Illinois Public Media News
A panel made up of Champaign County Board members and residents expects to forward to the board three district map designs in a plan to re-draw board districts.
Board members have to sign off on a plan to increase the number of districts to 11 by July. The redistricting commission has asked a planner to tweak three maps designed by the county's Regional Planning Commission to emphasize items like population variance, rural districts, and so-called 'majority minority' districts. The Champaign County NAACP and former county board candidate Eric Thorsland have also submitted maps for consideration by the commission and county board.
Commission chair Rick Winkel, a former Republican State Senator, said it's theoretically possible for an individual or group to submit a map, but the heavy analysis required give them only a slight chance.
"At this stage, it would be a very long shot for (one of them) to be considered," he said. "You'd have to have time to act on it, to diligently compare it and study it before we could adopt it and recommend it to the county board. And frankly, we're running out of time."
Earlier this week, the county board rejected map 1E on a party line vote. Democrats turned down the first map submitted by the Regional Planning Commission, saying it was worse than the current map, disenfranchising African-American voters, and did a poor job of keeping communities of interest together.
The county allocated about $14-thousand for the redistricting process. Winkel said there's enough of that money left to do five more revisions. But County Board Democrat and commission member Alan Kurtz contends the county would be willing to spend a couple thousand more, if required.
"If we need another thousand or two, I'm not sure if that would be a hangup," he said. "The point is, right now, we don't have to worry about that. At this point right now through the next board meeting, we will receive maps based on the budget. Even at that point, even if we reject that map, we'll not have to add to the budget because the commission still has, under the budget, two more revisions."
The redistricting commission's next meeting is scheduled for May 16th. The Champaign County Board meets three days later.
(With additional reporting from Pam Dempsey of CU-CitizenAccess)
A Champaign County judge issued two warrants Thursday for a father-son landlord team who have failed to comply with court orders to empty out an apartment complex in Champaign County.
Judge John Kennedy issued a civil contempt warrant and a criminal contempt warrant for both Bernard Ramos and his father, Eduardo. The arrest warrants each include a $10,000 bond. If arrested, the judge requires that the Ramoses post the full amount - $20,000 each - rather than the typical 10 percent bond before they can be released.
The Ramoses were accused of failing to legally connect sewer and septic systems for six out of their eight apartment buildings on the property. The apartment complex has traditionally housed many migrant workers.
Last month, Judge Kennedy found the Ramoses guilty of failing to legally connect the property's sewer and septic systems. They must pay more than $54,000 in fines ($100 per day for 379 days for the unlawful discharge of sewage, $100 per day for 160 days for renting out the property during the health code violation; and $200 for not having a proper construction permit and license when they tried to repair the sewage and septic systems).
The Champaign County Public Health Department also sought to stop the Ramoses from renting out the property until the septic system could be legally fixed.
The pair was ordered to pay the fines within six months and vacate the complex immediately, which lies between Thomasboro and Rantoul.
A hearing on the case was scheduled for Thursday after public health inspectors noted tenants still living on the property.
Julie Pryde, director of the Champaign County Public Health Department, said a neighbor of Cherry Orchard reported that tenants were moving from one building to another building on the east side of the complex. The building they were moving into lacks electrical service, inspectors confirmed in October.
"I'm definitely happy that the state's attorney's office is moving forward," Pryde said after Thursday's hearing.
Pryde said inspectors have noted at least 10 cars on the property, indicating that the complex remains occupied. She said she is worried more tenants will move to Cherry Orchard.
"I am definitely concerned that if they are in Texas like they report to be, then they could be bringing back migrants because they have a history of doing that," Pryde said. "(Bernard Ramos) has made no bones about that, and that would be a real problem."
Pryde said health inspectors would continue to monitor the situation, but that assistance for the tenants who need help moving is being handled by social service agencies such as the Salvation Army. A summons for the Ramoses could not be served as the two were not found.
Champaign County Assistant State's Attorney Joel Fletcher told the judge that the Ramoses said they were in Texas and would not be at Thursday's hearing.
Bernard Ramos and his family have owned more than 30 properties in Champaign County; however, several are now or have been under foreclosure during the past few years - with at least seven sold in sheriff's auctions since 2008, according to an analysis of Champaign County Recorder's Office documents.
A call to Bernard Ramos seeking comment was not immediately returned.
The Illinois House has once again rejected allowing medicinal marijuana for those with certain medical conditions.
The proposed measure would hae implemented a three-year pilot program for medical marijuana. The program would've allowed people suffering from certain kinds of illnesses, including cancer and AIDS, to receive a prescription for marijuana to help alleviate pain and nausea.
