Illinois Public Media News
A panel of experts has told a state legislative committee that Illinois' prisons are bursting at the seams. They say immediate action is needed to reverse growing violence and worsening conditions for inmates and guards.
Legal experts and others who work with ex-inmates today urged support for an Illinois House bill that would revive a way to reduce prison populations through early release for good behavior. But a representative for Gov. Pat Quinn says he will not reverse his suspension of that measure without changes.
Quinn shut down the early release program in 2010 after The Associated Press reported that prison officials had implemented an unpublicized, accelerated version that was freeing criminals in as little as eight days.
As the country waits for the U.S. Supreme Court to decide the fate of President Obama's health care act, the president's home state has been working to implement it. But some legislators want to hold off. They hope the court will kill the legislation, or that it would be repealed if a Republican is elected president this fall.
While the Supreme Court case has gotten most of the attention, there's been a state-by-state effort to block major parts of the health care law. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare, encourages states to set up insurance exchanges -- groups that will pool insurance offerings in an attempt to make them more affordable. But the law does not require states to do this, and that's where conservatives see an opening to weaken the Affordable Care Act.
"Regardless of what you think about the federal health care law, if you support it or oppose it, there are so many unanswered questions, it really doesn't make sense for states to jump into an exchange at this point," said Christie Herrera, director of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a nationwide group of conservative state lawmakers.
Herrera has been urging states to reject their role in the Affordable Care Act. Her organization even published a pamphlet: "The State Legislators Guide to Repealing ObamaCare."
"I think Illinois still has the opportunity to pull out of the health insurance exchange," Herrera said. "Legislation stalled last fall. Indiana, your neighboring state, is in a similar position where they said we're going to jump in, and now they're having second thoughts. So it's not too late for Illinois to reject the health insurance exchange."
State Rep. JoAnn Osmond (R-Antioch) introduced several measures to prevent Illinois from implementing any part of the law until all the legal challenges are decided. She said there are still too many unknowns -- that the administration has been giving out information in bits and pieces.
"I think that the federal government is having just as many problems as we are on state level trying to figure out what works best, and what's going to help our people and our citizens to have access to health care," Osmond said.
A lot of Republicans say ObamaCare is bad policy. But Osmond acknowledges that is not the only reason to oppose it.
"Well I'd be naive to say that this bill is not political," she said. "This bill is political."
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said there are people, especially Republicans, cheering for the program to fail.
"They don't want a victory for President Obama," Durbin said. "Many of them resent any involvement of the federal government in our health care of our nation. Even though when it comes to Medicare, veterans' care and many other aspects of health care, the federal government has played an important role in providing adequate, affordable health care for decades."
Durbin said he is worried about the political tone of last month's arguments before the Supreme Court. But he also said so much of the health care act has already been implemented, it could be impossible to turn back. He said the country is on a path that won't change.
"This law is pointing us in an inevitable direction in America to bring everybody into the peace of mind of insurance coverage and to do something to reduce the increase in cost we face every year," Durbin said.
But that depends on the Supreme Court, and on who wins this fall's elections. As both sides acknowledge, the Affordable Care Act has become a politically dicey issue.
At stake is campaign cash from the insurance industry and the natural urge of politicians not to take action on anything controversial in an election year.
Many conservatives campaigned against the Affordable Care Act in 2010, and with Republicans and Democrats pitted against each other in new districts across Illinois, it's likely to be an issue again this year.
All but one vote for non-binding referenda in Champaign and Urbana's annual town meetings will mean questions on November's ballot.
On a 23 to 10 vote, those in the City of Champaign town meeting Tuesday night backed the idea of a constitutional amendment, placing limits on the legal status of corporations and how much can be spent on campaigns.
Speaking at the meeting, Al Kagan says campaign finance reform isn't a partisan issue. With a U.S. Supreme Court opening the door to large donors he says individuals don't really have a say anymore about what happens in U-S government.
"Think about the kinds of campaign finance reform that have been proposed from both sides of the political spectrum," said Kagan. "And to try to get our elections back on track so that individuals have a voice."
The same item passed unanimously in Urbana's Cunningham town meeting on a 25 -to-nothing vote. Three additional participants there voted yes on a referendum on whether private citizens could exercise certain free speech rights - producing a 28-to nothing tally.
