retirees.
He told the City Club of Chicago this could bring in roughly $1.6 billion a year, which could then be used to lower other taxes.
A spokeswoman says Cullerton would pursue the idea only if it was revenue neutral and had Republican support.
Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn said he hadn't seen Cullerton's proposal but would be willing to consider it in the interest of tax "fairness.
Gov. Pat Quinn says he will act this week on a bill that would abolish executions in Illinois.
Quinn said Monday that he's "going to act" this week, but not Tuesday. He said there's still information he wants to read and research he wants to do before acting on the legislation.
The legislation reaches Quinn after former Gov. George Ryan dramatically cleared the state's death row in 2000.
Quinn has said his decision will be based on his conscience. He has spent two months consulting with prosecutors, murder victims' families, death penalty opponents and religious leaders as he weighs his options.
Illinois is one of 35 states to have the death penalty. The state currently does not carry out executions because of the 2000 moratorium.
Opponents of a plan to locate a coal mine in Southern Vermilion County will take their concerns before the County Board this week.
Sunrise Coal, which is in the process of buying mineral rights, wants to build on the county line, reaching into Eastern Champaign County. The group 'Stand Up to Coal' is led by retired farmer Charles Goodall of rural Sidell. He contends that a mine would devastate water quantity and quality, as well as public health.
"They (Sunrise) actually started sending out land agents well before there was any public discussion of the issues that inevitably affect everyone, not just a few people who are leasing," Goodall said. "The community in that sense was heavily disadvantaged. I happen to think that in a democracy, we all ought to be involved in these big discussions."
Vermilion County Board Chairman Jim McMahon said it's good to get these issues out in the open, but he says there are no zoning regulations in place to prevent the mine.
"Homeowners should be well informed of what is trying to be built in your community, and whether you support it or not." he said. "And that's when you come to your land usage people and say, 'You know what? The best interest of us might not be coal. Or the best interests of us might not be a hog farm.' That's when the public gets to stand at the plate, but when there's no zoning, there are no regulations that says they can't do any of that stuff."
McMahon said it would take two years before a land usage plan could be developed in Vermilion County. Champaign County Board members learned last fall that the Illinois Attorney General couldn't block Sunrise from locating in the area.
McMahon said there are no agenda items addressing coal at Tuesday night's Vermilion County Board meeting, but least two opponents to Sunrise's plan are expected to speak. The meeting begins 6 p.m. in the board room in the Vermilion County Courthouse Annex building in Danville.
Chicagoans are paying steep prices at the gas pump lately. It's prompted one Chicago congresswoman to call for action against the oil companies.
U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Chicago, said Monday gas prices are so high, they could create another recession.
"I think we need to put on the table everything, including dipping into the reserves, in order to avoid that," Schakowsky siad. She said the U.S. government should end its subsidies to oil companies because their profits are so high.
Meantime, new statistics from AAA show Chicagoans are paying an average of $3.72 per gallon at gas pumps. That's 37 cents higher than last month.
"We're seeing very, very high oil prices for, really, any time of the year," Beth Mosher, a spokeswoman for the organization, said. "The situation in Libya, the unrest in Libya, has prices very, very high."
Mosher suggests commuters stick to public transit - since prices aren't expected to come down for at least the next few weeks.
(Photo by Tony Arnold/IPR)
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