Illinois Public Media News
Indiana's House of Representatives is entering its second day at a standstill as House Democrats dig in against a divisive labor bill.
Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma and House Democratic Leader Patrick Bauer spoke briefly for the first time since Democrats announced Wednesday that they were stalling business in the chamber because of the labor bill.
Bosma spokeswoman Tory Flynn said the two spoke Thursday morning during a taping for a television program but didn't agree on a meeting to resume work.
Bauer said Wednesday his party members would stall business until Bosma agrees to more public hearings on "right-to-work'' legislation.
That proposal to bar unions from collecting mandatory fees from all workers at a private business drew hundreds of union protesters to the Statehouse on Wednesday's opening day.
Gov. Pat Quinn has signed into law pension reforms aimed at fixing some loopholes in the system.
The law takes effect immediately. It aims to end the practice of so-called double dipping for public employees.
In some cases, employees took leaves to work for their unions but continued to build benefits in government pension systems based on union pay.
The law also closes a loophole made possible by a 2007 law that allowed two lobbyists for the Illinois Federation of Teachers to qualify for teachers' retirement benefits by spending a single day teaching.
Quinn signed the bill Thursday. Illinois House Republican Leader Tom Cross was a sponsor of the bill. He says the law means that pension abuses can't run rampant.
The law doesn't address Illinois' grossly underfunded pension system.
It's a new year with a new legislative session, but an all-too-familiar story is recurring in the Indiana Statehouse, at least from the Republican viewpoint: House Democrats once again held up any work because they oppose a GOP proposal to make Indiana a right-to-work state.
Wednesday was to have been the start of the new legislative session, but House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) couldn't even call the session to order. While Republicans were ready and seated, only a few Democrats arrived to the chambers as the roll call was read about 12:30 p.m. CT.
A Democratic representative told Bosma that the party was caucusing, but something else was actually going on - Democrats were staying away.
Democratic House leader Patrick Bauer of South Bend described the action as a filibuster, not a protest or a walkout.
"We refuse to let the most controversial public policy bill of the decade be railroaded through with the public being denied their fair and adequate input," Bauer said. "What's the urgency? Are they ignoring the public input? They have not made the case that Indiana is in dire need of an anti-paycheck bill."
Bauer said unless GOP leaders agree to hold hearings throughout the state on the right-to-work bill, Democrats won't be coming back anytime soon.
"The public needs to be informed. The process [by the Republicans] is to avoid the public," Bauer said.
Bauer said the Democrats plan to remain in the Indiana Statehouse, unlike last year, when they fled to Urbana, Illinois. They returned some five weeks later, when Republican leaders abandoned their right-to-work proposals.
House Speaker Brian Bosma, a Republican, said Democrats shouldn't expect the same outcome.
"That was an accommodation that was made last year," Bosma said. "This is the number one jobs issue that we can address this session and the number one issue is jobs. These are middle class jobs that we're talking about. It's about personal freedom."
If adopted, right-to-work legislation would prohibit an employer from forcing an employee to pay union dues as a condition of employment if a union is already in place. About two dozen states, mostly outside the industrial Midwest, now have such laws in place. Democrats say the bill would undermine unions that, by federal law, must represent all employees - even ones who are not union members and pay no dues.
Wedneseday's action drew thousands of pro-union representatives to the Indiana Statehouse, many of whom chanted down Republicans and hailed Democratic efforts.
"It's a shame to think that we're going to lose our benefits and our health insurance," said Chris Roark, a Teamster union member from Gary, Indiana. "They think this bill is going to help Indiana. It's not going to help Indiana."
Northwest Indiana's Democratic contingent opposes the bill. They're joined by at least one Republican House member from the region: Ed Soliday of Valparaiso.
"I will vote against it," Soliday said. "I don't see what we get for it. I'm not convinced of what I've seen. I don't provoke labor. There's no point. I have an honest disagreement with some of my colleagues."
Republican Speaker Bosma tried three times Wednesday afternoon to gavel the House into order, but each time no more than five of the 40 Democratic members were on the floor.
Bosma said he'll try to have the House meet again Thursday.
Myke Henry made one of two free throws with 6 seconds left and Meyers Leonard blocked a shot just before the buzzer as Illinois pulled out a 57-56 victory over Northwestern on Wednesday night.
Leonard hit a free throw with 29 seconds left to put the Illini up 56-54, but Northwestern's Drew Crawford tied it on a tip with 17 seconds remaining.
