Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 31, 2011

Ill. Senate Approves Congressional Map

(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Radio)

The Democrat-controlled Illinois Senate has approved new congressional districts that try to erase Republicans election gains.

The 34-25 vote Tuesday sends the map to Gov. Pat Quinn.

Illinois must adopt a congressional map with 18, instead of 19, U.S. House seats because the latest census showed slowing population growth in the state. Democrats are in charge of the once-a-decade redistricting process because they control the state Legislature and governor's office. That gives them the chance to put freshmen Republicans into unfriendly districts.

The new districts must conform to State and Federal law that requires minority rights be protected. Republicans say their Democratic counterparts did not do enough for minority voters.

"I'm sure it will be challenged especially by the Latino groups of this state who are essentially shut out for the next ten years," State Senator Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale) said, who cited the single Latino district in the new map

But State Senator Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) defended the map.

"But every Latino advocacy group that we heard from, none have advocated for a second Latino Congressional district," Raoul said.

The voting rights angle is likely to be the best way to get a map overturned. Previous attempts based on a district's shape and partisan make-up haven't held up in front of the state Supreme Court.

The proposed map lumps at least four freshman Republicans and one veteran into districts where they would have to run against other incumbents for the next election. They would be forced to compete in primaries, contend in Democrat-friendly districts or find another district to run in to try to keep a seat in Congress. The map includes two open districts where it appears no current member of Congress lives.

A pair of downstate Congressional districts see a shake up in this latest version of the Democrat-drawn boundaries.

Republican Congressmen Tim Johnson of Urbana and Collinsville's John Shimkus find their new districts swapped from what was unveiled last week. Shimkus' new territory would cover a large swath of Eastern and Southern Illinois and is considered to favor the GOP incumbent. Johnson's home would be included in a district that picks up Champaign-Urbana, Decatur, Bloomington and Springfield. Johnson's proposed district even dips down to the Metro East area near St. Louis.

Both Johnson and Shimkus declined an immediate request for comment.

State Senator Mike Frerichs (D-Champaign) said he believes Republicans likely challenge the new congressional district map in court. But Frerichs defends the new map as being fair and more compact than the old one, and he said he's not concerned about changes that put Johnson in one district, and many of his longtime constituents in another.

"Well, I think I had heard some of Tim's comments about 'his constituents,'" Frerichs said. "I would just remind him that he doesn't own any constituents. He serves the people of Illinois. And I think that's fair to say."

Frerichs discounted charges that Democrats intentionally designed the new congressional maps hurt Republicans' changes for re-election. He said the map was designed with an eye on more factors than protecting incumbents.

State Senator Dale Righter (R-Mattoon) denounced what he calls a backroom mapmaking process. Righter said the Democrats should be ashamed.

"This is yet another insider game designed to protect people who are in power right now," Righter said. "That's exactly the wrong way to conduct this process. It's the wrong reason to approve a map."

But Democrats say they listened to public input and considered minority voting rights when drawing the new map.

Despite the map's passage, an almost certain court challenge faces the Democrats who drew it.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 31, 2011

Urbana Resident Prepares for Humanitarian Trip to Gaza Strip

Today marks the one-year anniversary of a raid led by Israeli marines that claimed the lives of nine Turkish activists attempting to bring aid to the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli government has maintained a naval blockade on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip since 2007, citing concerns that whatever is sent to the Palestinian territory could be used by Hamas to attack Israel.

About 10 flotillas will attempt to bring another round of aid to Gaza in June. One of those vessels will include Urbana resident Robert Naiman, who is with the advocacy group, Just Foreign Policy.

"While there is real physical suffering that's coming to Palestinians in Gaza under the blockade, like being for example prevented from accessing medical care in Jerusalem," Naiman said. "There is a feeling of isolation and that the world doesn't care about us, and that we want to counteract."

Naiman said while many of the vessels will carry humanitarian aid to the Palestinians, he said there are restrictions on what Americans can bring to the Gaza Strip since Hamas is seen as a terrorist organization. For his part, Naiman is bringing a comic book illustrating examples of non-violent resistance in American history.

