Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 13, 2011

Ind. Planned Parenthood Extends Imperiled Services

Planned Parenthood of Indiana says it will cover the health care costs of current Medicaid patients for at least another week after losing much of its public funding under a new state law.

The reproductive health care organization said Friday donations will allow it to extend care at least through May 21. Spokeswoman Kate Shepherd says it's received donations from at least 36 states since April 26, the day before the Legislature passed a law to withhold the Medicaid funding.

A federal judge refused this week to temporarily block the law while Planned Parenthood fights it.

Planned Parenthood says it serves about 9,300 Medicaid patients at its 28 Indiana clinics. It's not accepting new Medicaid patients while the court battle continues and some services are being put off until later.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 13, 2011

Education Overhaul Sent to Quinn’s Desk

In a year when Wisconsin lawmakers have clamped down on union members' bargaining rights, Illinois legislators passed a measure that makes it harder for teachers unions to go on strike.

But in Illinois, that happened with the unions' consent.

The unions, as well as education advocates, school boards and administrators all signed on to the carefully negotiated measure that was passed by the house Thursday and is now on its way to the governor's desk.

Representative Jehan Gordon, a Peoria Democrat, said it's a first step toward ensuring Illinois children receive the best education.

"Many of the things that we are seeing around the country right now, you find it very difficult for governmental bodies and labor to come together, at the table, and have some of these hard, difficult conversations and find a collective compromise," Gordon said.

Schools will be able to more easily dump poor-performing teachers, even if they have seniority. Teachers will have to earn ratings of "proficient" and "excellent" in order to earn tenure. And the package allows Chicago Public Schools to lengthen the school day and requires teachers and districts make their contract negotiations public during bargaining disputes.

The bill took months to negotiate. Advance Illinois, an education policy group made up of business and civic leaders, was pushing for many of the changes governing seniority and tenure, as was the out-of-state group Stand for Children.

Robin Steans, Advance Illinois' executive director, said the legislation is significant nationally both for what it mandates and for the fact that it was worked out with the support of teachers unions.

"I'm getting calls from my colleagues all around the country about this," said Steans, who was in Springfield for the vote. "They want to see the language. They want to know how we got at this....[Illinois is] part of a bigger national conversation. I think it's fair to say we just jumped to the head of the pack. We got really good, hard stuff done but we got it done without a lot of drama and a lot of noise and a lot of fighting."

Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis helped write the bill, but she says unions essentially had a gun to their head. If they hadn't come to the table, things could have been much worse, Lewis said.

"There's Wisconsin, there's Indiana, there's Pennsylvania, Ohio," Lewis said. "This is going nationwide. We're trying to ameliorate some of the worst parts of what that bill had."

The state's two largest unions lauded the negotiated legislation as "good for kids, fair to adults" when it was first unveiled in mid-April. The state senate passed it then 59-0.

But after initially agreeing to support the law, the more strident Chicago Teachers Union now is balking over what some call technicalities but what Lewis says are attacks on collective bargaining rights.

"We want to be a part of what helps kids," Lewis said. "But the attack on our collective bargaining does not help kids. Anyone who says it does is not being honest."

Lewis is upset about a provision that could impact a lawsuit the union has against Chicago Public Schools over massive teacher layoffs last summer. She's also fighting over how many CTU members would be needed to authorize a strike. Negotiations to resolve those issues are continuing.

Chicago mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel praised the legislation, as did U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Governor Pat Quinn has said he would sign the historic legislation.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 12, 2011

U of I Professor’s Study Links Obesity to Surge in Vehicle Use

A study spearheaded by a University of Illinois professor shows a link between time spent behind the wheel and U.S. obesity rates.

In Sheldon Jacobson's research, he and two students looked at national statistics from 1985 through 2007, and learned that vehicle use correlated in the 99-percent range with national obesity rates. The professor of computer science who also holds appointments in engineering and pediatrics says it's a result of the constraints many adults have in their everyday life.

"Over the last half century, we have built our entire infrastructure around getting more done with less time," said Jacobson. "And the natural choice that individuals make then is to take the mode of transportation that will get us from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible."

Jacobson says if every motorist in the U.S. drove 1 mile less per day, the obesity rate would drop just over 2-percent in six years. The professor also says he's convinced that so-called tactical interventions, like removing soda machines from schools and adding recess time aren't enough. He says the study shows a direct association between energy, transportation, urban planning, and public health.

