Illinois Public Media News
This morning defense attorneys for Rod Blagojevich are expected to cross examine the first major witness in the former governor's retrial.
John Harris was Blagojevich's chief of staff and he spent three days on the stand last week testifying for prosecutors. He was caught on federal wiretaps advising Blagojevich on how to use a senate seat appointment to enrich himself.
Harris hoped Blagojevich could become a member of Obama's cabinet and in exchange Blagojevich would appoint anyone to the Senate that Obama wanted.
Harris is caught on one phone call talking to another Blagojevich adviser about their attempts to get that offer to Obama's people.
"We wanted our ask to be reasonable and rather than make it look like some sort of selfish grab for a quid pro quo," Harris said. "We had to lay the groundwork to show that we're going to be stuck in the mud here."
Harris was an attorney and he has pleaded guilty in the case and is cooperating with prosecutors.
In their cross examination, Blagojevich's defense team could point out that Harris came up with many of the illegal schemes himself but that would be an admission that the schemes were indeed illegal. Instead they will probably focus on the idea that it was all just talk and no crimes were ever committed.
(Photo by Robert Wildeboer/IPR)
A new report by a fiscal watchdog group shows Illinois Governor Pat Quinn's proposed budget is unbalanced by more than $2 billion.
The report by the Civic Federation found Quinn overestimated some of the money the state is bringing in, specifically when it comes to income taxes.
Quinn's proposed budget estimates Illinois raised $7 billion when it increased the personal income tax rate earlier this year, but the Civic Federation's report finds Quinn's budget for next year does not set aside enough money for income tax refunds. It's about $1 billion short.
Legislators approved the tax increase in January to help balance the state's $13 billion deficit. Quinn also wants to borrow money to pay bills and temporarily suspend some state funding to local governments.
Recently, Illinois' comptroller announced that by her count, Illinois' budget is still some $8 billion out of whack.
Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels has a stack of bills on his desk, but the most controversial he's likely to sign is House Bill 1210.
That one reached Daniels' office late Friday afternoon.
The bill cuts $3 million in federal funding to Planned Parenthood of Indiana. The money's from the federal government and is supposed to help low-income women get reproductive services. But Planned Parenthood also provides abortions, something Daniels opposes.
Daniels has already said he intends to sign the bill. He says Hoosier women will still be able to get reproductive health care services from other providers.
The head of Planned Parenthood in Indiana says her agency will sue to restore the funding, but will wait until Daniels signs the bill. That could come at anytime.
U.S. Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana says the U.S. must continue to deal with Pakistan despite the fact that relations between the two countries are strained following the death of Osama bin Laden.
"Distancing ourselves from Pakistan would be unwise and extremely dangerous," said Lugar.
Lugar's comments came during a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held Thursday.
The hearing dealt specifically with the U.S. policy toward Pakistan. Lugar, the committee's ranking Republican, said he wants to understand whether Pakistani officials knew bin Laden was hiding in the military town of Abbottabad.
He told Senators and experts at the hearing that America's trust in Pakistan has been shaken, but the relationship must continue.
To stop, he said, would "weaken our intelligence gathering. Further complicate military operations in Afghanistan. In short, Pakistan is a strategically vital country which we must engage for our own national security."
Committee chair Senator John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, echoed Lugar's statements, saying America should not rush into a situation that hurts its interests.
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
One of central Illinois' oldest and largest farmers' markets starts its new season Saturday morning, May 7th.
The Market-at-the-Square in downtown Urbana promises over 160 vendors selling everything from fresh produce to arts and crafts. Market director Lisa Bralts-Kelly says attendance averages about 7,000 visitors each week.
Not all produce is available at farmers markets in the month of May, and Market-at-the-Square is no exception. But Bralts-Kelly saod there are some things shoppers can always count on at this time of year.
"You'll have various lettuces, spinach, green onions, fresh-cut herbs that are OK in cool weather, all of those things," Bralts-Kelly said. "But then we have asparagus, which is really the star of the show. And the season for asparagus started a couple of weeks ago, so we'll have it at the Market this weekend. And then, as that starts to wane, the strawberries will start to come on."
One thing that will NOT be at Market-at-the-Square this year is pets and other animals.They're barred from the Market under a new policy. Bralts-Kelly said that they've come to realize that the busy outdoor market is not a good setting for pets.
