Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 10, 2011

Ill. Lawmakers Adjourn Without Action on Gambling

Illinois lawmakers have gone home without making another attempt at passing gaming expansion.

The measure failed to come up for a vote in the Senate Thursday afternoon, but Senate President John Cullerton said he prefers to deal with the issue when legislators are expected back Nov. 29.

Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan claims opposition from Gov. Pat Quinn and the head of the Illinois Gaming Board likely hurt the bill's level of support.

The measure would allow racetracks to operate slot machines, and establish five new casinos in areas, including Chicago and Danville.

Catlin House Republican Chad Hays voted in favor of it, saying it would be an economic boon for the state.

"This would be a measure that would bring hundreds of millions of dollars of investment to Danville," Hays said. "To me it's really not about gaming. It's about economic development and jobs."

Champaign Democratic Sen. Mike Frerichs said he believes this bill will have better success late this month.

"I think there are many house members who weren't present when the bill was called for a vote," Frerichs said. "I think if they call it again sometime in the future they can pass something. Sponsors of the bill incorporated many of the suggestions the governor had made, and made many improvements to the bill. It should be a better bill, and easier to pass."

Frerichs said he will vote for the bill should it reach the Senate.

Six months ago, a major gambling expansion passed the House but not with enough votes to survive a potential veto by Governor Quinn. Quinn has a number of concerns, particularly allowing slot machines at horse racing tracks.

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 10, 2011

Urbana School Board Launches Redistricting Process

The Urbana school board is launching the process of redrawing its subdistrict boundaries --- in preparation for the next school board election in 2013.

District 116 is one of just a few Illinois school districts that elects board members from subdistricts, instead of at large. It's been that way since voters passed a referendum in 1998. Subdistrict borders must be adjusted after each new census to reflect changes in population. Urbana School Board President John Dimit (representing Subdistrict 7) said their goal is to keep the new boundaries as close to the old ones as the new census data will permit, "to prevent disruption as much as we can, from people who kind of have an idea of what sub-district they're a part of."

Dimit said the board desire not to minimize voter confusion during the redistricting process results in relatively stable subdistricts.

The subdistrict system was chosen with the goal of promoting geographic and racial diversity on the Urbana school board. Dimit said maintaining that diversity is one of their goals in redistricting. Towards that end, the board seeks at least one "minority-majority" subdistrict during redistricting --- where one minority group dominates. Dimit said that was possible during the last redistricting a decade ago, and it won't be possible this time, due to District 116's demographics. But he said that Subdistrict 2 on the school district's west side achieves roughly the same result, because the influence of its 32 percent African-American population is boosted by a white population made up largely of University of Illinois students who rarely vote.

"We've bent over back backwards to make sure that there is the ability to ensure --- to practically guarantee --- that we will have at least one black representative on the seven-member school board," Dimit said.

School Board Vice President Benita Rollins-Gay, who is African-American, represents Subdistrict 2.

Dimit said he's not actually a supporter of the subdistrict system, arguing it's not needed to achieve diversity on the Urbana School Board. He said the all-white school board that existed at the time of the 1998 referendum was an anomaly. Dimit also said the subdistrict system has made it difficult to field candidates for school board elections, because of the requirement that they come from seven different geographic areas within District 116.

The Urbana school board voted Wednesday night to contract with the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission, and use its experts to help draw up a new subdistrict map. Next up is a special meeting Nov. 21 at the Regional Planning Commission offices at the Brookens Center in Urbana, where school board members will meet with the experts to brainstorm on the new boundaries.

At a Dec. 6 meeting, school board members will review three subdistrict map proposals from the RPC experts, and choose a potential finalist. Community forums will be scheduled to present the map proposals to District 116 residents, and the school board will take a final vote on Dec. 15.

Categories: Education, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 10, 2011

Ill. Senate Vote Sends Regional Supt’s Pay Plan to Governor

Illinois lawmakers are sending Gov. Pat Quinn a plan to pay the state's regional school superintendents who have been working without compensation since July.

The Senate approved a plan Thursday 38-16 to use local property taxes to fund about $12 million to pay schools chiefs and their assistants in 44 regional education offices. Quinn supports the legislation.

The elected superintendents provide services such as certifying teachers and bus drivers, inspecting schools and offering alternative education programs for truant and troubled youths.

Quinn said in July there wasn't money in the budget to pay them and canceled their pay. Cheryl Reifsteck, the Regional Superintendent of Schools for Vermilion County, said she is relieved lawmakers came up with a plan to keep those positions funded.

"It will allow us to focus on the important things that we need to be focusing on and that's the education of our students and helping our schools function," Reifsteck said.

The measure would also form a committee to study the superintendents' duties and how best to deliver the services. Jane Quinlan, who is the superintendent for Champaign and Ford Counties, said she hopes that helps lawmakers better understand the role of the superintendents.

"Well, I'm hoping that we'll be able to clarify for legislators the role of the regional offices, and that it will be more stable so that we don't have to deal with these issues on an annual basis," Quinlan said.

The elected superintendents provide services such as certifying teachers and bus drivers, inspecting schools and offering alternative education programs for truant and troubled youths.