After Brandon Paul drove but couldn't connect, Henry was fouled on a rebound follow-up. He made one free throw but missed the second.
Crawford rebounded and tried to drive the length of the floor, but the 7-foot-1 Leonard swatted the shot away. Leonard led the Illini (13-3, 2-1 Big Ten) with 12 points. Paul and Joseph Bertrand added 10 each.
Shurna, the Big Ten's leading scorer at 18.6 for Northwestern (11-4, 1-2), had 17 first-half points but just the three in the second under tough defense from Paul.
A federal grand jury has indicted former NFL wide receiver Sam Hurd on drug conspiracy and possession charges after he and another man were accused of trying to establish a drug-dealing network.
The indictment Wednesday accuses Hurd and codefendant Toby Lujan on single counts of cocaine possession and conspiracy to possess cocaine. It also seeks forfeiture of $88,000 in cash by Lujan and a 2010 Cadillac Escalade by Hurd.
If convicted, both could be sentenced to 10 years to life in prison. Hurd was arrested Dec. 14 outside a Chicago steakhouse after authorities said he agreed to buy a kilogram of cocaine from an undercover agent. The Chicago Bears cut the former Dallas Cowboys receiver Dec. 16, two days after his arrest.
The Illinois Department of Transportation is getting $186 million for its high-speed rail project.
U.S. Transportation Secretary LaHood awarded the money to IDOT on Wednesday. LaHood's office says the cash will be used to extend construction of the rail corridor to Joliet. That'll allow for 110-mph service along nearly 70 percent of the route.
Construction is already under way on the Chicago-St. Louis rail corridor. Work on the extension to Joliet will begin this spring.
LaHood says the Department of Transportation has invested more than $1 billion to create high-speed rail service in the Great Lakes-Midwest region. He says the project will ultimately reduce travel times and congestion while creating jobs and increasing business opportunities.
Ameren is disputing news reports that its latest filing for electric delivery rates in Illinois amounts to a rate hike.
But spokesman Leigh Morris said some customers would see an increase in delivery rates, but not others. He says this is the first rate application Ameren is seeking in connection with an upgrade of the electric grid --- and he said it's based on a new formula that accepts a lower return on equity and accounts for lower interest rates.
"This is based on actual spending," Morris said. "There's not forecasting involved with this. And this rate case will result in an overall reduction of approximately $19 million. That's an annual number."
However, Morris said customers in Ameren Illinois' Rate Zone Two - the former CILCO territory - will see an increase in rates. He said the other two zones, which serve former Illinois Power and CIPS customers, would see modest decreases in their rates.
But a spokesman with the Citizens Utility Board said there's more to the latest Ameren rate case than an initial change in rates. Jim Chilsen said the Ameren filing also sets the stage for Ameren's rate structure throughout the rollout of the improved electrical grid.
"Consumer advocates need to get involved, and need to make sure that Ameren is sticking to the law and that Ameren is being fair to consumers," Chilsen said. "And this is one of the biggest cases that we'll ever deal with, because it's determining what this formula will be that will determine rates for up to the next decade."
Morris said the rate filing with the Illinois Commerce Commission replaces a rate hike request filed last February. The new filing covers the first $17 million of what will eventually be $625 million in electric grid improvements over the next decade. If approved, the new rates should take effect in October.
Morris said consumers will be able to learn how the rate request would affect their personal electric bills starting Feb. 1. He said Ameren customers will be able to use the online rate estimator at IllinoisRateFaces.com, or call Ameren Customer Service at 1-800-755-5000.
The Indiana House speaker Wednesday called off what would have been the first day of the new legislative session after most House Democrats remained behind closed doors to discuss their response to a "right-to-work" bill pushed by majority Republicans.
Republican Speaker Brian Bosma tried three times Wednesday afternoon to gavel the House into order, but each time no more than five of the 40 Democratic members were on the floor.
Bosma says he'll try to have the House meet on Thursday, but that a Democratic boycott won't lead to Republicans backing off on the measure.
"This summer, economic development experts, the folks responsible for attracting employers here, told us that between a third and a half of employers that are looking to put something someplace are leaving Indiana off the table because we're not a right-to-work state," Bosma said.
House Democratic Leader Patrick Bauer says the party's lawmakers will stay out until the GOP meets a demand for more public hearings on the bill.
"We refuse to let the most controversial public policy bill of the decade be railroaded through with the public being denied their fair and adequate input," he said. "What's the urgency? Are they ignoring the public input? They have not made the case to the public that Indiana is in dire need of an anti-paycheck bill."
