A Springfield alderman is reviving a controversial tax proposal… as the city tries to prepare for a potential infrastructure crisis.
Even though the city’s Public Works Department is requesting two-percent less in its budget for next year compared to this year, Director Mark Mahoney warns that the city’s streets, sidewalks and sewers are in desperate need of repairs… and the potential price tag is growing.
Alderman Gail Simpson is once again suggesting that the city impose a tax on dining out to generate revenues for a repair program… even though that idea went down in flames when it was brought up several years ago.
Another local congressman says the issue in the aftermath of the Connecticut school massacre isn’t guns… it’s mental illness.
Like Aaron Schock a day earlier, GOP Congressman Rodney Davis also says that focusing on new gun restrictions is misplaced, and says Congress should instead be working to expand access to mental health treatment.
Davis doesn’t rule out changes to background checks or a crackdown on so-called “straw purchases” of guns, but only if mental health is part of the discussion. And he flatly opposes an assault weapons ban, saying it would only outlaw guns that are scary-looking, but not any more lethal than any other kind of firearm.
U.S. Senator Mark Kirk is working on legislation intended to slow down the supply of guns on the street.
Kirk is teaming up with Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand to increase the penalties for so-called “straw purchases,” where guns are bought, often in bulk, and then resold on the black market, usually winding up in the hands of gang members.
He describes the bill as “the first bipartisan gun safety measure” to be introduced in the aftermath of the Newtown shootings.
Kirk is also working with another Democrat, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, to expand the use of background checks for all gun sales.
Springfield police have arrested two men in connection with the murder of a visiting Minneapolis man early Wednesday.
Authorities say 38-year-old Charles Rice… who used to live in Springfield… was gunned down following an argument over a car accident near 19th and Kansas.
Another man was seriously wounded.
Police located the two suspects a short distance away. 34-year-old Oscar Brown is facing charges of first-degree murder and attempted murder, while 21-year-old Richard Lawaury may be charged with unlawful use of a weapon by a felon.
Beer gardens won’t have to close up early after all.
That promise comes from Mayor Mike Houston, who says aldermen and the press misinterpreted his ordinance this week aimed at regulating noise and alcohol sales at downtown street festivals.
The ordinance calls for cutting off alcohol by 11:30pm at those outdoor festivals, but also appeared to apply the same time limit to beer gardens and special outdoor events held by established bars and taverns.
Houston called in to 970 WMAY’s “Ray Lytle Show” to assure the public that beer gardens won’t be affected by the ordinance, and vowed to clarify the language so that it wouldn’t disrupt bars who get special permits for outdoor sales.
Springfield's Public Works Department has proposed a budget that is just over 2.1 percent under last year's numbers at nearly $42 million dollars while warning of potential problems in the city's infrastructure down the road.
The biggest increase in the budget for FY2014 is for electronic data processing to bring in new technology making the department more efficient. Personal services and fringe benefits are proposed to be down by nearly $100,000.
There are 66 fewer employees in Public Works' budget for the coming year than there were six years ago.
Another major component of the Public Works budget is the increase of funds for infrastructure improvements.
Public Works Director Mark Mahoney says the city should be spending $44 million on infrastructure improvements in a perfect world, but the actual number is a fraction of that.
The lack of infrastructure improvements is evident in the number of poor ratings in roads over the past few years, according to the Public Works director.
Mahoney says there needs to be a substantial increase in preventative pavement maintenance in the coming years.
As for infrastructure funds coming from gambling revenue, Mahoney says it's still unclear how much will be brought in for the coming year.
Mahoney says, as with most cities around the country, Springfield's infrastructure is in decline. He says that it can either be funded now or later, but it will cost more to fund it later.
The department proposes in the future there be an annual maintenance plan with increased funds for streets, sidewalks, and storm sewers with a 10 year sanitary sewer capital improvement plan of $5.5 million annually.
Alderman Gail Simpson says there needs to be an influx of revenue to address what she calls a stark reality check of Springfield's crumbling infrastructure. She says the choices will be tough, but something like a one-percent tax increase on dining could provide that needed revenue stream.
Mahoney says that at some point someone has to pay for the maintenance and infrastructure modernization.
Alderman Doris Turner says she's concerned about infrastructure improvements in the future being lopsided and creating what she called a two tiered segregated city.
