Illinois Public Media News
Indiana Republicans and Democrats came together Tuesday in Indianapolis for what's called Organization Day, a kind of symbolic start to the new legislative session that often sets a tone for what's to come.
And what's to come could be more fighting between the minority Democrats and majority Republicans.
GOP leaders in the both the Indiana House and Senate on Monday announced plans to try to pursue so-called "right to work" legislation. If adopted, the law would stop requirements that force workers to join unions or pay dues as a condition of employment. Similar legislation has caused political uproars in other states, most recently in Ohio.
"I don't expect a free-for-all but I do expect an intense debate," Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma said in Indianapolis on Monday. "There are very strongly-held feelings on this (right to work) issue."
Democrats fought right to work provisions during the last legislative session. Because they've been in the minority in both legislative houses, their most effective tool was to simply be absent from statehouse work. Democrats walked out of the House last spring and didn't return for five weeks. They spent most of their time at a hotel in Urbana, Ill.
"We may be in the minority but we have a duty to protect ourselves against the tyranny of the majority," said House minority leader Patrick Bauer, a Democrat from South Bend.
Bauer counters Republican claims that such legislation would make Indiana more competitive in luring businesses and jobs to the Hoosier state.
"This could be the eventual decline and fall of Indiana being an economic, viable state," Bauer said.
Bauer would not say whether Democrats would walk out of the upcoming legislative session if right to work legislation is introduced.
Senate Pro Tem David Long says the legislation is not about getting rid of unions.
"This effort will not and does not seek to eliminate unions in our state, nor will unions be eliminated in our state," said Long, a Republican from Fort Wayne.
The new session begins in January.
Tony Rezko, a key figure behind corruption in the Blagojevich administration,was sentenced to 10 1/2 years in prison by federal Judge Amy St. Eve. His attorneys argued that Rezko provided important help to prosecutors investigating the former Ill. Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Rezko didn't start cooperating with investigators until after he was convicted at trial, and even then, prosecutors said his cooperation was not very helpful because he continued to tell lies, making it impossible to put him on the stand as a credible witness. Prosecutors never called Rezko to testify.
Rezko's attorneys said he shouldn't get such a harsh sentence because prosecutors made a tactical choice not to call him to the stand. They pushed the judge to sentence Rezko to the 3 1/2 years he's already served since his conviction. They said he has been awaiting sentencing at the government's request so he could be available to testify.
As a result they said he's had to serve time in solitary confinement, as opposed to a minimum security prison where most white collar criminals do their time. They said in the last few years "Rezko has not had a breath of fresh air, a ray of sunlight, or a hug from a loved one."
U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald says the 10 1/2-year sentence imposed on the convicted political fixer was "stiff and appropriate."
Fitzgerald said Monday he hopes it sends a message that there are serious consequences for engaging in public corruption.
Rezko was convicted in 2008 of fraud, money laundering and plotting to squeeze $7 million in kickbacks from firms that wanted to do business with the state during now-disgraced Gov. Rod Blagojevich's tenure.
U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve told Rezko her sentence reflected his actions, plus the fact that he repeatedly lied about his actions, including in a letter he sent to her.
Fitzgerald said it appears corruption sentences are getting longer.
Rezko attorney Joe Duffy says he's not sure if he will appeal the sentence.
A federal court in Chicago has postponed candidate filing for congressional races while it decides a Republican lawsuit challenging Illinois' new redistricting map.
A three-judge panel says candidate filing will start Dec. 23 and end Dec. 27. The original filing period would have been Monday through Dec. 5. The filing date was changed as judges deliberate a lawsuit that seeks to throw out the state's new congressional districts map, which was drawn by Democrats. Republicans contend it will decimate their gains in Congress and dilute Latino voting power.
Judges changed the filing dates while they decide if they're going to change district lines on the map or deny the Republicans' lawsuit.
If the map is still in dispute after Dec. 21, a new filing schedule will be set.
African-American leaders in Champaign looking to strengthen police-community relations say a police video of a June arrest in the U of I's Campustown neighborhood has re-opened wounds.
But a police union is defending the officer's actions.
After seeing the incident involving a college-age African-American that was leaked online Monday, members of the Champaign-Community Police Partnership, or C-CAPP, say they are working to take the lead on solutions in several areas.
C-CAPP member and Champaign County NAACP Interim President Patricia Avery said she is confident that the city will give the proper attention to the idea of a citizen police review board. City council members are expected to review that idea early next year. But Avery said seeing the actions of Champaign police last June "slaps us back to square one."
"We want justice," she said. "We don't want to have to worry about our young people when they go out on the street. We want them to do what they're supposed to do, and respect the authority, and when they're told to stop, stop. But we also don't expect that our officers are going to be behaving in a matter in which we saw in that videotape."
But Tamara Cummings of the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police Labor Council said the leaked video of the arrest is being criticized by people who haven't watched the entire video, and don't understand proper police work.
