Illinois Public Media News
A pair of Illinois men and a gun rights group have sued the state to try to force it to allow concealed weapons. The lawsuit comes eight days after legislation to allow state residents to carry hidden guns failed.
The lawsuit was filed Thursday in federal court by former corrections officer Michael Moore of Champaign, farmer Charles Hooks of Percy in southeastern Illinois and the Bellevue, Wash.-based Second Amendment Foundation.
They argue Illinois' prohibition against concealed weapons violates the U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment and what they see as Americans' right to carry guns for self-defense.
Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office said she's reviewing the lawsuit.
On May 5 the state House voted down the bill to allow concealed guns. Illinois and Wisconsin are the only states that ban concealed weapons.
Schools, college scholarships and health care for the poor would face sharp cuts under a budget approved Friday by the Illinois House in a rare show of cooperation between Democrats and Republicans.
Meanwhile, partisan battles continued at full force in the Senate.
Democrats approved budget measures without giving Republicans a chance to review them. Republicans complained loudly and accused Democrats of spending more than Illinois can afford.
"What you offer is an increase in spending," said Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine. "It guarantees that we will borrow yet again to pay our bills."
Although both the House and Senate passed new state budgets, there are major differences between the two versions. Gov. Pat Quinn has his own proposal, too.
Reaching a deal that can pass both legislative chambers and get the governor's signature could still prove challenging.
"I don't expect that this budget will be the final spending plan," Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, said shortly after House members voted for painful cuts to state services. "We're not sending any ultimatums by the adoption of this budget today."
The House plan would spend about $25.2 billion from the state's general account for the budget year that begins July 1. That's about $600 million, or 2.4 percent, below the current budget.
It would achieve that reduction mostly by cutting education and human services.
State support for schools would fall by about $169 million, or 2.4 percent. The Monetary Award Program would lose $17 million for college scholarships, a 4.2 percent cut. In human services, Medicaid bills would be paid more slowly, many would be trimmed 1 percent and administrative spending would drop $181 million.
"There was a lot of hand-wringing and a lot of tears" in the appropriations committee that set those amounts, said Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago. "We can go home to our communities and say, 'We done our job, we cut the budget.'"
Some legislators felt the cuts went too far.
The House version of the budget is about $1 billion smaller than the version approved by the Senate on Friday and $2 billion below Quinn's proposal.
A key difference between the House and Senate plans is in revenue projections. Senate Democrats are counting on state government taking in about $1 billion more than the House estimates it will. That additional money allows the Senate to avoid deep human service cuts.
Champaign School Board President Sue Grey says she doesn't mind if the search for a new school superintendent is a lengthy one.
Grey said the process of finding a permanent successor to replace Arthur Culver could take anywhere from four to nine months, beginning in July. At a news conference Friday, Grey said she wants the search process to be open and transparent, with as much public input as possible.
Toward that end, Grey said the public will be invited to send in comments about what qualities a new superintendent should have --- through the Unit Four website. She also hopes to see a series of informal meetings with community members.
"We hope that we can do this in a relaxed, informal way," Grey said. "Where we can just have conversation and learn from you all, what it is that you feel is in the best interest of the district, as far as what superintendent --- what you would like to see."
Grey said the Unit Four school board will also be taking applications to serve on a search committee to oversee the search for a new superintendent --- the deadline to apply is June 15th. Grey said the board will decide within a month on an interim superintendent to take over when Arthur Culver steps down at the end of June. That person will be someone from outside the district.
Grey said the school board has decided to look at retired superintendents in the area, instead of Unit Four employees who carry the required superintendents' certification. She said putting a current employee into the superintendent's post on a short-term basis would be too disruptive.
"You take that person, and you move them out of the key position that they are serving within the district, and then you have to find someone to plug their hole, and so forth and so on," Grey said. "We felt that it was in the best interests of the district to get a candidate in as an interim that could just help us keep the ship sailing smoothly and on course."
Grey said the Unit Four School Board is reviewing a list --- provided by the Illinois Association of School Boards --- of retired superintendents in the area who would be willing to return to work on an interim basis. She said the school board expects to discuss the issue in executive session on May 16th, and make a choice on an interim superintendent in the first half of June.
The interim superintendent will take over for the departing Arthur Culver on July 1st. Grey said the Champaign school board would then begin its search for someone to take the job on a permanent basis.
A company that closed a plant in Coles County two years ago is coming back.
Houston-based NCI Building Systems, Inc. operated a plant in Mattoon for about 20 years until it was forced to close in 2009 because of downturns in the economy.
The company manufactures insulated wall systems for large commercial and industrial developments.
Angela Griffin, the president of Coles Together, said the closure left a dent in the community by eliminating about 45-to-50 jobs. She said many of those workers have been able to find new jobs within the last couple of years.
"There may still be some that are on unemployment, and hopefully they can reach back to those people and get them," Griffin said.
She said the company's return is about a $20 million investment in the community, which she estimates will initially lead to about 25 new jobs.
Mattoon beat out four other sites outside of Illinois to host the plant.
"We thought we had lost them for good," she said. "Their industry had taken a big hit, and they had vacant buildings in other states. We thought it was a slim chance that they would bring production back to Central Illinois. So, we were very pleased.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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