Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 19, 2011

A Look at the Blagojevich Legal Saga

The retrial of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich begins Wednesday, April 20 with jury selection. It's been two and a half years since the governor was arrested, then impeached, then tried. Illinois Public Radio's Robert Wildeboer has this audio postcard of highlights from this legal saga that's been marked by political theater.

(AP Photo/Verna Sadock)

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AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 19, 2011

Indiana Senate OKs Bill to Cut Planned Parenthood Funding

The Indiana Senate has approved a bill that would cut off funding to Planned Parenthood and give Indiana some of the country's tightest abortion restrictions.

The Republican-ruled Senate voted 35-13 for the bill, which would prohibit state funding to organizations that provide abortion and cut off some federal money that the state distributes. It also would ban abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy unless there is a substantial threat to the woman's life or health.

Opponents say the bill is "unconscionable'' and would keep low-income women from getting health screenings, birth control and other services Planned Parenthood provides.

Planned Parenthood of Indiana says the bill is unconstitutional and vows to take the issue to court.

The bill now moves to the GOP-led House for consideration.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 19, 2011

Urbana City Council Approves Indoor Soccer Complex

A native of England is bringing his vision of year round soccer to Urbana.

The city council has accepted Developer Graham Berry's plans for a 24,000 square foot facility on North Willow Road, west of O'Brien Auto Park.

Berry says he expects to break ground on 'Soccer Planet' next month. He says the visibility from the interstate was a big bonus for the location, as well as the Tax Increment Financing incentives tied to that location. Berry has played in adult soccer leagues that require him to drive to Decatur. Other kids in the area play soccer in cities like Bloomington and Springfield.

But Berry says a local indoor facility built specifically for the sport will open new opportunities for many ages, "...Whether it be a recreational player, a 4-year old who wants to be in a developmental program, learning the game but it's more a social thing between him and his parent or guardian.." he said. "So the competitive player who wants to play year round, this facility is going to provide that."

Berry says the site in Urbana will be state of the art, with a playing surface less susceptible to injuries. "It's not astro turf," he said. "It's field turf. So it's actually a synthetic grass that actually has blades and either rubber infill or matting to protect players when they fall because there's some cushion there."

Berry says the surface will also produce a better bounce for soccer balls. Soccer Planet should be finished by the end of September.

Categories: Government, Politics, Sports

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 19, 2011

Ill. Treasurer: Pension Battle Belongs in Court

Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford says the state should give government employees an option between pension plans and then defend the change in court.

The Republican said Tuesday he thinks giving current employees a choice between the current, guaranteed payment pension plan and a new 401(k)-style program would not run afoul of the state constitution. The constitution bars cutting retiree benefits.

A major union says the idea wouldn't raise the same "constitutional red flags'' as simply reducing benefits.

But the Association of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees says Rutherford's proposal wouldn't fix the state's pension problems.

Rutherford says the state cannot afford to fund pensions in its current form. He says the switch would help restore solvency.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 19, 2011

Still No Word if Superintendent Culver to Get Georgia Job

The Champaign School Board was scheduled to meet Tuesday evening with the hope that it might know more about the professional future of Superintendent Arthur Culver, but that meeting has been canceled.

Culver has served in his current role for nearly a decade, and is one of two candidates on a shortlist for the top job with the DeKalb County School System in metropolitan Atlanta.

Culver couldn't be reached for comment, but in an interview with the News Gazette, he stated he thinks he has taken the Champaign School District as far as he can, and that its time for him to "find something somewhere else."

Champaign School Board President Dave Tomlinson wouldn't comment on what would happen if Culver is not picked for the position in Georgia, but said if he does get it; a national search would begin to replace him.

"We would probably name an interim superintendent for a period of time because we think a national search would take a considerable period of time," Tomlinson said. "Clearly, right now Superintendent Culver is here, and that's who we're looking at."

The Champaign School Board meets Monday, April 25 at 6 PM to talk about personnel issues. Tomlinson wouldn't provide more specifics about the agenda.

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 19, 2011

Tea Party, MoveOn.Org, Each Rally in Champaign on Tax Day

Monday's overnight tax filing deadline brought out two very different messages to Champaign's West Side Park.

About 50 supporters of city's Tea Party decried federal government spending, claiming duplication exists in several areas. Political activist John Bambanek said the fault lies with elected officials in all parties. He said a tax hike passed by Illinois lawmakers won't help, only impacting the amount the state can give to pensions.

"We still have over 4-billion dollars in past due bills, and we're still not paying the University of Illinois on time, our schools on time, and our human services on time," Bambanek said. "And it is a spending problem, not a tax rate problem."

Commodities trader Bill Lawless told the group the U.S. spending patterns reflect that of someone who gets several credit cards while only making the minimum payment. He said the federal government spending needs to be cut by 40-percent just to achieve a balance.

Meanwhile, about 30 members of MoveOn.org rallied against companies that they allege are finding ways around paying the 35-percent corporate tax rate. They handed staff members at the Chase Bank downtown Champaign a large piece of cardboard representing a bill for $2-million. Volunteer Robert Naiman said that marks the difference between the taxes the corporation actually paid, and what it should have paid at the proper rate.

"Obviously, we have nothing against the employees in this bank," he said. "Our beef is with the corporate leadership of JP Morgan Chase. They're making the decisions about hiding the profits overseas so they don't have to pay their fair share of taxes."

The group says corporations like JP Morgan Chase, ExxonMobil and FedEx are hiding tax earnings in so-called offshore 'tax havens.'

