Illinois Public Media News
The League of Women Voters of Illinois is asking a federal court to order a big change in the highly political, once-a-decade redistricting process. It's the latest suit tied to Illinois' new boundaries for congressional and state legislative districts.
The League last year tried to change how Illinois draws the boundaries, but its petition drive to get a proposal on the ballot came up short. Now the group is asking the courts to get involved.
In its lawsuit, the League claims its members' First Amendment rights were violated when Democratic leaders took into account party identification while drawing the maps. The lawsuit says this "unlawfully attempt[s] to control or influence the kinds of views, opinions and speech that residents placed in those districts are likely to express or hear or receive."
Illinois Republicans, who have a lot to lose if the Democratic-drawn maps stand, have also asked the courts to get involved.
But the League's lawsuit notes both parties have engaged in partisan gerrymandering in the past and wants the court to order a new process driven by "impartial" decision-makers.
But the League's president, Jan Dorner, acknowledged on that such a change may not be possible before next year's election.
The body of a 29-year-old Chicagoan killed at the Indiana State Fair when a stage collapsed last Saturday night will be released to a family member and buried later this week in New York City.
An official with the Marion County, Indiana coroner's office said an aunt of Christina Santiago will be given the body.
Santiago had been at the state fair to watch a concert put on by the country band, Sugarland. Santiago was accompanied by her domestic partner, Alisha Brennon.
A fierce storm with strong winds reaching 70 mph toppled the stage just moments before Sugarland walked on stage.
Santiago was among the five victims who died following the stage's collapse. Brennon, who was critically injured during the incident, was listed in fair condition in the intensive care unit at Wishard Memorial Hospital in Indianapolis as of Tuesday afternoon, according to a hospital spokesman. Dozens more people were also injured Saturday. Several remain in hospitals in the Indianapolis area.
Santiago, a native of the Bronx, was the manager for the Lesbian Community Care Project at the Howard Brown Health Center in Chicago.
According to the center's website, a service will be held in New York on Thursday. She will be buried at St. Raymond's Cemetery in the Bronx this Friday.
The Bilerico Project, a Washington, DC -based website featuring news about the lesbian and gay community, created controversy Tuesday after it reported that Brennon had tried to claim Santiago's body from the Marion County Coroner's Office, but the office "refused" to release the body to her. The website cited Indiana's Defense of Marriage Act as the reason for the denial.
The implication was that Brennon and Santiago's relationship, which is protected by Illinois' domestic partnership law, was not being honored by Indiana officials. Indiana law prohibits same-sex marriage and domestic partnerships. Backers of that law also aim to solidify that rule in the state's constitution.
The Bilerico piece has made the rounds across the Internet, but according to a top coroner official in the office, "there was no issue."
"The wife (Brennon) never contacted us to claim the body so she was never denied that opportunity," said Alfarea Ballew, chief deputy coroner of the Marion County Coroner's Office. "The wife is still hospitalized. We're working with the friends and aunt (of Santiago) to release the body. I've never talked to anybody denying the wife that opportunity."
In an interview with Chicago Public Media on Tuesday afternoon, Ballew said the office has never encountered a situation involving the spouse claiming a body of a same-sex loved one.
"Still," Ballew said, "I'm surprised it's being put out that way. That's not how we would address that kind of issue. We release the body to the next of kin. Christina's aunt was listed as the next of kin. The aunt signed off on paperwork and everything is moving forward with the wife."
The Howard Brown Health Center released a statement Tuesday: "Howard Brown Health Center is working with Amigas Latinas as well as friends and family of Christina and Alisha to host a memorial service in Chicago. As so many of us grieve this tragic and sudden loss, let us patiently and respectfully await the wishes of Christina's family, that of Alisha and all of their friends and loved ones to finalize arrangements in privacy."
An ongoing investigation will address questions about whether fair and concert officials should have taken action to evacuate the outdoor venue sooner. One issue is whether staff should have heeded storm warnings that came in at least an hour prior to the concert.
The Indiana State Fair reopened to the public Monday following a memorial service lead by Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels.
Fair officials announced that scheduled concerts featuring Janet Jackson and Lady Antebellum were canceled because the main stage area where the incident happened will not be used for the remainder of the fair, which runs through Sunday.