Mahoney says public works is looking for every possible place to save money in order to use towards infrastructure improvements but it just won't be enough.
The Springfield Fire Department budget is expected to go up 4.4 percent in the coming fiscal year with a majority of the increase coming from personal services and fringe benefits, including an increase in IMRF and pension funds.
The FY2014 budget comes in at just over $35 million dollars.
A requested fire engine was cut by the mayors office, according to Fire Chief Ken Fustin. As for fire trucks approved for purchase last year, those won't arrive in Springfield until later this year.
The fire chief says his department has some of the same technological challenges as the police department.
As for headcount, Fustin says the SAFER grant that covers the salary and benefits of 20 members hired in 2011 is going to expire in November.
Meanwhile, Fustin says there could be a tremendous "brain drain" in the department over the next four to five years because of upcoming retirements.
During Wednesday's budget hearing at Springfield City Hall, Human Resources proposed their new budget and say a major challenge in the coming fiscal year will be the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obama Care.
Director Melina Tomaras-Collins says HR will also be challenged by the fleet consolidation labor issues.
Another focus from aldermen was the measures being taken by Human Resources to bring about more diversity in the city's workforce. There were also issues raised about background check and drug test costs.
The HR budget comes in at 5.5 percent higher than last year at just over $1 million.
During Wednesday's marathon budget hearing, The Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau says they are doing more with less. The budget using hotel-motel tax is down 5.3 percent but there were increases across the board in the number of tours and conventions to Springfield.
SCVB Director Fred Puglia says they will focus on technology in 2013.
All together, five different departments presented their budgets and fielded questions from aldermen. Aldermen have until March 1st to approve all city department budgets.
The Springfield Police Department's overall budget for the next fiscal year comes in at nearly $40 million, or 5.5 percent more than last year with the majority of that increase coming from salary and fringe benefits increase.
Springfield Police Department says they are working on technology issues
Police Chief Robert Williams says among the department's goals in the following year is to "catch up with technology."
Alderman Frank Edwards says it's "ridiculous" that officers are still handwriting reports and it's time to bring the department "into new century."
Williams says there are a host of challenges in modernizing the reporting process for police including computer server updates, bandwidth, and network connectivity, problems police say they've been working to overcome for four years.
Edwards says having the the problem for four years is "Mickey Mouse silliness."
Alderman Gail Simpson said the technology issue in the police department is a public safety concern. She went on to say it's disturbing and she doesn't feel safe. She later rescinded those comments saying she was being flippant. Simpson said she would be okay with increasing the department's travel budget in order to for police to study other departments that use modern reporting techniques.
The police budget asks for an increase of a quarter-of-a-million dollars in equipment dollars in anticipation of buying 50 new computers for squad cars. Chief Williams says the department's technology problems are priority number one and a group of 5 people are working on ways to update the department.
Aldermen must approve the budgets for all Springfield departments by March 1st.
Congressman Aaron Schock says the response to tragedies like last month's Connecticut school shooting should be to focus on mental health... not on guns.
Speaking to reporters in Springfield, the Peoria Republican says none of the gun control proposals offered by President Obama and Vice-President Biden would have done anything to prevent the mass shootings at Sandy Hook.
While he says he might consider proposals such as an expansion of background checks before gun purchases, Schock says his approach will be to try to make it easier for parents to get help for their mentally-ill children. But the plan he's working on does not include any additional federal funding for mental health programs, something that advocates say is necessary to close the treatment gap in states like Illinois.
Two men were shot after an altercation over a vehicle mishap at 19th and Kansas early this morning.
Assistant Springfield Police Chief Cliff Buscher says police were called at around 4am after a parked car was either sideswiped or backed into by a car with two occupants. 35-year-old Oscar Brown and 22-year-old Richard Lawuery got out of the car and exchanged words with the two in the parked car. Police allege that Brown drew a gun and shot the two in the parked car. One man died and the other was hospitalized in stable condition.
Police arrested Brown and charged him with first degree homicide and unlawful use of a weapon. Richard Lawuery was arrested and charged with aggravated unlawful use of a weapon and obstruction of justice.
Former Governor George Ryan is now back at home in Kankakee… after being released from federal prison and spending just hours at a halfway house in Chicago.
