Illinois Public Media News
A Republican congressman who sits on a caucus of Midwest high-speed rail advocates says now is not the time to find federal money for such a project.
U.S. Representative Aaron Schock of Peoria said if high-speed rail lines become a reality in Illinois, there is a place for such a line connecting Chicago with Champaign-Urbana. But Schock said the political reality is that federal funding won't be easy to get.
"We're running a $1.6 trillion deficit," he said. "We have a highway bill that's been expired for two years. We aren't building roads and bridges and infrastructure because the motor fuel tax is down. So I think we need to take care of the infrastructure, the roads, the bridges, the airports that we have now."
Schock has supported funding for infrastructure on high-speed rail in the past. But he said neither side of the aisle in Congress has funded the idea - the only money has come from President Obama's last stimulus bill.
Schock made his comments at a political fundraiser in Champaign on Wednesday, one day before Champaign County board members scheduled to vote on a statement of support for high-speed rail.
(AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File)
A first-term state representative will have to adjust his next campaign to a new district that brings him into east-central Illinois for the first time.
But Republican Adam Brown of Decatur said he is confident he can win over voters in the heavily conservative district, even with two other candidates saying they will take part in next March's primary.
Under the new map, Brown's 102nd House district now stretches east into Vermilion, Champaign and Edgar counties, far from his family's Macon County farm. But Brown said his rural connection will help him.
"I feel I can adapt to folks in a rural setting fairly well," he said. "As you mentioned, the real challenge there is getting around mile-wise. I drove the district this morning, and going from the Western portion to the eastern portion takes you about two hours by car."
Congressman Aaron Schock attended a fundraiser for Brown in Champaign on Wednesday night.
Brown is trying to line up support as he faces two township supervisors, Rob Roman of Edgar County and Matt Forcum of Shelby County, in the GOP primary. Brown narrowly defeated incumbent Bob Flider (D-Mt. Zion) last November.
A federal program that involves state and local police agencies in immigration enforcement is stirring up controversy. The program helps federal authorities see if criminal suspects have permission to be in the United States. Immigrant advocates say the program snares too many people who haven't committed crimes.
This spring, Gov. Pat Quinn made Illinois the first of three states to withdraw from the program. But now the feds are saying states have to participate, whether they want to or not. A big question is whether Quinn will mount a legal challenge. At a hearing Wednesday night in Chicago over the program, a crowd turned raucous and 10 people were arrested, according to the Chicago Police Department.
In a word, the program has meant fingerprints. State and local police forces routinely get them from suspects as part of booking. Most jurisdictions send the fingerprints to the FBI for a national criminal background check. The Secure Communities program makes it easier for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, to use the fingerprints. President Obama's administration has said the goal is to focus immigration-enforcement resources on deporting criminals like murderers, rapists and others who threaten public safety.
ICE reports that Secure Communities has helped lead to the deportation of more than 650 convicted criminal aliens in Illinois alone. But, the program has also led to hundreds of deportations of people without criminal records. Opponents of the program say it also erodes public trust in local cops, which presents another set of public-safety threats. Ill. Gov. Pat Quinn pulled the state out of the program in May. New York and Massachusetts quickly followed suit. This month, the feds told states they have no choice; that all law enforcement jurisdictions nationwide must participate by 2013.
Some attorneys at immigrant advocacy groups say they're trying working on a legal strategy for Illinois to cut ties to the program. They say they have the ear of the Quinn administration. A spokesman for Quinn says the governor's office is looking at the situation carefully but that it's too soon to discuss legal options.
At the same time, the federal Department of Homeland Security has formed a task force to help find ways to improve the Secure Communities program to keep it from damaging local law enforcement, though some immigrant advocates are calling it PR.
The task force is holding at least four hearings around the country. The third one was Wednesday night in in a downtown Chicago union hall. About 300 people packed in. The mic was open and most of the speakers said they opposed Secure Communities. Carolina is a Mexican-born mother whose kids are U.S. citizens. She asked us not to broadcast her last name because she's undocumented. So is her husband. She said Chicago police arrested him after a mixup over some broken car windows that landed him in deportation proceedings. He's got a one-way flight to Mexico out of O'Hare this morning.
"He's being deported," she said. "Do you really think that this program is working? How many more families have to suffer? Do you have children? Think of them? How would they feel if they were separated from you?"
A few minutes later most of the crowd at the hearing suddenly started yelling. It was an orchestrated protest. They stood up and followed some young undocumented activists out the door. Some of them then blocked an intersection and got arrested.
Back inside, a retired teacher said he was a brother of the victim in a hit-and-run collision that got some press coverage a couple months ago.
"I am here to report that my brother Dennis was killed by an illegal alien in the Logan Square neighborhood on June 6, 2011," said Brian McCann. "The offender hit him and then stepped on the gas, rolling over his body, and dragged him several blocks. The offender had recently completed two years' probation for another aggravated felony DUI."
