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Full Court Won't Rehear Blagojevich Appeal

Aug 19, 2015
U.S. Government

A full appellate court in Chicago will not rehear the appeal of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's corruption convictions.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals posted a notice Wednesday indicating there would be no rehearing for the imprisoned Democrat.

Blagojevich had hoped the full court might overturn more of his 18 convictions than the five counts a three-judge panel tossed in July.

Blagojevich's only remaining option for more counts to be overturned is an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The top Democrat in the Illinois state senate says Governor Bruce Rauner’s latest all-in-one proposal won’t pass.

Governor Rauner wants Democrats to at least hold a vote on his package of policy ideas, which limit collective bargaining and workers compensation:

So he’s put all those ideas in one bill.

But Democratic Senate President John Cullerton says Rauner needs to be practical.

“There’s Republicans who don’t want to vote for those collective bargaining provisions in the Senate,” Cullerton said. “We’ve got two senators who are in union!”

Carl Nelson / WNIJ

At least a dozen Republicans are chasing the party's presidential nomination. But which of them will get a boost from Illinois' new, and privately wealthy, Republican governor?

During his campaign for the governor's mansion, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner kept bringing one well-known Republican in for help: New Jersey's Gov. Chris Christie.

Here's Christie a year ago, stumping for Rauner in Springfield:

"Well, I'm thrilled to be back in Illinois,” Christie said. “I'm going to be back a number of times over the course of the next 55 days."

Flickr user Daniel Borman / "Money, Money, Money" (CC BY 2.0)

A recent analysis found that both the budget proposal from Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner and the one approved by Democratic lawmakers would leave the state with a more than $9 billion deficit. 

Ralph Martire, executive director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, says that neither plan takes into account the shortfall from last fiscal year. 

"The budget deficit carry forward from 2015 into 2016 is going to be $5.9 billion,” Martire said. “That will appear nowhere on state financial records. They won't have a balanced budget. Let's just be honest."

Jason Rosenbaum / St. Louis Public Radio

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin provided a fairly blunt reply to the proposition that the War on Drugs failed.

“By some measure, it has failed,” said Durbin, D-Ill. “If the measure is the cost of drugs on the street, it has failed. But when we look at the individual lives saved, there are certainly heroic great stories to be told. But we have to be honest about what works and what doesn’t.”

Vijay Kumar Koulampet, CC BY-SA 3.0 / via Wikimedia Commons

Wisconsin may ban research on aborted fetal tissue. A bill moving through the legislature would outlaw selling, donating, and experimenting with fetal body parts in Wisconsin. Republican lawmakers behind the measure say it wouldn’t affect current research using existing cell lines.

  The Wisconsin Assembly’s criminal justice committee held a hearing Tuesday: supporters say they hope to have the votes lined up to pass the ban as early as next month.

Former Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar has some advice for the man currently in the job – fellow Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. Edgar says it might be time for Rauner to blink.

After more than five weeks working without a budget, Illinois leaders don't seem close to compromise. The two main players -- Rauner and Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan -- both say they could work together to pass a budget, but …

Rauner says he won't compromise his five pro-business initiatives in his "Turnaround Agenda." Madigan, on the other hand, calls Rauner's positions "extreme."

WUIS

State employees have begun receiving pink slips, as a budget impasse looms -- a total of 171 workers will lose their jobs. Workers have gotten notice that they'll be out of work by the end of September.

Those impacted are at the state's economic development and emergency management agencies, the commerce commission and the department of transportation. That also includes more than one hundred Dept. of Natural Resources employees.

The move comes as Gov. Bruce Rauner plans to close the Illinois State Museum and a shooting complex in Sparta.

Christopher Voss

Here's another way to think of the budget standoff: a prison siege.

Christopher Voss is familiar with this scenario, having been a chief negotiator for the FBI. He says inmate rebellions offer lessons for sparring politicians.

"Behind each leader are groups of unruly inmates that are trying to decide who they're going to follow," Voss says.

Brian Mackey / WUIS

Non-profit groups say the ongoing fight over the state budget could lead to tragic consequences for thousands of Illinoisans.

The agencies have state contracts for everything from taking care of people with disabilities to placing children in foster care. But the partisan fight over state spending means they're not being paid.

Al Riddley, on the board of the Illinois Partners for Human Service, says the groups are being led on a "death march."

"Perhaps it's time to change our state motto from 'Land of Lincoln' to 'We Don't Care,'" Riddley says.

