Illinois Public Media News
(Additional reporting from the Associated Press and Illinois Public Radio)
Indiana House members who remain absent from the state capitol might soon face daily fines for every day they stay away. House Republicans on Thursday approved fines against the Democrats for every day they stay away from the House floor.
State Representative Jerry Torr (R-Carmel) said the fines could go as high as $250 a day.
"We wanted an amount that would make the members think about whether or not they need to be here," Torr said. "Furthermore, every citizen in Indiana is being disenfranchised because without a quorum none of us can conduct business."
Most Indiana House Democrats are continuing to stay in Urbana to prevent action on labor and education bills they oppose. But two of them were on the House floor Thursday for a quorum call --- including State Representative Charlie Brown (D-Gary). Brown said it is customary for such fines to be waived when the minority party returns. But he said Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma warned him from the speaker's rostrum, "Don't bet on it, Representative Brown."
"So obviously once more he's digging his heels in, and creating a greater divide between the Democratic and the Republican caucus," Brown said.
Democrats' boycott of the Indiana House session has now extended to an 11th day. Brown said there are five bills that are keeping Democrats from returning to the Indiana House --- one on school vouchers, and four related to Right-to-Work legislation.
Ind. Elections Chief Charged With Voter Fraud
Indiana's top elections official was indicted Thursday on voter fraud and other charges for allegedly listing his ex-wife's address as his own on voting and loan forms and serving on a town council when he was ineligible, a prosecutor said.
The stalemate between Democratic and Republican state lawmakers in Indiana nears the end of its second week.
Indiana House Democrats are still held up at the Comfort Suites in Urbana.
They fled their state capitol to avoid a quorum and possible arrest by Indiana State Police.
House Minority Speaker Pat Bauer actually returned to Indianapolis for a little while Wednesday morning to meet with GOP leadership including Majority Speaker Brian Bosma.
Bauer said they refuse to drop bills aimed at diminishing the impact of organized labor, gutting collective bargaining for teachers and providing taxpayer money as vouchers to allow parents to send their children to private schools.
"This is a process where we are trying to deradicalize the majority who are trying to cut the wages of thousands of workers in Indiana," Bauer said. "When they agree that they are not going to do that or help minimize the impact of that in some way, we'll come back."
Bauer returned to Urbana, about two hours west of Indianapolis, where he continued to caucus with about 30 Democrats staying at the Comfort Inn in Urbana.
Several Northwest Indiana state Representatives are among the group, including Dan Stevenson of Highland, Vernon Smith of Gary, Mara Candelaria Reardon of Munster and Linda Lawton of Hammond.
House Republicans will try again this morning the restart the legislative session in Indianapolis where protestors continue to show up.
(Photo by Michael Puente/IPR)
A plan to prevent releasing the names of those authorized to have guns in Illinois has stalled despite gun owners' burgeoning concern over privacy and safety, prompted by the state attorney general's opinion that the information is public record following an Associated Press request.
Gun advocates called for Attorney General Lisa Madigan to reverse her decree or for lawmakers to move swiftly to overturn it, and Republicans launched a petition drive to bolster the movement. Anti-violence groups countered that releasing the information is important to keep government accountable.
Members of the House Judiciary Committee on civil law voted 5-5 Wednesday to halt a bill from advancing that would prohibit state police from making public the names of the 1.3 million holders of Firearm Owners identification cards. The measure's sponsor, Republican Rep. Ron Stephens of Greenville, says he will continue pushing the ban.
Madigan's office ruled Monday night, in response to AP's public records request, that the list of FOID cardholders is public record and must be disclosed. Permit holders' addresses and telephone numbers would remain private.
State police officials, who claimed Illinois law bars the disclosure as an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, said they will challenge the ruling in court.
Madigan's decree refuted the police assertions about privacy and said officials had not proven that making the records public would jeopardize anyone's safety. The Illinois State Rifle Association disagreed. Director Richard Pearson said "there is no legitimate reason for anyone to have access to the information."
"The safety of real people is at stake here," Pearson said in a statement. "Once this information is released, it will be distributed to street gangs and gun-control groups who will use the data to target gun owners for crime and harassment."
Federal law prohibits felons from possessing guns and Mark Walsh, campaign director for the Illinois Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said there's more behind the issue than just publicizing names.
"Having those records in the public arena is also helpful in making sure that local law enforcement and the state police are following up with those people who have FOID cards who should be prohibited purchasers," Walsh said.
That's been the effect elsewhere around the country, particularly with statewide data about licenses issued to people who want to carry concealed weapons, which is allowed in most states but not Illinois. Among some examples:
- An investigation by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel published in 2007 found 1,400 people who were given concealed-carry licenses in the first half of 2006 had earlier pleaded guilty or no contest to felonies but qualified for guns because of a loophole in the law.
