Illinois Public Media News
Rod Blagojevich's attorneys are set to begin their first defense of the former Illinois governor in his second trial on corruption charges.
A person familiar with the defense plans says new Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. will be among the opening witnesses. The person spoke on condition of anonymity, citing not being authorized to speak publicly.
In the first trial last year, Blagojevich's attorneys rested without calling a single witness. The jury later deadlocked on 23 of the 24 counts against the former governor, including allegations that he tried to sell or trade President Barack Obama's former U.S. Senate seat in exchange for campaign funds or a job for himself.
The defense attorneys say the two elected officials could help prove Blagojevich's actions weren't crimes.
Ethics Commission Upholds Decision to Drop Health Alliance HMO, Humana
There's disappointing news for state and university employees and retirees who had been holding out hope Illinois would continue to offer Health Alliance and Humana health insurance.
Same-sex couples in Illinois can start obtaining civil union licenses Wednesday, June 1.
The Champaign County Clerk's office says it will be fully staffed to issue the licenses, which will cost four dollars. Kevin Johnson of the Up Center of Champaign County said he is planning a large gathering at the clerk's office when the civil union law goes into effect.
"You know, a lot of people feel it's not truly equal because it is not marriage," Johnson said. "However, for many of us, it is the first step of being recognized by the government as couples."
Couples are required to get the license from the county clerk's office in the area where the ceremony takes place. Both people in a relationship have to show up to get the license. Johnson estimates anywhere between 20-to-30 people will immediately get the licenses in Champaign County on Wednesday.
Similar to getting a marriage license, couples must have a valid form of ID and be ready to answer basic questions like parent's names. Couples are encouraged to call their county clerk's office if they have questions about civil unions. They cannot take part in a ceremony until the day after the license is issued. They also have 60 days to use that license or it expires.
Kathie Spegal, 67, of Champaign has been with her partner, Lynn Sprout, since 2002, and she said she never thought she would live to see the day when civil unions would be legal in Illinois.
"It's not going to change how we live," Spegal said. "We still pay taxes. We still do everything that we've always done. It's just that we know how that it's all legal."
Spegal said her civil union ceremony will take place at McKinley Memorial Presbyterian Church, where he exchanged vows with her partner as part of a "holy union" in 2004.
But churches can opt out of performing civil unions, according to Bernard Cherkasov, president of the group Equality Illinois.
"No religious institution will be required to officiate or perform civil unions," Cherkasov explained. "But every agency performing state functions - accepting public funds to perform that function - will be required to comply with all existing laws and statutes, including respecting the civil unions law."
Civil unions share many of the rights that accompany traditional marriage, including the power to make medical decisions for a partner and being able to share insurance policies. In order to get insurance benefits, a couple must obtain a separate document from the county clerk proving the civil union happened.
When the law takes effect, Illinois will become the sixth state in the United States to allow for some form of civil unions for gay and lesbian couples.
The top Democrat in the Indiana Senate says she won't run for governor in 2012.
Sen. Vi Simpson of Bloomington says she gave it serious thought but won't be running for governor. Simpson says she hopes to remain a progressive voice in the Statehouse, which is dominated by Republicans who control the House, Senate and governor's office.
Simpson says state government should focus on "individual rights and economic equality rather than on radical social agendas.''
Former House Speaker John Gregg is the only Democrat who has said he'll run for the job. Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels can't seek a third consecutive term.
Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Pence is considered the front-runner in the race for governor, though GOP businessman Jim Wallace of Fishers is also running.
Illinois State Police plan to boost the number of seat-belt enforcement zones and other patrols as the Memorial Day weekend approaches.
Besides being a time of heavier holiday traffic, the weekend is also the 10th anniversary of the state Department of Transportation's "Click It or Ticket" program.
IDOT spokesman Josh Kauffman credits "Click It or Ticket" with boosting compliance with Illinois' mandatory seat belt usage over the past decade, and helping bring traffic fatalities down to the lowest levels since the early 1920s --- with less than 1,000 deaths in 2009 and 2010.
"The safety belt usage rate is at an all-time high," Kauffman said. "It's more than 92% throughout the state. And we're continuing to look for other ways to increase that as well. So this is obviously an approach that helps with that. We understand that law enforcements is very helpful and very successful and effective in boosting safety across the state."
Nearly $1.6 million in federal funding will support Illinois' "Click It or Ticket" program this year --- as well as patrols to check for impaired driving. This funding will help more than 400 local law enforcement agencies provide extra patrols and roadside safety checks this weekend. Half or more of these patrols will occur during late-night hours.
Police in Champaign County are calling a death overnight at the county's correctional facility a suicide.