Senate Passes Property Tax Freeze, School Funding Redo

Aug 5, 2015
Amanda Vinicky / WUIS

Local property taxes would be frozen for two years under a measure approved Tuesday by the Illinois Senate. That's on Gov. Bruce Rauner's wish-list, but Republicans are still against the plan.

After a failed attempt last month, Democratic Senate President John Cullerton shepherded his proposal through.

How much money local governments could ask taxpayers for would be stuck for a couple years -- something Rauner, a Republican, insists happen before he'll negotiate with Democrats on the budget.

Cullerton characterizes the effort as a sort of olive branch.

Amanda Vinicky

The governor and Democratic legislators yesterday came to a budget agreement, but only a minor one. A broader stalemate continues.

Anything to do with state spending this year has pretty much been split down party lines. Democrats passed a spending plan, Republican Gov. Bruce Raunervetoed almost all of it.

That's what has Illinois into its second month without a budget.

Then there was a thaw yesterday. Senators from both parties voted to spend $5 billion of federal money -- the state just serves as a pass through.

Rauner Issues State Disaster Proclamation For 23 Counties

Aug 4, 2015

Gov. Bruce Rauner has issued a state disaster proclamation for 23 counties devastated by severe storms this summer and has asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help assess the damages there.

Rauner on Monday said a series of storms in June and July caused heavy rainfall, flash and river flooding, tornadoes and straight-line winds in the 23 counties stretching from Alexander County on the Ohio River to Grundy County in north central Illinois.

A panel of lawmakers will weigh in Wednesday on the planned closure of two state facilities. But the final decision rests with the governor. 

Governor Bruce Rauner has proposed closing the state museum in Springfield and the Hardin County Work Camp to save money.  But many disagree, including central Illinois state Senator Andy Manar.

"I think the governor is correct in pointing out that operating a museum and preserving history comes at a cost.  But I, like thousands of others across the state, believe the cost is worth it," Manar said.

A Chicago alderman has proposed a penny-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks in that city.  There is also an effort to make that happen statewide.

Elissa Bassler says this idea can both bring in revenue and improve health.  She's the CEO of the Illinois Public Health Institute and head of the Illinois Alliance to Prevent Obesity.

The definition of sugary drink would of course include soda.  But also juice and even teas and coffees that have sugar added. 

Legislation signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner would provide up to four years of college for people who have served time in an Illinois prison due to a wrongful conviction.

Exonerees who have obtained a certificate of innocence from the court, or a pardon based on actual innocence from the Illinois governor, now qualify for tuition grants. Those who didn't graduate from high school can also get grants to pay for GED testing.

State Senator Dan Kotowski, a Democrat from Park Ridge, sponsored the legislation.

St. Louis Public Radio

The U.S. Senate is scheduled to take a procedural vote today on whether to strip funding from Planned Parenthood. Upset by undercover videos released by an anti-abortion group, Republicans say they want to shift more than $500 million from Planned Parenthood to other clinics. 

Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill says the move could endanger women’s access to birth control, likely resulting in more abortions. Missouri Republican Roy Blunt disagrees and says he’s confident women will still find those services.

photo: wikipedia

The defense attorney for Rod Blagojevich says he will ask a full appellate court in Chicago to re-hear the imprisoned former governor's appeal.

That’s after a panel of three judges tossed out five of 18 corruption convictions.

The appellate panel threw out convictions linked to Blagojevich's attempt to land a post in President Barack Obama's Cabinet by appointing an Obama adviser to the president's old U.S. Senate seat.

The panel also ordered the trial judge to re-sentence Blagojevich, factoring in the overturned counts.

No Pay Increase For U Of I Employees Until Budget Deal

Jul 30, 2015
WUIS

University of Illinois employees won't see pay raises, at least until a state budget is finalized. 

Nearly a month into the new fiscal year, the university is still waiting to see the impact of budget negotiations.

Without a budget in place, President Timothy Killeen sent a letter to the campuses that says the U of I is temporarily deferring consideration of a salary program.   Usually, those pay increases kick in around the time classes start in August.  Killeen says the decision will impact all personnel.

WUIS

You’ll be able to get your fill of corn dogs and lemon shakeups as usual when state fairs get underway next month. 

Democratic House Speaker Mike Madigan said that without a budget, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner does not have the power to spend on Illinois’ two state fairs.  But both events are moving forward.

Without a state budget, funding has halted for social services and other programs. Rauner’s administration has not made clear how it intends to pay for fair expenses.

