Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 17, 2011

Scholarship Bill Raises Big Immigration Questions

A proposal to provide college scholarships to the children of immigrants, even illegal immigrants, is forcing Illinois lawmakers to consider whether it's appropriate to lend a helping hand to people who are in the country improperly.

Many legislators express the need to make a bad situation better. Illegal immigrants are a fact of life, they say, and giving them a shot at an education through privately funded scholarships will be better for Illinois in the long run.

Some Republicans are taking heat for supporting the pending Illinois Dream Act, partly because constituents confuse it with federal legislation by the same name that would have given some illegal immigrants a path to citizenship. Other constituents simply believe the Illinois scholarship program is misguided and might deepen the lure of Illinois as a safe haven for illegal immigrants.

Sen. Dan Duffy, R-Lake Barrington, said he's getting angry phone calls and emails.

"The facts are that there are immigrants here. And the facts are that it would be better if the immigrants here are properly educated," said Duffy, who supports the legislation.

Chicago mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel supports the bill, saying that that it would be consistent with Illinois values. He attended a rally Friday to support the Illinois Dream Act and said it would be fitting for Illinois to pass the legislation because Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin has worked to pass federal legislation of the same name. The federal proposal is different because it would give some illegal immigrants a path to citizenship.

The Illinois Dream Act creates a panel to raise private money for scholarships to students with at least one immigrant parent, legal or illegal. The students themselves also could be in the country illegally.

To qualify for the money, students must already be enrolled in or planning to attend college, and they must have a federal taxpayer identification number proving they work and pay federal taxes.

The legislation, which is in the Illinois House after passing 45-11 in the Senate, also lets children of immigrants join state-run college savings programs. Only legal Illinois citizens may currently draw from the savings program. It also requires high school counselors to make students aware of the scholarship fund and savings program.

It has no impact on a person's immigration status.

William Gheen, president of American Legal Immigration Political Action Committee, believes illegal immigrants should not receive any sort of help getting into college.

Gheen noted federal law prohibits employing illegal immigrants but the Illinois measure would provide scholarships only if they have jobs. In other words, he said, the proposal is based on the idea of illegal activity.

Some, such as Sen. Sue Rezin, also argue students in the country might end up taking college spots that otherwise would go to citizens. She said that would mean spending tax dollars through public universities on illegal immigrants.

"A lot of legislation starts and just opens the door and becomes a state funded issue," the Morris Republican said.

Although the scholarship money would be raised from private sources, a government panel would oversee it -- which troubles critics who think the government should do nothing that might encourage illegal immigration.

Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, agreed Illinois is something of a haven for people in the country illegally. Many have lived here for years, following state laws, working hard, paying taxes and attending state schools.

"There is not going to be a scenario where those people are going to end up being deported," Syverson said. "So how do you address all those?"

He said the country needs immigration reform at the federal level and that immigrant communities must help authorities crack down on people who commit serious crimes. In the meantime, Syverson said, Illinois should help students save for college and get scholarships no matter what their immigration status.

This isn't the first time Illinois lawmakers have debated how far the state should go in accommodating people who are here illegally. In 2003 and again in 2007, they considered providing drivers licenses or an equivalent to people in the country illegally. The idea failed both times.

Several years ago, Illinois became one of the first states to offer in-state college tuition to illegal immigrants. And Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn recently removed Illinois from the Department of Homeland Security's Secure Communities program, which is supposed to target serious criminals but has been used to deport people for misdemeanor offenses. Quinn's spokeswoman said he supports the legislation.

An advocacy group estimates the scholarship bill would aid 95,000 Illinois students. Some probably have stories similar to Cindy, a 22-year-old in her last semester at University of Chicago who did not want to use her last name for fear of deportation.

Her family left Mexico for Chicago when she was 3. Cindy's parents told her from the beginning to work hard, get scholarships and go to college.

Even with a degree from one of the most prestigious universities in the world, Cindy's illegal status limits her job options. Still, she believes providing scholarships regardless of immigration status will help everyone.

"This will create a population that deserves to be here and wants to give back to a country that we consider our home," Cindy said.

The 2010 U.S. Census found Illinois' white and black populations were basically flat while the Latino and Asian population jumped by 33 percent and 39 percent, respectively.

The sponsor of the Dream Act, Sen. Iris Martinez, said Illinois would be smart to make sure all those people have a chance to learn and succeed, no matter what their immigration status.

"I'm really sad that the other side doesn't understand that these children are brought here by no fault of their own," said Martinez, D-Chicago. "How can we not put aside that difference and be able to say that child should at least be able to go to college?

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 17, 2011

Daniels Won’t Take Much Longer on 2012 Decision

Indiana Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels says he'll decide soon whether he'll run for president in 2012.

But he says he doesn't have a timetable for announcing the decision once it's made.

