Illinois Public Media News
The Illinois House has formed its own redistricting committee, a few days after its state Senate counterpart got started with public hearings. The committees are tasked with taking public input, and then drafting new boundaries for legislative and congressional districts based on the recently released Census data.
State Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, a Chicago Democrat, will chair the panel. The other Democratic members include Reps. Frank Mautino of Spring Valley, Lou Lang of Skokie, Karen Yarbrough of Maywood, Marlow Colvin of Chicago and Edward Acevedo of Chicago. Mautino is the only Democrat on the committee who lives outside the Chicago area. The Republican members have not yet been announced.
Currie, who chaired a similar panel during the redistricting process ten years ago, said that 15 committee hearings are scheduled, with more likely to be added. The first three will take place on April 16th in Champaign, Cicero and McHenry.
At the meeting this week of the Senate's redistricting committee, several speakers argued there should be time allotted for public comment before the General Assembly signs off on a map proposal. They want a week delay between whenever the draft map is made public, and when lawmakers vote.
"That would be dandy if we have time to do that," Currie said. "A lot of people kind of work up to deadlines."
The deadline in this case is May 31, the last day Democrats will be able to pass new legislative and congressional maps without Republican votes. The vote threshold moves from a majority to a super-majority when June begins.
The House committee, like the Senate one, has set up a website for Illinoisans to check out the census data.
Democratic Sen. Kwame Raoul of Chicago chairs the Senate redistricting committee. That panel next meets on April 6 in Springfield.
The candidates for Danville mayor debated for the last time Thursday, March 31 before the Tuesday, April 5 election. The candidates in the race are incumbent Scott Eisenhauer, Vermilion County board chairman Jim McMahon, Alderman Ricky Williams, Jr., and businessman David Quick. They tackled a range of issues from their integrity on the campaign trail, to their views on public housing, to whether they would support bringing a casino to the city.
(Audio courtesy of WDAN)
A dismal ranking of overall health in Vermilion County for the second straight year has prompted a call to action from the county's health department.
Department administrator Shirley Hicks says about 130 people in affected areas have been invited to a meeting Thursday morning at her offices. She notes a lot of the findings in the county's ranking of 98th place out of the state's 102 counties have nothing to do with her department, like unemployment and education levels.
But Hicks says Illinois' fiscal woes will just force her department to work that much harder with social service agencies, primary care providers and others to seek solutions.
"The state of the Illinois economic crisis is a player as part of all of this," said Hicks. "So I think it's going to take all disciplines to look at what part can we do, and how can we best utilize resources that we do have."
Hicks commends the work of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute for putting the findings together. She says the ranking for the county isn't nearly as important as the process researchers used to arrive at that figure.
"Any time you're looking at those reports, you're looking at where did the data come from, how did they ask the questions, so you can better understand the root cause of the problem," said Hicks. "I don't have any dispute with the actual data, it's really trying to dissect it down the the most common denominator and say 'how can we target our initiatives and our resources and pull those together to make an impact."
Hicks commends the work of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute for putting the findings together. Thursday's meeting at the Vermilion County Health Department is expected to include primary care providers, social service agencies, law enforcement, hospitals, and members of the Vermilion County Board.
Both houses of the Indiana Legislature have now approved bills that would restrict access to abortions.
The Indiana House voted 72-23 on Wednesday to require that women seeking an abortion be told that human life begins at conception and ban the procedure after 20 weeks unless the woman's life is in danger.
The bill also requires those seeking abortions to be told in writing that they faced a greater risk of infertility and breast cancer.
Republican Rep. Eric Turner of Cicero says it's the responsibility of lawmakers to protect the unborn and that he hoped the additional requirements would lead to fewer abortions.
The bill now goes to the Senate, which last month approved a bill with many of the same provisions.
The CEO of Peoria-based Caterpillar Inc. now says a letter he wrote to Gov. Pat Quinn complaining about the state's business climate was never intended as a threat to move the Fortune 500 manufacturer out of Illinois.