Brian Mackey/WUIS

Governor Bruce Rauner has vetoed legislation that would have blocked public-employee strikes and management lockouts of those workers. He vetoed the bill in part because it was based on what he called the false premise he has been unreasonable in negotiating with state workers.

The governor also complained about the measure's plan to resolve contract-negotiation impasses with binding arbitration. 

Flickr user Daniel Borman / "Money, Money, Money" (CC BY 2.0)

Illinois state lawmakers are warning key figures in Chicago and Cook County governments to draft back-up plans for their underfunded pensions.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle are both trying to approve changes to the retirement benefits their government workers receive because the funds are running out of money.

But that comes after the state Supreme Court called reductions in benefits to State of Illinois employees’ pensions unconstitutional.

Political Leaders Urge Rauner To Backtrack On Amtrak Cuts

Jul 29, 2015
Brian Mackey / WUIS

A group of downstate political leaders is urging Governor Bruce Rauner to backtrack on proposed cuts to Amtrak.

Members of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association held a news conference in Springfield to warn of possible cuts. Joining them was State Representative Don Moffitt, whose district includes the Amtrak line through Princeton, Galesburg and Macomb. 

Moffitt says Amtrak currently serves a lot of college students in western Illinois and across the state. He says if passenger rail service is ever going to be self-supporting, it must be on-time and provide options. 

Illinois is likely to enter August without a full-year budget for Fiscal Year 2016, which began July 1. The longer the impasse continues, the more the impact will be felt. 

Most Illinois residents may be busy with their summer and less focused on the state budget, since schools are expected to open on time. State workers also are getting paid.

Republican State Rep. Tim Butler says the ongoing fiscal fight will boil over in more ways:

Illinois Prisons Still Overcrowded Despite Prisoner Decrease

Jul 27, 2015
Flickr user miss_millions / " Prison cells" (CC v 2.0)

New state data show that the number of people incarcerated in Illinois prisons has fallen in recent years but facilities still remain overcrowded.

The Springfield bureau of Lee Enterprises newspapers reports that the most recent report on Illinois Department of Corrections facilities shows the agency held 47,483 inmates in May 2015. That's the lowest since May 2010 when the department reported 47,150 inmates behind bars.

The peak was in January 2013 with 49,321 inmates.

The state prison system's facilities are designed to house 32,000 prisoners.

St. Louis Public Radio

In a rare Sunday session, the U.S. Senate gave overwhelming approval to a plan to re-authorize the charter of the Export-Import Bank, as part of its six-year highway bill.  The bank’s charter expired in June.  All four U.S. senators from Illinois and Missouri voted for the plan, backed by Democrats and mainstream Republicans.

Tea Party Republicans have long opposed the bank, calling it “corporate welfare” for big business. Supporters disagree and say the bank helps businesses of all sizes.

Hopes for ending the budget stalemate faded even further this week when Gov. Bruce Rauner's office interrupted a news conference called by Senate President John Cullerton.

Cullerton, a Democrat, began by telling reporters that Rauner's budget was unbalanced when it was introduced. But then Cullerton appeared to offer an olive branch, according to Illinois Public Radio's Amanda Vinicky. In front of reporters, he asked the Governor to start over on the budget.

Flickr user / Images Money "Healthcare Costs" (CC BY 2.0)

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration is not yet saying whether it plans to fund Medicaid providers outside Cook County. That question remained after a federal judge ordered the state to pay providers in Cook County while the budget impasse at the Statehouse continues.

A decade-old court order was used as a vehicle to sue state government and force Medicaid payments to Cook County hospitals and doctors.

Democratic Sen. Heather Steans says she hopes Gov. Rauner, a Republican, expands that ruling to Medicaid providers all across the state.

State of Illinois

The search for a new state Auditor General has begun in earnest. 

The Auditor General serves as Illinois governments' top internal investigator. It's a job that Bill Holland has held for more than two decades.

But last month, he announced he's stepping down.

A bipartisan legislative commission says it's accepting applications for his replacement. At his retirement announcement, Holland gave his view of the desired skills set:

durbin.senate.gov

The question of whether members of the military should be allowed to arm themselves is getting more attention after last week’s shooting death of five service members in Chattanooga, Tennessee. 

The Chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Services committees say they are already working on legislation to clarify when a post commander may allow service members to be armed while on U.S. soil.

Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin believes members of the military should be allowed to protect themselves when they are functioning in uniform, and in an official capacity.

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