Daniels said Tuesday that he's really only focused his attention on the decision since the legislative session ended in late April. He laughed at speculation that he would announce his plans at the Indianapolis 500 or sometime after the May 29 race.

Daniels spoke before meeting with Indiana agency heads to review improvements in state government.

The former White House budget director is being widely recruited by Republicans who hope his fiscal conservatism would appeal to voters alarmed by the national debt and big government.

Categories: Biography, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 17, 2011

Blagojevich Lawyers Now Paying for First Trial Tricks

Defense attorneys for former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich are paying a steep price for the tactics the team employed in the first trial.

They used a number of tricks in the first trial which resulted in a hung jury on most of the counts against Blagojevich. The most notorious trick was probably when they promised the governor would testify, but then they reneged.

Judge James Zagel said he gave them leeway because he thought Blagojevich would testify, but he said he's not going to do that this time. That was evident Monday as defense attorney Sheldon Sorosky tried to cross examine a former Blagojevich aide, John Wyma.

Prosecutors had subpoenaed Wyma in 2008 about some of his work as a lobbyist and he's testifying under a grant of immunity.

Sorosky tried to ask questions about Wyma's cooperation to suggest that Wyma got a free pass on his own legal troubles because he gave up the governor.

Zagel stopped the questioning and told Sorosky that if he has problems with the way the prosecutors handle cooperating witnesses then he can file a complaint, but that's not relevant to this trial.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 17, 2011

Ill. Lawmakers Face Big Decisions in Final 2 Weeks

Illinois lawmakers face some big decisions in the next two weeks, including how much to cut the budget and whether to overhaul workers' compensation.

The spring legislative session is supposed to end by May 31, but there are still three different budget plans on the table. They're roughly $2 billion apart on how much to spend.

Now lawmakers must decide whether to back one particular proposal or come up with a compromise.

Lawmakers are also looking to lower business costs for injured workers. The chief dispute is whether employees will have to prove injuries are job-related.

Another proposal could affect the cost of electricity. Utilities are looking for more flexibility to increase rates to pay for investment in new technology.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 17, 2011

SURS Director: State Pension Contribution Bill Needs Monitoring

State employees are starting to find out just how a proposed pension reform bill in Springfield would affect them.

People who are covered under the state's traditional pension plan would pay more into their pensions under the Republican-sponsored bill to start cutting into the deep state pension fund deficit. The State Universities Retirement System (SURS) is one of four systems facing scrutiny after years of state underpayments into their coffers.

Speaking on WILL's Focus program Tuesday morning, SURS director William Mabe said state pension benefits are not overly generous to begin with, especially since SURS members don't receive Social Security for their time working in state government.

He said the bill would let people choose a self-managed retirement plan that would let them avoid the increase.

"If they were to remain in the current plan, their contributions would increase, and they could increase significantly depending on how many people move out of the current plan into the new plan," Mabe said. "It's a very complex piece of legislation that's requiring a lot of analysis. We're having our actuaries look at it and our legal counselors heavily involved in reviewing it."

Mabe said SURS currently has pension liabilities of $30 billion but only $14 billion in assets. There are exceptions to the increased contributions for police and firefighters as well as judges - who may eventually have to rule on whether the bigger bite on employees' paychecks is constitutional.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 17, 2011

Redistricting Panel Forwards 3 New Map Designs to Champaign Co. Board

The Champaign County Board will have three more maps with re-drawn board districts to consider when it meets Thursday night.

On a 9-to-2 vote, the county's redistricting commission has forwarded two revised maps from Champaign County's Regional Planning Commission, and one of two submitted by the Champaign County NAACP. The two 'no' votes came from Royal area Republican County Board member Ron Bensyl and public commission member Diana Herriott.

But the independent, 11-member panel declined to rank the approved plans known as 1F, 3D and NAACP design B in order of preference. Champaign County Board Democrat and commission member Michael Richards said his party's caucus still needs to review two of them.

"I would assume that if the NAACP likes map B, then the caucus will like it too, but that doesn't mean they won't like 3D," he said "We presumably will want to have a game plan going into Thursday. Right now there's no game plan from the Democrats as to which map we would prefer."

Redistricting commission chair Rick Winkel, a former Republican State Senator, said he would support any of the three.

"It's compact, it looks much better than earlier maps we were working with," Winkel said. "It meets the eyeball test and doesn't look like a map with all kinds of jigsaw puzzle parts. We had some concern about that. There was some criticism of the previous map. But I think it meets the criteria that the county board recommended to us."

Richards and County Board Democrat Alan Kurtz say both of those maps are compact, and contain a majority-minority district. But other commission members say the NAACP design weakens the rural vote. And 1F got its share of criticism for splitting Urbana into five districts. Two other maps were removed from consideration - one proposed by the NAACP, and the other by prior Democratic County Board Candidate Eric Thorsland.

