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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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.

 

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

The family of a Rockford man who last week was shot by a Rockford police officer is calling for a more substantial investigation.

 

 

The family of Tyris Jones and their lawyer, Nenye Uche, held a press conference in front of City Hall this week. Uche wants the Winnebago County state’s attorney’s office to conduct a criminal investigation of the officer, Dominik McNiece. 

 

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

 

 

A group of protesters have been camped outside of Rockford City Hall since Sunday, calling for officials to release the name of the officer who shot a man several times in the back last Friday. 

 

Skye Gia Garcia is an activist and camped outside of the City Hall. She said, “The opportunity is here for the community to humanize someone instead of criminalize them and dehumanize them.”

 

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

As COVID-19 positivity rates in Rockford continue to rise, school bus drivers are dealing with their new normal. 

 

Catina Barnett is president of the school bus drivers’ union Local 1275 in Rockford. And she’s coming up on her first anniversary in the role. 

 

“It's been quite busy. Without a doubt, very busy," she said. "Things have transpired from COVID taking out an entire world  to people being laid off from their job and the world coming to a standstill.”

 

Paul Carpenter 2020 Website

Winnebago County State’s Attorney Marilyn Hite Ross is defending her decision to dismiss an assistant state’s attorney who is also a current candidate to succeed her in the office.

 

 

Hite Ross removed Assistant State’s Attorney Paul Carpenter from his post over the weekend. She said all employees in her office are employed "at will" which means they can be dismissed at her discretion at any time.

 

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

This week, the Mercyhealth campus on Rockford’s West Side officially got the green light to permanently shut down its mental health unit.

 

 

On Tuesday, the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board voted 5-0, in favor of allowing Mercyhealth to shutter its mental health unit at the Rockton Avenue campus. 

Danielle Angileri is with the National Alliance on Mental Health of Northern Illinois. She said these services are more vital than ever. 

 

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

SEIU Local 73 confirmed that its bargaining units reached contract agreements with the University of Illinois at Chicago after more than a week on strike. Workers returned this morning.

SEIU member Alicia Uwumarogie confirmed, “The strike is over and that we are leaving the picket lines victorious in so many areas.”

The “wins” in the new agreements include increases in shift differentials, bilingual pay for hospital workers and the workers of the division of specialized care for children.

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

Organized workers at the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Rockford continued their strike this week as contract negotiations continue.  

Carmen Garcia has worked for the UIC division of specialized child care for more than 20 years. She says she and her coworkers just want a fair contract like other staff are already getting. 

WNIJ News

 The DeKalb Police Department may be sporting body-worn cameras sooner than anticipated.

 

The DeKalb City Council unanimously approved a contract with Axon Enterprises, Inc. to purchase body-worn cameras for the police department. DeKalb City Manager Bill Nicklas says it’s a step in the right direction.  

 

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

A Rockford couple says authorities broke through their door during a botched raid. Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco has more:  

 

 

On August 20th, members of the State Line Area Narcotics Team used a search warrant for the property on Hancock Street to enter the home of Travis Legge. The Rockford Register Star confirmed later that the search warrant was based on information that illegal cannabis sales occurred at the listed address.

 

Fiat Chrystler Automobiles

There’s new information known about COVID-19 cases associated with the Fiat Chrysler assembly plant in Belvidere. 

 

Health officials from the Boone and Winnebago county health departments have been working closely with Fiat Chrysler to identify cases of COVID-19 at the Belvidere plant. The goal is to determine whether cases among workers were through community spread, or if there was an outbreak within the plant itself.

 

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

The Labor Day parade in Rockford was canceled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but some local organizers came up with another way to support workers.

 

 

In Midtown Rockford, the northern Illinois chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America organized a special Labor Day rally. They’re calling for support of the post office and postal workers. That's amid a string of controversial operational changes at the post office that have contributed to longer wait times and delayed mail. 

 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Renters facing eviction are now receiving new federal protections through the end of the year. 

This week the Trump administration announced a temporary halt in residential evictions for those struggling during the pandemic. The latest eviction ban, which goes through December of this year, comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

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