His study appears in the journal 'Transport Policy.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 12, 2011

Abortion Debate Rages in Indiana

Indiana is the nation's first state to bar federal Medicaid funding for abortion providers, and Planned Parenthood was squarely in legislators' sights. A federal judge this week denied an injunction to keep the law from taking affect. The law has stirred up emotions in the abortion debate. Illinois Public Radio's Michael Puente went to hear from both sides in the declining industrial city of Gary in Northwest Indiana.

(Photo by Michael Puente/IPR)

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Categories: Government, Health, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 12, 2011

Audit: Some State Employees Overpaid by $25K, More

Four Illinois state employees whose work was split among agencies were overpaid by $77,000 the last two years, an audit released Thursday shows.

One employee working for the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation got $36,151 more than specified. Another received and additional $25,662.

Auditor General William Holland's office examined seven cases where department employees did work for other agencies. In four of them, the employees wound up being paid too much. The audit did not indicate how many such" interagency agreements" the agency had.

In three cases, the other agency involved was the governor's budget office.

The case of the $36,000 overpayment happened under former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, said Susan Hofer, spokeswoman for the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. She couldn't immediately say whether money had been recovered.

The other overpayments occurred when payroll for the agency was being centralized and confusion over the new system might have played a role, she said.

Holland's report also found in several cases that the agency lacked documentation showing an employee did any work for the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation and other cases where there was no explanation of how payment among the participating agencies was determined.

In its response to the audit, the department said it will be more diligent in recognizing possible overpayments and adjusting pay in such cases. Officials said they would try to develop a way to determine how much each agency should pay.

The report also declared that the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation couldn't find $240,000 worth of equipment - mostly computers - the last two years.

The agency told Holland it didn't know whether the computers contained any confidential information.

Hofer said some computers were stolen during a break-in at an agency office, but she couldn't immediately say why that wasn't mentioned in the audit.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 12, 2011

Blagojevich Attorneys Cross-Examine Ex-Aide

Defense attorneys at Rod Blagojevich's corruption retrial tried to chip away at the testimony of a former aide to the ousted governor Thursday, hinting that Blagojevich never intended to personally benefit from his ability to name a replacement for President Barack Obama in the Senate.

Robert Greenlee, who served as deputy governor under Blagojevich, looked flustered at times as defense attorney Aaron Goldstein peppered him with questions including, "Have you ever lied to the governor?"

Blagojevich sat forward on his defense-table chair listening intently, sometimes shaking his head at Greenlee's answers. At least once, he leaned across the table and appeared to suggest a question Goldstein should ask Greenlee.

Judge James Zagel warned the defense lawyer that his inquiry about whether Greenlee had ever lied to Blagojevich was too broad and could cover Greenlee lying to the governor about whether he liked his tie, for example.

Greenlee is a key prosecution witness on several charges, including that Blagojevich tried to sell or trade Obama's old Senate seat and that he squeezed a Children's Memorial Hospital CEO for campaign cash.

The defense pressed Greenlee about his testimony that Blagojevich ordered him - by using the circuitous words, 'Good to know' - to hold up a pediatric care reimbursement until the hospital executive came up with a large campaign donation.

"You understood 'good to know' meant stop the rate increase?" Goldstein asked. "Did you ask for clarification?"

"I didn't believe I needed clarification," Greenlee said.

Mocking Greenlee's claim that he took Blagojevich's words as an order, Goldstein prompted an objection by asking, "Mr. Greenlee, you speak English, is that correct?"

Greenlee testified that Blagojevich discussed appointing Obama's preferred candidate to the Senate seat, Valerie Jarrett, in exchange for a high-paying, high-powered government or private-sector job.

Once Jarrett took a job in the White House instead, Greenlee said Blagojevich and his aides turned to other possible candidates - and considered what they could do for the governor.

The defense repeatedly asked Greenlee about Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, and whether Blagojevich had actually wanted to forge a legal political deal involving her.

But Zagel agreed to prosecutors' objections whenever Goldstein mentioned Madigan, telling Blagojevich's attorney the questions were "out of bounds." He suggested the defense could broach the topic if and when they put on their own case.

The defense has argued that in the weeks before his December 2008 arrest, Blagojevich pursued a legal deal to name Madigan to the seat in exchange for her father, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, agreeing to push a legislative package favored by the then-governor.

Prosecutors say such talk by Blagojevich was merely a red herring and was never seriously considered.

Blagojevich denies any wrongdoing. His first trial ended with jurors deadlocked on all but one charge. He was convicted of lying to the FBI. This time, he faces 20 charges in all.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 12, 2011

Tuition Going Up at Southern Illinois University

Southern Illinois University's Board of Trustees has approved tuition and fee increases for the coming academic year, but despite the added revenue administrators say budgets will still be tight.

