Illinois Public Media News
A panel appointed by the Champaign County Board last fall has met its deadline to approve a new map consisting of 11 board districts for the 2012 elections, but the design could be rejected next month.
The county's Redistricting Commission reviewed six designs. It was allowed to forward multiple maps, but only the one known as '1-E' was approved on a seven-to-four vote. Backers say it maintains communities of interest, setting aside a 'majority minority district', or 60-percent African-American and Hispanic residents. But opponents say '1-E' lacks compact and contiguous districts, especially north and west of Champaign, where District 5 would take up much of the area.
An attempt by commission member and County Board Democrat Michael Richards to submit his own map was defeated eight to three. That was after Commission Chair and former Republican State Senator Rick Winkel suggested the incumbent had an ulterior motive on the independent panel.
"It's not your fault, Mr. Richards," he said. "But you are an incumbent member of the county board and a member of a political partisan caucus, and you are shifting lines here. It is reasonable for a member of the public to infer that you may have considered whether voters in a newly drawn district will re-elect you."
County Board Democrat and commission member Alan Kurtz took exception to Winkel's comment, calling it "the most partisan statement I've heard to date on this commission."
Richards said the approved "1-E" design will need some tweaking, but isn't sure how the county board will vote.
"It seems like everybody pretty much has the same idea about who should be in the same district," he said. "But I think, especially on things like the compactness of the maps, some of the others were okay. But I think that they require more from the commission if we're going to put them through. But again, I can't say what a majority of the county board is going to feel on the maps."
Designs 1E, 4D, and 5B were submitted by the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission, and tweaked by Redistricting Commission. Two other failed maps were submitted by commission member Augustus Hallmon, and former Democratic County Board Candidate Eric Thorsland.
The board will discuss the map on April 26th, and is expected to vote on it May 3rd.
Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing said she believes her role on a state panel that sets training guidelines for police and correctional officers could help save a University of Illinois facility with the same purpose.
Prussing was named Tuesday by Governor Pat Quinn to the state's Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board. She said a top priority in the post is to find sustainable financing for the U of I's Police Training Institute.
Last fall, a faculty panel suggested the institute close by this December, saying there wasn't justification to spend the $900,000 annually to train officers on campus. Prussing said that created a backlash, and suggests the facility could be maintained in a fashion similar to an insurance fee enacted by the Illinois Fire Service Institute at the U of I.
"Which all makes sense because you train firefighters, and when they can do fire prevention, that affects the insurance industry," Prussing said. "So it all kind of ties together. I think something similar needs to be done for police. Because obviously, police play a vital role in making society livable for everybody."
Last fall, Mahomet House Republican Chapin Rose suggested a surcharge on those convicted of certain crimes could go to towards funding the Institute. He said a bill supporting that idea has generated more talk among area lawmakers this spring. The legislator said he has a long-term vision for the facility.
"If we're going to do PTI and keep it, I want it to be the best darn training academy in the world, " Rose said. "We should have other countries sending their police cadets and their police officers and their police leadership here to be trained."
The U of I is expected to make a formal pitch for sustaining the training center soon. Prussing met Wednesday with U of I Police Chief Barbara O'Connor and Interim Chancellor Robert Easter to discuss options.
A defiant ex-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich says prosecutors are trying to prevent his lawyers from proving his innocence at his upcoming corruption retrial.
Blagojevich stood outside his house Wednesday declaring his innocence and blasting prosecutors for objecting in advance to lines of questioning the defense wants to pursue.
It was a virtual replay of what he did on the eve of his corruption trial last year. Blagojevich was convicted on just one of 24 counts - lying to the FBI.
Blagojevich's retrial begins next week. And neither prosecutors nor defense lawyers have given any indication they'd be willing to cut a plea deal that would render a trial unnecessary.
The 54-year-old faces 20 charges, including that he sought to sell or trade President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat.
(AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato, File)
The beating death of a mentally disabled man living in a group home, and the disclosure that officials knew the home was unsafe, could lead to increased protection of people with disabilities.
The Illinois House voted 115-0 Wednesday to toughen oversight of group homes. Abuse allegations would trigger state reviews. New managers could be brought in to run unsafe homes. Employees would undergo periodic background checks. More inspection records and abuse reports would be available to the public.
The measure now goes to the Senate.
The legislation was inspired by the death of 42-year-old Paul McCann, who was beaten to death in January at a group home in Charleston.
Two of the home's employees have been charged with murder, accused of kicking and punching McCann for 45 minutes because he stole food. They have pleaded not guilty.
McCann "did not deserve to be beaten to death because he took a cookie without permission," Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, told his fellow legislators. "Ladies and gentlemen, you heard me correctly. He was beaten to death by an employee of this home who was entrusted with his care because he took a cookie without permission."
Records obtained by The Associated Press show Illinois officials knew residents had been abused at the network of group homes that included McCann's facility.
Conditions at homes run by the nonprofit Graywood Foundation were "totally unacceptable," according to a 2009 memo an Illinois investigator wrote.
The memo was written almost a year after murder charges were filed against two employees in the 2008 death of Dustin Higgins, another resident who lived in a Graywood group home.
The state eventually stopped them from admitting new residents, but the families of people already living at the homes say they had no idea about the problems.
Illinois now has 9,300 adults with developmental disabilities living in group homes, family homes and apartments run by more than 200 community agencies.
The group homes, known as CILAs for "community integrated living arrangements," are likely to be used more widely in Illinois after a lawsuit over the civil rights of adults with disabilities.
The Illinois Republican Primary is 11 months away, but Carol Pope isn't waiting until the last minute.
The Illinois Appellate Justice from Petersburg announced this week she will run for a full term in the 4th Appellate District.
"I wanted to get an early start, get going," Pope said. "I'm a hard-working person, I'm organized; and I wanted to get out there and start meeting all the people in the whole 4th District."
The 57-year-old Pope said her experience as both a trial judge in Menard County and appellate justice in the 4th District have given her a good perspective on her work.
"In my county, I was the only sitting circuit judge," Pope explained. "So I heard everything. I did the traffic calls, I did the felonies, I did the misdemeanors, I did the divorces, I did the civil work. And then on the appellate court - what we do, we have 30 counties in the 4th appellate district, and we hear all of the appeals from the trial courts in those 30 counties."
Prior to becoming a judge, Pope served six years as Menard County State's Attorney. She was appointed to the circuit court in 1991, and elected the following year.
Pope was appointed to the Appellate Court in 2008. She's running for a seat now held by appointed Justice Robert Cook, who is not running. Cook came out of retirement last month to fill the vacancy created when Justice Sue Myerscough was appointed to U.S. District Court.
Illinois' 4th Appellate Court District covers 30 counties from Indiana to Missouri, including Champaign, Vermilion, McLean, Macon, Piatt, Ford, Sangamon and Douglas.
A newspaper wants the judge in former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's upcoming retrial to order that government and defense lawyers make recently sealed filings public.
Attorneys for the Chicago Tribune have filed a motion in U.S. District Court making that request. It cites constitutional rights to access the information.
Blagojevich's second corruption trial is set to start next Wednesday. And both sides have filed more than a dozen sealed motions or sealed responses to motions in recent months. They've also filed many motions that aren't sealed.
The Tribune's late Tuesday motion says both sides have "indiscriminately filed documents wholly under seal, without overcoming the strong presumption of public access.''
Judge James Zagel could rule on the matter as soon as Thursday at a scheduled status hearing in the case.
