Illinois Public Media News
Democrats released their proposal for new Illinois Senate districts today but did not provide population or voting information that would shed light on how the districts would affect elections.
Senate Democrats said their proposed map would create seven districts with more than 50 percent African-American voting age population, down from eight districts. It also would create five majority-Latino districts, up from four.
Other than that, Senate Democrats simply posted maps online that show the outlines of the proposed districts. They plan public hearings on Saturday and Tuesday to provide more detail.
Senate Republicans said they were reviewing the proposal but didn't yet know enough to comment on whether it's fair and meets constitutional requirements.
There's no word on when the Illinois House will release its proposal for House districts. Steve Brown, spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan, said he did not know when voters would get to see the House proposal.
Political maps are redrawn every decade based on U.S. Census figures. Democrats are in charge because they control the Illinois House, Senate and governor's office.
State lawmakers also have to draw new congressional districts. No proposal for that task has surfaced yet. Illinois is set to lose one of its 19 U.S. House seats because of population shifts.
Democrats plan to approve the maps before the scheduled end of the legislative session on May 31. After that, a supermajority would be required to pass the maps, which would give Republican lawmakers a say in the process.
The leader of the Senate remap process, Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, did not return calls seeking more information. His office referred calls to a Senate spokeswoman who said no further details would be released today.
An Indiana attorney will ask the state's Supreme Court to reconsider a controversial decision that involves police entry into homes.
The original case started with the arrest of Richard Barnes in Evansville, a city in the far southwestern corner of the state.
In late 2007 Evansville police tried to enter Barnes' home after being called to quell a domestic disturbance between Barnes and his wife. According to court records, Barnes told officers that they were not needed. Barnes and his wife tried heading back to their apartment. Police followed and then asked to be allowed inside. Barnes refused and shoved an officer. The officer entered anyway and subdued Barnes. Police eventually charged Barnes and a court convicted him on a misdemeanor count of resisting arrest.
Barnes attorney Erin Berger challenged the conviction on the grounds that police didn't have a warrant. The Indiana Appeals Court agreed. But after a ruling last week, the Indiana Supreme Court says Hoosiers cannot resist police entry into their home, even if that entry is illegal.
In a 3-2 decision, Justice Steven David wrote, "the right to reasonably resist an unlawful police entry into a home is no longer recognized under Indiana law."
David added that a resident's refusal to allow an officer entry could lead to further violence. The court says a resident can challenge the entry in court at a later time. But Justice Richard Rucker, a Gary native, dissented.
"A citizen's right to resist unlawful entry into her home rests on a very different ground, namely, the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution," Rucker wrote. "In my view the majority sweeps with far too broad a brush by essentially telling Indiana citizens that government agents may now enter their homes illegally - that is, without the necessity of a warrant, consent, or exigent circumstances."
Berger's taking the usual step in asking the court to reconsider its ruling.
"The breath of the decision would absolutely allow a police officer to enter a home for no reason, whether there's a warrant or not, whether there's extenuating circumstances or not," Berger said Wednesday. "Citizens no longer have the right to even tell the officer 'No,' and close the door against the officer's hand."
Following the ruling, threats have been made against the judges of the Indiana Supreme Court, and protesters have planned a march in Indianapolis for next week.
Indiana lawmakers are also considering amending the law so police within the state follow protections laid out in the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment.
Rahm Emanuel has lobbied Illinois leaders about bringing a casino to Chicago, the new mayor said Wednesday.
As he did during the campaign, Emanuel said he would like the casino to be city-owned.
"We have a casino in Chicago," Emanuel told reporters Wednesday after chairing his first city council meeting. "It just happens to be in Hammond, Indiana. And we're losing that revenue."
Facing a budget deficit in the range of $500-700 million, Emanuel said the gaming revenue could certainly be helpful, if it's done right.
"I have spoken to the leaders of both chambers, both parties, and the governor about the essentialness for a Chicago-owned casino here, as a way of both economic activity and revenue source," Emanuel said.
The new mayor declined to offer a prediction on whether it can happen during the final weeks of this legislative session, noting that casino legislation in the past has fallen apart.
"One issue can be alive a minute, something else can happen," Emanuel said of the legislative process. "So if I say something today - even now - by the time I get upstairs, it can be a different note."
Spokespeople for Democratic leaders said Wednesday that the General Assembly is not focusing on any proposals for a Chicago casino.