President Glenn Poshard said the tuition increase - at 6.9% - is three percent less than the original proposal. He said that means further belt-tightening will be in the works for at least the next year.

"There's no way that I see us letting up on any of the budget management practices that we've put in place," Poshard said. "So, given the fact that that's what we have to continue doing - not filling positions and so on - we'll make it do. But it isn't all that we need, of course."

The newly enacted tuition increase applies to incoming students. The fee increases will apply to all students taking classes this fall and through the next year.\\\

Trustees say they are hopeful that a turnaround in enrollment and changes in other areas will help ease the cost burden on students in the near future.

Categories: Economics, Education

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 12, 2011

Lawsuit Claims Vatican Covered Up Child Sex Abuse

The Vatican was named Wednesday in a lawsuit that claims the Holy See ultimately was responsible for covering up child sexual abuse by a now-imprisoned Chicago priest when church officials overlooked complaints about abuse and kept him in a position to continue molesting children.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago on behalf of a woman whose son was molested by Father Daniel McCormack, is an attempt to "hold those most responsible for the global problem and the problem in this community to account in a way they have never been," said St. Paul, Minn.-based attorney Jeff Anderson.

McCormack pleaded guilty in 2007 to abusing five children while he was parish priest at St. Agatha Catholic Church and a teacher at a Catholic school and was sentenced to five years in prison. In 2008, the Archdiocese of Chicago agreed to pay $12.6 million to 16 victims of sexual abuse by priests, including McCormack. As part of that settlement, Cardinal Francis George also agreed to release a lengthy deposition and apologize to the public and each victim.

Anderson said the Archdiocese also agreed to release documents involving priests who had been credibly accused of abuse, but "not one file has been effectively produced so we can produce it to the public" and believes it's because the Archdiocese is following orders from the Vatican. In 2009, a Cook County judge granted the Archdiocese a protective order keeping portions of files private.

Marc Pearlman, another attorney involved in Wednesday's lawsuit, said it's possible some plaintiffs would not have agreed to the 2008 settlement without the promise from the Archdiocese to release the files.

A spokeswoman for the Archdiocese would not comment on Anderson's contention because it was not named in the suit.

The Vatican's U.S. attorney, Jeffrey Lena, referred questions about the documents to the Archdiocese but released a statement saying the lawsuit "is without any merit." He said the victim mentioned in the lawsuit had already received payment from the Archdiocese and "released all further claims" as part of the 2008 settlement.

Anderson said the settlement with Archdiocese did not specifically name the Vatican as a settling party.

This is not the first time Anderson has sued the Vatican. He also named the Holy See in cases filed in Wisconsin and Oregon. The Vatican has argued it is shielded from lawsuits as a sovereign nation, although Wednesday's lawsuit claims McCormack was a "direct agent" of the Vatican because he helped raise money for Peter's Pence, an annual collection for the Vatican.

Lena said the suit "rehashes the same tired theories already rejected by U.S. courts ... and importantly, the Holy See had no factual involvement in this matter whatsoever."

The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages but Anderson said its aim is "to require the Vatican to come clean" with the names of the offenders it knows about and the files kept on them.

"It is the men at the top who make decisions that require secrecy" from others in the Catholic Church, he said.

"Daniel McCormick is just one of many offenders who have been allowed to offend in secrecy," he said. "There won't be change at the bottom until there's change at the top."

Last month, the Vatican was served with court papers stemming from decades-old allegations of sexual abuse against a now-deceased priest at a Wisconsin school for the deaf. The lawsuit was filed last year in federal court on behalf of Terry Kohut, now of Chicago, claiming that Pope Benedict XVI and two other top Vatican officials knew about allegations of sexual abuse at St. John's School for the Deaf outside Milwaukee and called off internal punishment of the accused priest, the Rev. Lawrence Murphy.

Anderson also has a pending lawsuit against the Vatican in Oregon for a man who claims he was abused at his Catholic school in the 1960s.

Categories: Criminal Justice, Religion
Tags: crime, religion

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 12, 2011

Mayor Daley’s Optional $1.1 Million Retirement Fund

Outgoing Chicago Mayor Richard Daley has more than a million dollars in his campaign account.

When he retires, he can take all of it with him for personal use. The mayor is not saying if he will, but it would be perfectly legal if he does. Many other Illinois politicians have exercised that right.

Daley last month reported more than $1.1 million in his campaign account. Under Illinois law, he can close it out whenever he wants, and take all that cash with him into retirement. But when asked last week if he plans to do that, Daley had no interest in answering.