A concert featuring Train and Maroon 5 set for Thursday will be moved from the fairgrounds to Conseco Fieldhouse. Proceeds from those performances will help the victims.
Meanwhile, Sugarland announced it will soon hold a private memorial in Indianapolis to honor the fans.
Sugarland canceled an appearance in Iowa this week but will resume its tour with a concert Thursday in Albuquerque.
"The emotions have us yearning to be close to each other immediately. The logistics have us needing to replace all of our instruments and equipment," the band stated on its web site. "The set is a loss that is insignificant in light of the tragedy."
Singer Sara Bareilles, who performed on the stage just before it collapsed, released a statement: "The accident at the Indiana State Fair felt like a bad dream. My heart aches for the lives lost or injured as well as their families. We will do whatever we possibly can to help heal the hurt from this very sad day.
A former Chicago police commander imprisoned for lying about the torture of suspects decades ago is still costing the cash-strapped city money.
That's because Chicago is defending itself and former police Lt. Jon Burge against civil lawsuits from men who claim Burge and his men beat, suffocated and shocked confessions out of them.
Six lawsuits are pending that accuse Chicago officers of torturing suspects _ almost all of them black or Latino_ into giving confessions from the 1970s to the 1990s.
The city's stance has long been that it would defend itself vigorously against any such lawsuits. However, Mayor Rahm Emanuel told the Chicago Sun-Times for a story published Tuesday that he's working toward settling them.
Burge-related cases already have cost the city an estimated $43 million.
The Illinois Department of Revenue has denied property tax exemptions to hospitals in Decatur, Chicago, and Naperville in a move that signals the state's plans to get tough on nonprofit hospitals that operate more like businesses than charities.
At stake are millions of dollars in tax revenue that the hospitals could contribute to cities, parks and schools.
Revenue Department officials tell The Associated Press that the hospitals were informed today. The three are: Decatur Memorial Hospital in Decatur, Northwestern Memorial's Prentice Women's Hospital in Chicago, and Edward Hospital in Naperville.
The hospitals can ask an administrative law judge to review the decisions.
Illinois' Supreme Court ruled last year that Urbana-based Provena Covenant Medical Center wasn't doing enough free or discounted treatment of the poor to qualify for a tax exemption.
A legislative panel has voted 8-1 to authorize the state to negotiate health insurance contract extensions through the end of June 2012.
All vendors providing health insurance coverage for state workers, including Urbana-based Health Alliance, will be able to negotiate nine-month extensions following Tuesday's decision by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA). State Senator and COGFA member Mike Frerichs said the extension should provide relief for a lot of people.
"I think for now the legislature has done its part," Frerichs said. "It's now up to the health insurance providers, and the (Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services) to work out the terms of the deal."
Orland Park House Democrat Kevin McCarthy cast the only dissenting vote.
The state health contracts have been operating for the last few months under a 90-day extension that is due to expire at the end of September. A state appellate court recently upheld a Sangamon County judge's ruling, preventing the state from moving ahead with new health contracts for state employees and retirees. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn's administration has argued the so-called 'open access' plans will save the state about $100 million a year.
"We are very happy to been given the opportunity to negotiate a longer-term contract to continue serving state workers and their families," Health Alliance CEO Jeff Ingrum said in a statement. "Every day we receive calls from our state members wanting to know if they'll be able to stay with Health Alliance."
But insurers may not get a rate increase from the state over what they're getting currently. In addressing the panel Tuesday, Ingrum compared his provider's rates with that of another provider.
"We are looking at the rate increase and just seeing in this environment to extend a rate from FY 11 to a full year," he said. "If that would be the ultimate terms, it would be a bit unreasonable given the fact that Blue Cross (Blue Shield) got an increase."
Print reports indicate Ingrum is seeking a rate hike of around 5-percent. A company spokeswoman, Jane Hayes, said she understands the state's needs to save money by dropping Health Alliance. However, she said she has a great deal of confidence that Health Alliance will be able to reach a deal with the state.
State Senator Shane Cultra (R-Onarga) praised the vote by COGFA.