Last spring, most Democrats spent more than a month in a hotel in Urbana, partially out of protest over the same legislation. Indianapolis Rep. Vanessa Summers, when asked how long her fellow Democrats would remain behind closed doors, replied, "Two hours, 10 hours, 12 hours, who knows?''
Bosma asked her to have Bauer contact him.
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Radio)
The leader of Indiana's House Democrats hinted Wednesday that party lawmakers may walk out for the second year in a row to oppose the same Republican "right-to-work" bill blocked last year by their five-week boycott.
House Democratic Leader Patrick Bauer told The Associated Press that his caucus plans to meet Wednesday to debate how to handle the GOP proposal that would make Indiana the 23rd state to bar businesses and private unions from mandating that workers pay union fees for representation.
Bauer led the walkout last year. But new fines and lawmakers concerned about re-election in 2012 have made the group wary of another. A few hours before the session started, Bauer referenced the U.S. Senate's filibuster as the minority party's best tool for taking on the majority. He said a similar effort in Indiana would require the vast majority of his caucus to act in unison.
"Here it takes a caucus of at least a substantial minority," he said in an interview.
After Democrats walked out last year, House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, and his Senate counterpart, Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, passed new fines of $1,000 a day on each lawmaker who leaves the Statehouse for more than three days in a row.
House Democrats could also decide to stay meeting in their caucus room indefinitely, effectively denying Republicans the numbers needed to conduct business without actually leaving the state. It is unclear, though, whether that would be as effective in blocking the "right-to-work" bill.
Bosma said Tuesday he had not taken a tally, but is confident he can lock in the votes he needs to pass the measure.
Indiana's Senate Democrats lack the numbers needed to block the measure in their chamber - Indiana's Senate has no filibuster - where they are outnumbered by Republicans 37-13. Thus the focus has been squarely on the House Democrats.
Bosma and Long set a Friday hearing for both the Senate and House versions of the "right-to-work" bill. The respective measures will move through both chambers simultaneously.
"We have options so that we can react to whatever Rep. Bauer and his team have planned," Bosma said Tuesday.
A last-ditch option for House Democrats is trying to sway at least 10 Republicans to their side. Republicans hold a 60-40 majority in the House and would need at least 51 votes to pass the measure.
The Indiana AFL-CIO has been airing TV and radio ads targeting Republicans who may be vulnerable in the 2012 elections if they vote in favor "right to work." Bosma and Gov. Mitch Daniels have been airing their own ads throughout the state in support of the measure, and the National Right to Work Committee has sent staffers to the state to build grass-roots support for the measure.
Indiana's legislative session will be short this year - it's expected to last until March - but judging by the political tone set before the start of the session Wednesday, the debate will be furious.
The Republican leadership, as well as Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels, have already vowed to make so-called right-to-work legislation the centerpiece of their agenda - a move that's already stirred an uproar among Hoosier Democrats. If approved, the legislation would prohibit companies from making employees pay dues to a union as a condition of employment.
The GOP attempted to push the issue through the General Assembly in 2010, but Hoosier Democratic state representatives scuttled debate by fleeing Indiana and holing up in Illinois for more than a month.
Indiana Legislative Insight Publisher Ed Feigenbaum does not expect such a boycott this time.
"I think there will be a number of parliamentary maneuvers that Democrats will employ that will be to their strategic advantage that will show their displeasure," he said.
Those maneuvers could include delays in showing up for quorum calls or otherwise disrupting business without leaving the Statehouse.
Supporters of current right-to-work proposals say Indiana needs such a law to attract businesses. Democrats say the move is an attempt to hurt organized labor and that such laws in other states have driven down wages.
Pro-union supporters say they want to get a jump on the debate and are expected to flood the Statehouse Wednesday afternoon, but they may encounter resistance. State police last week announced a new 3,000-person cap on the number of people allowed inside the Statehouse at any given time.
Unions quickly shot back, calling the limit a move by Daniels' administration to stifle debate.
Republican Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman said Tuesday that the rules don't discriminate against anyone, and that the limit is based on public safety concerns. He added that the limits will be evaluated daily.
Aside from union legislation, lawmakers are also expected to again consider a statewide smoking ban, legislation that failed to get past the committee level in 2011. Supporters want such a ban to be implemented in time for the Super Bowl, which will be hosted in Indianapolis next month.
A statewide smoking ban has been sought by Indiana state Rep. Charlie Brown (D-Gary) for years without success.
With no budget to approve, this session is considered the "short session" and must be completed by March 14.
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