Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 02, 2011

Blagojevich Starting to Crumble on the Stand

(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)

For much of his time on the stand in his corruption retrial, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has been engaging, articulate, funny and most importantly, believable, but that's changing, and on Wednesday he was struggling to explain his own words to jurors.

His attorney, Aaron Goldstein, started leading him through some of the more damning evidence related to appointing a senator to replace Barack Obama. Even with his lawyer's softball questions, Blagojevich was flustered.

On one tape, Blagojevich talks about Valerie Jarrett, an adviser to Obama. Blagojevich says Jarrett knows that he's willing to appoint her to the Senate. He wonders how much she wants the position and how hard she'll push to get Blagojevich an appointment to Obama's cabinet.

Blagojevich insists the two weren't connected. Goldstein asked what Blagojevich meant when he talked about this. Instead of answering, Blagojevich reread the transcript while mumbling and finally said "I don't know what I'm saying here," and then asked his attorney to help him.

The ousted Illinois governor is expected to testify further Thursday about the allegation that he sought to sell or trade President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat.

The 54-year-old faces 20 criminal counts, including attempted extortion and conspiracy to commit bribery. He denies all wrongdoing.

(Robert Wildeboer/IPR)


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 01, 2011

AFSCME Files Grievance Against State Employee Health Insurance Switch

The Quinn administration's decision to line up new health insurance providers for state employees is now facing a challenge from organized labor.

The American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees has filed a grievance against the state over the decision to drop two longstanding insurance providers.

AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall says the providers who won the state contracts over Health Alliance and Humana don't cover many of the doctors that state employees have used for years.

"Our grievance seeks a remedy that the current contracts would be extended so -- at a minimum -- that all of those providers could be signed up on similar plans with the new networks, and if they can't be, that Health Alliance would continue to be a contractor for the coming fiscal year," Lindall said.

The state has given employees until June 17 to sign up with a new insurer - AFSCME is advising its 55,000 members to hold off making their benefit choice until right before the deadline.

Lindall charges that the state Department of Healthcare and Family Services hasn't given any evidence that workers will get the same coverage at the same cost as the current plans. He calls that a violation of AFSCME's contract.

The union is also exploring the possibility of a lawsuit. Department of Healthcare and Family Services Director Julie Hamos predicts they won't see much success.

"Losing bidders don't typically do that well in the courts. It's a procurement process. And we followed the law we followed it to a T," said Hamos. "That has now been affirmed. So, anybody can sue, there are a lot of lawyers in Illinois."

Heallth Alliance is exploring legal action of its own. Spokeswoman Jane Hayes the company is examining all options and trying to keep members in mind and what's best for them.

State lawmakers approved a bill that would restore Health Alliance's contract for two more years - but it's possible that governor Pat Quinn could veto the measure. State officials say the new contracts will save Illinois about $100 million over the next year.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 01, 2011

Mumbai Terror Trial in Chicago Winding Down

The trial of a Chicago businessman accused in the 2008 Mumbai attacks is winding down faster than expected.

Judge Harry Leinenweber says closing arguments are planned for Tuesday.

Proceedings in Tahawwur Rana's terrorism trial ended Wednesday after prosecutors called seven witnesses.

They included FBI agents who verified communication between Rana, the government's star witness David Coleman Headley and others.

Jurors don't return to court until Monday because attorneys had trouble scheduling witnesses. The trial runs a four-day schedule.

Headley pleaded guilty to scouting sites for the attacks and agreed to testify against Rana.

Rana has pleaded not guilty to providing Headley with cover as he took video surveillance in Mumbai.

Categories: Criminal Justice
Tags: crime

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 01, 2011

News-Gazette to Run Civil Union Announcements

Couples entering into civil unions under the new law that took effect in Illinois Wednesday may want the event published in the newspaper.

The Champaign News-Gazette is now ready to publish their announcement --- at the same rate it charges for engagement and wedding announcements. Previously, the News-Gazette would not publish announcements from same-sex couples, but Managing Editor Dan Corkery said the newspaper decided to to change that policy, now that civil unions are part of state law.

"There are definitely people --- some of our readers, loyal readers --- who this is going to rub the wrong way," Corkery said. "And on the other hand, had we not published civil union announcements, there would have been people who would have upset about that as well, whether they were personally affected or not, just out of a sense of fairness."

