Illinois Public Media News
Illinois emergency management experts are asking the public's help to develop the state's strategy for dealing with emergencies and disasters.
The Illinois Emergency Management Agency has launched "Illinois Homeland Security Vision 2020." The effort is aimed at developing the state's homeland security preparedness and response policies.
IEMA director and Illinois homeland security adviser Jonathon Monken says the "terrorist threat in ever-evolving" and the state's program must "continue to rise to meet those challenges."
The program will include eight meetings across Illinois starting this fall. Participation also is encouraged from religious groups, businesses and individual citizens. Results of the meetings and citizen input will be compiled into a report and presented at a summit of Illinois policy leaders in August 2012.
Illinois' two U.S. Senators are arguing about how much financial support the U.S. should send to Pakistan.
Republican Sen. Mark Kirk made a policy speech Tuesday at the Union League Club, proposing a new warning against Pakistan.
"I think that we should rethink assistance to Pakistan, that it's naive at best and counterproductive at worst," Kirk said.
It's a reversal for Kirk, who earlier this year cautioned against cutting aid to Pakistan. He just got back from a trip to Afghanistan and said the Pakistani government supports a group of terrorists called the Haqqani network. Pakistan's government has reportedly denied those claims.
Kirk said if relations don't improve, the U.S. could get additional help from India, a heated rival of Pakistan.
But Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin disagrees.
"I will tell you that I think that would be cataclysmic," Durbin told reports Tuesday at an unrelated news conference when asked by reporters what he thought of bringing India into talks with Pakistan.
Durbin defended supporting the Pakistani government in fighting terrorism, saying the U.S. government gives a limited amount of money to the country. Spokesmen for Durbin and Kirk says the U.S. has given Pakistan $22 billion in the last decade.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn says he'll announce further budget cuts later this week, and Quinn indicated Tuesday that he will include layoffs.
If the layoffs move forward, then that would break an agreement the governor made with the major state employee union.
The governor would not say how many layoffs to expect.
"We have to do what we have to do in order to make sure we get through this fiscal year with the appropriation that the General Assembly provided," Quinn said.
Quinn said lawmakers didn't appropriate enough money for him to keep his agreement with AFSCME, the union representing thousands of state employees. Before last year's election, he signed a deal with the union, pledging not to close facilities or lay off any workers though mid next year. But he has already broken part of the deal, earlier this summer when he halted pay increases.
Anytime somebody enters into contract, you expect them to live up to it," AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall said. "And anytime somebody gives you their word, you expect them to keep it."
But Quinn said he's not betraying the union. He claims union agreements are always subject to appropriations from the General Assembly, and if "the General Assembly appropriates less money, then everyone has to adjust to that."
That fight is still taking place in court.
"Those who are unhappy about any cuts really should visit their members of the General Assembly, their representatives and senators," Quinn said.
That said, Quinn denies the layoff threat is just an effort to force lawmakers to appropriate more money.
Meanwhile, not all lawmakers are believing the governor's threats to cut state workers and close facilities.
Senator Matt Murphy (R-Palatine) said he hopes Quinn is serious about reining in the cost of government, but Murphy said he is also skeptical.
"My worst fear is this is sort of a political stunt on the part of the governor to go in to areas represented by Republicans and dangle large job losses to try to pressure support for his almost 9 billion dollar borrowing scheme," Murphy said.
Quinn wants to borrow to pay off a large backlog of bills but Republicans have blocked it. While Murphy has said he doesn't want to borrow or give the governor additional spending authority, some of his fellow GOP lawmakers, like State Senator Larry Bomke (R-Springfield) are less opposed to those approaches.
"What my suburban colleagues feel is the right thing to do, that's up to them," said Bomke, who represents a large number of state workers. "I'm all for keeping people gainfully employed and not laying people off when it's not necessary."
The issue is expected to get attention when lawmakers begin their fall session next month.
The head of Champaign-based Community Elements says she's looking for a more 'holistic' approach to behavioral health, and that could include a possible detox program of its own for drug addicts.
Urbana's Prairie Center Health Systems closed its detox program on Thursday, after state cuts of $450,000. Community Elements CEO Sheila Ferguson Ferguson admits state funding is thin. But she said there are exceptions, including Community Elements' Respite Crisis Center, which is performing better and could receive additional state support.
"We're really giving some thought to whether or not we can serve some people with dual diagnosis that need detox," Ferguson said. "Because we hate to leave the community without anything. So, we're kind of brainstorming at this point to see if there's something that we can still partner with Prairie Center because they have some outpatient services."
