Illinois Public Media News
Wisconsin lawmakers voted Thursday to strip nearly all collective bargaining rights from the state's public workers, ending a heated standoff over labor rights and delivering a key victory to Republicans who have targeted unions in efforts to slash government spending nationwide.
The state's Assembly passed Gov. Scott Walker's explosive proposal 53-42 without any Democratic support and four no votes from the GOP. Protesters in the gallery erupted into screams of "Shame! Shame! Shame!" as Republican lawmakers filed out of the chamber and into the speaker's office.
The state's Senate used a procedural move to bypass missing Democrats and move the measure forward Wednesday night, meaning the plan that delivers one of the strongest blows to union power in years now requires only Walker's signature to take effect.
He says he'll sign the measure, which he introduced to plug a $137 million budget shortfall, as quickly as possible - which could be as early as Thursday.
"We were willing to talk, we were willing to work, but in the end at some point the public wants us to move forward," Walker said before the Assembly's vote.
Walker's plan has touched off a national debate over labor rights for public employees and its implementation would be a key victory for Republicans, many of whom have targeted unions amid efforts to slash government spending. Similar bargaining restrictions are making their way through Ohio's Legislature and several other states are debating measures to curb union rights in smaller doses.
In Wisconsin, the proposal has drawn tens of thousands of protesters to the state Capitol for weeks of demonstrations and led 14 Senate Democrats to flee to Illinois to prevent that chamber from having enough members present to pass a plan containing spending provisions.
But a special committee of lawmakers from the Senate and Assembly voted Wednesday to take all spending measures out of the legislation and the full Senate approved it minutes later, setting up Thursday's vote in the Assembly.
Walker has repeatedly argued that collective bargaining is a budget issue, because his proposed changes would give local governments the flexibility to confront the budget cuts needed to close the state's $3.6 billion deficit. He has said without the changes, he may have needed to lay off 1,500 state workers and make other cuts to balance the budget.
The measure forbids most government workers from collectively bargaining for wage increases beyond the rate of inflation unless approved by referendum. It also requires public workers to pay more toward their pensions and double their health insurance contribution, a combination equivalent to an 8 percent pay cut for the average worker.
Police and firefighters are exempt.
Heading into the Big Ten tournament, Illinois coach Bruce Weber has questions.
Will Jereme Richmond's banged-up shoulder hold up? Can he count on slumping guards D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul for at least tough defense in Friday's game against Michigan? Will Demetri McCamey's solid form of the past few weeks last?
But Weber figures, surely, there's at least one thing he doesn't have to question -- what happens to Illinois (19-12, 9-9 Big Ten) after the conference tournament is done.
If Illinois isn't in the NCAA tournament, "I would be dumbfounded, to be honest," Weber said, counting off the tough non-conference opponents the Illini faced this season -- Texas, Maryland, North Carolina and Gonzaga among them. Illinois beat the last three and took Texas to overtime.
Then again, the Illini were stunned a year ago when they were left out of the NCAA tournament for the second time in three seasons. Their record then (19-14, 10-8) was even a little better as far as conference play goes.
This season, Weber said, the Illini went through a tougher schedule with last year's snub in mind.
If games against Texas, North Carolina and the rest don't get the Illini into an expanded tourney that now includes 68 teams, "I will totally change my mindset of scheduling philosophy, I promise that," he said.
Illinois has rebounded in recent weeks from a midseason slump that saw them slide out of the Top 25 and into the middle of the Big Ten pack. McCamey's game in particular fell off and losses to Indiana, Penn State and Northwestern piled up like failing grades on the Illini report card.
Since then, the Illini sandwiched wins over the Hoosiers and Iowa around a close road loss to Purdue.
The team that won those games, Weber said, looked a lot more like the one that handled North Carolina than the one that couldn't buy a key basket when it needed one at Indiana.
"We had the puzzle pretty well put together early; it got messed up," Weber said. "Now we're putting those pieces back into the puzzle."
The biggest piece of that puzzle is McCamey..
The senior guard, even with his midseason slump, is Illinois' leading scorer with 15 points a game. And no one on the roster can run the offense the way McCamey can -- his 6.1 assists a game are second in the conference, behind the Wolverines' Darius Morris.