Corkery notes that civil unions in Illinois are open to both same-sex and opposite sex couples, and the News-Gazette will run announcements for both. But he said Illinois civil unions are the only announcements they will publish for same-sex couples, unless the event rises to the level of a news story.

Announcements of extralegal commitment ceremonies, and same-sex civil unions and marriages performed outside Illinois will not be accepted.

Meanwhile, another Champaign-Urbana media outlet, the online publication "Smile Politely," said it will now run same-sex couple announcements free of charge --- for civil unions, but also for weddings, anniversaries and births or adoptions.

Categories: Biography, Community

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 01, 2011

Another Slight Economic Bump Shown in UI Flash Index

Tax revenue keeps going up in Illinois, and that means a continued rise in an indicator of how well the state's economy is doing.

The monthly University of Illinois Flash Index rose.2 in May to 96.8. For the past two years it's been creeping ever closer to 100, the break-even point between economic growth and contraction. The Flash Index uses tax revenue from sales and income to measure the overall economy.

U of I economist Fred Giertz authored the index. He says a small portion of that increasing tax revenue may have come from rising prices on food and fuel. "Some tax revenues are stimulated by inflation, actually -- for example, the sales tax on gasoline," Giertz pointed out. "So it's not directly about that; certainly over the long run it would be related, but not over the short run. The more direct link would be something that came out (Tuesday) about consumer confidence."

Last month's confidence index dropped sharply - Giertz says that's a more significant result of higher food and gas prices.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 01, 2011

Governor Quinn Critical of Lawmakers on Budget

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn kept up his criticism Wednesday of the budget lawmakers sent him, and heaped scorn on a massive gambling plan despite the Chicago mayor's support for it.

The General Assembly forwarded to Quinn a spending blueprint of about $2 billion less than what he proposed, including a cut of nearly $300 million for schools and universities. The Democrat said lawmakers "didn't get the job done" but would not say what he would do with the plan.

"They kicked bills into the next fiscal year. That's not cutting the budget," Quinn said at a news conference. "You've got to invest in things that count, that matter for jobs, that matter for families."

With some of the strongest veto powers of any governor in the country, Quinn could strike out parts of the budget or reduce spending amounts. But he may not add money. Quinn would not say whether he would call legislators into special session in an attempt to persuade them to kick in more for schools and other of his priorities.

Quinn continued to lambaste the huge gambling plan that calls for five new casinos and slot machines at horseracing tracks, Chicago's airports and even the state fairgrounds.

"Most people in Illinois, when they take a look at the size of this, would say it's excessive, it's top-heavy, it's too much," Quinn said.

He said he would listen to constituents before deciding what to do with the gambling legislation, which supporters say would bring in $1.6 billion in upfront fees and $500 million or more annually.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel lobbied hard for the bill because it includes the first-ever gambling house for Chicago. Quinn risks alienating the new, popular mayor by saying "no" to the legislation.

"I'm beholden to the people of Illinois," Quinn said, "not to legislators, not to mayors."

(AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 01, 2011

Judge to Blagojevich: Stop Smuggling in Testimony

An angry judge chastised ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Wednesday for "smuggling" testimony into his political corruption retrial that the judge had previously ruled inadmissible.

Judge James Zagel said Blagojevich has insisted on mentioning issues or opinions that the judge has ruled shouldn't be cited in front of the jury. He warned him sharply not to do it again.

"This is a deliberate effort by this witness to raise something that he can't raise," Zagel said. "This is not fair, this is a repeated example of a defendant who wants to say something by smuggling (it) in."

Zagel, who sent the jury out of the room before admonishing Blagojevich, implied that the former governor's motives were less than pure.

"I make a ruling, and then the ruling is disregarded, and then I have to say, 'Don't do it,'" Zagel said. "And when you do that more than once or twice, it is inevitable that I'm going to believe that there is some purpose other than the pursuit of truth."

The judge had said earlier that Blagojevich wasn't allowed to tell jurors that he thought his plans to seek a top job in exchange for appointing someone to President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat were legal.

At a hearing without jurors present, Blagojevich told Zagel that he wanted to testify that he believed he wasn't crossing any lines by asking Obama to appoint him to an ambassadorship or Cabinet post in exchange for appointing the president-elect's choice for the seat.

