Illinois Public Media News
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Media)
Illinois' Supreme Court has ruled that a statewide construction program is constitutional. This reverses an appellate court ruling that threw the $31 billion plan into doubt.
The case involves a plan lawmakers approved in 2009. They decided to pay for the construction by raising taxes on liquor and candy, as well as legalizing video gambling at bars and truck stops.
The projects have created construction jobs across Illinois.
In the much anticipated final ruling on the legislation, all seven justices sided with Gov. Pat Quinn and the bipartisan leadership in the legislature, which endorsed the plan.
Justice Anne Burke wrote that "capital projects" - including those for roads, schools and bridges - is a "legitimate single subject." Burke added that the rest of the bill - including new taxes and expanded video gambling to pay for the projects - have a "natural and logical connection to that subject."
Governor Pat Quinn expressed his gratitude for the ruling.
"It was enacted by the legislature, signed by the Governor - the executive branch, upheld by the judicial branch," Quinn said. "Now we have a law now that's a model for building in our state, and in every other state."
Union officials, like AFL-CIO President Michael Carrigan, say Illinois workers should welcome a court ruling.
Carrigan said the court's decision protects a program that puts Illinois "solidly at the forefront'' in job creation by keeping construction workers, manufacturers, and suppliers doing the kind of work that moves a community forward.
"When you sit down with the various communities, the regions, their economic development arm, practically every one of those councils as part of what they need for their community to go forward is some kind of infrastructure improvement," Carrigan said. "Whether it's widening two lanes to four lanes, whether it's a bypass, a bridge."
James Sweeney of the International Union of Operating Engineers said the ruling removes "a black cloud'' hanging over jobs that support hundreds of thousands of people.
The lawsuit was brought by Chicago Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz, who also owns a liquor distributorship. He argued the law was unconstitutional that it increased the tax on liquor by more than $4 a gallon while the new tax on beer went up less than five cents. Wirtz's attorneys also alleged the package violated a requirement that laws stick to a single subject.
The Illinois Supreme Court's decision may have an impact on how legislators draft future bills, according to University of Illinois political science professor Jim Nowlan.
The court unanimously decided that the package of different tax increases and gambling expansion to pay for the program did not violate a rule that bills only cover one subject, but Nowlan said the argument over just what constitutes a single subject is not over.
"The revenue increases, which were of various types, were all necessary and pertinent to support the capital construction," Nowlan said. "I think the single subject requirement of the constitution will be revisited in the future as suggested by this trail of litigation."
Nowlan said the courts are still refining the definition of a "single subject," and legislators may try again to wrap future topics together under one overarching objective like capital construction.
(With additional reporting by Illinois Public Media)
A major state employee union has filed a federal lawsuit over Illinois Governor Pat Quinn's decision to cancel raises for thousands of workers.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees filed the suit Friday in Springfield, arguing that the Governor's action is a violation of provisions against the impairment of contracts found in the U.S. and Illinois Constitutions. The union says by violating the union's collective bargaining agreement, it amounts to a breach of contract under the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act.
AFSCME Council 31 Executive Director Henry Bayer says its members "deserve to know that their employer, the governor, will keep his word and honor his commitments under the law."
The union's suit asks a federal judge to rescind a pay freeze recently announced by Quinn.
On Thursday, the union announced it had sought an arbitrator's ruling on Quinn's decision last week to ditch $75 million in raises for 30,000 workers to help deal with the state's budget crisis.
The Champaign Unit 4 school board expects to begin interviewing candidates for a new superintendent sometime in September.
But the position has yet to be posted, and board member Tom Lockman said that is partly because the district is letting the public to give their input. A search firm has started some informal recruitment, but there have also been more than 300 replies to community surveys on the district's web site. Former superintendent Arthur Culver resigned at the end of June, and Bob Malito is serving in an interim role for 100 days.
