Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

Social Justice Reporter

Juanpablo covers substandard housing and police-community relations. He’s been a bilingual facilitator at the StoryCorps office in Chicago. As a civic reporting fellow at City Bureau, a non-profit news organization that focuses on Chicago’s South Side, Ramirez-Franco produced print and audio stories about the Pilsen neighborhood. Before that, he was a production intern at the Third Coast International Audio Festival and the rural America editorial intern at In These Times magazine. Ramirez-Franco grew up in northern Illinois. He is a graduate of Knox College.

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Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

Every year, Illinois spends more than 6 million dollars on litter pickup. 

 

Pat Fong is a volunteer with Rotary of Rockford East-Cherry Valley. She says that the group comes out four times a year to pick up trash alongside East State Street near I-90 via the Illinois Department of Transportation’s Adopt-a-Highway program. Fong said that the area has seen significant improvement.

 

http://www.senatorstadelman.com/

 A new mental health bill making its way through the state legislature would mean millions of dollars for increased access to mental health treatment.

 

State Senator Steve Stadelman’s bill would create a roadmap for counties looking to turn local tax revenue into support for those living with substance abuse and issues related to mental health. The Rockford Democrat said counties could see an additional $14 million of aid make its way to where it’s needed most. 

 

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

The DeKalb City Council on Monday voted unanimously on a settlement to require Hunter Properties to sell some of its holdings.

 

 

The DeKalb City Council delivered an agreement requiring the controversial landlord to sell four of its apartment buildings. City Manager Bill Nicklas said that the only solution to years of Hunter’s scores of violations and unpaid fines is a change in ownership.

 

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

Members of Black Lives Matter DeKalb gathered Friday night to remember lives lost to police brutality.

The vigil at Memorial Park was organized to honor the lives of George Floyd, Daunte Wright, and Adam Toledo. Jocelyn Santana was one of the organizers of the event, and she says it felt like an important time for the community to come together and “heal.”

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

In the wake of the Derek Chauvin guilty verdict, Rockford activists continue calling for transparency in local police encounters.

 

For some the guilty verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial hasn’t provided the resolution they were hoping for. Rockford activists say they’re still reeling from the list of deadly encounters with the police since the death of George Floyd in their own back yard. For Leslie Rolfe, an activist with the May 30th Alliance, the guilty verdict hasn’t translated to improved police accountability in the city. 

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

 A new proposal in Congress could promise additional resources to Illinois farmers on the frontlines of climate change. 

 

Northern Illinois congresswoman Lauren Underwood said the Farmers Fighting Climate Change Act she introduced will help farmers and ranchers deal with increased flooding and delayed planting seasons. Both are blamed on the warming climate.

 

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

Winnebago County residents can now apply for financial help due to hardships related to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Winnebago County officials announced on Monday that the money is available through a federally-funded $8.3 million Emergency Rental Assistance Grant for housing stability for renters and landlords.

Anqunette Parham is with the city of Rockford’s Human Services Department. She says the city and county have already given out hundreds of thousands of dollars in emergency rent assistance. 

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

Workers from Easterseals in Rockford picketed in front of the organization’s former offices. Contract negotiations between the organization and the union are lagging over wage increases. 

 

 

Brenda Schlueter is a paraprofessional with Easterseals, an organization that provides educational services to children and young adults with behavioral or developmental disabilities. 

 

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

The sixth-term Congressman took questions as part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences public lecture series,  "Rebuilding Democracy."

 

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

Healthcare workers in Rockford are calling on legislators to invest more in caregiving.

 

 

Members of SEIU in Rockford are rallying behind a proposal that would widen the current assessment scoring used to determine eligibility for home care programs. Brenda Brockman with SEIU called it a step towards restructuring long-term care options. 

 

Illinois.gov

Last month, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed into law massive changes to the state’s criminal justice system. Since then, supporters and critics continue to weigh in on how the measures will affect members of law enforcement and the community. 

 

 

City of Dekalb

The search for DeKalb’s new police chief is finally over.

 

 

David Byrd is DeKalb’s newest police chief. The hiring of the Chicago native and 31-year veteran colonel with the Illinois State Police received no objections from DeKalb City Council.

 

http://www.senatordavesyverson.com

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law a massive criminal justice overhaul. Critics are already lining up. 

 

Rockford-area Republican Sen. Dave Syverson said he sympathizes with the opponents of the measure, and referred to it as a “blatant anti-police bill.” 

"Well, certainly I'm disappointed that bill was signed and not vetoed, or even amendatorily vetoed. There are some things in there that make sense. Problem is that the major things that are in there clearly are going to tie the hands of law enforcement."

Boone County Health Department

Boone County is beginning to expand its COVID-19 vaccination efforts to workers in manufacturing. 

 

 

Manufacturers are partnering with the Boone County Health Department to deliver vaccinations to their employees. Amanda Mehl, with the BCDH, said these workers are among the most likely to contract the coronavirus. 

 

“Over the last 10-and-a-half months, we have identified that the number one exposure location for individuals here in Boone County has been in a factory setting,” said Mehl. 

Last week a record number of women were sworn into leadership roles at Rockford United Labor. 

 

 

Sara Dorner, a local labor representative for AFSCME Council 31, made history by being elected the first female president of Rockford United Labor. But she says women aren’t new to the picket line. 

 

“We've always been here, this is nothing new. We're just happy you're seeing us now,” said Dorner. 

