Illinois Public Media News
Gov. Pat Quinn marked the one-year anniversary of Rod Blagojevich's arrest by signing into law Illinois' first-ever campaign contribution limits.
Quinn signed the bill Wednesday. He says it isn't perfect but is a step to ensure Illinois has honest, clean and open government.
The reforms were inspired by the scandal surrounding Blagojevich, who was arrested on Dec. 9, 2008, on federal corruption charges and later removed from office by lawmakers. He's pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to go on trial this summer.
The measure limits how much money people, interest groups and political action committees can give to candidates. But it only caps what political parties and legislative leaders can give to candidates in primaries and not in general elections.
Reformers say they'll continue to push for those limits.
The state's attorney's decision not to file charges in the Kiwane Carrington shooting did not satisfy people who spoke on the subject at Tuesday night's Champaign City Council meeting. And the city's handling of the case also came in for criticism.
Pledges by Champaign officials to look at ways to improve relations between police and African-American youth were not enough for Champaign County Board member Carol Ammons, whose district includes much of northern Champaign. She called Tuesday's news conference by city officials a well-crafted piece of public relations, in which no one took questions from the public.
"I suggest that if you want to move forward", said Ammons, "beyond providing social service programs, recreation and basketball, that you would decide that you start with allowing yourselves to be interrogated by the community that has hundreds of questions surrounding this death."
Ammons also cited emails obtained by C-U Citizens for Peace and Justice through a Freedom of Information Act request, which she says gives the impression that the investigation was tainted by interference from city officials, including council members Will Kyles, Marci Dodds and Deb Feinen. In the last case, Ammons said Feinen corresponded with State's Attorney Julia Rietz on the case while the investigation was ongoing.
When asked about Ammons' charge, Feinen denied that her correspondence tainted the investigation. She said she only forwarded mass emails to Rietz that publicized rallies or contained criticisms of the Carrington shooting, and did not add any substantial comments.
"I don't have any information", said Feinen. "I wasn't at the scene. I didn't interview any witnesses. I haven't talked to any witnesses. So I don't know how that's interference with the investigation."
Urbana resident Elizabeth Simpson says the death of Kiwane Carrington has had a negative impact on how young people in both Champaign and Urbana regard the police and other authority figures. Simpson coordinates the peer mediation program at Urbana Middle School. And she told council members her students are asking her about the city's handling of the Carrington shooting.
"They say, 'Miss Beth, we don't understand, why aren't they saying they're sorry? Why won't they even say they're sorry? Whether it was an accident, whatever degree of responsibility it was, why won't anybody take responsibility?'" said Simpson. "And they mean you, too. They mean the police, but they mean you, too."
Simpson says she had not known until the hearing about it at the council meeting that there was any sort of apology from a city official. Earlier in the day, Police Chief R-T Finney said he wanted to "express my sincere condolences and sorrow to the Carrington family". And he said that while the Officer Daniel Norbits did not intend for his gun to go off, killing Carrington, "make no mistake the weapon was ours, it was discharged and I am ultimately responsible for the actions of our police officers."
Members of Kiwane Carrington's family also attended the city council meeting, but did not speak. Afterwards, Rhonda Williams, Kiwane's aunt, said she had already commented enough.
Champaign council members made no public comment following the remarks from the public, and left the chamber to go into closed session over a matter of potential litigation.
There will be no criminal charges against Champaign police officer Daniel Norbits - his service weapon was the one that fired, hitting and killing 15 year old Kiwane Carrington during a scuffle on Vine Street two months ago. Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Rietz spent nearly a month looking over more than a thousand pages of testimony and hours of taped interviews. On the day she declared the shooting an accident, she sat down with AM 580's Tom Rogers.
A Champaign police officer who fired the gun that killed a 15 year old boy last October will not face criminal charges.
State's Attorney Julia Rietz has decided that Officer Duane Norbits fired his weapon accidentally when Kiwane Carrington was shot and killed outside a Vine Street home.