McCann said he didn't know enough about the Secure Communities program to take a stand on it. But he said, at minimum, he wants immigration violators who are felons to be deported.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel Wednesday announced a new foreclosure initiative that relies on community groups to identify abandoned properties.
Standing in front of a rehabbed bungalow home in the Auburn-Gresham neighborhood, Emanuel laid out details for what the city calls the Micro-Market Recovery Program.
The MacArthur Foundation will provide up to $20 million in loans with the idea of leveraging millions more from the private sector. The goal is to collect a total pool of $50 million. The city will select neighborhood groups to find foreclosed properties. Those groups will use the funds to purchase and then rehab the homes, thus making them market-ready.
"It needs a comprehensive, integrated approach rather than home by home because the system is too big and too complicated for that alone. So we are targeting our resources, both public and private and nonprofit," Emanuel said.
The mayor said the program should get about 2,000 homes back on line within three to five years.
Housing and Economic Development Commissioner Andrew Mooney said local groups can purchase the foreclosed properties by using the pooled startup money.
"The idea is straight forward. If we're really going to address the problem, we have to focus on local markets rather than one building at a time. We need to target our resources to help stabilize values, regenerate market forces and reoccupy foreclosed properties," Mooney said.
The city will start the program in nine neighborhoods: Humboldt Park, Chatham, Chicago Lawn, West Woodlawn, Auburn Gresham, West Pullman, Belmont Cragin, Englewood and Grand Boulevard.
Stan Smith, president of the nonprofit New Pisgah Community Service Organization, was on hand for Mayor Emanuel's announcement. Smith said his group hired local construction workers to rehab the bungalow that hosted the mayor, his staff and the press.
Smith said he'd like to participate in the new foreclosure program because in the past he received federal dollars to do rehab work, but that work was only piecemeal.
"We need to do a whole area, capture an area to focus in on it so you don't end up doing one house here and you have 12 more abandoned houses on the block," Smith said.
Local health care advocates hope a plan to create Illinois' largest Catholic hospital system results in greater financial assistance for the low-income.
There was little opposition in a state hearing in Urbana Wednesday, and another held the same day in Danville, over the planned merger between Provena hospitals and Chicago-based Resurrection Health Care.
Those who backed the move during Urbana's 90-minute hearing included Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance, and members of Champaign County Health Care Consumers. The group's executive director, Claudia Lennhoff, said its partnership with Provena Covenant Medical Center has helped low-income patients with medical expenses, and that a new charity care program would emerge, based on the best of both hospital systems, if the merger is approved.
But John Hilty of Urbana was concerned that a larger hospital system makes it less responsive to a community's needs.
"It seems to me that smaller organizations are easier to manage and tend to be more responsive to local communities, rather than large organizations, where the decision making is less personal and less attuned to a particular city or location," he said.
Hilty also said a larger hospital system doesn't necessarily result in less costly medical bills.
Provena Covenant Medical Center lost its property tax exemption in 2004, when the Illinois Department of Revenue ruled the hospital didn't provide enough charity care. The President and CEO of its hospitals in Urbana and Danville, Michael Brown, said Provena Covenant has proved many times since then that the hospital is a community partner. He said the level of charity care should improve with the merger. Brown said the move will produce savings from controlling purchasing prices to office functions.
"When you look at the tsunami that's in front of us as being able to take care of people with the 10,000 people a day eligible to join the Medicare ranks," he said. "There are not enough people in the following two generations to pay for that. So we have to do this a different way. And being able to merge these together and to leverage the resources gives us an opportunity to at least meet that need."
The proposed merger also got letters of endorsement from Champaign State Senator Mike Frerichs and Champaign Mayor Don Gerard.
The Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board will rule on the merger in October.
President Barack Obama says it likely will be another year to 18 months before home prices start rising again and sales start to pick up.
But he says the federal government can't accomplish that alone, and will need support from the banking industry and others to make sure the market pulls out of its slump.
Obama provided no support for his prediction. His comments Wednesday came in response to questioner at a town hall in Atkinson, Ill.
The president ventured from Iowa into politically familiar territory as he wrapped up a three-state tour through the cornfields, towns and cities of the Midwest. He was holding a second town hall meeing Wednesday afternoon in Alpha, Illinois and was scheduled to meet with Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn later in the day.
Dozens of people lined up early Wednesday morning to see President Barack Obama at the first of two town hall-style meetings in rural Henry County.
Supporters Jean Causemaker and Mary Kay Franks were determined to see President Obama when they found out he'd be in town Wednesday. A handful of people without tickets gathered across the street, hoping to catch a glimpse of Obama's bus.
The three-day bus tour is part of an effort by Obama to command attention just after Republican presidential candidates dominated the news with a debate and straw poll in Iowa. He has used the trip to criticize his presidential and congressional opponents and to outline modest economic proposals in advance of Congress' return to Washington next month.