The measure failed on a 61-to-53 vote.
The bill would have barred people from buying the marijuana anywhere except 59 licensed, not-for-profit sellers. But critics argue it sends the wrong message to kids and could make the drug problem worse.
The measure's Sponsor, Lou Lang (D-Skokie), had limited the program to three years and added a provision to allow the purchase only from licensed dispensaries, but it wasn't enough.
"Maybe as many as 100 members believe we should pass a medical marijuana law but for whatever reason are unable to convince themselves to do it," Lang said.
Lang could call the measure for another vote this Spring. He said he believes he has the necessary support, but has to convince enough colleagues to follow through and vote for it.
House Republican Leader Tom opposed earlier versions of the measure, but endorsed it this time it, saying it's only right to help relieve people's suffering.
"Shouldn't we be able to provide to them the best relief and the best available source to do that?" Cross said.
(AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
A measure that would allow Illinois residents to carry concealed guns in public fell short of the supermajority needed to pass Thursday in the Illinois House.
It would have allowed people to carry guns if they were properly registered and had completed eight hours of training, including target practice. Applicants would have needed to pass a background check with a review of their mental health status.
The vote was 65-32, giving the measure a solid majority. But it needed 71 votes to pass, a standard requirement for legislation that restricts local communities' regulatory power.
Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, said he called the bill for a vote despite thinking it would probably fail. He could call another vote, but Phelps said Thursday was likely the best chance to pass it.
Phelps and other supporters said concealed carry wouldn't make Illinois more dangerous. It would just give people a chance to defend themselves in an emergency, he said.
"There's guns on the streets right now because of the guns the bad guys have," Phelps said.
Gov. Pat Quinn promised this week to veto any concealed carry bill. He reiterated his position Thursday at a memorial service for slain police officers, calling the timing of the vote "ironic" considering the event he was attending.
"I happen to believe that that particular bill will not in any way protect public safety," the Chicago Democrat told reporters. "It will do the opposite."
Supporters of the bill say Illinois should emulate the rest of the nation, as it and Wisconsin are the only states without some form of concealed carry. They also say concealed carry is a sensible option for people who wish to protect themselves.
Critics say those who obtained concealed carry permits in other states have later been convicted of violent crimes. They argue putting more guns on the street will increase crime rather than safety.
Two social service agencies facing potentially drastic state budget cuts have delayed a decision to merge.
Last March Prairie Center and Community Elements said they were exploring a merger. Prairie Center provides substance abuse treatment and prevention while Community Elements, formerly the Mental Health Center of Champaign County, provides other mental health services.
Prairie Center director Bruce Suardini said neither agency is clear on their funding from the state for the rest of the fiscal year, not to mention the outcome of the fiscal year 2012 budget. At one point, Prairie Center and other substance-abuse treatment facilities were threatened with a total cutoff of state money.
"Because of the instability of the funding, merging the two agencies together just to merge is not a good business decision," Suardini said. "And not having the budgets in place to understand where we're going for Fiscal Year 2012 keeps that process from finalizing."
Suardini said all other indicators point to a merger as the best option for both mental health providers. But he said merger talks won't resume until the second half of 2011, with a decision possibly delayed until next January.
U.S. Rep. Mike Pence is running for Indiana governor in 2012.
The conservative Republican told supporters on a conference call Thursday that he will seek the office currently held by Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels. Most already expected Pence to run after he ruled out a White House bid and resigned his No. 3 GOP House leadership position.
Pence is considered the favorite in the race because he carries strong name recognition, a network of supporters and campaign cash that could help him clear the field of other Republicans considering a run.
Democrats still lack a candidate, but former House Speaker John Gregg says he is considering entering the race.
Daniels cannot seek a third consecutive term and is set to announce in coming weeks whether he'll run for president.
A panel assigned with re-drawing County Board districts in Champaign County essentially starts from scratch Wednesday night.
The board Tuesday rejected the design known as '1E' on a party line vote. County Board Democrat Michael Richards, who also sits on the panel, says the map was the worst design in terms of compactness. He also said the design disenfranchises black voters.
The board also voted 20 to 7 to recommend that the redistricting commission suggest multiple maps for the county board to consider. Richards says it's hard to predict what the commission will do at this point. And he says politics is only one thing to consider.
"Even if you take the straight party numbers out of it, both of the parties are going to have different priorities for a map," said Richards. "It's quite possible that we could find a compromised map that everybody thinks is okay, but not necessarily."
