Illinois Public Media News
The Illinois House is bucking recent history by approving a major expansion of legalized gambling.
The House voted 65-50 Monday to approve five new casinos, including one in Danville. The others would go to Chicago, Rockford, Lake County and somewhere in the south suburbs.
The measure now goes to the Senate.
State Representative Lou Lang (D-Skokie) said the legislation would bring the state one and a half billion dollars in startup fees and $500 million or more a year in ongoing revenue.
Governor Pat Quinn has said he dislikes such a huge expansion.
But Lang said the additional casinos would bring in money to pay overdue bills.
"The most important part of this has nothing to do with gaming at all, the most important part of this is putting people to work and helping pay the bills of the state of Illinois," Lang said. "That is an important goal."
The proposal also allows horse race tracks to add slot machines, and it'd permit both slots and racing at the state fairgrounds in Springfield.
State legislators are trying to assert their authority on the approval of public employee health insurance contracts.
They passed a measure Monday in the Illinois House of Representatives by a vote of 98-15 to give themselves the ability to approve or deny new contracts.
However, it may be too late to stave off changes that are forcing one hundred thousand public employees to switch health care coverage.
The changes come in direct response to the recent ethics commission ruling that the state was right to drop the HMOs provided by Urbana-based Health Alliance and Humana.
Legislators were outraged and said the contract award process was inherently flawed. The administration maintains it followed the rules set forth by legislators themselves. State Representative David Leitch (R-Peoria) said lawmakers should be able to overturn decisions.
"What kind of idiots would come up with a process that would permit this to happen," Leitch said.
But not everyone wants to scrap the recent bidding process and put the decisions in the hands of a new seven member panel. House Democrat Barbara Flynn Currie of Chicago voted against the measure. She said legislators need to think twice before bypassing a law aimed at taking politics out of the group employee health insurance program.
"I think you have to look carefully at the idea that this handful of people should be able to say to the losers, 'OK, losers, today because of us seven people you get to be a winner," Currie said. "That's not the way to run any state government."
The measure passed in the midst of the annual open enrollment period when workers can pick new health plans.
Governor Quinn's Administration is moving forward despite the legislation, and telling employees to choose coverage before June 17th. After that date workers will automatically be placed in a new plan.
Lawmakers in Springfield have passed legislation to expand access to higher education for undocumented immigrants. It now heads to Gov. Pat Quinn, who has said he would sign the measure into law. As Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers reports, this isn't the first time the state has considered how far it should go to accommodate people who have come to this country illegally.
(AP Photo/Jason Redmond)
Illinois lawmakers were scheduled to be back at work Sunday afternoon, as they continue a rare holiday weekend session.
The Illinois House was scheduled to return to the floor at 4 p.m. Sunday. The Senate was set to be back at 5 p.m.
On Saturday, the Senate approved a plan to overhaul workers' compensation to cut business costs and curb corruption.
The measure now heads to the House. It would slash payments to doctors and hospitals that care for injured workers. It would tighten reviews that determine an injury's severity and cost, as well as cap awards for the increasingly common claim of carpal tunnel syndrome.
Those changes are meant to cut the $3 billion workers' comp system by up to $700 million a year, or more than 20 percent.
The legislation passed 46-8, with 2 voting present.
Among east-central Illinois lawmakers, Senators Mike Frerichs (D-Champaign), Bill Brady (R-Bloomington) and Dale Righter (R-Mattoon) voted in favor of the measure. Senator Shane Cultra (R-Onarga) voted against it. Senator Kyle McCarter (R-Lebanon) did not vote.
High winds in the Champaign area this week were apparently were strong enough to topple and shatter a 6-ton granite veterans' memorial in the village of Savoy.
Village board member Bill Smith says village staff noticed the 8-foot tall, black granite block had been knocked over early Wednesday morning. He says the wind bent steel bars that held up the memorial "like wet noodles.''
The village expects insurance to help cover the cost of repairing or replacing the memorial. Smith says the memorial cost $30,000 when it was built in 2008. He says the real holdup involves getting a hold of black granite to be shipped from overseas. Area residents and businesses contributed the money for the original structure, but Smith says more donations have already come in to rebuild the memorial.
"This memorial was put up with the intent of not using public dollars to maintain and take care of it, so we're always in need of funding," said Smith. "So if there's a little extra that's collected after the deductable is paid, then we'll use that for ongoing maintenance."
A Memorial Day ceremony planned for the site Monday is cancelled.
Democratic lawmakers have approved new legislative districts that are likely to complicate life for Illinois Republicans for the next 10 years.
The new legislative map now goes to Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn.
Legislative districts are redrawn every decade to reflect population changes.
Democrats control the Legislature so they were able to draw new districts that would make elections tougher for Republicans.
The Senate approved the new districts 35-22 Friday. The House approved them earlier in the day.
Impeached Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich switched his focus Friday during his second day on the witnesses stand from describing himself as an everyday man to seemingly pointing the fingers at others.
A less-animated Blagojevich offered nitty-gritty, often laborious detail to jurors about the legislative process and the hardscrabble world of political fundraising. Gone were the hand gestures, emotion and long monologue about himself from the day before.
Blagojevich still did not get to most explosive allegations against him, that he tried to sell or trade President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat for campaign cash or a top job.
His testimony Friday centered on allegations that he tried to shake down racetrack executive John Johnston for a $100,000 campaign contribution by withholding his signature on a bill that benefited the horse-racing industry.