Lawmakers voting 'yes' for the measure included Sens. Bill Brady (R-Bloomington) and Shane Cultra (R-Onarga), while 'no' votes came from Sens. Dale Righter (R-Mattoon) and Mike Frerichs (D-Champaign).

"I hesitantly supported the measure. It was a compromise solution to another one of Governor Quinn's manufactured crises," Cultra said in a statement. "It is the best short-term solution that we were given an option to vote on. This legislation sets a dangerous precedent to remove funding from local governments who are already struggling because of a massive backlog in payments."

Frerichs said the regional superintendents need to be paid, but felt the personal property replacement tax was the wrong funding mechanism.

"I think taking it out of the general revenue fund, as the state has done in the past, was the better way to fund them," said the Senator, who says he's very hopeful that funding route can resume in a year.

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 10, 2011

Faculty Strike Over at Southern Illinois University Carbondale

The Faculty Association Strike at Southern Illinois University Carbondale is over.

SIUC Chancellor Rita Cheng said the Faculty Association notified the board negotiation team Wednesday evening that they would return to work. Striking faculty members will be back in their classrooms Thursday.

Cheng said there are still some details to be worked out before a tentative agreement can be formally reached. Cheng said once the tentative agreement is prepared it will require ratification by the SIU Board of Trustees and the Faculty Association.

Cheng said she and other leaders are glad things will soon be back to normal.

"And that those who picked up the extra work while the others were out will, I think, happily relinquish that extra load," Cheng said. "So we've got some work to do to get back to normal, but clearly, I'm confident that both groups will come together and work in the best interest of the students, and also help achieve all the ambitious goals we have for this great institution."

Faculty Association spokesman Dave Johnson said it was not an easy process but the Faculty Association has achieved a great deal.

"This offer marks real progress on many of the main issues we've been interested in all along," Johnson said. "Progress made possible not only by the faculty on strike, but through the support shown us by the campus community and above all by our students. We're glad that the strike is over. We're eager to return to the classrooms and work together with our students, our fellow faculty members as well as the administration to make SIUC the best university it can be."

In a written statement the faculty association said the new proposal represents a marked improvement over where the union stood a few days ago before the strike began. It also said the proposal improves shared governance, preserves the tenure system at SIUC, and strengthens transparency and accountability in ways that will help ensure that academic values remain paramount, while allowing the administration adequate flexibility to deal with any future financial crisis. Johnson said the Faculty Association is confident that they will end up with a tentative agreement that the FA members can support.

Cheng nor Johnson would comment on the specifics of the administration's offer that was presented to the Faculty Association early Wednesday evening. Unofficial postings on the Faculty Association's blog site indicate that the administration made some additional concessions related to the impact of a declared financial exigency on faculty contracts. The posting also indicates the faculty association conceded to the administration's request that striking faculty not be paid for the days they were on strike as well as accepting administration terms related to furlough days.

The Faculty Association walkout ended just a few hours shy of it's beginning a week ago. The three other Illinois Education Association affiliated unions on campus reached tentative agreements a week ago and did not go on strike. Prior to the strike last Thursday all four IEA unions had been working without a new agreement since June 2010.

Categories: Education
Tags: education

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 10, 2011

Goetten Back in Race for Illinois’ 13th District

A prosecutor from Western Illinois has done an about-face, and will pursue a seat in Congress after all.

Greene County State's Attorney Matt Goetten had cited family concerns when he recently withdrew from the race for the state's re-drawn 13th Congressional District. But the Democrat says further discussions with his wife and kids prompted him to give it a second thought. Goetten said attending Champaign County's Democratic Dinner on October 30th was the final encouragement he needed.

"The chairman (Al Klein) allowed me a few minutes to speak," Goetten said. "And being in front of the crowd, talking to them, my wife and I actually on the way home discussed the evening, discussed my decision, and that's where my initial decision not to run started to erode, and I started to think better of that decision."

Goetten says his campaign focus remains the economy and job creation, and what he calls presumptive fall opponent and incumbent Republican Congressman Tim Johnson's 'recklessness' when it comes to the middle class.

"Congress isn't focusing on job creation," he said in a press release. "Instead, Congressman Johnson and his colleagues are asking our middle class to bear the sacrifice of their failure. Here in the real world, we're left to wonder what they're thinking. It is time for a wake-up call in Washington."

Bloomington physician David Gill has already entered the race. Other former candidates for the 13th District include former legislator Jay Hoffman, who dropped out of the race to pursue another run at the legislature, and James Gray, a retired educator from Litchfield. Goetten has served as Greene County's State's Attorney since 2004, focusing largely on protecting crime victims. He created a victim's advocate in Greene County.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 10, 2011

Ind. Attorney General Says School Bus Fees Illegal

Indiana's attorney general says in a legal opinion that it is unconstitutional for the state's school districts to end free school bus service by turning transportation over to outside agencies.

The opinion issued Thursday by Attorney General Greg Zoeller supports arguments that opponents have made against a bus fee that started this fall in the Franklin Township district of suburban Indianapolis.