McCamey traces his problems -- and his team's -- to a tentative streak he believes is behind them.
"I think I've just got to be aggressive," he said, adding that the Illini were often slow to get into transition during their slump. "We are a real dangerous team when we get out in transition."
Weber said his other questions still need to be answered.
Richmond, the first player off the bench for Illinois, is playing with pain in his injured shoulder but will have to be a factor for the Illini if they're going to get past Michigan (19-12, 9-9).
Paul and Richmond, Weber said, could be important, too. Paul is one of Illinois' only options for spelling McCamey -- and when he's on, the sophomore guard can be a dangerous shooter. Richardson, meanwhile, will likely have a lot of the defensive responsibility for Morris.
"Morris is kind of the head of the group," Weber said. "A Steve Nash-like player that wheels and deals and sets up everyone else.
A former death row inmate is applauding Governor Pat Quinn's decision to abolish the death penalty for a couple of reasons.
Randy Steidl spent 12 years on death row, and 17 total years in prison after he was wrongfully convicted of a double-murder in Paris, Illinois. Since his release, Steidl has been an active opponent of capital punishment, citing irreversible errors made in the justice system, but he said life without parole is ultimate punishment.
"Five minutes on that gurney, and your suffering is over with," Steidl said. "I believe if you really want to punish somebody, you put them in cage for the rest of their life where they can think about the crimes they committed. And when they die, they can burn in hell. And you don't risk the possibility of executing an innocent person."
Steidl said even if prosecutors do everything by the book, there's still the possibility of them making a mistake. And as for his own case, Steidl said there are people who are more interested in winning than justice.
A University of Illinois graduate student who developed an automatic gear shifting mechanism for manual wheelchairs is this year's winner of the Lemelson-MIT Illinois Student Prize. Mechanical engineering student Scott Daigle was to formally received the $30,000 prize at a ceremony Wednesday evening on the Urbana campus.
Daigle said his invention helps users of manual wheelchairs who risk chronic shoulder pain and even injury, from constantly pushing the back wheels of a wheelchair. He compares his "IntelliWheels" gearshift to the gearshift that a bicyclist uses to handle different terrains and speeds.
"The IntelliWheels system achieves that same goal, by automatically sensing what the user is doing," Daigle said. "How hard they're pushing, how fast they're going, what kind of hill they're on, and intelligently selecting the best gear for the job."
But Daigle said the most important result of the IntelliWheels wheelchair is that it helps wheelchair users better maintain their independence.
"We're not asking them to rely on big heavy motors or big batteries," he said. "It's an easier way of keeping your mobility in a manual wheelchair."
Daigle said his IntelliWheels wheelchair is still in the testing stage. Meanwhile, he is also working on other devices for wheelchair users, such as an emergency toolkit and what he calls "castor-skis" to go on a wheelchair's front wheels to get around on snowy winter sidewalks.
Daigle is doing the research through his IntelliWheels comany, formed with partners that include U of I PhD. candidate student Marissa Siebel, the athletic trainer for the U of I wheelchair athletics team. The company operates out of the EnterpriseWorks Technology Business Incubator at the U of I Research Park in Champaign.
Daigle said he plans to invest his Lemelson-MIT prize money into IntelliWheels. The Lemelson-MIT Illinois Student Prize is one of four prizes in the Lemelson-MIT student program, which rewards outstanding work by student inventors.
The chairman of the board of NPR said the views that the network's chief fundraiser expressed to a hidden camera do not reflect the views of others at the organization.
Chairman Dave Edwards told local public radio station reporters through a conference call Wednesday that the taped and edited comments of Ron Schiller "bothered me the core." A fake Muslim group created by conservative activist James O'Keefe met with Schiller to offer a donation. They secretly recorded him referring to Tea Party supporters as racist and uneducated. Edwards, who manages public radio station WUWM in Milwaukee, said Schiller's views do not match any views he has ever heard from NPR board members, management or employees.
"I found them to be absolutely repulsive to the values that we have as an industry," Edwards said. "And we have to articulate the fact that that is not who we are ... that we welcome a variety of viewpoints and we don't discriminate against anyone's particular view or political position."