"Finally, thousands of central Illinoisans can breathe a sigh of relief," Cultra said in a statement. "We must fix the current process now, so we are not sitting here next May without a permanent solution in place for the 100,000 state workers and retirees who have faced this uncertainty since this process began."
The state is scheduled to argue before a Sangamon County judge later this week to argue whether COGFA has the authority to extend the current health insurance contract. However, Sen. Frerichs said Gov. Quinn's office recently filed a motion to dismiss that case.
A convicted influence peddler remains on track to be sentenced weeks after his one-time benefactor, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Prosecutors said at a status hearing Tuesday that they want to stick with an Oct. 21 sentencing date for Tony Rezko.
The government has portrayed Rezko as the ultimate insider who pulled strings in Blagojevich's administration.
A jury convicted Rezko in 2008 of squeezing kickbacks from businessmen eager to land state contracts.
The 56-year-old appeared at Tuesday's hearing in jail clothes and chains binding his ankles. He smiled weakly and waived at relatives on courtroom benches.
Jurors convicted Blagojevich for corruption in June. His sentencing date is Oct. 6.
Rezko's sentencing was repeatedly delayed to leave the possibility he could testify at Blagojevich's trial. But the government never called him.
The students and employees of Millikin University won't have to go far to get clinical care.
For the last few years, the Millikin Wellness Center has provided care only to undergraduate students. However, now Millikin employees and all other students can use the center because of a contractual agreement between the university and Decatur Memorial Hospital. The hospital will expand services at the clinic by providing a full-time nurse practitioner, who will handle much of the extra case load.
"What we found is by using a partner we could do it at the same cost, but expand the services," Millikin's Vice President for Enrollment, Richard Dunsworth, said.
Approximately 1,500 students visited the clinic last year and it's expected that roughly 2,000 people will come to the expanded center, according to Dunsworth. He said he hopes the clinic can eventually turn into a working laboratory for Millikin's School of Nursing.
"With a full-time nurse practitioner there, that will allow us to expand it as a possible clinical site for undergraduate nurses, as well as our graduate nurses," Dunsworth said. "So, our nursing faculty is quite excited to see what the options might be."
Dunsworth said the clinic will also have an office manager on staff, who will be able to look up a patient's insurance information, and transfer medical information to nearby health care offices.
The Millikin Wellness Center, which is located at 150 South Fairview Ave in Decatur, offers a range of services, including medicine management, pregnancy tests, and blood pressure screenings.
State Rep. Jakobsson Questions Veto of Security Camera Bill
An Urbana lawmaker says she is puzzled with Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn's changes to a bill she sponsored concerning the use of surveillance cameras at government facilities.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin is making a rare endorsement in a primary election. The Illinois Democrat is backing Tammy Duckworth's 2012 campaign for Congress.
Durbin recruited Tammy Duckworth for a 2006 congressional bid, but the Iraq War veteran and Purple Heart recipient lost to Republican Rep. Peter Roskam. After that, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich appointed her to lead the state Department of Veterans Affairs, and then Duckworth took a job at the federal VA in Washington, DC.
She's returned to Illinois to run again, and Durbin is again backing her.
"I'm going to help Tammy Duckworth in any way that I can," Durbin said Monday. "By endorsing her today, campaigning for her, helping her raise money. It's an expensive undertaking."
Duckworth begins the money race well behind another Democrat running in the 8th Congressional District, former deputy state treasurer Raja Krishnamoorthi - who reported raising more than $400,000 dollars in the second quarter.
Both Duckworth and Krishnamoorthi are hoping to take advantage of new, Democratic-drawn boundaries for the district. Republicans, including the current 8th District congressman, Joe Walsh, are challenging that map in a federal lawsuit.
(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File)
Sales of Illinois lottery tickets grew by 3 percent last year to set a new record.
Officials said Monday that sales totaled nearly $2.3 billion. That tops the old record of $2.2 billion, which was set just a year earlier.
Out of that revenue, $690 million was used to support state programs. Education got most of the money, but statewide construction projects got $54 million and $4 million went to causes like research on breast cancer and multiple sclerosis.
The sales figures are from the 12 months that ended on June 30. The total of nearly $2.3 billion amounts to more than $177 for every person in Illinois.
Lottery officials say sales have climbed every year for nine straight years.
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