Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 29, 2011

Indiana Dems Return After ‘Softening’ GOP Agenda

Indiana House Democrats are back at work after a five-week boycott to protest a Republican agenda they consider an assault on labor unions and public education, but whether their efforts will ultimately change the outcome of the legislation they opposed is unclear.

Republicans agreed to rejigger - but not completely overhaul - their plans as lawmakers resume work in the House. The Senate had already started working around the Democrats by holding separate hearings on bills stalled in the walkout. Still, Democrats insist concessions they've received on several issues, including school vouchers and labor legislation, made their boycott worthwhile.

"We're coming back after softening the radical agenda," said House Minority Leader Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, whose Statehouse return Monday was greeted by cheering union workers. "We won a battle, but we recognize the war goes on."

The victories Democrats claim are likely more than they would have gained had they not boycotted, but they won't stop the agenda pushed by Republicans who won sweeping control of the House in last year's elections. Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels said bills aimed at improving education and keeping spending low are mainstream Hoosier ideas.

"The only thing 'radical' about this session has been the decision by one caucus to walk off the job for five weeks," Daniels said.

Republicans had vowed throughout the standoff that they wouldn't remove items from their agenda - and by and large they won't have to. The only bill killed by the boycott was a "right-to-work" proposal that would prohibit union representation fees from being a condition of employment.

GOP legislators agreed to some changes on several other bills. For example, they will cap for two years the number of students who could participate in a voucher program using taxpayer money to attend private schools, but it would still be among the nation's most expansive use of vouchers when the limits expire. Another bill that would exempt certain government projects from the state's prevailing construction wage law was changed so that fewer projects would be exempt.

The Democrats' most significant achievement may be that people across the state are talking about these issues. Bauer said the public needed a "timeout" to learn about the agenda being pushed by Republicans.

Thousands of people attended Statehouse rallies during the walkout, and hundreds attended local town hall meetings. Many teachers said they didn't realize Republicans supported vouchers and other measures they think will erode public education, and some union members said they wished they had voted.

Tom Case, a union worker from Fort Wayne who was at the Statehouse protesting Monday, said he was glad Democrats staged the boycott.

"Republicans are going way out of bounds with what they're doing right now," he said.

In one sense, Democrats "punched above their weight," said Robert Dion, who teaches politics at the University of Evansville.

"They got the attention of the state, and they were able to finagle some meaningful concessions that I don't think were necessarily offered all that willingly," Dion said.

On the other hand, Dion said, Democrats have a bit of a black eye because the walkout lasted so long.

House Democrats had fled to Illinois on Feb. 22 to protest 11 pieces of legislation, denying the House the two-thirds of members present needed to do business as required by the state constitution. The move had the potential to force a special session or even a government shutdown if a new budget wasn't adopted before July 1.

Indiana's boycott began a week after Wisconsin's Democratic senators left for Illinois in their three-week boycott against a law barring most public employees from collective bargaining. Wisconsin Republicans used a parliamentary maneuver to pass the law without them, and the matter is now headed to court.

The Indiana standoff became one of the longest legislative walkouts in recent U.S. history. The impasse got a bit nasty at times - with name-calling, scathing political ads, rowdy rallies and fines totaling more than $3,000 for most absent Democrats. But Republicans and Democrats seemed to tone down the rhetoric last week as they discussed possible changes to bills.

Lawmakers began making up for five weeks of lost time Monday. Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma gaveled in the chamber early Monday evening, and lawmakers began working on bills in earnest. Lawmakers worked their way through a large chunk of the House calendar, which was the same as the day Democrats left.

Bosma predicted lawmakers would have plenty of late nights as they work toward the scheduled end of the regular legislative session April 29.

"It's long past time to get to the people's business," Bosma said. "Hopefully we can make this work in five short weeks."

(AP Photo/AJ Mast)

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 29, 2011

Champaign Community-Police Forum Brings Out Supporters, Critics

The leaders of a Champaign group committed to improving police and community relations say they need more participation, and input, from all corners of the population.