"We'll see if there's a detailed proposal that emerges and then we'll see how people treat it," said Steve Brown, spokesman for House Speaker Mike Madigan.
Senate President John Cullerton "remains open to discussing a gaming proposal," wrote his spokeswoman, Rikeesha Phelon. "At this time, there is no pending legislation.
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
The Illinois Statehouse was crowded with people Wednesday, speaking out against proposed budget cuts.
Union members in purple T-shirts are angry about possible cuts to home health care and pension benefits. Mayors in gray suits and power ties oppose any move to reduce their share of income tax money.
Danville Mayor Scott Eisenhauer said his city has already cut 72 positions, and reduced its budget by millions, the proposed income tax reductions would mean an additional 11-to-18 jobs lost. He says that means across the board reductions in areas like public works, safety, and local development.
"Services that will impact the quality of life that our citizens currently enjoy," Eisenhauer said. "And more importantly, services that, by their reduction or cut, will really make it even more difficult for us to go and attract new business, new industry, or new families coming into our community."
Meanwhile. nursing home employees and residents delivered petitions to Governor Pat Quinn's office Wednesday. All those groups and more say their funds are too important to cut. But they're not offering any suggestions on how state officials could avoid cuts and still balance the budget. Three different Illinois budget plans are being considered. All of them would include service cuts, but the amounts vary.
Illinois may be the new host of a maximum security federal prison.
Since late 2009, the state and federal government have been in negotiations and while there has been no official confirmation, legislators have confirmed terms of transferring the Thomson Correctional Center to the feds. President Barack Obama's original plan was to send Guantanamo Bay's terror suspects to Thomson. A backlash killed that plan.
Still the administration insisted it wanted to take the state-of-the-art prison off Illinois' hands, as it has barely been used. State legislators from northwestern Illinois, including Republican Representative Richard Morthland, say they were notified by Governor Pat Quinn of a deal.
Morthland said it was to be kept quiet because there are unfinished details. However, it appears the state will get $165 million for Thomson. That's lower than its $220 million appraised value. But Morthland said it will create needed high-quality jobs.
"They'll need places to live, there're going to need places to shop, and they're going to be providing a lot of services," Morthland said. "The Federal Bureau of Prisons has a preference to working with local producers, so the farmers in the area and other people will be able to do business with the prison. And so it's really going to be a great shot in the arm for northwestern Illinois."
Given crowding in Illinois correctional facilities, the state could surely use it to house its own criminals. But Illinois doesn't have the money to open the prison. Congress would still need to approve the purchase, but no further action is necessary at the state level.
Members of the Champaign City Council expect further discussion in the coming weeks on a proposed four percent tax on packaged liquor.
The suggestion has been raised as a way to avoid cutting three jobs at the city's police station, and closing the front desk during overnight hours. City Finance Director Richard Schnuer said the tax would raise about $700,000 a year. Council members tentatively backed the tax on a six-to-three vote in Tuesday night's study session. But one opposed to the idea, Deb Frank Feinen, said those favoring the tax haven't gauged the full impact on the local economy.
"We have local small business owners who have package liquor stores or sell alcohol," she said. "And I want to be very careful and cautious before imposing a tax that may impact their business because it's more important ultimately that we keep those businesses running."
Feinen said the tax could also change spending habits at liquor stores, or drive people to neighboring communities to purchase liquor. Council member Karen Foster brushes off those suggestions. She proposed the tax in last week's meeting. Foster said local bars and restaurants that serve alcohol are already subject to a food and beverage tax, and this would level the playing field.
"Any liquor drink is taxed already," she said. "And I've heard from campus bar owners and they feel that this is a fair tax to have the package liquor stores also have a tax."
Feinen suggests the city look at hiking the local hotel-motel tax, or consider making cuts elsewhere. But she said the council should also have a broader discussion about the police department, and consider a portion of the cuts there.
It's unclear when the council will conduct a final vote on the proposal, but a final budget approval is expected on June 21st.
Academic professional workers at the University of Illinois crowded into a State Universities Civil Service Merit Board meeting in Urbana on Wednesday morning.
These workers are exempt from state Civil Service rules --- and they were concerned about a bill in Springfield that would take exemption powers away from state universities. (Academic Professionals at the U of I Urbana campus include many Illinois Public Media employees, including the news staff.)