And there was a small third rally Monday, a matter of feet from the Tea Party Group. Sam Kaufman with the U of I Law Student Labor Action Coalition said its presence of about 12 students was to show elected officials their support for health care reform, and labor-related measures.

(Photos by Jeff Bossert/WILL)

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 18, 2011

Ind. Senate OKs Change Spurred by White Indictment

The Republican-controlled Indiana Senate has approved a change that would allow GOP Gov. Mitch Daniels to appoint a new secretary of state if indicted Republican Charlie White is found to be ineligible, a move Democrats called a blatant power grab that changes the rules in the middle of the game.

Democrats are challenging the eligibility of White, who faces voter fraud charges. They argue that state law requires runner-up Democrat Vop Osili to take office if White is ineligible.

A change approved by the Senate on Monday would instead allow the governor to pick a new elections chief if the winner is ineligible. Republican Sen. Mike Young of Indianapolis says the change was spurred by White's case and that the non-elected recount commission shouldn't determine the election's outcome.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 18, 2011

Prosecutors Rip into Blagojevich’s Public Comments

Federal prosecutors Monday ripped into public comments made by Rod Blagojevich. That comes two days before the former Illinois governor's corruption re-trial begins.

Blagojevich's comments to the media have centered around him saying, "Play all the tapes. Play all the tapes."

The former governor has said that playing all the secret phone conversations recorded by the FBI would show he's innocent and the fact that they aren't all played for jurors is a conspiracy by the prosecutors.

Prosecutors have mostly stuck to the legal issues in court, but U.S. Attorney Reid Schar let loose Monday, telling the judge that Blagojevich's talking points are lies. It's the judge who decides which tapes to play, not the government.

Judge James Zagel, for his part, told the court it would be wise for Blagojevich to restrain himself, saying he could overstep the line if he hasn't done so already. The judge said his comments should be considered a "red flag" for the defense to get their client in line.

Blagojevich's defense attorneys left court without talking to reporters; a rarity for them.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 18, 2011

Johnson Fundraising Mail Goes Outside District, Staffer Blames Database Error

Some Republican political donors got a surprise when they opened their mail recently - solicitations from 15th district Congressman Tim Johnson, even though Johnson isn't their representative.

People in Carbondale and Peoria were among those who received letters from Johnson's campaign asking for their help. But Johnson's chief of staff said the letters are not related to a potential upcoming shuffle of Illinois' congressional districts. Mark Shelden said the people who compiled one of the Johnson campaign's fundraising databases are to blame.

"For some reason in their database, some of these people were marked and flagged as being within our district and because of that, they received mail that we hadn't intended," Shelden said. "But we did manage to get a few contributions from outside our district, so obviously we're happy about that."

Shelden said it is highly unlikely that either Peoria or deep-southern Illinois would become part of Johnson's district once reapportionment is done later this year. Shelden said Johnson doesn't solicit campaign funds from adjoining House districts, though he sometimes receives outside donations because of his role on the House Agriculture Committee.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 18, 2011

Atty and Fmr Co Bd Member Robert Kirchner Dies

UPDATE: This story has been updated to include comments from Ruth Wyman, and to note that Renner-Wikoff of Urbana is in charge of funeral arrangements.

Urbana attorney and former Champaign County Board member Robert Kirchner died over the weekend. A recording on the phone at Kirchner's law office in Champaign announced the death.

Kirchner was appointed to a vacant seat on the County Board in 2001, and was elected to a two-year term in 2002. He ran again in 2006, losing in a hotly contested primary

Champaign County Democratic Party Chairman Al Klein remembers an earlier, unsuccessful bid by Kirchner for Tim Johnson's Illinois House seat in 1996. Klein said Kirchner's slogan in that campaign was "Stand Up, Speak Out, Be Heard", and that it was a slogan which fit him well throughout his life and career.

"He was a stand-up guy," said Klein of Kirchner. "He liked to speak up on issues that mattered to him. And he thought everyone should be heard and their views considered which is why, of course, that he was an advocate and a successful defense lawyer."

Fellow Democrat Tom Betz served with Kirchner on the Champaign County Board. Betz, now the county board vice-chair, says Kirchner was always concerned about the long-term impact of county board decisions, and sought inclusiveness in making appointments to county commissions. Betz said his concern for inclusiveness could also be seen in his law practice.

Ruth Wyman is an attorney in Kirchner's law firm, and also a former Urbana alderwoman who, like Kirchner, has been active in the local Democratic Party. In a statement for WILL, Wyman says Kirchner understood that justice was something to work for, not something automatically bestowed at the courthouse. She says Kirchner was ready to take on difficult cases and cash-strapped clients that other attorneys would turn down.

"Bob would develop the legal theories and defenses necessary to see that his clients got justice", writes Wyman, "whether it was the lawsuit to reinstate the Medicare 100 Plus program at Provena hospital for low-income seniors, creating a child dental program for low income children in the county, defending African Americans who were being stopped because of their race, or stopping the strip search of juveniles at the Champaign County Youth Detention Center."

Betz adds that might not been the most profitable career path for Kirchner, but it reflected his values.

"I had my share of disagreements over the years with Bob," Betz said. "But I always felt it came from a position of deeply held principled values."

Kirchner's run for the Champaign County Board in the 2006 Democratic primary pitted him and Lisa Bell against more moderate incumbents, Steve Beckett and Barbara Wysocki. Betz said he felt the differences involved were more a clash of personalities than political views.

The 54-year-old Kirchner is survived by his wife, Gerri, who has also been active in local Democratic politics. Renner-Wikoff Chapel and Crematory in Urbana is in charge of funeral arrangements, which were pending, as of Tuesday morning.

Categories: Biography, Government, Politics

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