After further research, NPR grew suspicious of the group, and refused any donation. Edwards said it was typical to have such research done after a face-to-face meeting with a potential donor. He had no comment on an Associated Press report that PBS had also been contacted by the O'Keefe group, but had declined to meet with them in the first place.
The release of the secret recording of the meeting led to Ron Schiller's accelerated resignation, plus his resignation from a job he was about to take at the Aspen Institute. In addition, NPR president Vivian Schiller --- no relation --- was also forced to resign.
Edwards said Ms. Schiller was not directly responsible for the network's recent controversies, but he said NPR needs a leader who can both manage its resources and be an effective spokesperson. NPR General Counsel Joyce Slocum has been named as interim president and CEO.
A candidate for Danville mayor said he has no intention of dropping his campaign following a discussion with an opponent.
David Quick said he was offered help paying for his campaign if he would abandon his own and join Jim McMahon's effort. Quick said he was offered $28,000 dollars in campaign funds. And Quick said a job offer from McMahon was for an unspecified position within the city or Vermilion County.
Quick said he is not sure what impact their brief discussion will have on the race.
"(McMahon) is now saying he was extending an offer to join the first place with the last place, wanting to combine the funds," Quick said. "People have to make up their own decision. They have to make up their own minds. It was a tough decision to make the decision to come forward, but I owe it to myself and I owe it to the people supporting me to let them know what was said."
McMahon said he made a 'business decision' when making the offer to Quick to merge campaigns, but denies offering him a job. Another mayoral candidate, Danville Alderman Rickey Williams Jr., has said he was offered the position of Vermilion County treasurer through a McMahon supporter.
McMahon denies it, saying he considers that notion 'ridiculous' since current treasurer Sue Stine was re-elected and does a good job.
The three candidates for mayor face incumbent Scott Eisenhauer on April 5th.
Illinois abolished the death penalty Wednesday, more than a decade after the state imposed a moratorium on executions out of concern that innocent people could be put to death by a justice system that had wrongly condemned 13 men.
Gov. Pat Quinn also commuted the sentences of all 15 inmates remaining on death row. They will now serve life in prison with no hope of parole.
State lawmakers voted in January to abandon capital punishment, and Quinn spent two months reflecting on the issue, speaking with prosecutors, crime victims' families, death penalty opponents and religious leaders. He called it the "most difficult decision" he has made as governor.
"We have found over and over again: Mistakes have been made. Innocent people have been freed. It's not possible to create a perfect, mistake-free death penalty system," Quinn said after signing the legislation.
Illinois will join 15 other states that have done away with executions.
The executive director of a national group that studies capital punishment said Illinois' move sets it apart from other states that have eliminated the death penalty because many of those places rarely used it.
"Illinois stands out because it was a state that used it, reconsidered it and now rejected it," said Richard Dieter, of the Death Penalty Information Center, in Washington.
Prosecutors and some victims' families had urged Quinn to veto the measure.
The governor offered words of consolation to those who had lost loved ones to violence, saying that the "family of Illinois" was with them. He said he understands victims will never be healed.
Illinois' moratorium goes back to 2000, when then-Republican Gov. George Ryan made international headlines by suspending executions. Ryan acted after years of growing doubts about the state's capital-punishment system, which was famously called into question in the 1990s, after courts concluded that 13 men had been wrongly condemned.
Shortly before leaving office in 2003, Ryan also cleared death row, commuting the sentences of 167 inmates to life in prison.
Illinois' last execution was in 1999.
Quinn promised to commute the sentence of anyone else who might be condemned before the law takes effect on July 1.
New York and New Jersey did so in 2007. New Mexico followed in 2009, although new Republican Gov. Susana Martinez wants to reinstate the death penalty.
Anti-death penalty activists said other states have looked to Illinois as a leader on the issue ever since the moratorium began.
"This is a very significant action on the governor's part," said Mike Farrell, an actor best known for his role on the hit television show "M(asterisk)A(asterisk)S(asterisk)H" and a longtime activist who is now the president of the board of directors of Death Penalty Focus in California.
"This is a domino in one sense, but it's a significant one."
Kristin Houle, executive director of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, agreed, saying Illinois' action "shows the national momentum towards repealing the death penalty."