After his stop in Illinois, President Obama will return to Washington to begin a 10-day vacation.
(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
The League of Women Voters of Illinois is asking a federal court to order a big change in the highly political, once-a-decade redistricting process. It's the latest suit tied to Illinois' new boundaries for congressional and state legislative districts.
The League last year tried to change how Illinois draws the boundaries, but its petition drive to get a proposal on the ballot came up short. Now the group is asking the courts to get involved.
In its lawsuit, the League claims its members' First Amendment rights were violated when Democratic leaders took into account party identification while drawing the maps. The lawsuit says this "unlawfully attempt[s] to control or influence the kinds of views, opinions and speech that residents placed in those districts are likely to express or hear or receive."
Illinois Republicans, who have a lot to lose if the Democratic-drawn maps stand, have also asked the courts to get involved.
But the League's lawsuit notes both parties have engaged in partisan gerrymandering in the past and wants the court to order a new process driven by "impartial" decision-makers.
But the League's president, Jan Dorner, acknowledged on that such a change may not be possible before next year's election.
A former Chicago police commander imprisoned for lying about the torture of suspects decades ago is still costing the cash-strapped city money.
That's because Chicago is defending itself and former police Lt. Jon Burge against civil lawsuits from men who claim Burge and his men beat, suffocated and shocked confessions out of them.
Six lawsuits are pending that accuse Chicago officers of torturing suspects _ almost all of them black or Latino_ into giving confessions from the 1970s to the 1990s.
The city's stance has long been that it would defend itself vigorously against any such lawsuits. However, Mayor Rahm Emanuel told the Chicago Sun-Times for a story published Tuesday that he's working toward settling them.
Burge-related cases already have cost the city an estimated $43 million.
A legislative panel has voted 8-1 to authorize the state to negotiate health insurance contract extensions through the end of June 2012.
All vendors providing health insurance coverage for state workers, including Urbana-based Health Alliance, will be able to negotiate nine-month extensions following Tuesday's decision by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA). State Senator and COGFA member Mike Frerichs said the extension should provide relief for a lot of people.
"I think for now the legislature has done its part," Frerichs said. "It's now up to the health insurance providers, and the (Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services) to work out the terms of the deal."
Orland Park House Democrat Kevin McCarthy cast the only dissenting vote.
The state health contracts have been operating for the last few months under a 90-day extension that is due to expire at the end of September. A state appellate court recently upheld a Sangamon County judge's ruling, preventing the state from moving ahead with new health contracts for state employees and retirees. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn's administration has argued the so-called 'open access' plans will save the state about $100 million a year.
"We are very happy to been given the opportunity to negotiate a longer-term contract to continue serving state workers and their families," Health Alliance CEO Jeff Ingrum said in a statement. "Every day we receive calls from our state members wanting to know if they'll be able to stay with Health Alliance."
But insurers may not get a rate increase from the state over what they're getting currently. In addressing the panel Tuesday, Ingrum compared his provider's rates with that of another provider.
"We are looking at the rate increase and just seeing in this environment to extend a rate from FY 11 to a full year," he said. "If that would be the ultimate terms, it would be a bit unreasonable given the fact that Blue Cross (Blue Shield) got an increase."
Print reports indicate Ingrum is seeking a rate hike of around 5-percent. A company spokeswoman, Jane Hayes, said she understands the state's needs to save money by dropping Health Alliance. However, she said she has a great deal of confidence that Health Alliance will be able to reach a deal with the state.
State Senator Shane Cultra (R-Onarga) praised the vote by COGFA.
"Finally, thousands of central Illinoisans can breathe a sigh of relief," Cultra said in a statement. "We must fix the current process now, so we are not sitting here next May without a permanent solution in place for the 100,000 state workers and retirees who have faced this uncertainty since this process began."
The state is scheduled to argue before a Sangamon County judge later this week to argue whether COGFA has the authority to extend the current health insurance contract. However, Sen. Frerichs said Gov. Quinn's office recently filed a motion to dismiss that case.
A convicted influence peddler remains on track to be sentenced weeks after his one-time benefactor, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Prosecutors said at a status hearing Tuesday that they want to stick with an Oct. 21 sentencing date for Tony Rezko.
The government has portrayed Rezko as the ultimate insider who pulled strings in Blagojevich's administration.
A jury convicted Rezko in 2008 of squeezing kickbacks from businessmen eager to land state contracts.
The 56-year-old appeared at Tuesday's hearing in jail clothes and chains binding his ankles. He smiled weakly and waived at relatives on courtroom benches.
Jurors convicted Blagojevich for corruption in June. His sentencing date is Oct. 6.
Rezko's sentencing was repeatedly delayed to leave the possibility he could testify at Blagojevich's trial. But the government never called him.
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