"This comic book has been translated into Arabic, and starting in 2009 was distributed in places like Egypt, so that some of the people who were in Tahrir Square were aware of this story of Martin Luther King and the successful non-violent struggle against segregation in the United States," he explained.

He said the comic book is relevant following recent examples non-violent efforts that have successfully overthrown the governments of Tunisia and Egypt.

Israel has vowed to stop any attempt to breach its sea blockade of Gaza.

Categories: Biography, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 31, 2011

Credibility of Government’s Top Witness Questioned in Mumbai Terror Case

Defense attorneys for a Chicago businessman accused in the 2008 Mumbai attacks are trying to undermine the credibility of an admitted terrorist who is serving as the government's star witness.

David Coleman Headley returns to the witness stand Tuesday to face questions from defense attorneys for Tahawwur Rana. He's accused of helping Headley, his longtime friend, lay the groundwork for the attacks that left more than 160 people dead in in India's largest city.

Headley has already pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against Rana, who is accused of providing a cover as Headley conducted surveillance for the attacks.

Rana's attorneys say Headley's testimony isn't credible because he's lied in the past. They went after his credibility last week, and told a judge they're just getting started. Headley has already pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against Rana, who is accused of providing a cover as Headley conducted surveillance for the attacks.

Rana's attorneys say Headley's testimony isn't credible because he's lied in the past. They went after his credibility last week, and told a judge they're just getting started.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 31, 2011

Ill. Senate Approves Cuts to Governor Quinn’s Budget Plan

It happened without much fanfare, but the deed is done. Governor Pat Quinn is being presented with a budget that cuts $2.3 billion from the one he proposed in February.

The measure reduces school funding, it whacks state support for child care, and decreases Medicaid funding for the poor. It also gives three percent less to education for the coming year that begins in July.

The measure had earlier passed the House with bipartisan support, but it barely made it through the Senate with heavy criticism from that chamber's GOP contingent for not cutting enough.

Senate Democrats, worried about the effects of some of the cuts, voted in a separate measure, to restore about $430 million to programs, like meals on wheels for seniors and free lunch for low-income schoolchildren.

"The fact is, there are services in there for people who are the most vulnerable in our state," Senator Dan Kotowski (D-Park Ridge) said. "They're aged, disabled. They need services. Transitional housing for homeless people."

House Democrat Marlow Colvin of Chicago said a long day of negotiations is ahead on Tuesday to see if the House will agree with that proposal

"It's going to be quite a lesson in budget making in Springfield, Illinois," Colvin said. "Something we haven't seen in a long time."

Another unknown is how Governor Quinn will react to the budget cuts, which he has spoken out against. He can veto the budget, or specific parts of it, but he does not have power to add money.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 31, 2011

Ill. Senate Poised to Vote on Congressional Map

(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Radio and Illinois Public Media)

Proposed downstate Congressional districts see additional changes in the latest iteration of the Democratic drawn map.

State Senators are likely to vote Tuesday on the final version, which uses new Census data to redraw the lines to account for populations shifts.

The Democrat-controlled Illinois House approved a new congressional map Monday by a vote of 63-54. The proposed map attempts to erase Republican gains made in last year's election.

Illinois must adopt a congressional map with 18, instead of 19, U.S. House seats because the latest census showed slowing population growth in the state. Democrats are in charge of the once-a-decade redistricting process because they control the state Legislature and governor's office. That gives them the chance to put freshmen Republicans into unfriendly districts.

The proposed map lumps at least four freshman Republicans and one veteran into districts where they would have to run against other incumbents for the next election. They would be forced to compete in primaries, contend in Democrat-friendly districts or find another district to run in to try to keep a seat in Congress. The map includes two open districts where it appears no current member of Congress lives.

A pair of downstate Congressional districts see a shake up in this latest version of the Democrat-drawn boundaries.

Republican Congressmen Tim Johnson of Urbana and Collinsville's John Shimkus find their new districts swapped from what was unveiled last week. Shimkus' new territory would cover a large swath of Eastern and Southern Illinois and is considered to favor the GOP incumbent. Johnson's home would be included in a district that picks up Champaign-Urbana, Decatur and parts of Peoria, Bloomington and Springfield. Johnson's proposed district even dips down to the Metro East area near St. Louis. Johnson Spokesman Phil Bloomer couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

Shimkus spokesman Steven Tomaszewski says the Republican is declining comment until the new map is further defined.

