Illinois Public Media News
A group of Indiana Democrats with no plans to return their state have the backing of unions on both sides of the state line this weekend.
The House members staying in Urbana over a stalemate with Republicans over labor and education bills saw more than 100 supporters line Lincoln Avenue Saturday. They included Bret Voorhies, a coordinator for the United Steel Workers, who said the GOP's efforts are an attack on working people in general.
"We're the ones who go to capitol hill and fight bad trade deals," Voorhies said. "Bad trade deals are hurting every single worker. We're the ones that fight for increases in minimum wage. Obviously, most union people make more than minimum wage. We're the ones who fight for increases in workman's comp. All workers benefit from workman's comp."
A group of University of Illinois law students who were at Friday's rally also visited Madison, Wisconsin in the past week to back worker's rights in the protest there. The Indiana lawmakers have stayed at Urbana's Comfort Suites since Tuesday, where they also picked up the support of Mayor Laurel Prussing. She said the city has a long history of supporting working people.
"I told them that Urbana is in favor of collective barganing," said Prussing. "I think we treat our employees very fair. And that they're engaged in a very important fight for worker's rights that took hundreds of years to accomplish, and we don't want to see it undone."
Gary Democrat Vernon Smith called the support 'exhilarating' after spending their week developing hundreds of amendments in meetings. But he said there has been no indication their Republican colleagues are ready to negotiate.
Saturday's rally included a small contingent, three people, from a Tea Party group involving Illinois and Western Indiana residents. They say regardless of how the Democrats vote, they need to return to the capitol and do their jobs.
Social network invitations asking people to come to Champaign to celebrate the so-called Unofficial St. Patrick's Day on Friday, March 4 have prompted the city to take precautionary action.
One page on Facebook indicates more than 13,000 people are expected to show up.
Champaign Mayor Jerry Schweighart said the city will prohibit bars and package liquor stores in campus town from selling or serving alcohol before 11 AM. He also said bars will not be allowed to serve pitchers of alcohol or shots of pure alcohol. Instead all drinks must be served in paper or plastic cups.
"I wouldn't mind if it was just our local U of I students, and each bar had a celebration to celebrate St. Patrick's Day or something," he said. "But (it's different) when all the outside schools start coming here looking for a big blowout drunken affair, and don't give a care about damage they do to the city."
Schweighart's office will not be issuing multiple keg permits for parties, making it illegal to have more than one keg at each residence.
Meanwhile, University of Illinois officials are taking steps to minimize disruptions to classes and campus operations during the Unofficial St. Patrick's Day celebrations. The U of I also noted that if students drink too much alcohol, they should not be afraid to go to the hospital for care because they "will not get in trouble.
Talks this week between the University of Illinois and one of its employee unions gained no ground - and now the union is filing an unfair labor complaint.
But the head of the Service Employees International Union local said the two sides have agreed to have a federal mediator sit in on talks next month. Ricky Baldwin said that will head off any labor action for at least a month.
Baldwin claims U of I negotiators haven't been bargaining in good faith by asking for new concessions that moved negotiations further apart. He also accuses the University of replacing some union jobs with lower-paid workers, many of them students.
"It's not an us versus them in terms of the contingent workers," Baldwin said. "We love for these people to be hired full-time, get decent pay and benefits and union rights. But they're not treated very well," Baldwin claimed, saying employees were afraid to complain after one supervisor demonstrated bad behavior.
The SEIU represents nearly 800 food service and building service employees on the Urbana campus. A U of I spokesperson has not been available for comment as of Friday afternoon.
Baldwin said negotiations will resume March 8th, a week before a federal mediator will join the talks.
This is the season for tapping maple trees for syrup, and while Vermont is the nation's big maple syrup producer, other regions produce it, too.
This weekend and next, Parke County in western Indiana celebrates its maple syrup producers with the 48th annual Maple Syrup Fair. Rebbecca Pefley is one of those maple syrup producers. Her great-grandfather started the Smiley Sugar Camp, which --- thanks to her grandson --- is now a fifth-generation family business. Pefley said there is a big difference between real maple syrup, and the cheaper syrup most people put on their pancakes.
"What you buy in the grocery store is just mostly Karo or corn syrup, and with some slight amount of maple syrup in it," Pefley said. "But what you get here in Parke County, and what we make is 100% pure. It has nothing added. It is just the sugar water boiled down to the syrup stage".
Besides the big difference between real and artificial maple syrup, Pefley said there is a difference between Indiana maple syrup and the better-know Vermont product, noting that her syrup is a little milder.