"I don't know yet," Daley said.

The mayor may not know yet, but it's not like this possibility has crept up on him. In fact, prior to a 1998 state law, all politicians in Illinois could use their political accounts as personal ATMs.

"It was the Wild West before this ethical change in Illinois campaign spending," said state Sen. Kirk Dillard, a Republican from Hinsdale. "One could convert their campaign fund for personal use if they...income tax [on it]."

Dillard sponsored the 1998 law along with then-state Sen. Barack Obama.

"We came along with a major, major piece of legislation. But one of the sticking points was the personal use exemption of campaign funds," Dillard said.

Dillard said he had hoped to ban all personal use of campaign cash. But some powerful members of the General Assembly, Dillard said, had no interest in giving up what they'd assumed would be a retirement account. So a compromise was needed - a loophole, if you will.

"When they passed this legislation, they grand-fathered all of the candidates in, so that the money that they had as of June 30th, [19]98, could be converted for personal use," explained Rupert Borgsmiller, executive director of the Illinois State Board of Elections.

And that is why Mayor Daley is allowed to take that million-plus dollars.

"If he wants to, he can," Borgsmiller said.

And quite a few politicians have written themselves checks from their campaign accounts. They aren't too interested in talking about it, though, whether they took $10,000 like state representative-turned lobbyist Vince Persico, or close to $600,000, like former Rep. Ralph Capparelli.

Former state Sen. Walter Dudycz took more than $130,000. He refused to comment for this story because, he said, he's just trying to enjoy his retirement. Many other former politicians just didn't return my calls.

"I'm shocked. Frankly, I'm shocked," Cindi Canary said sarcastically, after laughing.

Canary heads the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, an activist group that tries to track political spending. Canary noted that it is hard to get a good idea of the total amount withdrawn by politicians for personal use, because there's no uniform way they are required to report such expenses to the state election board.

A search on the board's website does find more than $2 million in personal draws, but there's no question the real total is much higher than that.

Some politicians - current and retired - keep their political accounts open, and use them to pay for cell phone bills, airplane tickets and dinner meetings. Canary said the somewhat blurry distinction between political and personal expenses actually came up during the 1998 General Assembly debate over these rules.

"One of the legislators said, 'Well, what if I buy a red, white and blue shirt to march in the Fourth of July parade, that would be for a political purpose,'" Canary recalled, paraphrasing an issue brought up by Persico on the House floor. "'But then I get home, and it's hot and I drink a beer but I forget to take off my red, white and blue shirt, then it's personal use.'"

For her part, Canary does not think politicians should take the money for personal use, whether they're entitled to or not.

"I believe that people have given candidates campaign contributions to further their political careers, their ideas, their philosophies, and not necessarily to buy a retirement condo," Canary said.

Mayor Daley probably does not need the $1.1 million from his campaign account to buy a retirement condo. He's earned a healthy salary over the years, and will soon start getting a pension of about $180,000 a year. Add to that the income he may collect for giving speeches, and Daley can likely afford to put his campaign cash to other uses.

"I could very well see the mayor dedicating money to a bike path," Canary said.

The mayor could also keep his campaign account open for as long as he wants, and continue to dole it out to candidates he supports: an easy way for a retired politician to make sure current politicians return his calls.

(Photo courtesy of Kate Gardiner)

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 12, 2011

Umbrella Office for Five Scientific Surveys Gets New Name

The head of five research facilities at the University of Illinois' Urbana campus says a name change has more to do with identity than anything else.

The Institute of Natural Resource Sustainability is now the Prairie Research Institute. Executive Director Bill Shilts says with the previous name, serving as home for five state surveys was often the source of confusion. But he said the new one ties facilities like the Illinois State Water Survey and Illinois Natural History Survey to others in the country, more closely identified with the Institute's mission.

And Shilts said the five surveys complement one another.

"This is a way to make all of the surveys related to that name," he said. "So that when one survey does something that's of value to the public, to the state, to the university, it reflects on all of the surveys rather than just the individual survey's name like it used to be when we were part of state government."

Shilts said being recognized as an institute with many different disciplines like water, geology, and biological resources gives his facilities a focus for the multi-disciplinary manner in which work is carried out.

The five surveys were established on the U of I campus in 2008, coming from Illinois' Department of Natural Resources. The name change was recently approved by the University's board of Trustees, but state legislators still have to approve it. The Prairie Research Institute has 700 employees and a 2010 budget of nearly $70-million.

Categories: Education, Science

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