When prompted about the changes to the map, House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, a Chicago Democrat, offered no insight into the motives to tweak the map.

"I wasn't part of the decision in making those changes," Currie said, "It may be that we had comments from the public as these maps were on the website and available to the public as long ago as last Friday."

State Representative Jason Barickman heads the Champaign County Republican Party. Barickman criticizes the redistricting process, calling it flawed.

"There ought to be a thorough discussion of the map and the proposed boundaries and why certain districts are drawn the way they were," Barickman said. "Unfortunately, none of that discussion occurred."

Lawmakers are rushing to approve the congressional map before Tuesday's scheduled end of the legislative session. If lawmakers go into overtime, Republicans will get a say in the map because new rules kick in and more than a simple majority will be needed to pass it.

Democrats have worked hard not to stray from what sounds like a script when talking about their map, likely so as not to give Republicans ammunition for any future legal challenge of the map.

"A good map, a solid map and certainly an eminently fair map," Currie said.

Republican lawmakers disagreed.

Rep. Michael Fortner of West Chicago, the top Republican on the House redistricting committee, said census figures suggest that there should be more than one majority Latino congressional district among Illinois' 18 districts. Fortner said that based on voting-age population, Illinois should expect to have two or maybe three heavily Latino districts.

"There has been tremendous growth, in fact, I think it is fair to say that without the growth of the Latino population in Illinois we would have lost two congressional seats," Fortner said.

The number of people who identified themselves as Hispanic grew at a rate of 32.5 percent in the latest census.

The proposed congressional map has one district with a Latino voting-age population of nearly 66 percent. Two other districts have Latino voting-age populations of about 22 percent and another district has almost 25 percent.

The map has three majority black districts.

Democrats in the Senate have a large enough majority to pass the new map on to Governor Pat Quinn. Though, this is the last day to do so before Republican votes are needed.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 31, 2011

Rod Blagojevich Returns to the Stand

(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)

Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is be back on the witness stand today trying to convince jurors that he is innocent. He spent about six hours in total on the stand last week.

He is still being questioned by his own attorney Aaron Goldstein. The questions give Blagojevich a chance to say that he never extorted anyone. Blagojevich says he never explicitly or implicitly threatened to withhold state action if they didn't give him campaign contributions.

He has told jurors that it's important for politicians to raise money because, "this is the system that we have in America."

He said the U.S. Supreme court has protected campaign contributions under the first amendment right to free speech. He has also told jurors that following fundraising laws can be delicate because of the nature of politics and he's explaining how he tried to follow the laws.

Prosecutors could spend days challenging Blagojevich's assertions after defense attorneys finish their questioning.

Blagojevich has so far only addressed about half of the allegations against him. The 54-year-old hasn't yet touched on the most serious accusation that he tried to sell or trade President Barack Obama's old U.S. Senate seat for a top job or campaign cash.

His attorneys have said Blagojevich most likely wouldn't delve into that explosive allegation until later this week.

He faces a total of 20 counts. He has denied any wrongdoing.

(AP Photo/Tom Gianni)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 30, 2011

Illinois lawmakers Pass Private Fund for Illegal Immigrants

The children of immigrants, both legal and illegal, would be able to obtain private college scholarships and enroll in Illinois state savings programs under legislation approved Monday.

A 61-53 vote in the Illinois House sent the measure to Gov. Pat Quinn's desk because it already passed the state Senate. Quinn said in a statement that he looked forward to signing it.

Supporters praised the legislation as a much-needed way to offer financial help to undocumented immigrants who graduate from Illinois high schools and want to continue their studies in college but can't afford it.

The Illinois Dream Act would create a panel to raise private money for college scholarships and let the children of immigrants join programs that help them invest money and save for college.

"These students deserve an opportunity. They work hard. We send them through grade school, we send them through high school, then we slam a door in their face and say `Oh well, all the hard work is for nothing. You can't go to college,"' said state Rep. Edward Acevedo, D-Chicago.

