Illinois Public Media News
A federal lawsuit is challenging an Indiana law that caps the state's liability for damages at $5 million in the collapse of a stage at the Indiana State Fair.
The lawsuit was filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis on behalf of the estates of three of the seven people killed in the Aug. 13 collapse and three others who were injured. It seeks class-action status on behalf as many as 70 plaintiffs.
The lawsuit says the state liability cap violates the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment, federal laws and the Indiana Constitution.
Attorney General Greg Zoeller says he will defend the liability cap and has brought in victim compensation expert Kenneth Feinberg to help distribute the $5 million to victims fairly and equitably.
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
On Friday, President Barack Obama unveiled a plan that would allow states to reject certain provisions in the federal No Child Left Behind act.
The measure, which was signed into law by former President George W. Bush 2002, sought to make schools more accountable for student performance and get better qualified teachers into classrooms.
But President Obama said the law's heavy reliance on annual testing isn't working, which why he announced waivers for states if they offer their own plans that meet federal testing standards.
"We can't let another generation of young people fall behind because we didn't have the courage to recognize what doesn't work, admit it, and replace it with something that does," Obama said. "Our kids only get one shot at a decent education. They cannot afford to wait any longer. So, given that Congress cannot act, I am acting."
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said the plan would not undermine efforts in Congress because the waivers could serve as a bridge until Congress acts.
The Illinois State Board of Education is looking to opt out of some of the No Child Left Behind requirements. The group's spokeswoman, Mary Fergus, said the law isn't a realistic indicator of student success. She said last year, more than half of Illinois' schools failed to make adequate yearly progress under the law
"That includes a lot of really good schools, high schools that are sometimes named among the best American high schools," Fergus said. "We have done a lot of the groundwork to be a good candidate for this waiver by adopting the standards and implementing them, passing some laws that tie student growth to teacher evaluations, and working with teachers and educators across the state on that evaluation model."
No Child Left Behind sets out a goal for all of the nation's elementary and secondary students to be proficient in reading and math by 2014, or risk losing federal funding. Duncan has said more than 80 percent of schools will not be able to meet that goal.
Angela Smith, the principal at Franklin Middle School in Champaign, was feet away from the president during his announcement about the waivers. Smith was invited with other educators to come to the White House. She said while No Child Left Behind has created more accountability in the classroom, she said it has also set up standards that rise each year and are difficult for schools to meet.
"With going through with the re-authorization, I'm hoping that they can continue to hear what's happening at the school level, and they can bring people together and come up with a solution that's going to be good for kids," Smith said. "This is an opportunity for Champaign schools to step up and say, 'Here's what we did to be accountable, here's some systems that we've put into place, here's some results and evidence.' We could really be leaders in the state, I believe."
It is expected that most states will apply for the waivers, which will be given to qualified states early next year.
(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
A federal judge has delayed the sentencing date for ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
A notice posted electronically Monday at the U.S. District Court in Chicago says simply that Blagojevich's Oct. 6 sentencing date has been "stricken until further order by the court.'' It doesn't offer a reason for the delay.
There had been speculation that the impeached governor's sentencing could be pushed back because of a scheduling conflict with another trial.
The trial of a one-time fundraiser for Blagojevich, William Cellini, is set to start on Oct. 3. U.S. District Judge James Zagel is the judge in both cases. A new date wasn't immediately announced.
Blagojevich's attorney, Sheldon Sorosky, says a federal judge is likely to set the convicted former governor's new sentencing date for late October or early November. He says Judge James Zagel did put off the sentencing because it conflicted Cellini's trial.
The families of the seven people killed in the Indiana State Fair stage collapse will receive $35,000 each from a relief fund that collected donations for the victims.
The Indiana State Fair Commission approved a distribution formula on Friday that would allocate smaller amounts to the more than 40 people injured in the Aug. 13 collapse.
The formula recommended by victims' compensation specialist Kenneth Feinberg will give $25,000 to those hospitalized for at least 10 days and $7,500 or $3,000 to those hospitalized for shorter periods.
Attorney John Trimble says that formula could distribute about $700,000 of the just under $800,000 that has been donated to the fund. The relief fund is separate from the $5 million the state says it will pay toward legal claims.
A new book claims President Barack Obama was close to firing Rahm Emanuel before his chief of staff left to run for Chicago mayor. But the president's top strategist says the book is littered with fiction.
Ron Suskind's Confidence Men quotes an unnamed source saying Emanuel "would have been fired" if he hadn't moved back to Chicago when former Mayor Richard Daley announced his retirement.
Obama strategist David Axelrod - now back in Chicago - was in the White House at the time, and says Emanuel was "never" close to losing his job.
Axelrod says Emanuel provided strong leadership in the White House, and the president appreciated that.
"Rahm was a enormously positive force in the White House and much of what we accomplished, particularly in those early days when we were teetering on the brink of a depression, was absolutely pivotal. And the president recognized that," Axelrod said. "Rahm provided strong leadership in the White House and that was well appreciated by the president."
A spokeswoman for Emanuel declined to comment.
Suskind also describes the White House headed by Emanuel as a "boys' club," in which women had little power. Axelrod dismisses the suggestion.
"I'm not going to comment on docu-dramas," he said. "The fact is that there were so many just flat-out errors of fact in that book that reflect the overall, which is that it's just not an accurate picture."
That's a characterization also made by a White House spokesman. The author is standing by his book.
Axelrod made his comments to reporters on Thursday in Chicago, after headlining a fundraiser for congressional candidate Tammy Duckworth. Duckworth is running for the Democratic nomination in Illinois' 8th congressional district, against Raja Krishnamoorthi.