About 50 people Monday night attended the first community forum hosted by the Champaign Community and Police Partnership, or C-CAP. The group's goal is finding solutions to policing issues raised by the African-American community. C-CAP member Patricia Avery heads the Champaign-Urbana area project, which works with juvenile delinquency prevention. She says Champaign Police are doing what they can to divert youth from the juvenile justice system.

"We have to work on providing more alternatives for the officers so when they are picking up (youths), they can't just turn them loose on the street," Avery said. "If they come into contact, they have to have somewhere for them to go. So our job as a community is to help them find solutions, find alternatives, for those kids that they do come in contact with."

One such option suggested by Avery is community conferencing - allowing police to place troubled youths before a panel made up of victims, offenders, and supporters to resolve the case among themselves.

Durl Kruse with C-U Citizens for Peace and Justice brought up the 2009 Champaign police fatal shooting of 15-year old Kiwane Carrington. He also cited 2010 statistics in Champaign County, showing a disproportionate number of black youths involved in felony and misdemeanor convictions.

Champaign Police Chief R.T. Finney says the numbers are debatable, but says they were brought up in an attempt to discredit initiatives like the Champaign Youth Police Academy, and other ideas started by C-CAP.

"And to ignore what C-CAP has been doing for over a decade, by just throwing out some statistics from the State's Attorney's office compiled last year, is just not correct," Finney said. "C-CAP understands exactly what's going on in the neighborhoods with our kids. And we have to work on that."

Kruse says C-CAP's partnership will only work when it's allowing everyone, including the police department's worst critics, to be part of the discussion.

Champaign City Council member Will Kyles, who's also on the C-CAP committee, says future forums will need a change of behavior between different cultures. C-CAP will hold quarterly forums throughout the year. The next has a focus on youth. It's scheduled for June 27th at the Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club.

(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 28, 2011

Public Gets Say On Illinois Redistricting

Illinois state senators are hearing from Chicago area residents who want a say in redistricting, the once-a-decade, highly contentious and political process that determines boundaries for legislative districts. It is about power and influence, and on Monday afternoon dozens of people showed up to tell senators how they want the boundaries drawn.

Kyle Hillman lives in Chicago's Rogers Park neighborhood, and said the community is a poor fit for its current district.

"There's a high crime rate and it has one of the largest food kitchens in the metro area, and yet it is included in a district that is mostly consisting of lakefront homes in Evanston in New Trier," Hillman told the Senate Redistricting Committee.

Others complained their neighborhoods span several districts, watering down the community's influence.

"The greater Chinatown community area is a vibrant and cohesive community. Its interests are not served by being split into multiple districts, as it is currently," said Bernie Wong of the Chinese American Service League.

C. Betty Magness with the group IVI-IPO urged the senators to ignore politicians' addresses when they draft the boundaries.

"Districts should not be drawn to favor or discriminate against incumbents, candidates or parties," Magness said.

Another issue that came up Monday has to do with the addresses of prisoners. Right now, they are counted as residents where they are incarcerated, which is most often downstate.

"Prisoners should be counted where they originate from, instead of where they're currently housed," testified Lawrence Hill with the Cook County Bar Association.

The Illinois House could actually vote to make that change as early as Tuesday, according to the bill's sponsor, state Rep. LaShawn Ford. But the Chicago Democrat said it would not take effect until the next redistricting - ten years from now.

Monday's hearing was the first of at least five public forums for the Senate committee. Lawmakers have until the end of June to approve a new legislative map, or the process will be put in the hands of a special commission.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 28, 2011

Future Uncertain for Campustown Businesses Following Fire

Traffic is moving again along Green Street between Wright and 6th Streets in Champaign's Campustown after crews tore down the 2nd floor and attic of a building damaged by a fire.