As Illinois governor in the late 1970s, Republican James Thompson signed a law reinstating the death penalty and was an ardent supporter of capital punishment for decades.
"But for the last several years, I began to have my doubts," he said Wednesday.
Thompson said he came to believe the death penalty did not deter would-be murderers and that the risk of executing a single innocent person outweighed any potential benefits.
Quinn consulted with retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa and met with Sister Helen Prejean, the inspiration for the movie "Dead Man Walking."
A Chicago woman whose teenage son was gunned down in 2006 said she was disappointed in Quinn's decision - a move, she said, that victims' relatives tried to talk him out of a few weeks ago.
Pam Bosley said nobody is in custody in her son's death, but whoever killed him does not deserve to live.
"I don't want them to breathe the air that I breathe," said Bosley, whose 18-year-old son, Terrell Bosley, was killed in front of a church on Chicago's South Side.
Bill Sloop, a truck driver from Carthage, said he was saddened to think that taxpayers would have to continue feeding, clothing and care for Daniel Ramsey, the death row prisoner who killed his 12-year-old daughter and wounded her older sister in a 1996 shooting spree.
Quinn "shouldn't have done what he did," Sloop said.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan appealed directly to Quinn to veto the bill, as did several county prosecutors and victims' families. They said safeguards, including videotaped interrogations and easier access to DNA evidence, were in place to prevent innocent people from being wrongly executed.
Madigan declined to comment on Quinn's decision.
But death penalty opponents argued that there was still no guarantee that an innocent person couldn't be put to death. Quinn's lieutenant governor, Sheila Simon, herself a former prosecutor, urged him to sign the bill.
Illinois has executed 12 men since 1977, when the death penalty was reinstated. The last execution was Andrew Kokoraleis on March 17, 1999. At the time, the average length of stay on death row was 13 years.
Kokoraleis, convicted of mutilating and murdering a 21-year-old woman, was put to death by lethal injection.
UI Holds Forum on Proposed Cuts to Institute of Aviation
The University of Illinois held a public forum Tuesday night to get feedback about a budget recommendation to break up the 65-year-old Institute of Aviation.
Two candidates for Danville mayor contend they were each offered a job by opponent Jim McMahon in exchange for giving up their campaigns.
Rickey Williams and David Quick both say they were offered the position of Vermilion county treasurer. Quick tells the Danville Commercial-News he was offered the job by McMahon himself, while Williams says it came through a supporter of the County Board Chairman, and he wasn't sure if McMahon was aware of it himself.
Williams says he has no intention of leaving the race, and has integrity.
"I'm not for sale. Even when I was on the (Danville) city council, someone attempted to bribe me about a liquor license," he said. "I made that public knowledge then. It's against everything I stand for as a person. We need somebody who's going to be forthright, and have the best interests of the people at heart. And backroom deals are not the way to represent the people's voice."
McMahon said Williams' comments make no sense, when considering that County Treasurer Sue Stine was just re-elected to office and does a good job. McMahon admitted that he suggested to Quick that he drop his campaign and team up with him, since their campaigns have similar messages regarding higher taxes, although both names would still appear on the ballot.
"Any time you have bad publicity it could damage your campaign," McMahon said. "But I hope people understand and would rise above this. This is a business decision, trying to help a businessman who basically was in 4th place, to come up and join my team so we could be together as committee traveling forward. What more can you ask for when you got fourth and first working together?"
McMahon also said it makes no sense to offer Quick a job, since he is a successful restaurant owner. Quick could not be reached for comment Tuesday,
A Rod Blagojevich spokesman says logistics problems forced his attorneys to withdraw a request that the former Illinois governor be allowed to travel to England.
A court filing Tuesday says only that the motion had been taken back.
But Blagojevich spokesman Glenn Selig explained later that there was too little time to organize the trip -- even had Judge James Zagel granted permission.
The defense had asked Zagel to let Blagojevich leave the country to speak at an Oxford Union event this week. The Oxford Union is a debating and speaking society in Oxford, England.
Before Blagojevich's first trial, Zagel turned down a travel request when Blagojevich wanted to go to Costa Rica to appear on a reality TV show.
Blagojevich's corruption retrial is scheduled to begin April 20.
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