Rick Atterberry of the Council of Academic Professionals told Merit Board members that Civil Service rules are a bad fit for certain specialized university jobs. Atterberry pointed to the practice of "bumping" --- when a Civil Service worker whose own job is eliminated can take over the job of someone with less seniority.
"Bumping severely and irreparably disrupts operations resulting in the loss of key employees with the requisite skills and specialized institutional knowledge critical for the continuation of successful operations," Atterberry said.
But Universities Civil Service Advisory Committee Chair Barney Bryson told the Merit board that real problem lies with universities that grant improper Civil Service exemptions.
"We can only look to Chicago to see how far out of line this has been --- oh I don't want to use that word --- we can see how far this has been misused," Bryson said.
Service Employees International Union Local #73 Vice President Phil Martini also brought up the UIC case. He said audits by the State Universities Civil Service System found that a majority of recent Civil Service exemptions at the Chicago campus were inappropriate. But he said that exemptions for most positions related to teaching and research were legitimate --- and questioned whether the Academic Professionals attending Tuesday's Merit Board meeting had anything to worry about.
"I'll bet 90 percent of the people in this room are not affected by this change," Martini said. "We're talking (in the UIC cases) about people at the lowest level of wages in the university, now being replaced by people that are making wages much higher than the equivalent job."
U of I Associate Vice President of Human Resources Maureen Parks acknowledged the problems with improper Civil Service exemptions at the Chicago campus, which she says are being fixed. But she argued state universities need the ability to quickly identify those jobs which don't fit Civil Service guidelines.
"Many of our schools have groundbreaking research grants and contracts which were awarded from federal agencies," Parks said. "These external requirements, deadlines and deliverables require specific capabilities, background experience and skills."
The Civil Service Merit Board had no action to take on the Civil Service exemption bill, although they heard discussion on the measure at three points during the Thursday meeting --- during the Public Comment session, in reports from Advisory Committees, and a discussion of the U of I Chicago case.
Universities Civil Service executive director Tom Morelock said he doesn't think the Civil Service exemption bill will make it out of the General Assembly this spring.
The measure (Senate Bill 1150) passed the Illinois Senate last month, and is now awaiting action by the House Executive Committee.
Meanwhile, Morelock said he is working on his own rule changes, aimed at achieving the same goals as the bill. He says the new rules could move through the state regulatory review process in the next eight-to-12 months. But Sizemore cautioned that input from all involved parties could result in a watering-down of his proposal.
A jury has been seated in the terrorism trial of a Chicago man.
The twelve jurors and 6 alternates chosen will be hearing the case against Tahawwur Rana who's accused of planning the Mumbai terror attack that killed 160 people.
Ten of the jurors are women and eight are African American. Rana's defense attorneys say there were a lot of minorities in the overall pool of jurors, and that's why there are so many on the panel. Charlie Swift says it's a good jury for them.
"The idea here was to get a jury of Mr. Rana's peers and I believe that we got a jury of Mr. Rana's peers. People who can understand Mr. Rana's position as an immigrant. People who can understand Mr. Rana's position as a minority in his community, Mr. Rana's position as a businessman and as a family member," Swift said.
Opening statements in the case are scheduled to begin Monday.
The judge at the corruption retrial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich says he expects the prosecution to rest its case on Thursday.
Prosecutors told Judge James Zagel they'll be able to get through their four remaining witnesses within just a few hours on Thursday.
Zagel said Wednesday that defense attorneys would have their chance to start calling witnesses Monday. And he said he thought closing arguments would happen at the very end of May.
Prosecutors have called only a dozen witnesses over 2 1/2 weeks in a drastically streamlined case. Some 30 witnesses testified over six weeks at the first trial.
Blagojevich faces 20 charges including that he tried to sell or trade President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat. He denies any wrongdoing.
The Illinois Senate is sending Gov. Pat Quinn legislation that would prohibit lawmakers from giving school scholarships to relatives.
The bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale makes relatives -- including those related by marriage -- ineligible for legislative scholarships to pay for college from Senate or House members.
Legislators may hand out tuition waivers each year. The process has been criticized for decades because tuition waivers in some cases have gone to family members or political supporters.
But efforts to abolish the system have failed. A proposal to change the process last year drew a veto from Quinn because he prefers to do away with it entirely.
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