The building houses Mia Za's Cafe, Zorba's restaurant, and Pitaya clothing boutique. Officials say the fire started above the ceiling of Mia Za's. At the height of the blaze, fire personnel from Urbana and Champaign used 11 fire engines, four ladder trucks and two squads to fight the blaze.

Champaign city planner T.J. Blakeman says owners of affected businesses surveyed the damage over the weekend, and he says it could be a while before they figure out what they will do next.

"I really hope that they're able to find a space and re-open in campus," Blakeman said. "The students really want that."

Blakeman says nearby businesses did not suffer major damage since the fire was contained to the one building. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Categories: Business, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 28, 2011

Anheuser-Busch is Buying Goose Island Brewery

(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)

St. Louis-based beer giant Anheuser-Busch (BUD) is buying Chicago-based Goose Island brewery for $38.8 million.

Anheuser-Busch says the deal, announced Monday, will help Goose Island meet growing demand for Honkers Ale and its other brands. Anheuser-Busch has distributed Goose Island beers since 2006.

Goose Island founder and president John Hall will stay as chief executive officer. He says the company couldn't brew some of its specialty beers fast enough to keep up with demand - and the deal with Anheuser-Busch will help with that.

"Chicago is going to continue to be our principle market," he said. "We will probably expand into some new markets, but we're not going to do any of those things until we supply the markets we're in right now."

Hall said Goose Island's roughly 120 employees will still operate in Chicago. Hall also said the beers will remain the same - and that he wouldn't have agreed to the deal if it involved changing the recipes.

Chicago's two Goose Island brew pubs are not part of the deal; they will continue operating. The deal needs regulators' approval and is expected to close in the second quarter this year.

Anheuser-Busch is buying 58% of Fulton Street Brewery, Goose Island's legal name, for $22.5 million and the remaining 42% from Portland, Ore.-based Craft Brewers Alliance for $16.3 million.

(Photo courtesy of Goose Island)

Categories: Business
Tags: business

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 28, 2011

SIU-Edwardsville Dean is Wanted Man in Homeland

Students at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville may not realize there's a big-name fugitive on campus.

Aldemaro Romero is the school's dean of arts and sciences, son of a famous Venezuelan musician, and a wanted man in his homeland.

The Venezuelan government has accused him of "treason to the motherland." That happened almost 20 years ago when he was working as a scientist and denounced Venezuelan fishermen for illegally killing dolphins for shark bait.

Romero fled to the United States and says it would be "suicidal" to go back.

He's been a dean at SIU in Edwardsville since 2009.

Romero recently donated 50,000 resource materials to the university archives. These include research notes, audiotapes of whale sounds and FBI reports on his run-in with Venezuelan authorities.

(Photo courtesy of Southern Illinois University)


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 28, 2011

Indiana House Minority Leader:  “The War Goes On” as Legislative Boycott Ends

The leader of Indiana's House Democrats says their lengthy boycott that ended Monday was worth it to try to stop what he called a radical Republican agenda that tried to dismantle labor unions and public education.

House Minority Leader Patrick Bauer says the Democrats' walkout gave the public time to learn about the GOP agenda, and allowed lawmakers to negotiate concessions on some of the bills they opposed. Bauer says Democrats won a battle but that they recognize 'the war goes on'' as Republicans continue what he calls an attack on the middle class.

Most absent Democrats face fines of more than $3,000 for the boycott.

Bauer and the boycotting Democrats planned to return to the Statehouse Monday evening to get back to work. The party stayed in Urbana for 34 nights. Kristen Self, the Finance Director for the Indiana House Democratic Caucus, estimates the party's hotel bill was over $100,000. Legislators paid for food and other expenses out of their own pockets.

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 28, 2011

Boycotting Indiana Democrats Leaving Urbana, Headed Back to the Capitol

Indiana Democrats are ending their legislative boycott after staying in Urbana for nearly six weeks, and were planning to return to the statehouse in Indianapolis by Monday afternoon.