"We just witnessed many interactions between, not just dogs and people, but also dogs and other dogs," she said. "And we did field a lot of complaints from patrons about animals --- whether it was for sanitation reasons, or crowding, noise, leashes. We've been compiling all this feedback for years, and we decided that this year was probably the time to do it."
Bralts-Kelly said pets are already banned at the Taste of Champaign-Urbana, and the Urbana Sweetcorn Festival --- making Market-at-the-Square the last big outdoor food event in the area to enact such a policy. Service animals will still be welcome, and community groups registered as "animal-related" can also have animals at their booths.
Urbana's Market-at-the-Square is a city-run event that runs Saturday mornings, now through November 5th, at Lincoln Square in downtown Urbana. It will be joined by another area farmer's market next month --- Champaign's North First Street will host its farmers market on Thursday afternoons, starting June 9th.
Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing hopes to have a snow removal ordinance in place well before next winter.
And the initial plans call for something more stringent than what's on the books in Champaign, which covers only downtown and Campustown areas.
The current proposal for Urbana would cover sidewalks throughout the city. The draft going out to neighborhood associations for input would also give property owners 24 hours to shovel sidewalks, as opposed to 48, as the ordinance states in Champaign. Prussing will also give the draft to city council members on Monday. She says the proposal was developed with pedestrians in mind, specifically kids walking to school and mail carriers.
"It's a danger for pedestrians to have to walk in the street and get hit by a car," said Prussing. "My neighbor came to testify to the Urbana City Council, because she slipped and fell and got a concussion. So every time there are slippery sidewalks, I think you see a lot of people coming to emergency rooms for injuries."
Prussing says the draft ordinance was patterned after what other Big Ten communities are using. It doesn't suggest a specific penalty for those who don't comply. The city of Champaign bills property owners for the work, plus a $100 fee. Prussing says just appealing to residents just isn't enough.
"We tried the voluntary approach, and that did get more people to clear their walks," she said. "But it still is difficult, because you go down a block and maybe three people have their sidewalks cleared and two people don't. And it just makes it difficult to get around."
Prussing says the idea now is to get people talking, and exchange ideas. She hopes to have an ordinance in place by September.
A panel made up of Champaign County Board members and residents expects to forward to the board three district map designs in a plan to re-draw board districts.
Board members have to sign off on a plan to increase the number of districts to 11 by July. The redistricting commission has asked a planner to tweak three maps designed by the county's Regional Planning Commission to emphasize items like population variance, rural districts, and so-called 'majority minority' districts. The Champaign County NAACP and former county board candidate Eric Thorsland have also submitted maps for consideration by the commission and county board.
Commission chair Rick Winkel, a former Republican State Senator, said it's theoretically possible for an individual or group to submit a map, but the heavy analysis required give them only a slight chance.
"At this stage, it would be a very long shot for (one of them) to be considered," he said. "You'd have to have time to act on it, to diligently compare it and study it before we could adopt it and recommend it to the county board. And frankly, we're running out of time."
Earlier this week, the county board rejected map 1E on a party line vote. Democrats turned down the first map submitted by the Regional Planning Commission, saying it was worse than the current map, disenfranchising African-American voters, and did a poor job of keeping communities of interest together.
The county allocated about $14-thousand for the redistricting process. Winkel said there's enough of that money left to do five more revisions. But County Board Democrat and commission member Alan Kurtz contends the county would be willing to spend a couple thousand more, if required.
"If we need another thousand or two, I'm not sure if that would be a hangup," he said. "The point is, right now, we don't have to worry about that. At this point right now through the next board meeting, we will receive maps based on the budget. Even at that point, even if we reject that map, we'll not have to add to the budget because the commission still has, under the budget, two more revisions."
The redistricting commission's next meeting is scheduled for May 16th. The Champaign County Board meets three days later.
(With additional reporting from Pam Dempsey of CU-CitizenAccess)
A Champaign County judge issued two warrants Thursday for a father-son landlord team who have failed to comply with court orders to empty out an apartment complex in Champaign County.
Judge John Kennedy issued a civil contempt warrant and a criminal contempt warrant for both Bernard Ramos and his father, Eduardo. The arrest warrants each include a $10,000 bond. If arrested, the judge requires that the Ramoses post the full amount - $20,000 each - rather than the typical 10 percent bond before they can be released.
The Ramoses were accused of failing to legally connect sewer and septic systems for six out of their eight apartment buildings on the property. The apartment complex has traditionally housed many migrant workers.
