Illinois Public Media News

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

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 16, 2011

Immigration Bill Moves Through Indiana General Assembly

An Indiana House committee Friday barely passed an immigration reform bill, even after the bill's most controversial provision had been removed.

In a six-to-five vote along party lines, the House Public Policy Committee approved Senate Bill 590, which now moves to the full Indiana House for consideration next week. The bill no longer includes a provision that would allow state and local police to question anyone they suspect is in the United States illegally. That section was similar to a law passed in Arizona last summer. The Arizonan measure has been blocked from implementation by a federal judge.

But it is possible representatives could try to amend SB 590 before the full House votes during second and third readings. If the bill survives that process, it will move back to the Indiana Senate. That's where the bill's original sponsor, state senator Michael Delph, a Republican from suburban Indianapolis, is lukewarm to his now watered-down proposal.

"I introduced a bill that I wanted to see become law," Delph said Friday in Indianapolis. "This is not that bill."

Political blogs and news reports now speculate that the bill could fail passage because it has been altered too much.

If support does fall short, it would mark the fourth consecutive year that Delph tried but failed to move a "get tough" immigration bill through the Indiana legislature. That is despite the fact that, unlike in previous years, Delph's own party, the GOP, controls both the Indiana House and the Indiana Senate. Republicans have not warmed up to Delph's original bill, which opponents had argued would open police to charges of racial profiling.

One Republican committee member, Rep. Tom Knollman (R-Liberty), said he would have voted against the original bill. Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, also a Republican, does not support granting police the ability to question those suspected of being in the country illegally. His priority in the immigration reform debate is to target businesses that hire illegal immigrants.

But Delph says getting police involved is now allowed under federal law.

"The most controversial part of this bill, at least according to press accounts, has been with this issue with enforcement with law enforcement," Delph told the House committee at a hearing Thursday. "The Congress in its wisdom gave state and local governments several years ago the power to use state and local enforcement basically as a force multiplier. That's part of the bill."

The revised House bill would revoke certain tax credits for businesses that hire illegal immigrants and would check the immigration status of criminal offenders. It also would require the calculation of how much money illegal immigration costs the state; then, the state would send a bill to to the U.S. Congress for reimbursement.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 15, 2011

Ruling Expected Monday in Cherry Orchard Case

The bench trial of Cherry Orchard Village landlords Bernard and Eduardo Ramos continued Friday afternoon in Champaign County Court.

The Ramoses are accused of failing to legally connect sewer and septic systems for six out of their eight apartment buildings on the property, located right outside of Rantoul. The apartment complex has traditionally housed many migrant workers.

The landlords have pledged to take responsibility for the property, promising to have the six apartment buildings that are in violation of the county's health ordinance re-opened by this summer.

There is typically an uptick in occupancy at the apartment complex during the warmer months due to an influx of migrant workers to the area. A 2007 migrant camp license application for the property reports there are at least 48 family rental units at Cherry Orchard.

Champaign County prosecutor Christina Papavasiliou is pushing for an injunction that would prevent people from living in the apartment buildings until the sewage problems are fixed.

"The injunction would be a cautionary measure," Papavasiliou explained during Friday's hearing. "It would do no harm to the defendants."

The prosecution is seeking $550 in restitution for expenses incurred by the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District on this case.

Though occupancy at the property is unknown, public health officials estimate at least eight single men continue to live there and have noted several cars parked outside apartment buildings. Papavasiliou said she wants the Ramoses to be fined for making the property available to tenants during the ongoing violation, but she said she is not sure that count will hold up in court.

"It's just so hard to prove that people were living there," she said. "Because these are all migrant workers...I just didn't get a hold of anyone willing to come forward."

Earlier in the week, Bernard said he and his father should not get blamed for the sewage and septic issue since the Bank of Rantoul owned the property when state health inspectors first noticed a problem in 2007.

"We got blamed for things other people did," Bernard said. "If anything was done to the property, we have nothing to do with it."

The property is currently owned by Bernard's sister, Evelyn.