For instance, Cummings said the use of pepper spray to subdue a young African-American man in the arrest was proper, because the subject was resisting with enough force to potentially injure one of the officers. She said pepper spray is a legitimate tool to force an unwilling subject to comply with police orders.
"It's essentially a force mechanism," Cummings said. "And it's authorized by the department to use in order to get a subject to comply. So, the department investigation concluded that the use of pepper spray in this case was appropriate, and I have to reason to think that that's not correct."
Champaign City Manager Steve Carter said he found the police video 'troubling.' He and Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Reitz asked state police to review the incident. Meanwhile, Rietz has dismissed charges against the subject.
Despite their concerns, Williams and Avery say they are confident the Champaign City Council will take the right approach to answering calls for a citizen-police review board. The council will take up the issue in January.
But members of C-CAPP hope to address other areas, including the police department's use of force policy. Carter has said the city will bring in outside experts to look at it.
Below is a statement from the Illinois State Police regarding the June 5, 2011 arrest by Champaign police on the corner of 4th and Green Streets in Campustown:
CHAMPAIGN - The Illinois State Police has completed a review regarding an incident that occurred on June 5, 2011, at approximately 2:30 a.m., at 4th and Green Street in Champaign, Illinois.
At the request of Champaign City Officials, and the Champaign County State's Attorney's Office, Illinois State Police completed an independent review on November 22, 2011, of the Champaign Police Department's Use of Force Investigation.
Based on the Use of Force Investigation completed by the Champaign Police Department, Illinois State Police Officials have concluded that the officer followed Department policy under the Champaign Police Department's Use of Force model. Based upon these findings, the Illinois State Police will conduct no further review of the matter.
Champaign Police Department policy states that the use of OC spray "is intended to be used primarily against unarmed subjects who officers reasonably believe have indicated physically and/or verbally that they intend to resist arrest or assault an officer or other person."
The officer was on routine patrol in the area of 5th and Green Street having responded to a reported fight in progress. The officer observed a group in the intersection of 4th and Green against the traffic signal, disrupting traffic. The officer approached the group, and directed the group to relocate. A pedestrian refused the officer's command and became combative, resisting the officer's attempt to make an arrest. The officer followed department policy and used the appropriate technique to gain compliance without injury to himself or the subject taken into custody.
"For every law enforcement agency, safety is always the top priority and law enforcement officials are concerned anytime the safety of the public or police is compromised. However, based on the Champaign Police Department's investigative reports, the officer appropriately contained a resistive subject and followed department policy," said ISP Region 3 Commander Todd Kilby.
"The Champaign Police Department conducted a thorough investigation and based on the findings from the Champaign Police Department's investigation and the ISP independent review, it has been determined that the officer's actions were within department guidelines," Kilby added.
Watch the police footage from the June 5 arrest
University of Illinois Trustees are expected to approve tuition rates in January.
Chief Financial Officer Walter Knorr told a Trustees committee Monday that passing it earlier gives families time to plan financially. Just as last year, he says amount of any tuition increase is pegged to keep up with inflation.
In prior years, the state's fiscal crisis has forced the U of I to wait as late as June before setting rates. U of I President Michael Hogan says there are other advantages to passing them earlier.
"We can't really get our financial aid packages together, and it's costing us real opportunities to recruit students," he said. "They're waiting so long, they're taking other offers and so on, so I'm very happy about being able to move that up."
Knorr says the state still owes the U of I a total of $357-million, including $139-million from fiscal 2011. But he says the trend of the state being 6 to 7 months in payments behind is stabilizing.
Meanwhile, Hogan says he hopes to see the university set aside more tuition for financial aid. He says most Big Ten universities reserve close to 17-percent for that use, and wants to do a study of where the U of I falls in with other peer institutions. But Hogan wouldn't commit to a specific figure.
The Illinois General Assembly will have at least 20 new members in 2013.
The State Journal-Register reports Monday (http://bit.ly/u2sokR) that the figure totals more than two dozen when you include lawmakers who retired before the 2010 elections or resigned to run for other offices. Ten of the 59 Illinois Senate members are retiring, five Democrats and five Republicans. Ten of the 118 Illinois House members are retiring, seven Democrats and three Republicans.
Political experts say the turnover isn't surprising because it's typical to see retirements when districts are redrawn following the U.S. Census. House Minority Leader Tom Cross has the fewest number of retiring caucus members. He says that's because the caucus has many younger members.
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Radio)
Congressional leaders of the deficit super committee says they have failed to hammer out an agreement that would reduce the deficit by more than a trillion dollars over the next decade.
Failure to do so would trigger $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts -- starting in 2013 - over the next decade. Speaking before the announcement that committee failed to achieve its task, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said that should the committee fail to act, it would confirm Congress's inability to solve the nation's big problems.
"If the super committee fails, it will just confirm the suspicions that most people have had, that congress is incapable of taking on big issues and coming to any positive resolution," said Durbin. "It's happened too many times, over and over again. Threats of shutting down the government. Threats of even shutting down the economy in the course of this year. So this is further disappointment, and it won't help the image of Congress."