When a worker is injured on the job, Illinois has a system in place to determine if, and how, a company should compensate its employee. But businesses say the workers compensation system is out of date and abused. They're campaigning for a major overhaul of the process. They may succeed. At a meeting of local chambers of commerce and independent business owners on Tuesday, April 12 in Springfield, Governor Pat Quinn and leaders in the Illinois General Assembly said changing the status quo is a top tier goal. But as Illinois Public Radio's Amanda Vinicky reports, it's a politically dicey task, considering the push backfrom unions, trial lawyers, and doctors.
Businesses that have been clamoring for a redo of the workers compensation system liked much of what they heard from the state's political leaders who say it's also their priority. Chamber of commerce members and independent businesses owners met in Springfield on Tuesday.
Businesses say the workers compensation system is so expensive and abused ... companies don't want to locate in Illinois.
Governor Pat Quinn appears to have gotten the message.
"We've got to take on the need to reform our workers compensation system," Quinn said to applause from the gathering. "We can do it."
Another Democrat, Senate President John Cullerton, called it the most important piece of legislation that can be passed this spring to improve the state's business climate.
"We must act immediately to bring that system under control and make it competitive with that of other states," Cullerton said.
The GOP's General Assembly leaders signaled their support too.
"We need a dramatic overhaul of workers' comp," Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno said.
But Cullerton told the business leaders there's not enough support to pass any plan right now. He said it will take compromise to win approval from powerful interest groups representing trial lawyers, hospitals, unions and businesses. He said that a plan by Governor Quinn to cut costs and professionalize practices is a good first step, noting there is room for compromise on a key dispute ... whether employees should prove injuries were caused by their current job.
Businesses say paying for work-related injuries is too costly.
There will still be an event Wednesday night in Clinton to discuss a plan to store toxic substances in the city's landfill.
But the purpose of the event has shifted from an environmental hearing to an informational meeting hosted by a concerned citizens' group. The U.S. EPA had postponed the hearing Friday night out of concerns that the federal government would shut down, and has yet to reschedule.
The owners of Clinton Landfill are seeking a permit to allow for the storage of toxic substances called PCB's. A group called WATCH, or We Are Against Toxic Chemicals, is afraid they could eventually leak from the landfill, threatening the Mahomet Aquifer.
Group President George Wissmiller said he has had his share of questions over the proposal the past few years.
"There apparently is no agency that can react to the idea that this is just a bad idea," he said. "It's irresponsible to dump PCB's on top of the water supply for 750,000 people. But if the U.S. EPA regulations and the Illinois EPA regs and everybody else's regs allow it, they're going to do it in spite of the fact that it doesn't make any sense."
Wissmiller said members had already promoted the hearing, and didn't want residents showing up, only to find that Clinton High School was locked. He said Wednesday night's main function will be to tell the public that there are ways to block the plan locally.
"If local government has an ordinance or a regulation that limits dumping of this particular type of waste, the federal government can't permit the hauler to violate that ordinance," he said. "So they are, in fact, restricted by local ordinances."
Wissmiller said the group could also enact a DeWitt County ordinance that stipulates how landfills are set up. The informational meeting runs from 6 to 8 Wednesday night at Clinton High School, with an open house starting at 5 PM.
The head of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees says higher education in the state must do a better job forging relationships with business and political leaders.
Board Chairman Chris Kennedy says in the two years he's been a trustee, the university has begun reaching out more to those in business and government. Kennedy is in charge of Chicago's Merchandise Mart. He says the U of I has to show the impact investments in higher education can make on the economy. He adds colleges and universities in Illinois have failed to successfully convey the message. Kennedy says too few business leaders even know the names of Presidents and trustees at the state's colleges and universities.
"Even if we could name them, we probably haven't received a call or opened an invitation from them to join in building a relationship with someone like Duck Durbin or Mark Kirk," Kennedy said. "These university leaders are not pushing the business leaders to become engaged with federal officials or to try to improve funding for the research institutions in our state."
Kennedy says that lack of coordinated effort has had a devastating effect on the ability to garner a larger share of federal research dollars. He made his remarks at the University' Springfield campus.
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