The more than 30 members of the state's House of Representatives have stayed at the city's Comfort Suites since the evening of February 22nd. But they could be seen busily packing their cars just before noon.

"There's really not a lot of agreement so far, but there's been a lot of headway made," said Democrat Linda Lawson of Hammond. "So we feel very comfortable about going back. We're going to continue the fight. We have a lot of issues and concerns about labor. There's still 40 of us (Democrats) and 60 of them (Republicans), so we have made some great headway."

Other legislators declined to speak to reporters, indicating that House Minority Leader Pat Bauer would address the media later in the afternoon.

The legislative stalemate started over legislation impacting education and labor, but Lawson said there are other areas to address, including the state budget, women's reproductive rights, and gay marriage.

(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 25, 2011

Kirk Says Legislation Will Boost Illinois’ Business Climate

Illinois' junior U.S. Senator is worried about the state's business climate after state lawmakers approved increases in both corporate and income taxes.

In a visit to Champaign Friday, Mark Kirk touted his Small Business Bill of Rights. He says the legislation would help reverse the trend of other Governors trying to lure business away from Illinois.

The Senator says one portion of the measure would exempt small employers from federal taxes for 10 years if they commit to investing in vacant commercial property.

"Because nothing was happening there (vacant properties) anyway," Kirk said. "And we want to make central towns and cities exciting to invest in. Or for new innovators, a fast lane at the patent office. Because we know that small innovates 8-times faster per capita than big business."

The portion of Kirk's bill that expedites the federal patent approval process passed the Senate earlier this month. That provision assists business owners with patent filing issues.

Other parts of the legislation seek to lower business health care costs by allowing interstate competition for insurers, and to cut energy costs by promoting the use of hybrid vehicles and more efficient practices.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 25, 2011

DeWitt Co Bd Stays Neutral on Clinton Landfill PCB Proposal

The DeWitt County Board is staying silent on a proposal to allow PCB's into the Clinton Landfill.

County Board members voted eight-to-four Thursday night against a proposal to formally present a consultant's report critical of the PCB proposal at a federal EPA hearing next month. The hearing on the Clinton Landfill's request for a chemical waste permit --- which would allow PCB's --- is scheduled for April 13th from 6 to 8 PM, at Clinton High School.

One reason cited for voting down a formal presentation is the cost of bringing consultant G. Fred Lee to Clinton to present an updated version of his report. But another one is a 2008 clause in DeWitt County's agreement with landfill owner Peoria Disposal, to remain neutral on their application for a chemical waste permit. County Board member Sherrie Brown made the motion for the consultant's report, and would also like to see the neutrality clause rescinded.

"But ultimately it would lead to litigation," Brown said. "So I believe that in discussing this openly with my fellow board members, that they believe it would lead to litigation, and they're not willing to look at that."

Brown said she thinks the neutrality clause is not legally binding, because it concerns county board policy matters, but DeWitt County State's Attorney Richard Kortiz disagrees.

"When we start talking policy, the way I would look at this, that is more of a nebulous situation," Koritz said. "Maybe more into specific employment issues, or benefits, or we're going to put this area zoned this way or this area zoned that way. Those are policies, as opposed to contractual obligations."

The neutrality clause is part of DeWitt County's agreement with Peoria Disposal that sets out host fees paid to county government for the Clinton Landfill's operation.Koritz said that before the clause was added, the Clinton Landfill's request for a chemical waste permit had the county board's implicit support. But public opposition to the permit has grown, as reflected in the vote on two non-binding resolutions in 2008. Opponents say PCB's would eventually leak out of the Clinton Landfill, threatening groundwater supplies from the Mahomet Aquifer.

Meanwhile, opponents of a chemical waste permit for the Clinton Landfill argue that staying neutral on the issue won't protect DeWitt County from litigation. George Wissmiller of the local group WATCH predicts that the county will face litigation, from whichever side doesn't get its way in the dispute.

Categories: Environment

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