The twice-elected governor conceded that he was eager to get a contribution from Johnston, but when his attorney asked if he was refusing to sign the bill as a way to squeeze Johnston for money, Blagojevich denied it.
"No, I was not," he said in a firm voice. "My intention was to follow the law ... and be careful not to cross any lines."
Blagojevich also told jurors that advance commitments from would-be donors - and urging would-be donors to follow through - was critical to enabling politicians to plan ahead for hard election fights.
"This is the system we have in America," he said. "I think it is an imperfect and flawed system."
The former government appeared to suggest that two of his close friends turned top advisers, Lon Monk and Chris Kelly, may have been at least partly to blame for the perception that Blagojevich seemed to be shaking down the executive.
His attorney asked Blagojevich to explain excerpts of an FBI wiretap recording, in which Monk tells Blagojevich about having just met Johnston, pressing him for money. Blagojevich several times noted that it was Monk, not him, who went to Johnston.
Later, he talked about his late friend Chris Kelly, offering suspicions that Kelly might have been "meddling" in the racetrack legislation himself as an explanation for why Blagojevich was so slow to sign the bill.
Kelly committed suicide in 2009, days before he was to report to prison to begin a term on tax and mail fraud convictions.
Though he didn't explain in detail, Blagojevich claimed that he believed Kelly might be trying to manipulate the racetrack bill somehow in an effort to curry favor with people with supposed connections to then-President George W. Bush. Kelly's aim, Blagojevich told jurors: To get someone to ask Bush to grant Kelly a pardon and keep him out of prison.
Blagojevich said that, and not any shakedown, was his reason for delay in signing the race-track bill.
"I don't want anyone to say I am signing the bill because I am part of some scheme with Chris," Blagojevich told jurors. "I was afraid if I sign the bill, this is what they might say."
As he did on Thursday in his first day of testimony, Blagojevich frequently veered off-topic. Judge James Zagel frequently intervened.
"See if you can answer a question yes or no," he told Blagojevich at one point.
Zagel sent jurors home for the Memorial Day holiday at around noon on Friday. Defense attorneys told Zagel that Blagojevich will be called to the stand again on Tuesday and that he could remain on the stand for the defense until Thursday.
(AP Photo/Tom Gianni)
A huge expansion of legalized gambling in Illinois is headed to the House floor.
The proposal would create licenses for five new riverboat gambling casinos. It would include a gambling boat or land-based casino in Chicago. It also would expand horse racing and add slot machines at the Illinois State Fairgrounds.
The bill sponsored by Rep. Lou Lang of Skokie was approved 8-3 Friday by the Executive Committee. It failed in the same committee Wednesday with only five votes.
Gov. Pat Quinn said earlier Friday he opposes "top-heavy'' gambling expansion and frowned on gambling at the fairgrounds.
Lobbyists for existing riverboat casinos oppose the measure because they say the market is saturated and state revenues would drop at current boats.
A measure that would scrap the new, controversial group health insurance plans for state employees, and restart the process under a different state agency --- with more legislative oversight - passed the Illinois Senate Friday evening by a 37-12 vote.
State Senator Mike Frerichs (D-Champaign) is sponsoring an amendment to Senate Bill #178, with downstate Republicans Dale Righter, Shane Cultra, Larry Bomke and Bill Brady signed up as co-sponsors. The measure cleared the Senate Local Government and Veterans' Affairs Committee on Thursday. Co-sponsor Righter said one problem with the new health insurance plans, is that they require many state employees now using HMO plans from Health Alliance and Humana to switch to Open Access Plans --- plans which the state self-insures.
"So the state's potential liability is going to go way up," Righter said. "Now again, that can save you money over the long term, as long as you run a tight, efficient program. That's really the question, I think, out there for lawmakers is --- is this administration in the habit of doing that, or is this administration even capable of doing that?"
The bill would go back to the present mix of group insurance plans, current set to expire at the end of June. The procurement process for new plans would start over --- but under the Department of Central Management Services --- not the Department of Healthcare and Family Services, which is presently in charge.
And Frerichs, the bill's lead sponsor, said the measure would give the General Assembly more oversight of the process for selecting insurance plans, through its Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability.
"I think it's a good idea to have more eyes overseeing the process", said Frerichs, whose Senate District includes thousands of University of Illinois employees, many of whom receive healthcare through Urbana-based Health Alliance. "No one is perfect. People make mistakes. And that's why I've also focused on making sure that the General Assembly is involved in this as well."
Currently, the Department of Healthcare and Family Services is ignoring a vote by the Forecasting and Accountability Commission to block the new insurance plans.
The bill must now pass the House to beat the legislature's May 31st adjournment deadline.
Ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has taken the witness stand for a second day at his corruption retrial.
The presiding judge has said there will only be a half day of testimony on Friday before he lets jurors head home for the Memorial Day holiday.
Blagojevich's testimony is likely to spill into next week.
As he stepped onto the witness stand Friday, he still hadn't addressed many of the allegations against him, including the charge that he attempted to sell or trade the U.S. Senate seat President Barack Obama vacated after winning the 2008 election.
An often animated and emotional Blagojevich spent much of his time on the stand Thursday reciting his life story to jurors.
Prosecutors will get their chance to ask Blagojevich questions after his own lawyers finish.
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