Bernard and Eduardo could each face a one-time fine of $1,000 for attempting to repair the septic systems without proper permits and licenses. Taking the stand Friday and acting as his own attorney, Eduardo defended his actions and the actions of his son, Bernard, for trying to fix the property in 2007 when they first noticed sewage seeping from a septic system.

"I do not own any license," Eduardo admitted. "When we have a case of an emergency like that, we can't just wait and proceed. Every good citizen should take care of the people around us."

Papavasiliou stated that the Ramoses could have caused more damage by trying to fix the property without proper training.

During the trial, the Ramoses have tried to distance themselves as managers and owners of Cherry Orchard. Papavasiliou said under the law, they are obligated to maintain the property, which she said they have neglected to do.

"The defendants have based a large part of their testimony that they're not owners of the property," Papavasiliou said. "There's no grandfather clause for septic systems, regardless of how they found the property when they became owners."

The Ramoses have owned more than 30 properties in Champaign County, and have faced hundreds of code violations. Several of these properties, including Cherry Orchard, have been under foreclosure, according to the Champaign County Recorder's Office.

The Ramoses ignored a request for comment after Friday's hearing. In a 2009 interview with CU-CitizenAccess.org, Bernard Ramos said city housing inspectors have targeted him because he is Hispanic and rents to illegal immigrants. He said his financial problems were due to the decline in the economy and unemployment, which affected his tenants' ability to pay rent.

Presiding Judge John Kennedy said he will issue a ruling Monday, April 18 at 11:00 AM.

(Photo courtesy of Julie Pryde)


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 15, 2011

House Redistricting Hearing in Champaign Saturday

An Illinois House hearing Saturday in Champaign is just one of many being held by both chambers of the General Assembly, as work gets underway on drawing new legislative districts for the 2012 election.

But Republican lawmakers say the hearing schedule falls short of what's needed to get proper public input for the redistricting process. State Representative Chapin Rose of Mahomet said the House Redistricting Committee has scheduled no hearings for rural areas in the southern third of the state. Rose said the committee should hold another round of hearings once proposed district maps are drawn up.

"Once that committee meets in Springfield or Chicago, what we're saying is we should bring it back to statewide, so that people in Urbana have a chance to look at it, people in Carbondale have a chance to look at it, or wherever," Rose said.

Rose said that Democrats need to keep their promises about an open and transparent redistricting process since they control both legislative chambers and the governor's office.

A spokesman for House Speaker Mike Madigan said the redistricting process has been open so far. Steve Brown said many of the challenges in the process are not political, but technical and legal.

"Because Illinois does have to comply with the Voting Rights Act and address minority population issues, almost every ten years, these maps are reviewed by the federal courts, and found whether they're in compliance or not," Brown said. "And if not, they have to be corrected."

The House Redistricting Committee hearing in Champaign is set for Saturday, April 15th at 1 PM at the Tony Noel Ag Building at Parkland College. Also on Saturday, the Illinois Senate Redistricting Committee will hold its own hearing at 12 PM, at Kankakee Community College.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 15, 2011

Illinois House Calls for “College Illinois” Probe

The Illinois House wants a full scale review of a prepaid tuition program.

The move Thursday follows revelations of questionable investments detailed in "Crain's Chicago Business."

The 35,000 parents who have money into the "College Illinois!" program expect they're making a sound investment in their child's future education at a state university. The plan is billed as a way to guard against future tuition hikes, but no guarantee exists if the fund runs short of cash.

Crain's reports the program is more than 30% underfunded.

The newspaper also uncovered a recent string of risky moves ... such as money being put into hedge funds ... as administrators try to make up lost ground.

State Representative Chad Hays (R-Catlin) said being too aggressive is a bad strategy.

"This is not a fund, in my opinion, that is a good place for the flavor or the day in terms of the newest investment strategy," Hays said. "This is a fund that really aligns itself with a pretty conservative investment."

Hays said he hopes an audit will give parents renewed confidence in College Illinois. In the meantime, he said he does not encourage College Illinois participants to withdraw their contracts.

The Illinois Student Assistance Commission, which manages the portfolio, is on record as welcoming the review. A letter to College Illinois participants says the program continues to be a "great choice."