District officials say budget troubles forced it to get out of the transportation business by turning its buses over to an agency that is charging at least $40 a month per child for bus service.

Zoeller issued a similar non-binding opinion last year that district's couldn't directly charge bus fees.

The district argues that it isn't involved in the contract between parents and the bus service.

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 10, 2011

Legislative Panel Votes Against Facility Closures

A bipartisan panel of Illinois legislators has rejected more of Gov. Pat Quinn's plans to close prisons and health centers in an advisory vote.

The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability voted overwhelmingly Thursday against closing the Jacksonville Developmental Center, the Tinley Park Mental Health Center and the Logan Correction Center in Lincoln.

Executive Director Dan Long said commissioners weren't convinced the Jacksonville facility could close as quickly as Quinn proposes.

Long adds that members say Tinley Park provides needed services in suburban Chicago to 1,900 people a year and they scoffed at the idea of moving Logan prisoners to gymnasiums and infirmaries in other, overcrowded prisons.

The commission previously rejected four closures. Quinn is revising the plans but needs more money to keep the centers open this year.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 09, 2011

Slimmed-Down Gambling Bill Fails in Ill. House

Gambling legislation designed to pick up new support so it could survive a veto failed outright in the Illinois House on Wednesday amid opposition from Gov. Pat Quinn and blistering criticism from the state's top gambling regulator.

Looking stunned, the measure's sponsor said he was at a loss to explain the outcome.

"We'll get to the bottom of it and figure out if we can find the necessary votes to pass it by tomorrow," said Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie.

The surprise results added to the uncertainty and unfinished business heading into what was supposed to be the final day of the fall legislative session. Also still left on the table for Thursday were tax breaks for businesses, efforts to keep Quinn from closing prisons and mental institutions, changes to government pensions and restoring salaries for regional school superintendents.

The long "to do" list prompted House leaders to announce an extra day of work, on Nov. 21, primarily to deal with the business incentives.

House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, said opposition from Quinn and the head of the Illinois Gaming Board probably hurt the gambling bill.

"That could dissuade people from voting yes," Madigan said.

The Democratic governor has spent weeks criticizing the gambling legislation, largely because it would allow slot machines at horse-racing tracks. On Wednesday, Gaming Board Chairman Aaron Jaffe stepped up his criticism of the bill, saying it would weaken regulatory oversight of gambling in Illinois.

Jaffe said the bill is being pushed through so quickly that many lawmakers, perhaps even its sponsors, don't understand what it would do.

"If they do understand what they're voting on, they should be ashamed of themselves," Jaffe said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "They're undermining regulation, and they're undermining it terribly."

Six months ago, a major gambling expansion passed the House but not with enough votes to survive a potential veto by Quinn. The new version was meant to pick up additional support. It scaled back the size of the increase - for instance, by dropping slot machines at Chicago airports and the state fairgrounds - and addressed complaints about lax regulation.

The measure still allowed five new casinos and permitted racetracks to operate slot machines.

The final vote was 58-53, two votes short of passing and 13 short of a veto-proof majority.

The vote was a victory for Quinn and a defeat for new Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who is eager to land a Chicago casino and the jobs and taxes it would generate.

"The mayor of the city of Chicago is a big boy. He's an adult," Lang said. "He knows that in the legislative process you win some, you lose some."

"But I know he's not happy about losing, as I am not," Lang added.

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 09, 2011

Grant-Funded UI Officers Will Focus on Preventative Measures

A federal grant will enable the University of Illinois' Police Department to do more outreach tied to a number of the more serious crimes committed on the Urbana campus.

More than $600,000 from the U.S. Department of Justice will provide for the hiring of two full-time crime prevention specialists and one full-time crime analyst. The focus of the grant is using community policing to address issues surrounding sexual assault, battery, robbery, and alcohol abuse.

Because these new officers won't be on patrol, U of I Sergeant Joan Fiesta says the specialists can communicate more with parent and student groups.

"Because of the energy from crime alerts and some of the concerns that parents have on campus, we want to be able to tap into that and use them as a resource," said Fiesta. "So we will have two people to help organize that, and make sure that those things don't fall through the cracks."

Meanwhile, the analyst will look at crime data. Fiesta says all the specialists will require about special training, but she expects the three to be working by July after the hires take place sometime in December.

The grant comes through the COPS hiring program, or Community Oriented Policing Services.

AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 09, 2011

Feds Dig Into Blagojevich Pensions

Federal prosecutors are digging for data about convicted former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's potential pension income, even though Illinois officials plan to block the disgraced Democrat from getting any state retirement pay.

The Associated Press obtained copies of subpoenas U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald's office sent last month to two state pension systems. Fitzgerald's spokesman declined to comment.

Blagojevich is prohibited from collecting his $65,000-a-year pension. But he could get back about $130,000 he paid in. And he's set to collect $13,000 annually for six years in Congress.

Blagojevich will be sentenced Dec. 6 on corruption convictions including trying to sell President Barack Obama's old Senate seat. Former federal prosecutor Julian Solotorovsky says prosecutors want to know Blagojevich's net worth to decide whether to request a fine in addition to prison.

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