The sheriff's office says 24 year old Jesse Masengale had been sentenced on Monday to 30 years in prison for predatory criminal sexual assault on a child.
They say during a routine check, corrections officers at the county's satellite jail found Masengale inside a shower room inside an open dorm for non-problem jail inmates, hanging from a strip of fabric torn from a jail bedsheet. He was pronounced dead less than an hour later at Carle Hospital after officers tried to revive him.
Sheriff's officials say they're investigating Masengale's death but haven't found reason to believe anyone else was involved. They say a mental health interview conducted after his sentencing Monday found no concern of self-harm.
Sunday's devastating tornado in Joplin Missouri underscores the sudden nature of storms and the challenge that emergency management officials face in sending out warnings.
Only 17 minutes separated the first tornado sirens in the city from the onslaught of the tornado. Champaign County Emergency Management Agency director Bill Keller says the National Weather Service tries to give as much advance warning as possible, and it's up to agencies like his to decide exactly when to set off the sirens.
"A lot of it depends on the past history of the storm," Keller said. "Every once in a while, one just fires up unexpectedly so to speak, like the Joplin (tornado). 17 minutes sounds like a lot of time, but if you don't have a plan on what you're going to do and where you're going to take shelter, that's not very much time."
Keller says sirens go off when a tornado has been visually detected, or if there's other evidence a tornado may be hidden by darkness or heavy rain.
Keller says every household should designate a place to go in the event of a tornado warning, and people in stores and other public buildings need to follow staff instructions when the warning sounds. He assumes that some Joplin tornado victims decided to leave stores and try to beat their storm home in their vehicles, which he says was not a good idea.
It's likely to be a few more days before Democrats propose new boundaries for Illinois' U.S. House districts. But Republicans already know they're not going to like it.
Two things are for sure: (1) Census numbers mean that Illinois is losing a congressional seat; and (2) the new map will favor Democrats, who control redistricting.
"They could push me East. They could push me West. They could change the district altogether. They could leave it as is," said U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh, a freshman Republican from Chicago's Northwest suburbs. "We don't know and because nobody on the Republican side has any seat at this table, we're left to the mercy of the one party in Illinois that's running things."
Walsh freely acknowledges that if Republicans were in control, they'd draw a map that favors their candidates.
Meantime, Raja Krishnamoorthi isn't waiting for the new boundaries. The former Democratic candidate for Illinois comptroller is publicly "exploring" a run for Walsh's 8th district.
In an interview Sunday, Krishnamoorthi said that based on early reports it's "pretty clear that...Democrats are going to be more competitive in this district and other places as well."
On Tuesday in Springfield, the House and Senate panels tasked with redistricting are scheduled to hold a joint hearing on proposed maps for state legislative districts. This will be the third hearing since those boundaries were released late last week.
A separate public hearing is planned for following the release of the proposed U.S. House map, according to Rikeesha Phelon, a spokesperson for state Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago.
"I don't anticipate that it will be early in the week," Phelon wrote in an email.
Top Democrats want the maps approved before the General Assembly is set to adjourn on May 31st. After that, the proposal would need Republican votes in order to pass.
The Department of Energy plans three public hearings next month in Illinois on the FutureGen coal-energy project as it gathers information about the potential environmental impact.
A hearing is planned for June 9 in Jacksonville. That's near the Morgan County site where the project will retool a power plant to use new technology that captures the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from coal and then store it underground.
Hearings also are planned for June 7 in Taylorville and June 8 in Tuscola in eastern Illinois. Those are alternate FutureGen locations.
A group of coal companies and other firms known as the FutureGen Alliance earlier this year picked the Morgan County town of Meredosia for the project. An earlier version of FutureGen planned for eastern Illinois was scrapped.
Searching for lost children and seniors may be a little easier under a plan state legislators sent to Governor Pat Quinn.
It's a small wristband and fastens just like a watch, but instead of telling the time, a small microchip inside acts like a GPS system. They are worn by people prone to wandering off like autistic children or someone with Alzheimer's.
Lawmakers voted to allow the device to patch in directly to 911, an exemption not many other private alarm companies enjoy. The wristband itself could call police when a person goes missing. Carol Stream Republican Senator John Millner said a single cop can find the missing person, rather having to activate a whole search squad.
"With this device here, its simply one call, one activation and we would be able to find that person swiftly, saving money, saving time," Millner said.
But Rockford Republican Dave Syverson voted against it. Only one business in the state, Murphysboro-based Care Trak, currently makes the devices.
"For one company we're setting up that they can go to 911 direct, but for burglaries, and for seniors, they still run through the private sector," Syverson said.
Syverson said if the state gives this company an exemption, other alarm systems will want the same perk.
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