The super committee was created with 12 members of congress - six Democrats and six Republicans. Republican U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson (R-Urbana) said the idea behind the panel was a bad one from the start.
"I think it was doomed from the beginning," Johnson said. "You appoint 12 people who are intentionally partisan and expect to come up with a bipartisan solution. That's unrealistic. I would have liked to have seen a more fair, transparent, and open process, but that didn't happen."
The committee has been divided from the beginning over taxes and cuts to popular government benefit programs like Medicare. It has until Wednesday to vote on a plan.
Danville landlords complained about the vacant building ordinance passed a couple of years ago. Now, the Danville City Council is considering some of their suggested changes.
City officials intended to crack down on neglected buildings by imposing a $500 fee if such buildings weren't fixed up within a year. But Corporation Counsel David Wesner said the revised ordinance would allow a longer repair period, if the building owner submits a progress plan to the city. Wesner said if passed, landlords would no longer be limited to a specific time period for making repairs, as long as work was being done in a reasonable period of time.
"What we're saying is that we understand that it may take you eight more months besides the first six to get that roof replaced," Wesner said. "Under this language, that would be OK, whereas before, they would not."
Danville Area Landlord Association Vice President Jerry Hawker welcomes the proposal. He said the one-year requirement --- which included a $500 annual fee for buildings that were repaired on time--- ended up driving landlords away from Danville properties.
"A lot of landlords just quit buying the fix up houses that they knew would take more than a year to fix up," Hawker said. "So those houses have just been sitting vacant. I think this is a very positive step both for the landlords and for the city. "
The proposed changes also include a tighter definition of a vacant building to mean one that is not only legally unoccupied, but also determined to be unsafe, or not properly secured.
Wesner said they incorporated some, but not all of the changes proposed by the Landlord Association into the measure. Hawker said the measure is a result of improved relations between the Landlord Association and Danville city officials.
The proposal goes before the Danville City Council Public Services Committee Tuesday evening.
A police video showing the arrest of a Champaign man in the University of Illinois Campustown area last June has been posted anonymously online. The footage raises questions about the use of force within the Champaign Police Department.
Taken from a police car's dash camera, the video runs for about an hour. It shows an officer pepper-spraying a college-age African American male.
At the start of the video, the young man is shown walking with a young woman on the evening of June 5. The man claims that the woman is his sister.
A squad car pulls up near them and a police officer detains the man. The man's attorney said he was ultimately ticketed for jaywalking and arrested for resisting police, but the resisting arrest charge was later dropped. Within about 10 seconds, the police officer who apprehended him pulls out pepper spray and shoots it at him.
The man is then handcuffed and led into a police car. In another camera angle from within the car, the man urges officers not to touch him. A police officer then puts his hands on the man's neck while he is still handcuffed, and pushes him down to the side of the car out of the shot of the video. After a few seconds, the officer exits the car.
"Take me to jail! Take me to jail!" the man said. "You have no reason to choke me."
The names of the officer and Champaign man arrested have not been released. Illinois Public Media has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the city of Champaign for the arrest record of the incident.
The young man's attorney, Mark Lipton, said both he and his client didn't want this video to surface. Lipton said they don't know who made it public. But Lipton said it is clear that police used excessive force.
"I guess I would hope this would affect police policies, procedures, and training," Lipton said. "I would hope that police would have exercised discretion and had the officer not made any stop for this rather minor jaywalking instant, we wouldn't be having this discussion today."
The Urbana Champaign Independent Media Center linked to the YouTube video Monday morning. The IMC's co-founder Danielle Chynoweth said it is the IMC's policy to allow anyone to publish content to its site. She noted that her group doesn't track the Internet addresses of its posters. Chynoweth said she thinks it is important that the public be allowed to see the video's content.
"This is basically a public venue in which people can post anything to the site," Chynoweth said. "The only decision that the IMC takes is whether or not to feature that. The IMC editorial group chose to feature that story. But any story can be posted by anyone, including any piece of video, audio, photography, etc."
Police department personnel investigated the case, and Chief R.T. Finney issued a finding that the officer's actions regarding 'use of force' were within police and training standards. Meanwhile, Champaign City Manager Steve Carter said a possible investigation of the arrest by state police could start later this week.
"These are very difficult circumstances, and we'll want to take a look at what's the right thing to come out of this for both of those," Carter said Sunday before the video was leaked. "So, the individual case needs to be resolved for sure. Wherever that leads us is where we need to go. "
Champaign Mayor Don Gerard said he is 'gravely disappointed' the police video was posted online, saying it is counteractive to anything the city is trying to achieve in terms of police-community relations. The mayor added that he is 'very confident' that state police will investigate the June 5 arrest.
"I hoping that despite (the video being released) that whatever actions the city and the state's attorney take aren't compromised," Gerard said.
Watch the police footage from the June 5 arrest
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