Axelrod said his endorsement for Duckworth does not mean the president will follow suit.
"No, I don't expect [he will get involved]," Axelrod said. "He doesn't involve himself in primary campaigns, and these are two friends of his, but obviously - you know, he appointed Tammy to a leadership position in his administration, so he has a high regard for her."
Duckworth, who won the Purple Heart for her service in Iraq, was an assistant secretary in the federal Department of Veterans Affairs under Mr. Obama.
The president also has ties to Krishnamoorthi, who advised Mr. Obama during both his 2004 U.S. Senate campaign, and the 2008 presidential election.
U.S. Census figures show Hispanics are now Illinois' largest minority group, outnumbering African Americans. But not all communities are welcoming the trend, according to a professor a the University of Illinois.
Hispanics now make up nearly 16 percent of the state's population, an increase of nearly 500,000 people from a decade ago. The shift in demographics has put an emphasis on immigration issues such as housing and educational opportunities for Latinos and Latinas.
Jorge Chapa teaches Government and Public Affairs at the U of I, and he also co-authored the book "Apple Pie and Enchiladas: Latino Newcomers in the Rural Midwest."
"They are growing much more quickly than the capacity and the knowledge and how to serve them," Chapa said.
Chapa said very few Hispanics serve on local school boards or in other administrative roles. He said there are also communication barriers in medical care and schools. In addition to growth in Chicago and the collar counties, Illinois' Cass County has seen an influx in Latinos since the last census.
A trade mission by Indiana government and business leaders to Japan is being delayed because of a typhoon expected to hit the island nation.
The group led by Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman was set to fly from Indianapolis on Tuesday and arrive in Tokyo Wednesday evening. The typhoon is forecast to make landfall Wednesday afternoon.
Skillman's office says travel agents are working to find later flights for the trade group.
The group plans to visit Ohta City, Nagoya and Tochigi Prefecture, Indiana's sister state.
Representatives from the Indiana Economic Development Corp., Duke Energy and regional economic development groups are part of the delegation. Japanese companies employ more than 38,000 people in Indiana.
In Chicago on Monday to plug his new book, former Vice President Dick Cheney had some careful criticism about U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald served as special prosecutor investigating a leak during the Bush Administration. He ended up charging Cheney's chief of staff, Scooter Libby, with perjury and obstruction of justice.
At the Union League Club of Chicago, Cheney was asked if he had anything to say to Fitzgerald, whose offices were just a block away. The vice president paused for nine seconds.
"I obviously had some fundamental disagreements with him at one point in the past," Cheney said.
Cheney called Scooter Libby a "very good man" who served his country well.
"For his trouble, he ended up the target of a particular prosecution," Cheney said. "He did not deserve what happened to him."
Also during his hour-long appearance in front of more than 400 people, Cheney defended interrogation techniques used on terrorism suspects. And he declined to say whether he thought President George H.W. Bush or George W. Bush was the better president.
(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
The city of Urbana has a new three-year contract with its police union.
The contract with the Fraternal Order of Police provides raises of 1, 3, and 3 percent over the term of the deal, which is retroactive to July of 2010.
The council unanimously passed the agreement, but Alderman Brandon Bowersox called his yes vote a begrudging one that he's making because of state law, which requires binding arbitration.
Bowersox said the officers do a great job, but Urbana can't afford any raises right now. He said he fears any further ones would come from property taxes.
"It's disappointing, but our only choice is to move ahead with this, and to give this one unit of the city raises when others don't get raises, despite the fact that we can't afford it," Bowersox said.
The city started a 1 percent tax on packaged liquor, raised the hotel-motel tax from 5-to-6 percent, and it cut funding to Champaign County's Convention and Visitors Bureau in order to pay its police officers.
Urbana Police Chief Patrick Connolly said there was give and take on both sides of the three year contract, and the best outcome the union could have asked for.
"There was give and take on both sides," Connolly said. "The city was certainly in financial dire straits, and the city was very generous in recognizing there were certain needs that had to be met on the part of contractual issues, legal issues."
Mayor Laurel Prussing also touted the police department's recent efforts, citing a report of decreased crime in Southeast Urbana.
There will be a new Circuit Court Clerk in Champaign County in 2013.
Linda Frank has not only announced her retirement from the office after next year, but is endorsing former Republican state legislator Rick Winkel for the job. Since leaving the legislature in 2007, he has been a faculty member with the University of Illinois' Institute of Government and Public Affairs.
Winkel said he likes public service more, and wants to use his experience as an attorney and legislator to operate the clerk's office during tight financial times.
"Along the way, I've learned quite a lot about technology, and how to apply it to government solutions," Winkel said. "This is like every place. County government is having a budget problem, and it's revenues are down, having to cut back on expenditures. We're going to have to figure out new and innovative ways to use technology to become much more efficient and effective."
Winkel served in the Illinois House from 1995 to 2003, and in the Senate from 2003 to 2007. Frank will have been in office 21 years at the end of next year. Frank decided to retire about a week ago. She said one of her main goals has been realized - operating a paperless courthouse:
"Now all the files have been digitally scanned," Frank said. "We have the option of sending those to the courtroom now. It will be up to the judges to decide now whether they want to pursue that or not. But it is available."
Winkel said he expects to have primary competition. Republican Champaign County Board member Stephanie Holderfield announced plans earlier this year to run for circuit clerk. Frank said she isn't sure of her plans after leaving office, but says there are 'endless possibilities' for her at the end of 2012.
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