Illinois Public Media News
A plan by Indiana officials to limit the number of people who can be inside the Statehouse at any given time has angered Indiana Democrats and union officials.
State police, homeland security officials and the state fire marshal's office announced Friday that they've decided to cap the number of people who can be inside the Statehouse at 3,000.
The Indianapolis Star reports (http://indy.st/vceGvi ) that because that includes the 1,700 employees who work in the building, the number of non-employees who could assemble in the building on any given day would range between 1,000 and 1,500.
House Democratic Minority Leader Patrick Bauer of South Bend says the policy is intended to prevent Hoosiers from protesting a proposed ban on workers from being required under labor contracts to pay union fees.
A new law taking effect on Jan. 1 gives police in Illinois more power to arrest people causing trouble on school grounds.
The law establishes school grounds and the sidewalks and public right-of-ways going through them as "Safe School Zones." People who come into the zones after they've been officially warned not to by school administrators, can be arrested on misdemeanor trespassing charges. That includes students and school employees who have been expelled or dismissed.
The measure was sponsored by State Sen. MIke Frerichs (D-Champaign) and State Rep. Naomi Jakobsson (D-Urbana).
Jakobsson said the new law gives police a new tool to deal with people from outside the school who may try to start fights or create other problems with students.
"Law enforcement needs to be able to have a little more of a zone around it to keep these people safe," Jakobsson said. "So somebody who has nothing to do with the school, maybe isn't a student there, or who has been expelled or suspended, shouldn't be on the school grounds or very close to where the safe school zone is."
Jakobsson said the idea for Safe School Zones came from a school resource officer --- that's an in-school police officer --- in the Champaign school district.
The Safe School Zones will apply only when class is in session, and the hour before and after classes and school-sponsored activities.
The family of a man who allegedly committed suicide while in police custody is suing the city of Chicago for wrongful death.
On Nov. 17, Develt Bradford was found hanging while detained at Area 2 of the Chicago Police Department. Three days later, another detainee, Melvin Woods, was found hanging in his cell at the same police station.
Bradford's family has a fusillade of questions and, on Tuesday, filed a civil lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Cook County.
"If the Chicago police did no wrong, let's find that out. But let's have an independent authority," said Sam Adam Jr., the Bradford family attorney. "What we do not need is 15 years from now to be readdressing this like we had to do with Jon Burge."
The backdrop is that Area 2 used to be under the watch of Jon Burge. A federal jury convicted the former police commander of lying about decades of torturing black men. Bradford and Woods are black. At a press conference Wednesday, Bradford family attorneys sought to make the connection.
Annie Bradford, the mother of Develt Bradford, choked back tears.
"I'm very sad. I'm very disappointed in the way that my son had to go. I just want to know what really happened," Bradford said.
Adam's law firm sent a letter to U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald asking that his office investigate the two alleged suicides.
"When a family member calls me with a tremor in her voice ... can you help us to find out what happened in this situation?" said U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D-Chicago), who flanked attorneys at the press conference. "Then of course, I have no choice except to call upon the highest level of legal investigatorial (sic) authority in the country - and that is the U.S. Attorney's Office - to conduct its own independent investigation."
Attorney Victor Henderson said there are too many unanswered questions about Bradford and Woods' deaths. He said an internal police investigation is not good enough, given the Burge history at Area 2.
"Why were the cameras off? How long were they in custody? Let's see the clothes that they allegedly hung themselves (with). Let's have some forensic tests, have some blood tests," Henderson said.
The U.S. Attorney's Office declined to comment. The Chicago Police Department gave this statement: "The Chicago Police Department takes the treatment of its arrestees very seriously. The incidents that occurred at Area 2 are currently under investigation by the Independent Police Review Authority.
When U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson (R-Urbana) runs for re-election next year, he'll have to do something he hasn't done in more than a decade - square off in a Republican primary. Two other Republicans from the St. Louis Metro East area are eying the newly re-drawn 13th Congressional district seat.
The last time Johnson had any challengers in the primary was back in 2000, the year he was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He was up against State Rep. Bill Brady, who later went on to the Illinois senate and won the GOP nomination for Governor in 2010; Sam Ewing, son of former Congressman Tom Ewing; and Jeffery Jones, a dentist in the Bloomington-Normal area.
Johnson walked away with 44 percent of the vote.
"It's like the semifinals of the final four," Johnson said shortly after his primary win in March 2000. "Before you get the championship game, you got to win semifinal and you work on your parameter game. So obviously it's a tremendous significance and it makes you a better candidate. These three individuals made me a better candidate, and I thank them for that."