-In Memphis, Tenn., The Commercial Appeal found at least 70 people in the Memphis area who had concealed-carry permits despite violent histories including robbery, assault and domestic violence. A firestorm erupted after the newspaper posted an online database in 2008 of names of all concealed-carry permit holders in Tennessee. Legislatures in Florida and Tennessee have since voted to make information on permit holders private.
-The Indianapolis Star found hundreds of people convicted of felonies or other "questionable" cases in which people were subsequently granted concealed-carry permits, often over protests from local law enforcement officials and in some instances where it appeared the state police had a legal obligation to deny them.
The Illinois Republican Party launched a petition drive Wednesday to support legislation such as Stephens' to prohibit disclosure of the information. Stephens said he will have another chance before the House committee with his bill. A Senate version has yet to get a hearing.
Democratic Rep. Mike Zalewski of Chicago was among those urging Stephens to retool his legislation, with some suggesting he consider records aside from just the FOID cards. But Zalewski doesn't buy the arguments that disclosure would jeopardize gun owners if no addresses are released.
"The random thug that wants to break into homes, I don't think that person has the wherewithal to match names, go through all those processes they'd have to go through to commit a crime like that," Zalewski said. "If it's the names alone, I side with the attorney general.
Public universities in Illinois are letting state lawmakers know how government funding cuts have impacted them.
The schools are hoping to avoid further cuts in the next state budget. University of Illinois President Michael Hogan said he put in a request for more money from the state. Now he said he is just hoping his funding level stays the same without getting docked by legislators.
"The governor has come in asking for less," he said.
Hogan said keeping high-profile faculty at the university is hard when he can't offer competitive salaries. He said the school remains under a hiring freeze. Meanwhile, Southern Illinois University's president Glenn Poshard said he's having the same problems. He said the money issues at his school have been exacerbated by late payments from the state.
"If this the state's not going to help us," Poshard exclaimed. "I mean had we not had the income fund monies that we have from the tuition increases, we couldn't make payroll."
But lawmakers say universities, just like every other state benefactor, must tighten their belts to survive the state's current budget crisis.
University of Illinois President Michael Hogan's $620,000 annual salary continues to vex state legislators.
During a Senate hearing, Hogan told Illinois lawmakers that a continued erosion of state support and the resulting lack of raises for the schools' employees have caused top faculty to leave. Hogan said making the U of I's salaries more competitive is a top goal. Republican Senator Chris Lauzen of Aurora questioned how Hogan can talk with school staff about raises given his salary.
"How will you possibly speak credibly about shared sacrifice with that background?" Lauzen asked.
Other Senators have also called Hogan's paycheck excessive, but Hogan said he will not apologize for it.
"This is the price of doing business at a major, top ten public university, and to stay competitive," Hogan said. "The arrangements I have are virtually no different than any other Big Ten president."
Hogan said he did not take a pay hike when he stepped down as University of Connecticut's President to sign on with the U of I last summer.
(With additional reporting from Indiana Public Broadcasting's Brandon Smith and The Associated Press)
House Minority Leader Pat Bauer returned to Indianapolis Wednesday and met with House Speaker Brian Bosma for nearly an hour, but their talks ended with no agreement on ending the week-long Statehouse standoff.
Bauer had two other House Democrats with him in the meeting, which also was attended by four other majority Republicans. While no resolution was reached at the meeting, Bauer said the Democrats are a step or two closer to returning.
"We're going to continue to try to see if they'll remove some of the anti-worker bills and really this voucher bill," Bauer said.
Most House Democrats have been staying in Urbana, Ill., since last Tuesday, when they began boycotting the House to derail labor and education bills they're against by denying the House the quorum needed to conduct business. The boycott already killed a "right-to-work'' bill that unions opposed. Bosma said he didn't really hear anything in the meeting he didn't already know. Discussions on the voucher bill included talk of compromise on capping the number of students in the program and lowering the income level to be eligible.
"Their list of issues hasn't really changed, and our response hasn't really changed," Bosma said. "Although some middle ground on a couple of the issues was at least explored."
Meanwhile, a member of the Indiana Senate says he's optimistic despite the rhetoric from the House Minority Leader following his meeting with Bosma.
Democrat State Senator Greg Taylor of Indianapolis said it is always positive when people talk face to face, but he said there will need to further room for compromise.
"I think there's going to have to be some give and take on both sides," Taylor said. "People people don't recognize these bills just because they pass the house. They still have to come over to the senate. I'm sure we'll be watching what's going on in the house as well as what we're going to do in the senate. There's still a long way to go."