Caterpillar CEO Doug Oberhelman said Wednesday in a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington that news reports about the letter sensationalized his statements about the state's business climate.
According to a copy of the speech, Oberhelman said he'd like to invest further in Illinois. But he said Illinois lawmakers have created an unfriendly business environment.
Lee Enterprises' Springfield bureau reports Oberhlman says in the letter that the company had been courted by other states and while he'd like to stay he also had to "do what's right" for the company.
A second annual ranking of the overall health of each of Illinois' 102 counties shows a mixed bag of results for East Central Illinois.
The annual report of County Health Rankings serves as a kind of 'check up' on how people in Illinois live, according to 28 different factors. Vermilion County ranked among the worst, finishing 98th, but Piatt County finished 15th, McLean County was 13th, Ford County ranked 11th, and Champaign County finished in 34th place.
The report was put together by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin's Population Health Institute to show counties where they can improve. Julie Willems Van Dijk is an Associate Scientist with the Institute.
"We want to be able to describe those things you can change," she said. "Because you can change your economic environment. You can work to attract new businesses to locate in your community. You can work to support your schools to have higher graduation rates. You can work to make your community more accessible for people who want to walk and bike."
Each report starts with health factors among residents, like the rate of premature death and the number of those in poor physical and mental health. They include social and economic factors like the number of uninsured adults, and the high school graduation rate. It also relies on physical features, like a county's quality of air and access to healthy foods. Van Dijk says the report is also intended to inspire local leaders to help themselves.
"When those leaders get together from different areas, they can talk about what resources are already available in your community, and how they might use them even better than they are now," she said. "Because we all know budgets are tight, and we're living in tough economic times. So it's really important that we use the resources we have to the best of our ability."
The majority of higher-ranking counties are in the north and west, including Jo Daviess, Lake, and McDonough, while the many of the lowest-ranked counties are in the south, including Marion and Alexander counties. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is providing grants for up to 14 communities in the U.S. seeking to improve their overall health.
The Superintendent of Champaign's school district is a finalist for the top job at a school district in Georgia.
A website with the DeKalb County School System, located in metropolitan Atlanta, confirms that Unit 4 Superintendent Arthur Culver is one of three finalists for superintendent there. And another one of the finalists is Gloria Davis, the Superintendent of Decatur Public Schools.
The third candidate is the superintendent at a district in Hickory, North Carolina. The three are scheduled to speak in a DeKalb schools public forum Thursday night. The district has more than 100,000 students and nearly 150 schools and centers.
Rahm Emanuel and Toni Preckwinkle said Tuesday they could cut costs by possibly merging parts of their governments. The new Chicago mayor-elect and the new-ish Cook County board president stood before cameras to work in the buzz words of the day: collaboration, streamlining, coordination.
"To continue to operate in separate silos, or to provide duplicative services - that's no longer a responsible option," Preckwinkle said.
"Just because it was done like that for 30 or 40 years does not mean we can afford to keep doing it like that for the next three or four years," Emanuel said.
Possible topics for change include criminal justice (the city has police, but the county runs the jail and courts), elections (the city runs Chicago polling places, the county runs suburban ones) and healthcare.
"Both the county and the city have clinics, for example," Preckwinkle said. "And so the discussions have begun about how we can more effectively deliver service at least cost."
Preckwinkle and Emanuel picked six-people to look into these issues, though none has a professional background in healthcare. Emanuel defends the committee, saying the members - including Ald. Pat Dowell and Cook County Cmsr. John Firtchey - have a broad range of experiences.
(Photo by Sam Hudzik/IPR)
The Illinois House wants to lift the ban on smoking at riverboat casinos that border states where smoking is allowed.
The bill passed 62-52 Tuesday. It now goes to the Senate.
Rep. Daniel Burke said he sponsored the measure because Illinois is losing business to states that allow smoking at casinos. The Chicago Democrat claims casinos have lost $800 million since 2008 because gamblers go to Iowa, Indiana or Missouri casinos.