Now, there is a different group of players in the upcoming primary match who have never held political office and who live in the Metro East area. That is because the new 13th Congressional District - covering much of the old 15th district -now stretches to the southern part of the state.
Veterinarian Michael Firsching of Moro is one of Johnson's two Republican challengers. He ran against Republican Congressman John Shimkus of Collinsville in 2010, and lost in the primary by a wide margin, securing only 15-percent of the vote. Now he is running against a different incumbent, but Firsching said his reasons for wanting to go to Washington have not changed.
"I really was expecting in the last two years we would have seen a huge collapse of the economic situation worldwide, but it's been held off a little bit longer," Firsching said. "I just have a hard time believe that we can go another two years without the bubble that is it going to pop and cause a lot of havoc to everybody's life."
Firsching said he favors a flat income tax, disbanding the Federal Reserve and limiting military engagements to those authorized by a formal declaration of war by Congress. He said he would cut spending on programs that the government can't afford to run, and move all agricultural programs to the states.
"If you have disseminating powers, then you have more local control of it, plus you have more states doing the various programs," Firsching said. "If you just have government running everything, then when they screw up and do the wrong thing, then it's a lot hard to control."
Firsching said he thinks the 13th Congressional district's rural constituency will relate more to his ideas, and support him in the primary.
But Firsching isn't the only GOP newcomer in this race. Frank Metzger, 70, is a retired Iron Worker from Glen Carbon, who now runs his own tree cutting business.
"Retirement's not in the bible," Metzger said. "I'll just work until I drop dead someday."
Metzger has not run for political office before, and he admits he doesn't have any name recognition in the state. But he said politics is in his blood. His father was a New Jersey legislator who also ran for governor. Metzger said he thinks there needs to be more elected officials who represent a broader base.
"The lack of respect for the American people - the working man - distresses me way beyond distress it disgusts me," he said. "The average person does not feel they are represented in the House of Representatives."
As a registered Republican and Tea Party member, Metzger said he believes in smaller government. On economic issues, he is against new tax hikes, but would like cut spending for Planned Parenthood and foreign aide. He supports the Keystone XL pipeline, which President Obama has tried to delay.
"I would like to see our own energy resources developed to the max," Metzger said. "Right now, everything is on hold. There are 10,000 jobs that will open - and union jobs, too - as soon as Obama OK's the pipeline."
Metzger and Firsching have about three months to garner support for the March 20 primary.
Tim Johnson spokesman Phil Bloomer said the presence of these two candidates from an area where the Congressman isn't well-known poses a challenge in the race. But he said it's different from the challenge Johnson faced in his last contested primary in 2000. Back then, there were more prominent names on the ballot, and no one had the advantage of being an incumbent.
"This is a little different sort of situation because I frankly don't really know these guys and they don't have any public policy experience," Bloomers said. "They're just individuals who are angry and frustrated with the status quo."
Bloomer said Johnson is already campaigning in the Metro East area, and has no plans to change his strategy.
The candidates running in the Democratic primary for the 13th Congressional district are Bloomington physician David Gill and Greene County State's Attorney Matt Goetten.
When Republican Congressman Tim Johnson of Urbana tries to get re-elected next year, he will have to do something he hasn't done in more than a decade - square off in a Republican primary. As Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers reports, two Republicans candidates from the St. Louis Metro East area are eying the newly re-drawn 13th Congressional district seat.
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels said Thursday he will push for more money for victims of the Indiana State Fair stage rig collapse, but lawmakers will have to decide how much.
The $5 million cap placed on state payouts to the injured and family members of the seven people who were killed was clearly not enough, Daniels said. He will spend the 2012 session lobbying for a one-time additional payout to the families of the seven people who died and dozens of others who were injured during the stage collapse.
"I certainly think they ought to do something further, then let's figure out together what exactly that is,'' he said. "I think the best thing would be for the Legislature to pick out what is fair and just."
An outdoor stage toppled right into a crowd on Aug. 13 at the state fair as high winds swept the fairgrounds right before the country duo Sugarland was set to perform. One option Daniels floated would be paying families of the seven people who died a total of $700,000 from the state, the maximum payout allowed under the state's tort limit.
Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller and national disaster claims expert Kenneth Feinberg divided the state's $5 million among victims. The families of the seven people who died were given upward of $300,000 each under the formula they devised. People who were physically injured generally had two-thirds of their medical costs covered by the state.
