August 13, 2012

Lawmakers Return to Springfield to Deal with Pensions

Members of Illinois' General Assembly weren't supposed to return to the capitol until November, but they will be back in Springfield later this week for a special session. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has called for the special session on Friday to overhaul the state's pensions, even though lawmakers are still divided over the best way to do it.

There is an $83 billion gap in what the state has promised its employees they'll get when they retire, and what Illinois actually has in the bank. Legislators are in widespread agreement they have to do something to cut the state's pension costs.

In the spring, the Senate passed a measure that begins to do that, but it only applies to General Assembly members and state employees. Not affected are the benefits of public school teachers, university workers, and judges. That pushes aside having to resolve a dispute over how much school districts should have to pay versus the state.

But House Republicans say they won't back that partial solution.

"So it's a really significant bill, there's no question about the sufficiency of the bill, it's constitutional and it's already passed one chamber,"  Senator President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) responded. "So, I don’t know why the House Republicans wouldn't want to vote for it, I think it's a mistake."

The House GOP has said a measure that only deals with two pension funds is too weak, and lifts pressure on lawmakers to finish the job.

August 10, 2012

Danville School Board Files Complaint Against Union

It has been more than a month since the old contract between the Danville school district and its employees union expired --- and more than two months since negotiators for the two sides sat down at the bargaining table. Now, the school board has filed an Unfair Labor Practice complaint with the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board --- accusing it of refusing to come to the bargaining table.

August 10, 2012

Former Inmates Not Surprised Quinn Keeping Reporters Out of Prisons

Inmates recently released from prisons in Illinois say they're not surprised that Gov. Pat Quinn won't let reporters in to see conditions.

Chris Clingingsmith just completed seven years behind bars for driving drunk. He lost his wife, his house, his cars and his motorbike, but he’s glad he got caught when he did because he would have been in a much worse situation than he’s in now if he had stayed on the streets and hurt someone.

He said prison isn't supposed to be fun, but the Vandalia prison doesn’t meet even basic standards. He said he wouldn't even house a dog in the kind of conditions men are enduring in basements at the minimum security institution.

Chicago Public Radio has been asking to visit the prison for several months, but Gov. Pat Quinn has said no.

“They don't want you to see firsthand what we're telling you,” Clingingsmith said. “I have no reason to lie.  I'm not in there anymore so they can't do anything to me.  If you walked in there, I'm not going to exaggerate, you would probably just go wow, they actually house people in these areas.  You would be amazed.  You would think that's above and beyond punishment.”

Clingingsmith said a lot of the men housed at Vandalia are getting very mad. Clingingsmith said the lawmakers who oversee the prisons need to get to Vandalia so they know what’s going on.

Gov. Quinn said he wants to look into the conditions at some of Illinois' minimum-security prisons. A watchdog group and former inmates have reported deplorable conditions at the prisons in Vienna and Vandalia.

Those reports indicate some areas were overrun with rats and roaches, and men slept in rooms that flooded every time it rained. But despite repeated requests, Quinn says he won’t let reporters in to see the conditions firsthand.

"Yeah, well I don't believe in that. I think that it's important that -- when it comes to our security of our prisons, I go with the correctional office -- the director that I have at the Department of Corrections. Security comes first and it isn't a country club," Quinn said.

Quinn said he will look into the conditions, and would only say if reforms are needed. He wants to be sure they're done "properly."

Quinn is currently working on closing some prisons, but the union representing workers opposes those closures, saying overcrowding will get worse.

Illinois spends more than a billion dollars a year on prisons.

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