Federal prison officials say Ryan was not given special treatment with the decision to allow him to return home and serve the remainder of his sentence under home confinement. They say that since Ryan is nearly 79 years old, it didn’t make sense to keep him in the halfway house.
Ryan will be required to stay in his house, except to report to a job, until his sentence is completed in July.
Don’t worry… beer gardens won’t have to cut off the booze before midnight. That’s the message that Mayor Mike Houston wants to send after a new uproar over his efforts to put some controls on downtown music and outdoor alcohol sales. Houston’s ordinance was interpreted as cutting off liquor sales at 11:30pm, not just for music festivals, but also for beer gardens and special events at local bars.
Calling in live to 970 WMAY’s “Ray Lytle Show,” Houston says the ordinance does not affect beer gardens at all… and says he will amend the ordinance to clarify that bars with special event permits can serve alcohol later. But major festivals like SOHO would still have to shut off the taps by 11:30.
Springfield is in line for a million dollars in state funds to improve the downtown streetscape. It’s part of $50 million in grant funding announced by the Quinn administration for bike trails, beautification and other projects.
In addition to the money for downtown Springfield, Quinn has authorized $2 million for improvements to the downtown Jacksonville plaza, and $350,000 for Phase II of the Plummer bike and pedestrian trail in Chatham.
The latest video from Senator Mark Kirk’s office has a very ominous message about gang violence and gun trafficking.
The highly produced video (seen below or at this link) focuses on straw purchases and gang activity. The video explains the process of straw purchases where someone with a clean record buys a gun legally and then trades the gun with gangs for cash or drugs.
Kirk’s video also comes with an announcement that he is joining with New York Senator Kristen Gillibrand on the first Federal law that makes gun trafficking a crime.
Kirk says that each year Chicago Police recover 13,000 illegal guns from gang members. Gillibrand says their proposed law would give law enforcement the proper tools to keep Americans safe while keeping intact the Second Amendment of the Unites States.
Mayor Mike Houston’s proposed midnight curfew on amplified outdoor music at downtown street festivals now has a new wrinkle.
Houston’s plan also calls for cutting off alcohol sales ahead of the sound curfew, at 11:30pm… but the ordinance submitted to aldermen would apply that cutoff to all outdoor alcohol sales citywide, including at beer gardens attached to bars and taverns around town.
Some aldermen object to that restriction, and will try to amend the ordinance when it comes up for a full city council vote next week.
It may ultimately fall to individual Boy Scout units locally to decide if they will allow gay scouts and scoutmasters.
The national Boy Scout organization is expected to approve a policy change next week that would give local scouting groups the option of opening up their membership.
The CEO of the Abraham Lincoln Council… which oversees scouting programs in Sangamon and eight other counties… says the decision may ultimately fall to each individual unit and their sponsoring organizations, including churches and veterans groups.
A water main break is disrupting traffic at a major downtown intersection.
Crews are working to repair that break at 9th and Monroe. Until those repairs are completed, north-bound 9th Street is closed from Capitol to Monroe… and Monroe is closed between 9th and the 10th Street tracks. In addition, eastbound traffic on Monroe between 8th and 9th will be required to turn left onto north-bound 9th Street.
There was no immediate word on how long those repairs would take.
The head of Springfield's Boy Scout Council says it's too soon to say what might happen if the national scouting organization drops its blanket policy against participation by gay scouts and scoutmasters.
The Boy Scouts of America will vote next week on a revised policy that would leave it up to local scouting groups to decide if they will maintain the policy against gays in the scouts.
Dan O'Brien with the Abraham Lincoln Council... which covers Sangamon and parts of eight other counties... says if that policy is implemented, the next step would be up to individual scouting units and the organizations that charter them... including churches and veterans' groups.
Springfield is not alone in its school funding worries.
The Ball-Chatham School District is also trying to make up a shortfall of around $3 million, which it blames on cutbacks in state funding.
Superintendent Carrie Van Alstine says that while the district has trimmed where it can… including cutting $1 million from its supplies budget… it has no choice but to find the bulk of savings by reducing head count.
A letter home to parents did not specify how many positions could be cut, but did say that class sizes are likely to increase.
Fees for sports and other activities and services could also go up.