In all, five local maple syrup camps will be selling their product at the Parke County Maple Syrup Fair. Cathy Harkrider of Parke County Inc. said she expects attendance over the two weekends to total around 8,000 to 10,000, depending on the weather. Maple syrup will be on sale, to take home or pour on pancakes right at the fair. Directions will be available to visit local maple syrup camps, to see how the syrup is made. In addition, the Parke Players will present their production of "Nunsense" in conjunction with the Maple Syrup Fair, at Rockville's Ritz Theater.
The 48th Annual Parke County Maple Syrup Fair takes place Saturday and Sunday, February 26-27 and March 5-6, at the 4-H Fairgrounds on U-S Route 41 near Rockville, Indiana. Pancakes will be served each day from 8 AM until 4 PM.
(Additional reporting from the Associated Press)
Indiana House Minority Leader Patrick Bauer has confirmed that he and more than 30 other Democrats are staying in Urbana for the weekend.
Speaking with reporters Friday, Bauer said his party is committed to fight for the thousands of demonstrators that have flocked to the capitol in Indianapolis. He said Republicans aren't willing to compromise on legislation like the controversial 'right to work' measure and others that drove his party across the state line.
Bauer admits the trip is costing the Democratic Party, who's been paying for rooms at the Comfort Suites, and legislators have incurred personal expenses, like clothes and food. But he said it is a small price to pay when looking at the big picture.
"The workers are sacrificing," Bauer said. "These people - 10,000 on Thursday. They have given up their salaries. They're fighting for their very existence if you will, they're fighting for their families. They're fighting to be able to put food on the table. Our sacrifice is small for what they face."
Bauer said this legislative session is 'the most partisan session in modern Indiana history', noting that just 29% of the bills that went out of the House were bipartisan. The Democratic leader says he would be willing to change his tune if House Speaker Brian Bosma was willing to negotiate, but there has been no word of it so far.
Bauer said that he expects a group of supporters from Indiana to arrive Saturday at the hotel in Urbana where Democrats have been staying, though he was not sure how many people were coming. Neither Republicans nor Democrats have budged since the stalemate began Tuesday. The House is in recess until Monday, but protesters on both sides staged small demonstrations Friday at the Statehouse.
Bauer has said there had been discussions about commiserating with Wisconsin Democrats, who have left their state over similar issues, but he said that's not likely given the weather.
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
Some Illinois high school football coaches hope the departure of half of the state's high school championship games from Champaign doesn't mean they will move to Chicago.
Tuscola coach Rick Reinhart's team won the Class 1A championship last November at Memorial Stadium on the University of Illinois campus. He told The News-Gazette in Champaign that's where the games should be played.
But that's no longer possible every year. The Illinois High School Association said this week that it will need to look for new locations because Big Ten expansion means Illinois will need its stadium over the championship weekend every other year.
Reinhart and St. Joseph-Ogden coach Dick Duval both say they hope a central location can be found rather than settling on Chicago.
Republicans in the Wisconsin Assembly took the first significant action on their plan to strip collective bargaining rights from most public workers, abruptly passing the measure early Friday morning before sleep-deprived Democrats realized what was happening.
The vote ended three straight days of punishing debate in the Assembly. But the political standoff over the bill - and the monumental protests at the state Capitol against it - appear far from over.
The Assembly's vote sent the bill on to the Senate, but minority Democrats in that house have fled to Illinois to prevent a vote. No one knows when they will return from hiding. Republicans who control the chamber sent state troopers out looking for them at their homes on Thursday, but they turned up nothing.
"I applaud the Democrats in the Assembly for earnestly debating this bill and urge their counterparts in the state Senate to return to work and do the same," Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon, said in a statement issued moments after the vote.
The plan from Republican Gov. Scott Walker contains a number of provisions he says are designed to fill the state's $137 million deficit and lay the groundwork for fixing a projected $3.6 billion shortfall in the upcoming 2011-13 budget.
The flashpoint is language that would require public workers to contribute more to their pensions and health insurance and strip them of their right to collectively bargain benefits and work conditions.
Democrats and unions see the measure as an attack on workers' rights and an attempt to cripple union support for Democrats. Union leaders say they would make pension and health care concessions if they can keep their bargaining rights, but Walker has refused to compromise.
Tens of thousands of people have jammed the Capitol since last week to protest, pounding on drums and chanting so loudly that police providing security have resorted to ear plugs. Hundreds have taken to sleeping in the building overnight, dragging in air mattresses and blankets.
With the Senate immobilized, Assembly Republicans decided to act and convened the chamber Tuesday morning.
Democrats launched a filibuster, throwing out dozens of amendments and delivering rambling speeches. Each time Republicans tried to speed up the proceedings, Democrats rose from their seats and wailed that the GOP was stifling them.