But Zagel was largely unswayed, ruling that jurors won't be allowed to hear any opinions about legality.

"The fact that he thinks it is legal is not relevant here," Zagel said.

Prosecutors had fought to keep Blagojevich from talking about the legal issue, and it's unclear how radically it will affect Blagojevich's testimony going forward or his defense strategy.

Jurors finally began hearing from Blagojevich about the Senate seat Tuesday after three days of testimony in which he had focused on accusations that he attempted to shake down executives for campaign cash. He began delving into the Senate seat charge toward the end of that day.

Blagojevich told jurors he wasn't enticed by an alleged pay-to-play proposal from fundraisers close to U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. to raise millions of dollars in campaign cash if Blagojevich named Jackson to the seat.

"That's illegal," Blagojevich said. "I was opposed to the offer of fundraising in exchange for the Senate seat."

Blagojevich also echoed a long-held defense argument that all the FBI wiretaps that capture him talking on the telephone about how he might benefit from naming someone to seat was just that - talk.

Asked by his attorney, Aaron Goldstein, if he spoke frequently about the seat in the weeks before his arrest on Dec. 9, 2008, Blagojevich did not miss a beat.

"Absolutely, yes. Incessantly," said Blagojevich.

He explained that his method for arriving at a decision on the seat was to talk with as many confidants and as often as possible.

"I wanted to be very careful to invite a full discussion of ideas ... good ones, bad ones, stupid ones," he said. He added, "There was a method to the madness."

The twice-elected governor briefly mentioned that he got word in November 2008 that Obama appeared to be interested in seeing family friend and fellow Chicago Democrat Valerie Jarrett named as his replacement.

Prosecutors played a recording during their three-week case where Blagojevich asks one aide about appointing Jarrett, "We could get something for that couldn't we?" He mentions the possibility of a Cabinet post.

Blagojevich told jurors he had in mind what he described as legal, political horse-trading.

At the end of those proceedings, prosecutors complained that Blagojevich seemed to be resorting to arguments that Zagel explicitly ruled he could not make, including that he was merely engaging in the kind of wheeling and dealing all politicians engage in.

Zagel agreed, warning defense attorneys then that he would likely instruct jurors before they began deliberating that any defense based on the theory that everybody does it isn't valid.

"There's legal horse-trading and there's also illegal horse-trading," Zagel said.

Blagojevich, 54, denies all wrongdoing. He faces 20 criminal counts, including attempted extortion, conspiracy to commit bribery and wire fraud. In his first trial last year, a hung jury agreed on just one count - convicting Blagojevich of lying to the FBI.

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 01, 2011

Former Legislator Black Urges Governor to Support Danville Casino

A retired state legislator from Danville says Governor Pat Quinn would send a strange message if he approved a casino for Chicago and nowhere else.

During a Wednesday morning press conference, the governor described the gambling legislation passed by lawmakers as 'top heavy', but that he planned to listen to the people before deciding whether to sign or veto the bill. Quinn says he could envision a casino in Chicago if it's properly done.

Former Republican House member and current Danville Alderman Bill Black says he understands all the moral arguments against gaming, but favors a riverboat casino after seeing the economic benefit for cities like Metropolis and Joliet.

And Black says it's unrealistic to believe his city should focus solely on industry and agriculture.

"You can't just sit back and say 'I only want to attract a certain kind of job," said Black, "And I'm not going to lift a finger to bring in any other kind of job. So I realize it's controversial, I realize there's a downside, I realize that some people unfortunately will get themselves in trouble by gambling, but they do that now."

Black says he can't turn his back on a plan to bring in $300-million in private investment, along with construction jobs and 800 permanent positions when a casino is up and running. Black says he's written Governor Quinn, urging him to support it.

"I just said 'take a long look at it governor, because this is something that might pump enough money into Danville where we can help finance some of our own infrastructure projects," said Black. 'I know it's not a panacea, and I know it will not solve all our problems for the next 20 years."