The idea is to let private citizens to engage in non-disruptive activity, like handing out leaflets on private properties like malls or parking lots. Backer Michael Weissman says the idea needed some clarification to ensure the idea was fairly limited, and wasn't extended to sites like apartment buildings.
"It's difficult to just do ordinary leafleting because typically the place where people get out of their cars is some dozens of feet off the public sidewalk," Weissman said. "You don't want to leaflet people in their cars. Just being able to extent to things that feel like public spaces but are technically under private ownership."
The idea was backed unanimously in Urbana's Cunningham Township meeting 28-nothing. Weissman says such activity has already been allowed through the courts in California and New York.
The same issue narrowly failed in City of Champaign Township on a 16 to 15 vote.
The two referenda had been supported by members of the local Occupy C-U movement.
A fraternity at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington has been suspended for three years after a student's death in March.
The Pantagraph in Bloomington reports (http://bit.ly/HtLpku ) that school president Richard Wilson announced the suspension in a statement Tuesday. Authorities in northern Illinois say 18-year-old Brandon Landau of New York was at a party in White Pines State Park and died after being found unresponsive with his lower body in a stream and his upper body on a log.
Sigma Pi can appeal the sanctions. It also can request reinstatement in 2015, but would face another four years of probation. Wilson says the university found the fraternity responsible for "serious violations.''
The university's Office of Judicial Affairs investigated the case and it had a hearing before the judicial committee.
Four Republicans have submitted their name to be the party's nominee for Champaign County Circuit Clerk.
The county's GOP precinct committeemen are expected to select the candidate Thursday night. They will choose between University of Illinois Development Officer Katie Blakeman, real estate adviser Alex Ruggieri, attorney Sami Anderson, and realtor and Champaign County Board member Stephanie Holderfield.
Thursday's vote was prompted when Rick Winkel won the March 20 primary over Holderfield by more than 200 votes. But Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten said Winkel, who dropped out of the primary after ballots had been printed, declined the nomination Tuesday. Despite losing last month, Holderfield said she is proven her qualifications strong points the last 10 months.
Acting Champaign County party chair Habeeb Habeeb said if a quorum of the 76 elected precinct committeemen cannot be obtained Thursday, the party will consider an alternative date of Wednesday. At least a couple of candidates have picked up endorsements in a short time frame, including County Coroner Duane Northrup's backing of Holderfield, and former County Clerk Mark Shelden's support for Blakeman.
"Various people will support various candidates for various reasons, and I think Mark's reasoning (to endorse Blakeman) was qualifications," Habeeb said.
Habeeb said each candidate will be allowed to speak to the group Thursday, and will take questions. The committeemen will then deliberate and select a candidate.
Blakeman is a former chairman for the Champaign County Young Republicans, and he is Assistant Director of Development at the U of I's Division of Student Affairs. Ruggieri is Vice President at Sperry Van Ness- Ramshaw Real Estate. Anderson is a partner with the Anderson & Fitzjarrald law firm in Champaign.
Meanwhile, Hulten's office confirmed Tuesday that longtime Champaign County Board member Barb Wysocki is the Democratic nominee for circuit clerk, defeating Lori Hansen by 20 votes.
Wysocki said she is eager to work with Hansen to improve the circuit clerk's office.
"Both of us were sort of thinking along the same lines even though all of us came to the decision to run in this primary totally independent of each other," Wysocki said. "So, I really want an opportunity to see where we can work together."
The other candidate in the race for the Democratic nomination, Evelyn Underwood, came in third place, garnering more than 26-percent of the vote.
There's no evidence now that Champaign School Board members will change their minds about issuing working cash bonds for building improvements.
But Unit 4 Board President Sue Grey said at Monday night's board meeting that if anyone were to reverse their yes vote from late February - that would likely happen in the next couple of weeks. Board members and educators defended the $14.5 million in bonds, and property tax hikes to pay them off over 20 years.
Leaders of a petition drive seeking a voter referendum on the plan include developer Dan Hamelberg. Voters approved a countywide 1-cent school facilities sales tax in 2009, but he says board members weren't up front this time around.