Mahomet Republican Stephanie Holderfield contends that a higher number of maps could become confusing at some point, saying the criteria set by the county board is more important.
"Let's make it work where the voting body is pleased with how it operates," she said. "I think the goal of the redistricting commission is not to muddy the waters, but give clarification and clear the waters a little bit." Holderfield says the ideal map will provide the opporutunity for any single person who wants to run for elected office
Republican Alan Nudo says he agrees with a couple of concerns cited by Democrats Chris Alix and James Quisenberry, who wanted to be clear a final map include so-called 'majority minority' districts as required by law, that breaking up precincts would be the last thing considered, and that Urbana not have too many districts. He says having an agreement between parties is 'big.'
"This has the ability, I think, if we can make something happen here, it could roll out to other counties or even go statewide," said Nudo. "But let me put it very blunty - there are people who are interested in not having this happen. I hadn't realized the pressures that individuals are under from a party standpoint."
The Champaign County Board has to sign off on a re-drawn map of 11 districts by July.
Chicago's outgoing mayor, Richard Daley, presided over his final city council meeting Wednesday. In more than two hours of speeches, the mayor was praised for his leadership - even by aldermen he often bickered with.
As he often does, Alderman Ed Burke started the speeches off - applauding the mayor for everything from his tree planting efforts to Northerly Island to the "museum campus, the remaking of public education, the Sox 2005 World Series Victory, the Blackhawks Stanley Cup."
Daley laughed and added, "The Bulls this year."
Daley occasionally joked during the meeting. But mostly he sat quietly, at times nodding or smiling while nearly every alderman there stood to speak.
With the big fights behind them, even some aldermen Daley was most often at odds with, like Bob Fioretti and Joe Moore, had nice things to say about him. Moore said he agreed with the mayor more often than he disagreed with him.
Daley was joined by two of his children at the council meeting. His ailing wife, Maggie, remains in the hospital, "recuperating," the mayor said.
Daley's last day in office is May 16th. He told reporters he has no regrets about leaving after 22 years in charge.
(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
The University of Illinois has scrapped a proposal to build a single wind turbine on the Urbana campus' South Farms site, citing the project's rising cost and its negative response from area residents.
The Board of Trustees' Audit, Budget, Finance and Facilities Committee chose not to advance the proposal, so it won't be voted on by the full board.
First introduced in 2003, the project has evolved over the last year, going from three wind turbines to only one. Earlier this year, the U of I sought an additional $700,000 for the project, bringing the overall cost to more than $5 million.
U of I spokesman Tom Hardy said the university will work with sustainability groups on the Urbana campus to come up with other energy projects.
"I think it's just a matter of going back and identifying those that can fit within a certain budget, and don't have a community impact that this one had," Hardy said.
Most of the funding for the wind turbine would have been supported by the university, with an additional $2 million dollars coming from a grant awarded by the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation The foundation said the grant will not be available if the wind turbine isn't built, but an official with the organization said the project's termination shouldn't affect future grant applications submitted by the U of I.
Kevin Wolz with the Student Sustainability Committee said he hopes funds reserved for the wind turbine support other environmental efforts, like campus composting, solar technology, and native landscaping.
"There is probably nothing we can do that can achieve the same symbolism that that turbine would have for campus sustainability in our movement," Wolz said. "That indeed will be the most difficult thing to replace.
Opponents of the changes to Medicare proposed in the budget plan passed by the US House are gearing up their campaigns. The union-affiliated Alliance for Retired Americans made its case to a luncheon for retirees of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees in Urbana Wednesday.
The budget plan was proposed by Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan and passed by the House last month. It calls for switching the Medicare system over to vouchers used to help pay a choice of competing private health plans.
But the Alliance for Retired Americans argues the change will result in sharply higher out-of-pocket payments. Beatrice Stratton is the vice-president of the AFSCME retirees group that saw the Alliance's presentation. She says the increase would be too high for seniors like herself who are on limited incomes. "Those people, from what I understand, are going to end up paying anywhere from $5,000-6,000 a year for their healthcare," said Stratton. "I mean, they're only going to give them a voucher for so much money. And you know that older people are going to spend more money at the doctor's."
The Alliance for Retired Americans called on people at the AFSCME retirees' luncheon to contact Congressman Tim Johnson, who voted for the budget plan that includes the Medicare changes. A spokesman for Johnson's office could not be reached for comment on Wednesday. A website promoting Congressman Ryan's budget ideas says the Medicare payments under the new plan would be pegged to inflation and give higher payments to those facing greater medical risks.
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