Illinois Public Media News
The Champaign County board approved a 10-year district map Thursday night that was drawn by the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
The map seeks to magnify the impact of minority groups during elections.
The county board added two districts, which board members say will become urban areas based on population growth. The local NAACP says those two districts have an opportunity to attract a large number of minorities who can influence elections. The group's former director, Rev. Jerome Chambers, said he hopes the redistricting plan gives more people a feeling that their votes count.
"This is perhaps maybe getting finally a piece of the pie instead of the crumbs from the master's table," Chambers said. "I think it's monumental, and I'm glad to have been a part of it."
Champaign County Farm Bureau President Jerry Watson criticized the map before the vote, saying it doesn't have enough districts that are majority rural.
"Farm Bureau wants a map that will show a fair and equal opportunity of representing all citizens," Watson said. "Without four majority rural districts, that simply is not going to be achieved.
The board was expected to talk about two others maps, which were designed by the county's regional planning commission. Republican board member Alan Nudo said he was stunned there wasn't any discussion about them before the vote.
"The board had asked for three maps to discuss," Nudo said. "They wanted three maps. We didn't discuss any of them. We didn't know the merits between A, B, and C. It could have been done better. Probably the same map would have been selected, but I have some concerns about that map."
Nudo questions who actually drew the map, and said the map does not contain a majority minority district. A majority minority district is where minorities make more than half of the voting age population.
Leading up to Thursday's vote of the NAACP map, the Champaign County Redistricting Commission studied nearly 30 different maps since January. The commission had asked a planner to tweak prospective maps designed by the county's Regional Planning Commission to emphasize items like population variance, rural districts, and the so-called 'majority minority' districts.
Democratic Champaign County Board member Michael Richards, who served on the redistricting commission, said he is confident certain areas of the county will continue to elect minority candidates even if they aren't considered a majority minority district.
"The U.S. Justice Department is not concerned about whether you must have a district that is majority African American to elect African Americans in Champaign County because we've been doing it for decades," Richards said. "It's just not possible to take a square of the community that is 20,000 people and to have it be majority African American."
Richards said the NAACP map includes many of the features that are part of the county's existing district map, including three and a half rural districts, one district designed to have an all African American representation and one minority influence district with a multi-racial representation.
The map also creates a majority campus district stretching from downtown Champaign to the Illinois Street residence halls on Lincoln Avenue in Urbana.
According to Richards, the final vote for the map was 14-13, with all Democrats voting in favor of the plan except for Brendan McGinty (D-Urbana). Every Republican voted against the measure.
By the time the chosen map takes effect in 2012, the county board will be reduced by five members, and divided into 11 districts rather than nine.
The Champaign County Board voted Thursday night to raise the salaries of its members for the first time in more than 20 years.
The board approved a pay increase from $45 a meeting to $80, and then voted a second time to bring that $80 figure down to $60. Democratic board member Michael Richards said he thinks that is too low.
"We have had people who have either not run or retired because it wasn't paying the babysitting bill on a four-hour meeting," he said. "Fifteen dollars is something, but I don't know if that's going to be enough of an increase to entice the quality pool to be better."
Opponents of the pay increase, like Republican board member Alan Nudo, worry this sends the wrong message at a time when county employees are being forced to take cuts to their salaries.
"I just don't feel it's appropriate for us to take a raise," Nudo said.
But County Board Chair Pius Weibel, a Democrat, said the county has been able to avoid pay cuts this year, and has actually granted some "small raises" and hired new staff to fill some vacancies, as the county's tax revenue stream begins to improve.
The pay hike would apply to the Champaign County Board starting in 2012.
There are some intriguing possibilities about witnesses Rod Blagojevich's defense attorneys could call as they mount their case next week at the former governor's retrial.
Attorney Sheldon Sorosky said Thursday the defense will call "people of some prominence'' but didn't say who.
The defense didn't call any witnesses at the first trial last year. But they did subpoena then-White House chief of staff and now Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, among others.
Blagojevich is accused of trying to sell or trade President Barack Obama's old U.S. Senate seat.
Emanuel's never been accused of any wrong doing in the case.