 

Stellantis

 

Workers at the Belvidere Assembly Plant are eligible for COVID-19 vaccines beginning this week. 

In Boone County, workers at the Stellantis -- formerly Fiat-Chrysler -- assembly plant -- can now get their shots. Kevin Logan is the President of UAW 1268. He says the vaccines are a good sign. 

 

Lindsay Lamb

Lawyers representing some of the families who lost relatives after a COVID-19 outbreak at the LaSalle Veterans’ Home are preparing to file a lawsuit.

Lindsay Lamb’s grandfather, Richard Cieski Sr., died in November. He was one of more than 30 residents at the home to contract COVID-19 and die from the outbreak there. Lamb says she was close to her grandfather.

“He was, we always laughed, he was a big schmoozer. He was a big flirt. He was a big family man, his family was everything to him. His wife was everything to him,” said Lamb. 

The annual tally of people who are homeless in the Rockford region is going to be more challenging this year. That’s due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

 

 

Rockford city officials and partner agencies are gearing up for the "point-in-time count." The survey of people experiencing homelessness takes place once a year over a 24-hour period. The PIT covers Winnebago, Boone and DeKalb counties.

Angie Walker is a housing advocate with the City of Rockford. She says the coronavirus adds a level of difficulty. 

https://www.staterepwest.com/

Illinois lawmakers passed sweeping changes to the state’s criminal justice system.  

 

 

The Illinois House followed the state Senate to approve a stripped down set of reforms from the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus. It includes changes to police certification, the use of force and the cash bail system. The bill now goes to Governor J.B. Pritzker.

The original package drew early opposition from members of law enforcement including Winnebago County Sheriff Gary Caruana. 

 

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

A federation of Illinois labor unions says closing the Byron and Dresden nuclear stations would devastate workers and communities in the state.

 

 

 

An updated report issued by the Brattle Group for the Illinois AFL-CIO says the closures would cost the region thousands of jobs and millions of dollars. Pat Devaney is the treasurer for the organization.

 

 

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

Some Rockford residents think it’s not too late to stop the Rockford Public Library from closing the books on two west side branches. 

 

A campaign to save the Rock River and Rockton Centre library branches from permanent closure is underway. Bill Rose, a Rockford alderman, said that closing the branches doesn’t solve the libraries long term financial problems. 

“We know COVID is gonna impact us but we can't be a top community when we're closing libraries,” Rose said.

 

Unsplash

If you are an Illinois resident worried about a possible eviction, a nonprofit group of attorneys has some free legal advice.

 

 

Prairie State Legal Services provides free legal services to people with low income and those over the age of 60 in northern and central Illinois. Marisa Wiesman, with the organization, wants to clear up any misconceptions about the pandemic eviction moratorium.  

 

First, there’s a reason the moratorium is renewed every month and it’s unclear how long it will last. 

Sarah Jesmer

An Illinois congressman recently introduced legislation to help keep two nuclear power plants in his district from closing. 

 

 

Power company Exelon announced last summer that it plans to close its Byron and Dresden Generating Stations in 2021. But 16th District Representative Adam Kinzinger said Illinois -- and the country -- get a significant amount of electricity from nuclear.

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

A new program is promising free legal and advisory services for Illinois residents with marijuana convictions looking for a fresh start.

New Leaf Illinois is a state-sponsored program that aims to provide Illinois residents with resources to expunge their records of marijuana convictions. Illinois State Representative Kelly Cassidy said it’s the first step towards addressing the casualties from the war on drugs.

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

Due to the climbing positivity rate of COVID-19 in Winnebago County, this week the Rockford Mass Transit District is implementing restriction on some of its services.

 

 

Last month Rockford city bus drivers went down to City Hall to call for improved safety precautions on the buses. This month RMTD responded with some slight changes, but Jodi Williams, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1333, said she’s still worried. 

 

The Winnebago-Boone County Integrity Task Force submitted its investigation into the shooting of an unarmed man by a Rockford police officer to the Winnebago County State’s Attorney. 

 

 

It’s been just over a month since the shooting of Tyris Jones by Rockford police officer Dominik McNiece. Winnebago County State’s Attorney Marilyn Hite Ross said her office will now review the task force’s completed investigation. 

 

Connie Kuntz

Rockford health care facilities are feeling the strain of COVID-19 related hospitalizations. 

 

 

Officials at all of the local health care systems say that they have been seeing significant increases in COVID-19 admissions.  Dr. Sandra Martell from the Winnebago County Health Department said the region could see cascading consequences.

 

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

Protests continue in Rockford since the death of George Floyd. Officeholders and activists are looking for pathways to improve police and community relations.

“I feel great. I think I've never been more optimistic about the work that the City's doing to build relationships,” said Rockford’s Mayor Tom McNamara. “Improve our community and the quality of life of our citizens.”

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

There are conflicting reports about the shooting of a Black man by a police officer earlier this month in Rockford.

Nenye Uche is the lawyer representing the man who was shot, Tyris Jones. Uche held a news conference in front of City Hall calling for increased transparency from the Winnebago-Boone County Integrity Task Force. The group is investigating the shooting by Rockford Police officer Dominik McNiece.

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

The Rockford Police Department is unveiling a first response pilot program aimed at addressing mental health crises. 

 

In response to emergency calls that involve a person experiencing a mental or behavioral health crisis, RPD, Rosecrance and several other agencies are partnering to develop an alternative to traditional law enforcement.

 

Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara says it could help de-escalate situations.

 

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