Most of that money had been claimed by the middle of the month. Although Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry filed charges this week against two women he says fraudulently filed claims with the state even though they were not at the fair when the stage collapsed. Indianapolis Democratic Representative Ed DeLaney has said he would like to raise the $5 million liability cap during the 2012 session.
But Republicans, including House Speaker Brian Bosma, have balked at the idea, calling it a payout for lawyers rather than victims.
None of the 79 Sears and Kmart stores that Sears Holdings Corp. plans to close are in Illinois.
The Hoffman Estates-based retailer announced the specific stores it would close on Thursday. It said earlier this week that it would close up to 120 stores nationally after poor holiday sales.
The Indiana stores slated to close include Kmarts in Indianapolis' Pendleton Plaza and St. John, as well as a Sears store in Anderson. A Sears location in St. Louis, Missouri's Crestwood Plaza is also closing. The dates of the closures haven't been announced, and the company says it can't yet verify the number of impacted employees.
The retailer had reached an agreement with Illinois officials to keep its headquarters in Illinois. Gov. Pat Quinn had said the store closings don't affect that agreement.
Quinn signed legislation guaranteeing the company $15 million in tax breaks during the next decade. The company had threatened to move its headquarters from the state before securing the tax incentives.
The tax breaks depend on the company's ability to maintain 4,250 jobs at the Sears headquarters in Hoffman Estates.
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
The showcase summer festival Taste of Chicago will be shortened and moved to later in July next year.
City of Chicago officials said Wednesday that the lakefront festival will run five days from July 11 to 15 in Grant Park. The festival traditionally ran over the Fourth of July holiday and last year was 10 days long.
Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events spokesperson Cyndi Gatziolis says the shortened schedule will make the Taste more accessible to smaller restaurants and help the city save money.
"There's a cost to being out there every single day, and that certainly is one of the reasons why with this financial model we're looking to (will) save some of that money," said Gatziolis.
This is the first year Taste of Chicago will be run by the city's Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. Last year, the city tried to privatize the event, but those plans fell through when the only bidder threatened to charge admission. The Taste of Chicago was then turned over to the Chicago Park District. Days after last year's festival ended, the head of the Chicago Park District said the city lost money on the event.
There are also changes to the Chicago Gospel Music Festival, which will be staged at several locations, including the South Side's Bronzeville neighborhood. The gospel festival will run from June 21 to 24.
Other large events on the city's calendar in 2012 include the Chicago Blues Festival in June, the Chicago Air and Water Show in August, the Chicago Jazz Festival in late August and early September, and the World Music Festival in mid-September.
A judge has delayed a hearing sought by Indiana Secretary of State Charlie White in his bid to remain in office.
The judge issued an order last week calling for White's removal from office because he was improperly registered as a candidate when he ran for office in 2010. He later put that order on hold and set a Thursday hearing on White's bid to move the civil case to a higher court.
But Marion Circuit Court Judge Louis Rosenberg moved the hearing to Jan. 3 after White's attorney said the original hearing date was troublesome because it fell between the Christmas and New Year's holidays.
White faces voter fraud and other charges in a separate criminal case over voting from his ex-wife's address in the 2010 primary.
More than 200 new laws take effect in Illinois starting Jan. 1. Under some of the new laws:
_Synthetic marijuana, sold in convenience stores and gas stations under names such as "K2'' and "Head Trip,'' will be outlawed. The law makes possession or sale of the products a felony with penalties ranging from 1 to 60 years.
_People convicted of first-degree murder must be added to a new first-degree murder database, similar to the sex offender registry, when they're released from prison or any other facility. The public database would include names, addresses, employment places, schools attended and photos for offenders for up to 10 years after release from prison.
_Convicted sex offenders who are employed at or attend a college or university must register with campus public safety.
_School boards can suspend or expel a student who makes an explicit threat on a website against another student or any school employees or personnel.
_People with an order of protection issued against them must surrender their Firearm Owners Identification Card until the order is lifted. Anyone convicted of domestic battery is ineligible to obtain or keep an FOID card.
_Motorcyclists stopped at a red light may proceed through the light if it fails to change to green after a reasonable length of time.
_Animal-control facilities scanning a lost pet for a microchip also must look for other common forms of identification, including tattoos and ID tags.
_Antique vehicle owners have unrestricted use of highways from April 1 through Oct. 31 if they obtain an expanded-use registration.
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