Commission Chair Winkel said he would have preferred to examine one map at a time, but likes the low population deviation of the three designs forwarded to the Champaign County Board. But in case the board doesn't agree on one of them, the panel has tentatively set its next meeting for Wednesday, May 25th.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 16, 2011

Former Speaker Gregg to Run for Indiana Governor

Former Democratic Indiana House Speaker John Gregg promised supporters a fun and energetic campaign as he kicked off his bid for the governor's office in 2012.

Gregg filed paperwork Monday to create an exploratory committee for the governor's race and put up a campaign website. He plans to officially launch his full campaign with an event later, but met with supporters at an Indianapolis produce market Monday to talk about what he would bring to the governor's office.

Gregg is known for his homespun personality and quick wit. He says Hoosiers are tired of "divisive politics'' and want someone like him who can bring people together. That's a dig at Republican front-runner U.S. Rep. Mike Pence, whom Democrats are trying to portray as too conservative for mainstream voters.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 16, 2011

Emanuel Sworn in as Chicago’s New Mayor

Declaring that Chicago is ready for change, Rahm Emanuel took the oath of office Monday, becoming the 46th mayor in Chicago's history and the first Jewish resident to occupy the office.

Nearly all of Chicago's top elected officials were on hand for the occasion, as were Vice President Joe Biden and several U.S. cabinet secretaries. The event also featured the swearing in of Chicago's new City Council, City Clerk Susana Mendoza and Treasurer Stephanie Neely.

During his inaugural address, Emanuel praised outgoing mayor Richard M. Daley and his wife, Maggie, for their lifetime of service, but declared that serious challenges lie ahead.

"We must face the truth," he said. "It is time to take on the challenges that threaten the very future of our city: the quality of our schools, the safety of our streets, the cost and effectiveness of city government, and the urgent need to create and keep the jobs of the future right here in Chicago."

Emanuel placed schools atop his list of priorities and vowed to push for quick, effective change - even poking fun at his own high-strung reputation in the process.

"As some have noted, including my wife, I am not a patient man," he joked. "When it comes to improving our schools, I will not be a patient mayor."

The inauguration ceremonies took place in the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, a park which became one of the signature achievements of his predecessor, the retiring mayor Richard M. Daley.

Emanuel's inauguration capped a whirlwind - and largely unexpected turn of events - that began with an appearance Emanuel made on PBS' Charlie Rose in April of last year during which the then-White House chief of staff publicly revealed his interest in becoming mayor of Chicago one day.

The comment made national news and stirred the political dust in the Windy City, but the speculation soon dissipated as most seasoned political observers expected then-Mayor Richard M. Daley to seek a seventh term in office. Little did most people know that Daley would stun the political world in September 2010 by announcing his current term would be his last.

Daley's decision not to seek re-election set off a scramble to fill the office he came to occupy for 22 years and created a political vacuum which Emanuel raced to fill. Within weeks, he'd stepped down as White House Chief of Staff and was given a presidential send-off that was carried live on local and national television outlets.

While the list of names of potential mayoral candidates stretched into the dozens, Emanuel's name was always on the short list of top contenders given his political and fundraising skills. In the end, just six candidates remained on the ballot, though it was unclear for weeks whether Emanuel would be one of them.

During much of the fall, Emanuel fended off a series of legal battles that focused on whether he was eligible to run for mayor. At issue was whether he met the minimum one-year residency requirement to be allowed on the ballot. The battle became a centerpiece of the election campaign until the Illinois Supreme Court ultimately ruled in his favor, just a few weeks before the February municipal elections.

On Election Day, Emanuel won a sweeping victory, winning a majority of votes cast and avoiding a run-off, reflecting strength in all corners of the city.

The election not only marked a changing of the guard for Chicago, but it also marked a return to elected public office for Emanuel. Previously, he served for three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives representing the legendary 5th congressional district on the city's north side. While in office, he earned a national reputation as a key architect of the Democrats successful strategy to regain control of Congress in 2006. Emanuel then left Congress in 2009 to serve as Chief of Staff to newly-elected President Barack Obama.

The move wasn't the first time Emanuel left the Chicago area to serve a president. He worked as fundraiser and key advisor to Democrat Bill Clinton during Clinton's 1992 campaign for the presidency and for most of his two terms in office thereafter. It was his work in the Clinton administration on such projects as the passage of the NAFTA treaty that earned him a reputation as a highly effective and fearsome political operator.

But Emanuel's beginnings in politics can be traced back to the man he succeeds as mayor, Richard M. Daley. He worked as a fundraiser for Daley, helping him win election to office in 1989. That experience and those connections helped pave the way for his career since.

"I have big shoes to fill," Emanuel said Monday. "Nobody ever loved Chicago more or served it better than Richard Daley."