Burke says casinos have improved air filtration systems, reducing the health concerns from smoking.
Supporters of the smoking ban say it's unfair to subject gamblers and casino employees to second-hand smoke.
Indiana House Democrats are back at work after a five-week boycott to protest a Republican agenda they consider an assault on labor unions and public education, but whether their efforts will ultimately change the outcome of the legislation they opposed is unclear.
Republicans agreed to rejigger - but not completely overhaul - their plans as lawmakers resume work in the House. The Senate had already started working around the Democrats by holding separate hearings on bills stalled in the walkout. Still, Democrats insist concessions they've received on several issues, including school vouchers and labor legislation, made their boycott worthwhile.
"We're coming back after softening the radical agenda," said House Minority Leader Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, whose Statehouse return Monday was greeted by cheering union workers. "We won a battle, but we recognize the war goes on."
The victories Democrats claim are likely more than they would have gained had they not boycotted, but they won't stop the agenda pushed by Republicans who won sweeping control of the House in last year's elections. Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels said bills aimed at improving education and keeping spending low are mainstream Hoosier ideas.
"The only thing 'radical' about this session has been the decision by one caucus to walk off the job for five weeks," Daniels said.
Republicans had vowed throughout the standoff that they wouldn't remove items from their agenda - and by and large they won't have to. The only bill killed by the boycott was a "right-to-work" proposal that would prohibit union representation fees from being a condition of employment.
GOP legislators agreed to some changes on several other bills. For example, they will cap for two years the number of students who could participate in a voucher program using taxpayer money to attend private schools, but it would still be among the nation's most expansive use of vouchers when the limits expire. Another bill that would exempt certain government projects from the state's prevailing construction wage law was changed so that fewer projects would be exempt.
The Democrats' most significant achievement may be that people across the state are talking about these issues. Bauer said the public needed a "timeout" to learn about the agenda being pushed by Republicans.
Thousands of people attended Statehouse rallies during the walkout, and hundreds attended local town hall meetings. Many teachers said they didn't realize Republicans supported vouchers and other measures they think will erode public education, and some union members said they wished they had voted.
Tom Case, a union worker from Fort Wayne who was at the Statehouse protesting Monday, said he was glad Democrats staged the boycott.
"Republicans are going way out of bounds with what they're doing right now," he said.
In one sense, Democrats "punched above their weight," said Robert Dion, who teaches politics at the University of Evansville.
"They got the attention of the state, and they were able to finagle some meaningful concessions that I don't think were necessarily offered all that willingly," Dion said.
On the other hand, Dion said, Democrats have a bit of a black eye because the walkout lasted so long.
House Democrats had fled to Illinois on Feb. 22 to protest 11 pieces of legislation, denying the House the two-thirds of members present needed to do business as required by the state constitution. The move had the potential to force a special session or even a government shutdown if a new budget wasn't adopted before July 1.
Indiana's boycott began a week after Wisconsin's Democratic senators left for Illinois in their three-week boycott against a law barring most public employees from collective bargaining. Wisconsin Republicans used a parliamentary maneuver to pass the law without them, and the matter is now headed to court.
The Indiana standoff became one of the longest legislative walkouts in recent U.S. history. The impasse got a bit nasty at times - with name-calling, scathing political ads, rowdy rallies and fines totaling more than $3,000 for most absent Democrats. But Republicans and Democrats seemed to tone down the rhetoric last week as they discussed possible changes to bills.
Lawmakers began making up for five weeks of lost time Monday. Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma gaveled in the chamber early Monday evening, and lawmakers began working on bills in earnest. Lawmakers worked their way through a large chunk of the House calendar, which was the same as the day Democrats left.
Bosma predicted lawmakers would have plenty of late nights as they work toward the scheduled end of the regular legislative session April 29.
"It's long past time to get to the people's business," Bosma said. "Hopefully we can make this work in five short weeks."
(AP Photo/AJ Mast)
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