Taylor was in Urbana Wednesday to check on the progress of caucus meetings among House Democrats. He said House Speaker Bosma has put himself into a position where he'll have to prove to his caucus that he's willing to talk.
But House Democrat Craig Fry of Mishawaka wasn't as optimistic, saying Bosma cannot be trusted.
"Even if he makes a deal, even if it's signed in blood, it doesn't mean anything," Fry said. "He's reneged on almost every deal he's ever made."
Fry maintains that the 30 plus Democrats will remain in Urbana as long as they need to be. He said it is necessary, given the Republican's radical agenda. The Democratic Party is paying for hotel rooms, but food and other expenses are out of their own pocket.
The leader of the boycotting Indiana House Democrats and the Republican House Speaker are talking in a meeting that may signal improving relations surrounding a weeklong Statehouse standoff.
House Minority Leader Patrick Bauer drove from Illinois to Indianapolis to meet with House Speaker Brian Bosma in Bosma's Statehouse office Wednesday. Most House Democrats have been staying in Urbana, Ill., since last Tuesday when they began boycotting the House to derail labor and education bills they oppose by denying the House the quorum it needs to conduct business.
The meeting is a step toward a possible resolution. But it's unclear exactly what might end the impasse. Bauer says he wants to negotiate, but Bosma says he won't cut a back room deal or take GOP proposals off the table.
Bauer has repeatedly said he wants to negotiate on GOP-proposals that Democrats consider an assault on the middle class. And Bosma has repeatedly said he'll talk to Bauer, but won't negotiate a back room deal or agree to take GOP proposals off the table.
Republicans are already planning changes to a private school voucher bill that Democrats oppose. The bill would use taxpayer money to help parents send their children to private schools. Bosma said the bill needs to be changed to get enough support from his own caucus to pass, and Republicans will introduce an amendment limiting the number of students who can participate in the program and adding more restrictive income level requirements. Bauer said Tuesday that those changes were a good step forward.
The Democrats' boycott has already killed a "right-to-work" bill that would have prohibited union membership from being a condition of employment. Republicans say they won't try to resurrect that proposal this year. Bosma says he will not allow the boycott to kill other bills and plans to extend legislative deadlines to keep the other proposals on the House calendar alive as long as necessary.
Illinois is pushing ahead with implementing the nation's new health care law with support from its Democratic governor.
Gov. Pat Quinn on Wednesday started reviewing a plan to roll out the law from a council he appointed. The plan proposes new reins on health insurance companies and an online marketplace where people could shop for insurance.
Quinn calls the health care law "a vital part of economic recovery'' rather than a distraction from the urgent need for jobs. The governor's remarks came in written testimony to a congressional committee Tuesday.
Republican governors, in contrast, are worried about added costs to state budgets.
The law was enacted last March and has been lucrative for Illinois, bringing in nearly $290 million to state agencies, non-profits, nursing schools and hospitals.
Champaign County Board members have narrowly rejected a plan to extend Olympian Drive to Lincoln Avenue.
Tuesday night's 13-to-10 committee of the whole vote followed another backing the long-debated extension of Olympian itself. But opponents felt plans for the 'green route' or north-south 'S' curve connecting Lincoln to Olympian would impact too many landowners, with no guarantee the route would lure industry. Republican Alan Nudo favors further research, with those residents involved.
"I'm all for Urbana having commercial-industrial in this area, because that's what it's going to be," Nudo said. "It's in a mile and a half, and I think it's a fait accompli. But we need to take care of the residents in there, and do it right."
Nudo said a new phase of research will provide options, and enable for compromise.
Democrat Tom Betz said it is hard to disagree with those arguments and side with economic interests, but he supported the plan.
"We are creating an artery, and method by which development can take place," Betz said. "But I think it is more likely to happen as a result of this than if we do nothing. Right now, Olympian Drive kind of is a road to nowhere. The county needs some economic development. It's not just the city of Urbana."
Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing said she hasn't given up on the green option, and could return to the county board in two weeks. She said she wants to develop some cost estimates for an altered plan, but won't start over from scratch.
"We''ll modify what things cost, but we're not prepared to say 'we need to spend $170,000 (on a new study)," Prussing said. "What this is really - we can't find perfect. And sometimes, my philosophy is, you just gotta settle for excellent."
A study of options to the west would take 18 months. Champaign County Highway Engineer Jeff Blue said consultants can estimate the cost of some new alignments. But he said a new study should start by April, or the Olympian Drive project could risk losing the $15-million in state and federal money.
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