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 16, 2011

Rahm Emanuel to be Sworn in as Chicago’s New Mayor ‎

In a major power shift for a city that thrives on tradition, former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel takes over as Chicago's first new mayor in two decades on Monday when he replaces the retiring Richard M. Daley, the only mayor a whole generation of Chicagoans has ever known.

Vice President Joe Biden was expected to attend the morning inauguration ceremony at a popular downtown park before Emanuel heads over to City Hall and, for the first time since he was elected in February, walks into the fifth-floor office that was Daley's lair for 22 years.

"When I go there, which will be right after I get sworn in ... unless I take a wrong turn, that will be the first time, it will be with my family," said Emanuel, who plans to have his wife, Amy Rule, their three children, his two brothers and parents in tow.

Biden's attendance is testament, in part, to Emanuel's high profile in Washington where he worked until October. He quit as President Barack Obama's top aide to come back to Chicago to run for mayor.

"I'm glad he's decided to come and represent the administration and I'm also glad on a personal level because of our friendship," Emanuel said last week. "It's about Chicago, it's not about me."

Emanuel inherits a city with big money problems. Not only has Emanuel's transition team predicted a $700 million budget shortfall next year, but thanks to some controversial decisions by Daley - most notably the push to privatize parking meters - he has limited avenues to find funds to improve schools and repair the city's aging infrastructure.

It's a challenge Emanuel has not shied away from.

Emanuel, who represented Chicago in Congress before he left for Washington, made his feelings about his desire to be mayor known more than a year ago during an interview on Charlie Rose's PBS talk show. He said "it's no secret" that he wanted to run for mayor if Daley didn't seek re-election.

When Daley announced last fall that he wouldn't seek a seventh term after 22 years in office - longer than any other mayor in the city's history - some wondered if Emanuel had known anything when he made that comment. But if he did, that didn't stop him from just days before Daley's stunning announcement renewing his lease with the tenant who rented his Chicago home while the Emanuels lived in Washington.

That decision to rent his house was at the center of, as it turns out, the only thing that stood between Emanuel and the mayor's office: the legal battle over whether or not he was a resident of Chicago and eligible to run for mayor.

That fight ended with an Illinois Supreme Court ruling in his favor, but not before an appellate court panel decided that Emanuel's time away from the city made him ineligible to run and knocked his name off the ballot.

With that out of the way, Emanuel simply steamrolled over his opponents. Branded as a Washington outsider by other candidates including former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun and former Chicago schools president Gery Chico, Emanuel didn't miss an opportunity to remind voters that, unlike his opponents, he had friends in high places, even as he sought to convince them that he was one of them.

There was the campaign stop by former President Bill Clinton and the visit to Chicago by the Chinese President Hu Jintao - a visit, Emanuel reminded reporters that included a private meeting between the two.

Armed with a $14 million campaign war chest that dwarfed those of his opponents, the only question in the last weeks of the race was whether Emanuel would get 50 percent of the votes plus one vote to avoid a runoff.

Emanuel, who kept his temper and his legendary profane vocabulary under wraps during the campaign, ended up collecting 55 percent of the vote.

Once elected, Emanuel wasted little time putting his administration together, bringing with him a number of people from his days in Washington. For key posts, he went far outside the city.

He hired the schools chief in Rochester, N.Y. to run the city's massive school system. He went to Newark, N.J., to find his police superintendent, choosing the head of that department rather than promote someone already in the department. And where Daley hired a local newspaper reporter as his press secretary, Emanuel hired his away from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington.

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 16, 2011

Former Blagojevich Staffer to Testify During Corruption Trial

An old friend from Rod Blagojevich's early political career will be on the stand Monday in the former governor's retrial.

John Wyma was chief of staff when Blagojevich served as a congressman and stayed on as a consultant and fundraiser through Blagojevich's time as governor. He parlayed his relationship with Blagojevich into a very lucrative career as a lobbyist. Clients paid him thousands of dollars a month because he could get meetings with the governor or his staff.

Prosecutors subpoenaed Wyma about some of his business dealings, and in 2008 he provided information that allowed prosecutors to start recording the governor's phone calls. Blagojevich talked about Wyma outside court last Thursday after Wyma started his testimony. Blagojevich seemed unusually thoughtful.

"John Wyma was someone that I thought was a close and good friend and to see him lie like he's lying, understanding that he's doing it because he's being compelled to do it because he may have done some things wrong," he said. "He's afraid that he's going to get prosecuted, doesn't take away the sense of sadness that you feel because this guy was once someone that you thought was a good friend."

Wyma is testifying with a grant of immunity from prosecutors, meaning he can't be prosecuted for any crimes he committed related to this case, provided he tells the truth. He's testifying about conversations he had with Rahm Emanuel about Barack Obama's senate seat just after the 2008 presidential election.

(Photo by Rob Wildeboer/IPR)


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