Ferguson also said it is possible Community Elements could partner with local hospitals to make sure some sort of detox program continues in the area. She said she was disappointed with the decision by Prairie Center Health Systems to end talks about a possible merger. That agency's CEO, Bruce Suardini, said it wasn't feasible now, given state funding mechanisms. Ferguson said such a move is needed given the condition of state funding.
"Become more integrated, and offer mental health, substance abuse, and primary care,'" she said. "For me, mental health and substance abuse are really primary care issues that need to be addressed through physician support as well as ancillary services, like outpatient therapy counseling."
She said she also disagrees with Suardini's comments about merger negotiations, saying a number of mental health and substance abuse agencies have now chosen to join forces.
A group of Illinois lawmakers are scheduled to travel to Cuba on Tuesday, in hopes of striking deals between Cuban officials and Illinois businesses.
Representative Dan Burke of Chicago will be going on what he calls a learning mission for him and other legislators. The Democrat said Cuban imports and exports with Illinois have dropped dramatically in the past, but he thinks now is a good time to turn things around.
"Being an agricultural state, we have everything that they would potentially need, I think the controls over the commerce and industry in Cuba has been lessened in the last few months so there are business opportunities for our state based companies that might be pretty dramatic," Burke said.
Burke said the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba is a reason for a decrease in exports and imports.
Taxpayers won't be footing the bill for the trip, as lawmakers will be paying their own way from either personal funds or their political accounts. Burke said the group will publish a report of the trip when they return home.
This isn't the first time Illinois politicians have visited Cuba. Former Illinois Gov. George Ryan was the first sitting U.S. governor to visit Cuba after Fidel Castro took power.
Gov. Pat Quinn has granted 74 clemencies and denied 99 petitions, chipping away at a backlog of more than 2,500 cases in Illinois.
Quinn's office says that the 173 cases he addressed on Friday come from dockets ranging from 2004 to 2007. More than 2,500 clemency cases built up under Quinn's predecessor, ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Quinn has acted on 1,529 clemency petitions since taking office. He has granted 591 and denied 938.
Clemency has been in the spotlight since former Republican Gov. George Ryan pardoned several people on death row and commuted sentences of others before leaving office in 2003.
Quinn recently signed a bill abolishing the death penalty in Illinois and commuted the sentences of all 15 men who remained on death row.
Republican Congressman Tim Johnson of Urbana says he will introduce legislation that would require lawmakers to approve a budget every two years, rather than each year.
The measure would also establish an appropriations cycle starting Oct. 1 of each odd-numbered year, and any budget or appropriations bill passed by one chamber would have to be voted on in the other chamber within a two-week period. Johnson said there also couldn't be any hods, filibusters once one chamber acts.
Johnson said his budget plan will also give the federal government more time to assess how well agencies and departments use money that they are appropriated.
Illinois, which has a multi-billion dollar budget deficit, is on an annual budget cycle. Meanwhile, Indiana passes a budget every other year. Johnson said Indiana's billion dollar surplus is a testament that such a plan works.
"They have a surplus every year," Johnson said. "Look at what we're doing in Illinois. Illinois is an abyss of fiscal stewardship. No state in the union is operating worse than Illinois, and it has for years. So, if Indiana is our partial model, and looking at the results they have, I in many ways am glad to look at the model."
But John Ketzenberger, president of the non-partisan Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute, said there isn't much connection between his state's budget cycle and its surplus. He noted that there are other reasons why Indiana has a surplus.
"There were more than a billion dollars in cuts," Ketzenberger explained. "When the recession started, more than a billion dollars in reserve, and the state used about $2 billion dollars in federal stimulus money over the course of the recession."
Ketzenberger said Indiana's biennial budget plan has helped the state by encouraging more fiscal discipline.
Johnson is running for re-election in a newly drawn 13th congressional district, which includes Champaign, Decatur, Bloomington, Springfield, and the Metro East area near St. Louis. He said he expects to get bipartisan support for his legislation.
His Democratic challenger, David Gill of Bloomington, said he would also support a two-year window for approving the federal budget. However, Gill criticized Johnson, saying his decision to vote against raising the nation's debt ceiling shows he doesn't have any credibility in tackling budget issues.
"The fact that he voted against that bipartisan deal to raise the deficit after the Democrats had compromised, and bent over backwards in terms of spending cuts and any kind of increased revenues," Gill said. "That makes me question where he's coming from and how much of his proposal for a two-year budget simply is playing politics."