But Lockman said the board wants to make they hire someone the community wants, and that is the reason for the public surveys and two search committees involving the public in the process.
"We certainly have our opinions, and a lot of that we draw from what we hear in the community," he said. "But this is such an important part of what we do. I mean, it's the biggest thing that we will do as a board is make a decision on superintendent, and making sure the community is involved in that process."
Lockman said the school board and a search firm have some qualifications in mind, while the surveys highlight some priorities as well.
"There are certainly some themes in there, and certainly some answers that are more popular that others," he said. "And I think as we continue to talk about it, that will become apparent as well. But I think we have anything set specifically - this person has to have this person has to have this many years of experience, or has to have this kind of education. We have specified any of that at this point."
Lockman said most of the input thus far has come from Unit 4 staff, but the district is starting to find some common themes among the surveys.
A tentative timeline calls for the school district to name four to seven finalists by November, with hopes of hiring someone by December.
The new superintendent would start next July.
The former director of a historic Chicago-area cemetery has been convicted in a money-making scheme that involved digging up bodies and reselling plots.
The Cook County State's Attorney's office says 51-year-old Carolyn Towns pleaded guilty Friday and was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
Towns was director of Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip when prosecutors say she and three workers desecrated hundreds of graves.
Prosecutors say Towns stole more than $100,000 from the corporation that owned Burr Oak by keeping the payments for graves and having workers stack bodies or dump remains in unmarked mass graves. Three other former Burr Oak workers have been charged and are scheduled to appear in court next week.
Many famous African-Americans are buried at Burr Oak, including lynching victim Emmett Till.
The head of a group representing Illinois regional superintendents says the state's regional education offices will remain open despite Gov. Pat Quinn's veto of funding for salaries.
Bob Daiber is president of the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools. He said Friday regional superintendents will fulfill their duties, which include inspecting schools and checking employee backgrounds.
He says the group met with Quinn's staff about how to pay superintendents and their assistants. He says there will be future meetings to work out details.
Quinn used his veto power to eliminate $11.3 million for the superintendents before he signed the budget last week.
The state's budget director has said the 44 superintendents may go without pay for several months until a deal can be worked out with lawmakers.
A member of a Vermilion County panel that has signed off on a license for a large wind farm on the county's west side says further qualifications will be required for the project
According to Bill Donahue, the Wind Turbine Regulatory Committee said his panel's job was not to weigh the merits of wind farms, but to make sure Chicago-based Invenergy met all the requirements of the county's wind ordinance. Donahue said there is a continuing process involved.
"Just because you've got the permit doesn't mean the heat is off," Donahue said. "We monitor any changes they notify us about, if there's substantial changes and if they want to do something drastically different, we may have a new hearing. So it's not like it's all said and done and over and we pretend they don't exist. There's an ongoing relationship that's going to continue throughout the life of the project."
The Vermilion County Board will take up the recommendation when it meets Tuesday night at 6 p.m. The committee approved the plans Wednesday night. The 134 turbine wind farm would start in an area northeast of Kickapoo State Park, and extend into eastern Champaign County. Donahue said there have only been a handful of concerns citing noise and shadow flicker caused by turbines, but county board members will have to weigh those.
"They (opponents) like the way their land is now, they don't even want to see wind turbines," he said. "And I understand that. The difficulty, of course, is that there are other landowners who want that economic development. They're the ones who have leased the land out. And even if we were in the business of trying to make value judgments and I'm not, the community does have some interest in economic development, and I think we're right to begin weighing those things."
About 30 of the turbines would be located in Champaign County, just north of Royal and south of Gifford. But Champaign County Planning and Zoning Director John Hall said the application has not been received yet. Champaign County's Zoning Board of Appeals could take up Invenergy's proposal in late August.
An Invenergy spokeswoman said the company can't comment on its plans at this point, but in a released statement, says the two counties are an "optimal location for a successful wind project, with an excellent wind resource and strong community support.'"