"Three years ago the voters decided the 1-cent tax," Hamelberg said. "And it was based upon the perception that would be it for tax increases. I'm not saying and I'm not putting any words into the mouth of the school board that they promised not to raise the taxes. That's true. But they certainly didn't say the opposite."
"I totally get the issue of whether this should be voted on or not," said Unit 4 Board Member Dave Tomlinson. "What I'm very personally frustrated about is being called a liar." Tomlinson cited 25 seperate presentations about what Champaign Unit 4 would do with the sales tax if it was approved by voters. Much of that money was used for two north side strands, and other improvements to comply with Unit 4's Consent Decree.
Nancy Martinez told the board she'd vote for the bonds plan, but knows the tax would hurt others.
"If you looked at the number of kids who qualified for subsidized lunches, you would know there are families that are really struggling."
Meanwhile, Edison Middle School Principal Justin Uppinghouse told the board not having air conditioning is hurting the learning environment there. And Unit 4 Board member Jamar Brown, who hosted a recent forum on the bonds proposal, says he's still open to other suggestions.
"If you are against this for whatever reason, bring me an alternative," Brown said. "I cannon just say no because someone doesn't like it. Because I still feel that doing these improvements are what's best for students."
The bonds would pay for a new school bus facility, wireless technology, and geothermal systems at Unit 4 middle schools. Chief Operating Officer Gene Logas says the board needs to quickly approve these projects if members want work to start up this summer.
Several schools in Champaign County have adopted a nationwide anti-obesity initiative. As part of our series on efforts in the region to increase health and wellness, Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers reports on how Carrie Busey Elementary School has incorporated nutrition into its curriculum.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
A former candidate for local office in Urbana wants the Democratic nomination for an Illinois House seat.
Michael Langendorf has been meeting with party officials in Vermilion and Champaign counties with hopes that they will slate him as a candidate for 104th district seat held by Republican Chad Hays.
Langendorf said he likes Hays, but he also said competition is healthy.
"Some of the conversations have been good," Langendorf said. "There are just some concerns in terms of his perspective on things that I don't necessarily agree with. I feel like he needs to have a challenger, and needs to have someone looking at his ideas, and make sure there's other opinions out there."
Langendorf said he and Hays differ when it comes to funding pensions, and where to make cuts in Illinois' budget.
Langendorf is a social worker at Middlefork School in Danville and Oakwood Junior High, and he is active with the Illinois Education Association. He ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Urbana in 1997, and in the race for Ward 6 Alderman in 2009.
Champaign County Democratic Party Chair Al Klein expects Langendorf will be a candidate in the race since he is enthusiastic about running. That would happen late this month, but Langendorf would still be required to collect signatures on his nominating petitions to appear on the November ballot.
Third parties in Illinois have started collecting signatures for their candidates ahead of the November election. But in some cases they face long odds to get their longshot picks on the ballot.
The Illinois Green Party did so poorly in the 2010 election, that it lost its established party status. That means before the June deadline its candidates have to collect many more signatures than last time around.
"One example: if you're trying to run for Congress. It's 600 signatures if you are an established party. And 5,000 signatures if you are not an established party," noted Phil Huckleberry, chair of the Illinois Green Party.
Huckleberry called the difference "crippling." But his party is still trying to run candidates in two U.S. House districts and at the same time get more than 25,000 additional signatures for their presidential nominee.
"That's really, really hard," he said. "So it really limits our ability to run a high number of candidates."
Also limiting the Greens' ability: not having a lot of interested candidates. Huckleberry said they're still recruiting, hoping to make some noise in state legislative elections and county races downstate.
The Illinois Libertarian and Constitution parties also hope to get candidates on the ballot this fall.
Police in Decatur are searching for two suspects following the shooting deaths of a husband and wife Saturday night.
Authorities identified the victims as 34-year-old Freedom Cunningham and his 26-year-old wife, Central Cunningham.
Deputy Police Chief David Dickerson is calling on the public for help solving the crime.
The (Decatur) Herald-Review reports (http://bit.ly/HDivOk ) witnesses described the body of Freedom Cunningham collapsed on the porch of a Decatur home and Central Cunningham's body slumped in a van.
The newspaper reports that no arrests had been made by late Sunday. Police have executed several search warrants.
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