In a separate action, the Illinois House separately approved a measure on Thursday barring members of the legislature from awarding scholarships to state universities to their family members. The so-called "General Assembly" scholarships are controversial, as some legislators gave the tuition waivers to children of campaign donors.

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 15, 2011

Illinois State Senate Passes Sweeping Education Changes‎

Legislation being lauded for making historic improvements to Illinois' education system passed the Illinois Senate Thursday night with no opposition, and it did so with the full backing of teachers' unions.

With their massive membership and money, teachers unions carry a lot of influence. Yet, not only did they back the package, they made considerable concessions.

No longer will tenured teachers have as much job protection. Teachers will be subject to performance reviews, and evaluations could mean some will lose their jobs. In Chicago, teachers may have to work longer hours, even if the union does not agree.

The Illinois Education Association's President, Ken Swanson, acknowledged the focus was on students. He denies the unions were more willing to give in after watching the clamp down on workers' bargaining rights in states like Wisconsin.

"What this shows is that to have meaningful reform that will work, you have to have the unions at the table," Swanson said. "Here in Illinois what we've shown is you do not need to have Draconian, unwarranted attacks on public employee rights, collected bargaining. You can do this through collective bargaining, you can do this through bringing the parties to the table."

Advocates like Jessica Handy, with the group Stand for Children, laud the changes as significant for students.

"Having a great teacher in the classroom is the most important school-based factor in effecting student outcomes, and this shift to making performance the driving factor in personnel decisions is ultimately a huge win for children," Handy said.

The package came together this week after months of negotiations. Despite having the support of unions, advocates, school administrators, and Senators on both sides of the aisle, it could see changes in the House.

House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago) said that chamber may push for some revisions.

"We hope that any changes that we might decide would be appropriate would not so upset the apple cart that we would end up with nothing," she said.

There's a possibility changes to the package could lead a stakeholder to withdraw support. Under the measure, Chicago Public Schools may prolong their school year and lengthen the school day.



AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 14, 2011

President Obama in Chicago Thursday for ‘Fundraising Kick-Off

President Barack Obama returns home to Chicago Thursday to raise cash for his re-election campaign. The main fundraiser, taking place on Navy Pier, is being billed as the "fundraising kick-off" to the 2012 campaign.

For $100, President Obama's supporters can get in, with $250 good enough for what're claled "preferred tickets." A Democratic official says the president will be introduced by Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel, until last fall the president's chief of staff.

Mr. Obama is also attending higher-dollar events at a pair of swank Chicago restaurants, with individual donations topping out at - by law - $35,800.

After the evening of fundraising, he'll be staying overnight in the city.

The visit comes just over a week after the president filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission, technically declaring his candidacy. The field of potential Republican challengers includes Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 14, 2011

Judge Denies Request to See Obama Interview Notes

The judge presiding over former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's upcoming retrial has rejected a request from defense attorneys to let them see summaries of any FBI interviews with President Barack Obama.

Among the charges Blagojevich faces is that he sought to sell or trade an appointment to Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat for campaign cash or a top job. Obama has never been accused of any wrongdoing in the case.

Judge James Zagel said at a Thursday status hearing he's read the summaries and nothing in them is relevant to Blagojevich's defense.

Zagel denied a similar request before Blagojevich's first trial. The retrial is set to start Wednesday.

Zagel on Thursday also denied a request to delay the trial by several weeks to give defense attorneys more time to prepare.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 14, 2011

Census: Hispanics Surpass Blacks in Most US Metros

New Census figures show that Hispanics now outnumber blacks for the first time in most U.S. metropolitan areas.

Hispanics became the largest minority group in 191 of 366 metro areas last year. Their population was lifted as blacks left many economically hard-hit cities in the North for the South and new Latino immigrants spread to different parts of the country. That number is up from 159 metro areas in 2000, when Hispanics were most commonly found in Southwest border states.

The new areas for Hispanics include Chicago, Grand Rapids, Mich., and Atlantic City, N.J., whose states will lose House seats in 2013.

The numbers from the 2010 count are having a big effect in many states, where political maps are being redrawn based on population size and racial makeup.


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