Invenergy has developed 26 wind farms in the US, Canada, and Europe.
The state's largest public employees union is asking an arbitrator to decide if Governor Pat Quinn can cancel members' promised pay raises.
About 30,00 AFSCME members may not get their two percent raise this year. Quinn has cancelled some state workers' scheduled pay increases, but not if AFSCME has its way. The group has called on the same arbitrator who mediated the last time Quinn and AFSCME fought, after the governor's 2010 attempt to layoff employees. That agreement ended with Quinn promising no layoffs in exchange for AFSCME members taking voluntary furloughs and deferring their raises.
Now AFSCME wants that arbitrator to decide if by rescinding those raises, Quinn is violating the union's contract. AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall said the union could still also take the governor to state or federal court.
"We're reviewing all of our, all of our options," Lindall said. "We've always said that we'll pursue every avenue."
Each side has to have briefs filed by July 16th. The union is also going to picket on Tuesday.
Quinn said it is not a breach of contract because state expenditures are subject to appropriations. The budget legislators crafted and he signed does not have the necessary $75 million to pay for the wage hikes.
AFSCME had supported Quinn, a Democrat, in November's election. Just prior to that endorsement, the union agreed to defer raises while Quinn guaranteed two years without layoffs.
A man whose body was discovered in north Champaign Wednesday has been identified as 50-year old Nathaniel Carter of Champaign.
Champaign County Coroner Duane Northrup said an autopsy was performed Thursday morning in Bloomington, but he said authorities still aren't sure how Carter died or how long he had been dead. Results of the autopsy aren't yet availalble.
The decomposing body was discovered by a man Wednesday afternoon in knee-high weeds in the 800 block of North State Street. Champaign Police Chief R.T. Finney said the body was so decomposed that after Carter was found, officers couldn't even be sure of his race.
Legislation that was initiated in Champaign County is expected to expand and diversify Illinois' jury pools.
University of Illinois Law Professor Steve Beckett has tracked the makeup of jury pools for the past seven years. He says county officials have made some effort to increase participation in juries by shortening the jury term from two weeks to one week.
Courts have been relying on lists of registered voters and those with their driver's license to make up jury pools. But Beckett says the National Center for State Courts recommended to a Champaign County Committee that unemployment lists be tapped as well.
"Arguably, you would you miss someone who was not registered to vote, doesn't have a driver's license, but could be receiving unemployment benefits," he said. "And so that's the idea, I think, is that the broader the pool, the greater we enhance the chances of diversity in our juries."
Jennifer Putman with Champaign County's Citizens Advisory Committee on Jury Service says the Secretary of State's office often has dated contact information.
"The courts spend a lot of money mailing out jury qualification questionnaires and summonses to addresses where the respondent has moved," she said. "And because the Illinois Department of Employment Security has up-to-date information, we're expecting more accurate results when we mail to that group of individuals."
The bill was signed by Governor Pat Quinn last week. House Democrat and sponsor Naomi Jakobsson of Urbana says it makes sense to include another block of people with solid contact information. Putman's committee plans to analyze jury pool numbers by this time next year, to ensure the legislation is working. The panel is also working to increase the daily 10-dollar stipend that jurors receive, but Putman says that's a pipe dream right now, given Illinois' financial state.
Iraq War veteran and former Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs Tammy Duckworth says she's running for Congress.
The Democrat announced Wednesday that she'll file paperwork to run in the newly drawn 8th Congressional District in Chicago's western suburbs. The district has no incumbent.
Spokesman Pete Giangreco says the 37-year-old will file the paperwork with the Federal Election Commission on Wednesday or Thursday.
Duckworth lost both her legs in a rocket-propelled grenade attack while serving in Iraq. She ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2006 in another district. Parts of that old district are included in the new 8th District and are areas Giangreco says she won last time.
Another Democrat, Raja Krishnamoorthi, also has formed an exploratory committee.
(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File)
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