Gill ran unsuccessful bids against Johnson in 2004, 2006, and 2010. Former Illinois lawmaker, Democrat Jay Hoffman of Collinsville, is also considering a run for the Congressional seat, but he hasn't announced his candidacy.
An Urbana agency that treats victims of drug and alcohol abuse has again lost funding for its detox program, and this time it may be for good.
Prairie Center Health Systems CEO Bruce Suardini said it is doubtful the $450,000 will be restored by lawmakers this fall. In September of 2008, the program shut down for six months before funds were reinstated.
Suardini said the detox program still sees about 750 people per year, and after cutting off referrals Thursday night, he said more addicts won't get the appropriate treatment.
"We watch the clients carefully because it's life-threatening," he said. "So a lot of people who will now probably end up in an ER room will get treated for the day and released. And they really don't have a chance to look at the addiction and get into a long-term care kind of way to combat that addiction."
Cuts to those programs statewide equal 28-million dollars. Suardini says while a number of area legislators would back a supplemental bill to restore that money this fall, it would require 3/5ths majority in each chamber.
"The chances of that happening, and total money being restored in the state of Illinois - I'm just more pessimistic about that because of the volume of things that are on the (General) Assembly's plate," he said. "So I don't see that coming back."
But Suardini said other programs for residential care and outpatient clinics, including one in Danville, will continue to operate. But he said reduced staffing levels means clients will have to be put on a waiting list.
Meanwhile, Suardini said Prairie Center has ended talks with Community Elements in Champaign (formerly the Mental Health Center of Champaign County) about a potential merger. He said state funding mechanisms forced clients to use services separately, and a merger wasn't feasible at this time.
Community Elements CEO Sheila Ferguson says the decision was solely Prairie Center's, and was disappointed the two sides couldn't work something out.
Gov. Pat Quinn this week used the Muslim holiday of Eid ul-Fit--closing the holy month of Ramadan--to announce the members of a new Muslim-American Advisory Council.
The 26-member panel will advise the governor on ways to advance the role of Muslim-Americans in the state. Two of its members are from the Champaign-Urbana area.
Dr. Irfan Ahmad is executive director of the Center for Nano Scale Science and Technology, at the University of Illinois. He said the panel could help raise awareness throughout Illinois that Muslims are part of the fabric of the community--and also raise awareness within the Muslim community.
"That's (the) awareness we try to create within the Muslim community itself, that they have a role to play, we have a role to play, and the rest of society, the rest of the general fabric of the U-S has a role to play," Ahmad said. "Illinois can really drive home this message, both within the Muslim community, but also reaching out into the Muslim world."
Strengthening ties with the Muslim world is an area where Ahmad believes the advisory council can also help. He said the panel's understanding of Muslim culture could help identify economic opportunities. For instance, Ahmad points to the demand for meat slaughtered in accordance with Muslim dietary law, or halal.
"New Zealand exports a lot of meat to Muslim countries, but they do it in a slaughtered fashion, which is according to the Islamic (tradition)," Ahmad said. "So if the state and other entities are attuned to some of those sensitivities, they could potentially leverage some of those markets, say, if we were to export meat, for example."
Also serving on the governor's Muslim American Advisory Council is Imad Rahman. He's a board member at the Central Illinois Mosque and Islamic Center in Urbana, and serves as financial officer for the mosque's community health clinic in Champaign.
The Governor's Muslim American Advisory Council will be co-chaired by Samreen Khan, Governor Quinn's senior policy adviser and liaison to Asians and Muslims, and Kareem M. Irfan, president of the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago.
The panel is already being criticized on anti-Muslim websites, for including officers with the Islamic Society of North America and the Council of American Islamic Relations, both of which have been accused of ties to Islamic extremist groups. The two organizations have denied the charges.
Illinois Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon wants schools to know she isn't gunning for them.
Simon was recently appointed by Gov. Pat Quinn to lead a commission tasked with finding ways to cut school district administration costs and redirect funding back to students.
The commission begins its work with an eye on the high number of districts in the state. Officials say Illinois has about 870 districts. That's the third-highest number in the country behind California and Texas.
Quinn raised some hackles when he talked about school consolidation in this year's budget address. But Simon insists her effort isn't about cutting schools or reducing districts just for numbers' sake.
She says her goals for the Classrooms First Commission are to make districts more efficient and schools better equipped to educate students.
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