Witnesses had called police saying Carrington and another teen were trying to get into the house, which Carrington had visited in the past at the invitation of a family friend who lived there.
In her 13-page summary of the state police report, Rietz says there was no evidence that Officer Norbits intended to fire his Glock 45 - she says the report concluded that it went off while Norbits was struggling with Carrington with his weapon drawn. Rietz says because the shooting was accidental, there would be no reason to analyze whether the shooting was justifiable under use-of-force policies.
Many women are charged more for their health insurance than men, and a health care advocacy group says that's unfair discrimination.
The head of the Champaign County Health Care Consumers says her own experience with group health insurance for the six employees in her not-for-profit group revealed big differences in premium between male and female employees. Claudia Lennhoff says their provider, Personal Care, charges more than double for women in one certain age group than for similarly-aged men.
Lennhoff says ten other states have banned so-called gender rating for health insurance, but not Illinois. However, she says national health care legislation now in Congress could very well address the issue.
"Now if we can get it passed as a national law, as a part of national health reform, UI think that would obviously help everybody all over the country," Lennhoff said. "But if that doesn't happen I think we'll be among the first to champion such an effort in the state of Illinois."
Lennhoff acknowledges that insurers consider the health demands of female policyholders - including childbirth - in figuring their rates. But she claims profits are the main reason behind the different premiums. We've not been able to contact a representative of Personal Care for comment.
The Urbana City Council has put a two-week delay on a vote to endorse the latest revision of the area's Long Range Transportation Plan. At Monday night's council meeting, some members voiced concern over some of the highway projects proposed for Champaign-Urbana during the next quarter-century.
Alderman Brandon Bowersox says the those projects run counter to the plan's own goals for protecting the environment and conserving energy.
"But then the actual implementation", says Bowersox, "when it comes down to what roads would be built, and the projections for how much we'll all be driving shows that the amount we'll be driving goes up a lot faster that population growth, even. So, per-person, we'd all be driving a lot more in 2035 than we're driving today, to live in our community."
Alderman Charlie Smyth says the increased motor traffic would be caused by upgrades of roads on the fringes of Champaign-Urbana that he says are not needed. He was especially critical of a 71-million dollar plan inserted into the long-range plan by IDOT to widen I-74 from Prospect Avenue in Champaign out to Mahomet.
"Where is the justification for expanding I-74", Smyth asked the council. "It's not in the models. There's a statement that says this will relieve future congestion. But there's no modeling that says there's any congestion, even in 2035."
Smyth moved to defer council action on the plan until December 21st, to allow more time for review. But Rita Morocoima-Black of the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission says that will give them little time to incorporate the council's decision into the plan --- which must be submitted to the state by the end of the year. Endorsement of the plan by local governments is not required, but helps in winning state funding for local road projects.
11 bars in Champaign's Campustown area are accused of promoting and hosting drinking games last month. Mayor and Liquor Commissioner Jerry Schweighart has issued complaints accusing the bars of violating the Illinois Happy-Hour statute, by encouraging binge drinking and providing special discounts.
The activity occurred during the fall Bar-Scramble that Schweighart says attracted over a thousand participants to Campustown bars on November 7th. He says participants played games in which their scores determined how much they were to drink. Schweighart says he's been a long-time opponent of such drinking games, and he's surprised that so many bars took part.
"They've known for ten years that my rules, they're going to be dealt with very harshly if you involve yourself with drinking games. And by doing this --- an especially in this magnitude. It's kind of in-your-face, we're going to do what we want to
The Barscrambles are held every semester, and sponsored by the Irish Illini, a student group. But Schweighart says this is first time they've been aware of the drinking games, which he was were obvious from the advertising for the event.
The complaints against the 11 bars will be heard at preliminary hearings set for Monday and Tuesday of next week. Schweighart says the bars could accept the penalties the city will propose at that time --- or appeal them to a full hearing, and beyond that to a hearing by state regulators. He says the penalties could range from fines, to something as severe as revocation of a bar's liquor license.
Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Reitz has completed her review of a state police investigation in the October police shooting death of a Champaign teen.
Reitz confirms she had scheduled an appointment to meet with the family of Kiwane Carrington Tuesday morning, and it's not known how soon the report will be made public after that meeting. But a group led by CU Citizens for Peace and Justice says it's a foregone conclusion the officers involved in the October 9th shooting of the 15-year old won't face criminal charges. They're calling for reviews of the case from a special prosecutor and federal Department of Justice. Those with the civil rights group point to that fact that both officers are currently on the job. Champaign Police Chief R.T. Finney remains on duty, while City Manager Steve Carter confirmed last week that officer Daniel Norbits was doing some office work after being placed on paid leave.
The activists also contend that the public can't trust a multi-jurisdictional team that helped state police in their investigation since many of them are friends and often work together. Rhonda Williams is Kiwane Carrington's aunt. "I feel the information probably has been tamperered with," says Williams. "I think that they all stick together with one another and my nephew's not here to tell his side of the story. So basically we're just going on what the officer's story is." Through e-mails obtained through Freedom of Information requests, CU Citizens for Peace and Justice also contends that some key eyewitnesses of the shooting were never interviewed. And the group's Aaron Ammons says it's 'disturbing' that Champaign city council members would send e-mails to Reitz regarding the investigation.
"The Champaign City Council, as Tom Bruno has alluded to on many occasions, is the review board of the Champaign Police Department," says Ammons. "So we find it very disturbing that members of the city council would be sending information to Julia Reitz, who's criminally investigating two of the officers."
In media reports, Reitz calls her work completely objective, and said it's outrageous to suggest that her office would violate its ethical obligations.
As world leaders discuss climate change at a summit in Copenhagen, environmental advocates say Illinois and other states can be -- and, in cases, are -- policy leaders.
There's international pressure on the United States to adopt stricter carbon emissions standards to combat global warming. It's a policy Brian Granahan, an attorney with Environment Illinois, supports. But even as a debate continues with the federal government, he says the U.S. is making progress.
"When it comes to America's response to global warming, what's happening on Capitol Hill, while it tends to dominate the news, it's really only half the story," Granahan said. "States have great power to reduce global warming pollution within their borders. And many states are using that power to implement clean energy policies that rival those anywhere in the world."
Granahan says Illinois is a prime example. The state will require electric utilities to get a quarter of their load from renewable sources. A new state law requires new homes be constructed according to an energy efficient building code.
Critics question how much good standards aimed at climate change will do, especially if they come at the detriment of the state's, and the nation's, business climate.
Illinois' financial woes could force Vermilion County's Health Department to shut down. Administrator Steve Laker says the state owes the department about $800,000, and the department couldn't pay back a loan from the county for $300,000. Those funds became necessary to meet overall budget and payroll that are largely dependent on grants funded by the state.
At this Tuesday's Vermilion County Board meeting, members are to vote on scheduling a special meeting for December 15th to either terminate or restructure the health department. Laker says his hands are tied. "It just seems to be beyond anybody's control," says Laker. "It's certainly well beyond my control. And the only control that the county board may be able to exercise to stop this bleeding is to eliminate the health department. Now that's a pretty drastic action."
Laker says he'll give a memo to county officials to show what a downsized health department would look like. He says even that will be difficult. "Restructure means - is there some action in between status quo and dissillution? It probably means consideration the elimination of some grant-funded programs just to mitigate the deficit." Cutting the department would mean the end of successful areas like immunization clinics, family case management, and the Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC program and its 3,400 clients. And 75 jobs would be cut.
Danville State Representative Bill Black says he's sent a letter to Governor Pat Quinn's Chief of Staff to alert him of the situation. Black says Quinn's legislative council replied, and hoped to find a solution. The Republican says he's afraid the state would likely have to seek out borrowing money to bail out the health department and similar agencies.
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