The former legislator says he warmed the idea of a Danville casino in his later years in the legislature, citing improved security measures at riverboat casinos as well as better infrastructure for the facilities.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 01, 2011

Same-Sex Couples Can Now Get Civil Union Licenses in Illinois

Just hours after Illinois lawmakers adjourned late last night, hundreds of same-sex couples across the state stood in line Wednesday morning to get a civil union license.

Illinois is the sixth state in the United States to allow for some form of civil unions for gay and lesbian couples.

For many people, like Michael Hogue of Champaign, the civil union law is a long time coming. Hogue has been with partner, Bruce Rainey, for 22 years, and they were one of the first couples to get a license Wednesday at the Champaign County Brookens Center in Urbana.

"I think we procrastinated a little, getting everything ready for this day because in the back of our minds we didn't think it would come," Rainey said. "It's astounding that we can actually be recognized for our commitment to one another and for the years that we've been together."

But not every same-sex couple who came to Brookens showed up to get a civil union license. Susan Chapman and Lori Serb say while the law marks an important landmark for gay and lesbian couples, they say there are still other goals that need to be met.

"I think it's important not to let our focus as a community get so narrow because we think this is the end goal for everyone, " Chapman said. "I think there are a lot more things that we need to continue to work on in terms of protecting people who are outside of gender norms and equal housing."

Similar to getting a marriage license, couples must have a valid form of ID and be ready to answer some basic questions. The licenses require a one-day waiting period, and are then valid for 60 days. The group Equality Illinois says every state agency is required to comply with the law, but it says churches can opt out of conducting civil unions if they choose.

Rev. Keith Harris of McKinley Memorial Presbyterian Church in Champaign said he will be performing civil union ceremonies because "we understand that God sees it that way." But Harris said he won't perform any civil union ceremonies unless couples participate in up to five sessions of counseling, either at his church or somewhere else.

"We're not just contributing to the rate of broken relationships," Harris said.

The new law gives people many significant legal protections that accompany traditional marriage. That includes the power to decide medical treatment for an ailing partner and the right to inherit a partner's property. In order to share insurance benefits, couples must also obtain a separate document from the county clerk proving the ceremony happened.

State Representative Greg Harris (D-Chicago), who sponsored the civil union legislation, is credited with shepherding it through the General Assembly.

"I know all kinds of couples personally," Harris said. "There are people across the state who've invited me to their ceremonies to say thanks for helping get the bill passed. I will go broke buying toasters and punch sets, I believe, if I go to all these events."

Speaking to reporters Wednesday morning, Gov. Pat Quinn praised the start of civil unions in Illinois. The Illinois Democrat signed the legislation in January. He said the law makes Illinois "a place of tolerance and welcoming to all.''

(Photo courtesy of Laura Leonard Fitch)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 01, 2011

Ill. Lawmakers Adjourn for the Summer

Illinois' General Assembly has officially adjourned. The House finished late Tuesday evening, followed by the Senate adjourning just after midnight. Lawmakers spent their last day of session tackling issues ranging from gambling to workers compensation.

The last minute rush of action means a heap of measures now await Governor Pat Quinn.

There's the gambling package that allows for five new casinos, including in Chicago, Danville and Rockford --- plus slots at racetracks, including Springfield's state fair grounds.

There's the legislation shepherded through by Ameren and Com Ed that upgrades the power grid and has customers pay for it in their electric bills.

And there's an overhaul of the workers' compensation system, which President of the Illinois Manufacturer's Association Greg Baise said is needed.

"It's been a bad system since 1975, really," Baise said. "It'll be an improvement for the employer community."

The General Assembly also sent Governor Quinn a budget, which cuts education and social services, and spends $2.3 billion less than Governor Quinn had asked for.

House Republican Leader Tom Cross says making the cuts wasn't easy, but resulted in a great product.

"Not only was it balanced, but it was a document that was driven from the bottom up by you as members," Cross told his fellow state representatives. "That's the way it should be. It's pretty remarkable.

Both chambers are adjourned ostensibly until October's veto session.

But there's a chance they could come back this summer, to respond if the governor vetoes any of the proposals on his desk.

Lawmakers might return to revive funding for a statewide infrastructure program, should the Illinois Supreme Court rule in a pending case that the current funding source is unconstitutional. There's also a push by the Senate Democrats to restore money cut from the budget for some social service programs.

For now, all eyes are on Quinn.

Categories: Government, Politics

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