To qualify for the college savings pool, students must have a Social Security number or taxpayer identification number. Scholarship recipients must have at least one immigrant parent and the student must have attended school in Illinois for at least three years.

Carla Navoa, a 22-year-old student at the University of Illinois at Chicago who is in the country illegally, lobbied for the bill because it will help others like her pay for college. She said she currently isn't enrolled in college because of the financial stress on her family with a younger sister in college, too.

"Having access to this Dream Fund would really help us," Navoa said.

Opponents have criticized the legislation as improper because it provides benefits that could help people who violate immigration laws. They also have complained it's confusing because of proposed federal legislation by the same name that would give some illegal immigrants a path to citizenship.

The Illinois Dream Act has no impact on a person's immigration status and it doesn't offer a path to citizenship.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 30, 2011

Ill. House Votes to Add Five Casinos

The Illinois House is bucking recent history by approving a major expansion of legalized gambling.

The House voted 65-50 Monday to approve five new casinos, including one in Danville. The others would go to Chicago, Rockford, Lake County and somewhere in the south suburbs.

The measure now goes to the Senate.

State Representative Lou Lang (D-Skokie) said the legislation would bring the state one and a half billion dollars in startup fees and $500 million or more a year in ongoing revenue.

Governor Pat Quinn has said he dislikes such a huge expansion.

But Lang said the additional casinos would bring in money to pay overdue bills.

"The most important part of this has nothing to do with gaming at all, the most important part of this is putting people to work and helping pay the bills of the state of Illinois," Lang said. "That is an important goal."

The proposal also allows horse race tracks to add slot machines, and it'd permit both slots and racing at the state fairgrounds in Springfield.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 30, 2011

Illinois to Play Cal State Fullerton in NCAA Baseball Regional

Illinois will enter the 2011 NCAA Baseball Tournament as the No. 4 seed, slated for first round play in the Cal State Fullerton Regional.

Illinois (28-25) learned Monday morning that it will face host team Cal State Fullerton (40-15) on the regional's opening night on Friday, June 3. Game time is 10 PM Central Time. That game follows the matchup of No. 2 seed Stanford (32-20) and No. 3 seed Kansas State (36-23) in the first round of double-elimination play.

Illinois earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, when it won the Big Ten Tournament, sweeping through the competition with three straight wins. Illinois shared the regular-season title with Michigan State, but defeated Michigan State twice as it won its second Big Ten championship in the last seven years.

Friday's game will mark Illinois baseball coach Dan Hartlieb's first regional appearance as a head coach. Hartlieb was an assistant on Illinois' NCAA Tournament teams in 1998 and 2000 --- and a graduate assistant coach on SIU's 1990 CBAA Tournament team.

Categories: Education, Sports

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 30, 2011

Bill to Overturn Changes to Health Contracts Heads to Ill. Governor

State legislators are trying to assert their authority on the approval of public employee health insurance contracts.

They passed a measure Monday in the Illinois House of Representatives by a vote of 98-15 to give themselves the ability to approve or deny new contracts.

However, it may be too late to stave off changes that are forcing one hundred thousand public employees to switch health care coverage.

The changes come in direct response to the recent ethics commission ruling that the state was right to drop the HMOs provided by Urbana-based Health Alliance and Humana.

Legislators were outraged and said the contract award process was inherently flawed. The administration maintains it followed the rules set forth by legislators themselves. State Representative David Leitch (R-Peoria) said lawmakers should be able to overturn decisions.

"What kind of idiots would come up with a process that would permit this to happen," Leitch said.

But not everyone wants to scrap the recent bidding process and put the decisions in the hands of a new seven member panel. House Democrat Barbara Flynn Currie of Chicago voted against the measure. She said legislators need to think twice before bypassing a law aimed at taking politics out of the group employee health insurance program.

"I think you have to look carefully at the idea that this handful of people should be able to say to the losers, 'OK, losers, today because of us seven people you get to be a winner," Currie said. "That's not the way to run any state government."

The measure passed in the midst of the annual open enrollment period when workers can pick new health plans.

Governor Quinn's Administration is moving forward despite the legislation, and telling employees to choose coverage before June 17th. After that date workers will automatically be placed in a new plan.

Categories: Government, Health, Politics

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