Debate had gone on for 60 hours and 15 Democrats were still waiting to speak when the vote started around 1 a.m. Friday. Speaker Pro Tem Bill Kramer, R-Waukesha, opened the roll and closed it within seconds.
Democrats looked around, bewildered. Only 13 of the 38 Democratic members managed to vote in time.
Republicans immediately marched out of the chamber in single file. The Democrats rushed at them, pumping their fists and shouting "Shame!" and "Cowards!"
The Republicans walked past them without responding.
Democrats left the chamber stunned. The protesters greeted them with a thundering chant of "Thank you!" Some Democrats teared up. Others hugged.
"What a terrible, terrible day for Wisconsin," said Rep. Jon Richards, D-Milwaukee. "I am incensed. I am shocked."
GOP leaders in the Assembly refused to speak with reporters, but earlier Friday morning Majority Leader Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford, warned Democrats that they had been given 59 hours to be heard and Republicans were ready to vote.
The governor has said that if the bill does not pass by Friday, the state will miss a deadline to refinance $165 million of debt and will be forced to start issuing layoff notices next week. However, the deadline may not as strict as he says.
The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau said earlier this week that the debt refinancing could be pushed back as late as Tuesday to achieve the savings Walker wants. Based on a similar refinancing in 2004, about two weeks are needed after the bill becomes law to complete the deal. That means if the bill is adopted by the middle of next week, the state can still meet a March 16 deadline, the Fiscal Bureau said.
Democratic Sen. Jon Erpenbach said he and his colleagues wouldn't return until Walker compromised.
Frustrated by the delay, Senate Republican Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, Jeff Fitzgerald's brother, ordered state troopers to find the missing Democrats, but they came up empty. Wisconsin law doesn't allow police to arrest the lawmakers, but Fitzgerald said he hoped the show of authority would have pressured them to return.
Erpenbach, who was in the Chicago area, said all 14 senators remained outside of Wisconsin.
"It's not so much the Democrats holding things up," Erpenbach said. "It's really a matter of Gov. Walker holding things up.
Democratic state Sen. Rickey Hendon of Chicago has resigned from the Legislature.
In a letter to Senate President John Cullerton, Hendon called yesterday a "wonderful day,'' going on to say he has enjoyed working in the Legislature.
While Hendon did not give a reason for stepping down, the assistant majority leader wrote he hoped supporters will accept his decision and allow him to move on with his life.
The 57-year-old Hendon was elected to the 5th District seat in 1993.
Hendon's name has come up in a federal grand jury investigation of how state money was handed out to various groups.
A number of them report receiving the grants with Hendon's assistance. But there has been no indication Hendon has been targeted by the investigation.
Twenty-first century technology makes it easy to record events throughout the world, but that ease of recording may violate the law. In Illinois, making audio recordings of conversations in public places without the permission of everyone in the recording is usually a crime. Under the Illinois Eavesdropping Act, recording police officers can lead to a class 1 felony, which can carry a four to 15 year prison sentence. Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers reports on efforts to soften the eavesdropping law for both the public and police officers.
(Additional reporting from the Associated Press)
Indiana House minority leader Pat Bauer said he wants to meet with Wisconsin state Senate Democrats who have also fled to Illinois to block action on Republican-backed legislation.
Bauer said the roughly 30 Indiana Democrats he led to an Urbana hotel to avoid votes on anti-union and school-related legislation could commiserate with their counterparts from Wisconsin.
The South Bend Democrat said such a meeting would be like a pair of crime victims meeting to talk about their attacker. One of the other Democrats staying in Urbana is Charlie Brown of Gary. He said he is intrigued by the idea, saying there are a lot of people that weren't aware of the odds faced by the party in each state.
"It's amazing the number of people that were not into the real minute points," Brown said. "They were trying to eliminate collective bargaining for public employees. They wanted to set up some kind of merit system for teachers and so forth. People say 'really?' Yes, that's what we're fighting for."
With the Indiana House now adjourned until Monday, Brown said it is likely the caucus will return home for the weekend to pick up clothes, and return to Urbana before the chamber convenes on Monday. But Brown said the caucus is staying in Urbana at least through Thursday night.
He said it is still possible Governor Mitch Daniels could use the state police to bring Democrats back to the capitol if they simply stayed home. Brown says he and colleagues who have been staying at a hotel in the area since Tuesday have also gotten their first look at some of the labor protests at the capitol in Indianapolis.
"That was a booster for us," said Brown. "We're isolated up here, and only get bits and pieces of what's going on. But that was really a plus for us, to see that our constituents are really concerned in these pieces of legisation."
Wisconsin Senator Tim Cullen says he and his fellow Democrats are focused Thursday on the situation in their state and didn't know of any plans to meet up.
Indiana's Democratic caucus will meet Friday morning at 10 a.m.
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