But witnesses described how Blagojevich hoped Emanuel would help him cut a deal where Blagojevich would name Obama friend Valerie Jarrett to the seat and Blagojevich would get a Cabinet post.
Planned Parenthood of Indiana says it will continue serving Medicaid patients through at least May 30 after receiving more than $50,000 in recent donations from 44 states and overseas.
The organization said in a statement Thursday that it hopes to continue services beyond May 30.
It says donors are responding to a new Indiana law removing much of its public funding. It's earmarking the money for Pap tests, breast exams, testing for sexually transmitted diseases and other health care for 9,300 Medicaid patients at its 28 health centers across Indiana.
A federal judge has set a June 6 hearing on Planned Parenthood's request for an injunction blocking the new state law signed last week by Gov. Mitch Daniels. She has said she'll rule on the matter by July 1.
Democrats released their proposal for new Illinois Senate districts today but did not provide population or voting information that would shed light on how the districts would affect elections.
Senate Democrats said their proposed map would create seven districts with more than 50 percent African-American voting age population, down from eight districts. It also would create five majority-Latino districts, up from four.
Other than that, Senate Democrats simply posted maps online that show the outlines of the proposed districts. They plan public hearings on Saturday and Tuesday to provide more detail.
Senate Republicans said they were reviewing the proposal but didn't yet know enough to comment on whether it's fair and meets constitutional requirements.
There's no word on when the Illinois House will release its proposal for House districts. Steve Brown, spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan, said he did not know when voters would get to see the House proposal.
Political maps are redrawn every decade based on U.S. Census figures. Democrats are in charge because they control the Illinois House, Senate and governor's office.
State lawmakers also have to draw new congressional districts. No proposal for that task has surfaced yet. Illinois is set to lose one of its 19 U.S. House seats because of population shifts.
Democrats plan to approve the maps before the scheduled end of the legislative session on May 31. After that, a supermajority would be required to pass the maps, which would give Republican lawmakers a say in the process.
The leader of the Senate remap process, Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, did not return calls seeking more information. His office referred calls to a Senate spokeswoman who said no further details would be released today.
An Indiana attorney will ask the state's Supreme Court to reconsider a controversial decision that involves police entry into homes.
The original case started with the arrest of Richard Barnes in Evansville, a city in the far southwestern corner of the state.
In late 2007 Evansville police tried to enter Barnes' home after being called to quell a domestic disturbance between Barnes and his wife. According to court records, Barnes told officers that they were not needed. Barnes and his wife tried heading back to their apartment. Police followed and then asked to be allowed inside. Barnes refused and shoved an officer. The officer entered anyway and subdued Barnes. Police eventually charged Barnes and a court convicted him on a misdemeanor count of resisting arrest.
Barnes attorney Erin Berger challenged the conviction on the grounds that police didn't have a warrant. The Indiana Appeals Court agreed. But after a ruling last week, the Indiana Supreme Court says Hoosiers cannot resist police entry into their home, even if that entry is illegal.
In a 3-2 decision, Justice Steven David wrote, "the right to reasonably resist an unlawful police entry into a home is no longer recognized under Indiana law."
David added that a resident's refusal to allow an officer entry could lead to further violence. The court says a resident can challenge the entry in court at a later time. But Justice Richard Rucker, a Gary native, dissented.
"A citizen's right to resist unlawful entry into her home rests on a very different ground, namely, the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution," Rucker wrote. "In my view the majority sweeps with far too broad a brush by essentially telling Indiana citizens that government agents may now enter their homes illegally - that is, without the necessity of a warrant, consent, or exigent circumstances."
Berger's taking the usual step in asking the court to reconsider its ruling.
"The breath of the decision would absolutely allow a police officer to enter a home for no reason, whether there's a warrant or not, whether there's extenuating circumstances or not," Berger said Wednesday. "Citizens no longer have the right to even tell the officer 'No,' and close the door against the officer's hand."
Following the ruling, threats have been made against the judges of the Indiana Supreme Court, and protesters have planned a march in Indianapolis for next week.
Indiana lawmakers are also considering amending the law so police within the state follow protections laid out in the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment.
The FBI said it is investigating whether Unabomber Ted Kaczynski was involved in the Chicago-area Tylenol poisonings that killed seven people in 1982.