Last month, Judge Kennedy found the Ramoses guilty of failing to legally connect the property's sewer and septic systems. They must pay more than $54,000 in fines ($100 per day for 379 days for the unlawful discharge of sewage, $100 per day for 160 days for renting out the property during the health code violation; and $200 for not having a proper construction permit and license when they tried to repair the sewage and septic systems).
The Champaign County Public Health Department also sought to stop the Ramoses from renting out the property until the septic system could be legally fixed.
The pair was ordered to pay the fines within six months and vacate the complex immediately, which lies between Thomasboro and Rantoul.
A hearing on the case was scheduled for Thursday after public health inspectors noted tenants still living on the property.
Julie Pryde, director of the Champaign County Public Health Department, said a neighbor of Cherry Orchard reported that tenants were moving from one building to another building on the east side of the complex. The building they were moving into lacks electrical service, inspectors confirmed in October.
"I'm definitely happy that the state's attorney's office is moving forward," Pryde said after Thursday's hearing.
Pryde said inspectors have noted at least 10 cars on the property, indicating that the complex remains occupied. She said she is worried more tenants will move to Cherry Orchard.
"I am definitely concerned that if they are in Texas like they report to be, then they could be bringing back migrants because they have a history of doing that," Pryde said. "(Bernard Ramos) has made no bones about that, and that would be a real problem."
Pryde said health inspectors would continue to monitor the situation, but that assistance for the tenants who need help moving is being handled by social service agencies such as the Salvation Army. A summons for the Ramoses could not be served as the two were not found.
Champaign County Assistant State's Attorney Joel Fletcher told the judge that the Ramoses said they were in Texas and would not be at Thursday's hearing.
Bernard Ramos and his family have owned more than 30 properties in Champaign County; however, several are now or have been under foreclosure during the past few years - with at least seven sold in sheriff's auctions since 2008, according to an analysis of Champaign County Recorder's Office documents.
A call to Bernard Ramos seeking comment was not immediately returned.
The Illinois House has once again rejected allowing medicinal marijuana for those with certain medical conditions.
The proposed measure would hae implemented a three-year pilot program for medical marijuana. The program would've allowed people suffering from certain kinds of illnesses, including cancer and AIDS, to receive a prescription for marijuana to help alleviate pain and nausea.
The measure failed on a 61-to-53 vote.
The bill would have barred people from buying the marijuana anywhere except 59 licensed, not-for-profit sellers. But critics argue it sends the wrong message to kids and could make the drug problem worse.
The measure's Sponsor, Lou Lang (D-Skokie), had limited the program to three years and added a provision to allow the purchase only from licensed dispensaries, but it wasn't enough.
"Maybe as many as 100 members believe we should pass a medical marijuana law but for whatever reason are unable to convince themselves to do it," Lang said.
Lang could call the measure for another vote this Spring. He said he believes he has the necessary support, but has to convince enough colleagues to follow through and vote for it.
House Republican Leader Tom opposed earlier versions of the measure, but endorsed it this time it, saying it's only right to help relieve people's suffering.
"Shouldn't we be able to provide to them the best relief and the best available source to do that?" Cross said.
(AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
A measure that would allow Illinois residents to carry concealed guns in public fell short of the supermajority needed to pass Thursday in the Illinois House.
It would have allowed people to carry guns if they were properly registered and had completed eight hours of training, including target practice. Applicants would have needed to pass a background check with a review of their mental health status.
The vote was 65-32, giving the measure a solid majority. But it needed 71 votes to pass, a standard requirement for legislation that restricts local communities' regulatory power.
Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, said he called the bill for a vote despite thinking it would probably fail. He could call another vote, but Phelps said Thursday was likely the best chance to pass it.
Phelps and other supporters said concealed carry wouldn't make Illinois more dangerous. It would just give people a chance to defend themselves in an emergency, he said.
"There's guns on the streets right now because of the guns the bad guys have," Phelps said.
Gov. Pat Quinn promised this week to veto any concealed carry bill. He reiterated his position Thursday at a memorial service for slain police officers, calling the timing of the vote "ironic" considering the event he was attending.
"I happen to believe that that particular bill will not in any way protect public safety," the Chicago Democrat told reporters. "It will do the opposite."
Supporters of the bill say Illinois should emulate the rest of the nation, as it and Wisconsin are the only states without some form of concealed carry. They also say concealed carry is a sensible option for people who wish to protect themselves.
Critics say those who obtained concealed carry permits in other states have later been convicted of violent crimes. They argue putting more guns on the street will increase crime rather than safety.
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