Kaczynski wrote in papers filed in federal court in California last week that prison officials conveyed a request from the FBI in Chicago for DNA samples.
Chicago FBI spokeswoman Cynthia Yates confirmed Thursday that the agency has asked for Kaczynski's DNA. She said he's refused to voluntarily give a sample but declined to say whether the agency could compel him to provide one.
The Tylenol case involved the use of potassium cyanide and resulted in a mass recall. Kaczynski said he has never possessed potassium cyanide.
Kaczynski is serving a life sentence after pleading guilty in 1998 to setting 16 explosions that killed three people.
(AP Photo/Department of Motor Vehicles, File)
Rahm Emanuel has lobbied Illinois leaders about bringing a casino to Chicago, the new mayor said Wednesday.
As he did during the campaign, Emanuel said he would like the casino to be city-owned.
"We have a casino in Chicago," Emanuel told reporters Wednesday after chairing his first city council meeting. "It just happens to be in Hammond, Indiana. And we're losing that revenue."
Facing a budget deficit in the range of $500-700 million, Emanuel said the gaming revenue could certainly be helpful, if it's done right.
"I have spoken to the leaders of both chambers, both parties, and the governor about the essentialness for a Chicago-owned casino here, as a way of both economic activity and revenue source," Emanuel said.
The new mayor declined to offer a prediction on whether it can happen during the final weeks of this legislative session, noting that casino legislation in the past has fallen apart.
"One issue can be alive a minute, something else can happen," Emanuel said of the legislative process. "So if I say something today - even now - by the time I get upstairs, it can be a different note."
Spokespeople for Democratic leaders said Wednesday that the General Assembly is not focusing on any proposals for a Chicago casino.
"We'll see if there's a detailed proposal that emerges and then we'll see how people treat it," said Steve Brown, spokesman for House Speaker Mike Madigan.
Senate President John Cullerton "remains open to discussing a gaming proposal," wrote his spokeswoman, Rikeesha Phelon. "At this time, there is no pending legislation.
The license of Chicago's only noncommercial Latino radio station is for sale.
The board of the National Museum of Mexican Art has decided to unload the broadcasting license of youth-run WRTE, 90.5 FM, better known as Radio Arte, according to museum President Carlos Tortolero. Tortolero said the museum also plans to sell an 11,000 square foot building in the city's Pilsen neighborhood that houses the station and another museum youth program, Yollocalli Arts Reach.
"The funding, especially in radio, is going south," Tortolero said. "We have a building that's costing us money. We tried to borrow some money to do some things and [banks] are saying, 'No, no. You can't.' The banks are looking at us and saying, 'Hey, you have to get rid of some of this stuff.'"
Tortolero is meeting with potential buyers of the license. Those include Chicago Public Media, the parent of WBEZ. The museum has also brought a real-estate appraiser through the building. Tortolero said the museum, which launched both youth programs in 1997, plans to continue them.
But his moves have sparked opposition from some current and former Radio Arte volunteers. They say they're forming a cooperative to try to buy the station.
"We want to keep the frequency, name, license and transmitter," said Martín Macías Jr., 22, who produces a weekly news show for the station.
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
The Illinois Statehouse was crowded with people Wednesday, speaking out against proposed budget cuts.
Union members in purple T-shirts are angry about possible cuts to home health care and pension benefits. Mayors in gray suits and power ties oppose any move to reduce their share of income tax money.
Danville Mayor Scott Eisenhauer said his city has already cut 72 positions, and reduced its budget by millions, the proposed income tax reductions would mean an additional 11-to-18 jobs lost. He says that means across the board reductions in areas like public works, safety, and local development.
"Services that will impact the quality of life that our citizens currently enjoy," Eisenhauer said. "And more importantly, services that, by their reduction or cut, will really make it even more difficult for us to go and attract new business, new industry, or new families coming into our community."
Meanwhile. nursing home employees and residents delivered petitions to Governor Pat Quinn's office Wednesday. All those groups and more say their funds are too important to cut. But they're not offering any suggestions on how state officials could avoid cuts and still balance the budget. Three different Illinois budget plans are being considered. All of them would include service cuts, but the amounts vary.
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