A Springfield alderman is upset that the owner of one of the city’s most troubled properties has received a city permit to build a new business nearby.
Alderman Cory Jobe tells the State Journal-Register that the permit should not have been issued to the owner of the Bel-Aire Motel, who was hit last year with hundreds of code violations on that property and slapped with $141,000 in fines.
But city officials say that original order was overturned on appeal, leaving the city with no basis to turn down the permit request.
The Bel-Aire’s owner plans to build a resale shop just north of the residential motel.
If you’re handy with a hammer and want to volunteer your time in a foreign country, Habitat for Humanity of Sangamon County is having a couple of informational meetings.
As part of the Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village Program, volunteers will learn about traveling to Guatemala to spend ten to twelve days building homes to address the country’s current housing deficit of 1.2 million homes. This is the second year Habitat for Humanity of Sangamon County has led a Global Village volunteer team to Guatemala.
There are two informational meetings at 6:00pm on February 5th and February 19th at the Habitat office, 1514 West Jefferson. The meetings do not guarantee an individual’s spot on the trip, nor do they obligate volunteers to go.
It’s being billed as a rare look at one of the few surviving stovepipe hats that belonged to Abraham Lincoln.
But the Chicago Sun-Times reports that some experts are questioning whether the hat on display at the presidential museum in Springfield actually belonged to the 16th President. The official story is that the hat was given by Lincoln to a farmer, either after the Lincoln-Douglas debates, or after Lincoln became president. The farmer’s descendants later sold the hat, and it was eventually purchased as part of a $24 million acquisition of Lincoln memorabilia.
Museum officials say the hat was made in Springfield and is Lincoln’s hat size, and they have no reason to doubt that the hat once belonged to Lincoln.
A local lawmaker says she will make sure the concerns of Springfield’s law enforcement community are heard at the Statehouse.
Democratic state representative Sue Scherer met last week with Sheriff Neil Williamson and Springfield police chief Robert Williams. She says they discussed issues ranging from school safety to reducing violence on Springfield’s east side.
In a recorded statement after the meeting, Scherer did not commit to any specific ideas… except to repeat her support for passage of a concealed carry law for lllinois.
They have become a common economic development tool in Springfield… but some state lawmakers say they can be misused. And so a move is underway to require more disclosure about the use of tax increment financing districts and the results they achieve.
State Representative John Bradley of Marion wants to require local governments to file more detailed reports about their TIF districts and to put limits on the use of those funds.
But supporters of the TIFs say any risk from their use falls on local governments, not the state… and so they say the state should not interfere.
Illinois has become the fourth state to approve a system for allowing illegal immigrants to obtain drivers licenses.
Governor Pat Quinn signed that legislation into law Sunday, surrounded by supporters who say it will make the state’s roads safer by requiring the illegals who are already on the road to take drivers ed and obtain insurance.
The first of those new temporary licenses for undocumented workers will be issued in October or November.
U.S. Senator Dick Durbin is part of a bipartisan group working on a national immigration reform plan… one that Durbin says is likely to include a “pathway to citizenship” for immigrants who are currently in the country illegally.
Durbin says the legislation… which is still being developed… will put a high priority on keeping families together.
Durbin is the number two Democrat in the Senate… and believes the political climate is right to approve a comprehensive immigration reform package.
Republican U.S. Senator Mark Kirk is taking a bipartisan approach to the issue of gun control.
Kirk is working with two Democratic senators… including his good friend Joe Manchin of West Virginia… on bills, including one that would expand background checks to include all gun sales, including those at gun shows around the country.
Kirk is also the only GOP Senator on record as supporting an assault weapons ban, although that proposal is seen as having little to no chance in either the House or Senate.
Governor Pat Quinn has signed a bill that allows illegal immigrants to obtain state drivers licenses.
Quinn signed the legislation in Chicago, surrounded by supporters who say the new law will make Illinois roads safer by acknowledging the presence of illegal immigrants behind the wheel, and allowing them to drive legally if they obtain insurance and take drivers ed.
Illinois now becomes the fourth state in the nation to permit the practice.
The first of those new temporary licenses for undocumented workers will be issued in October or November.
Advocates say more attention — and money — must be directed to a state mental health system they describe as overwhelmed.
Between 2009 and 2012, Illinois slashed funding for community mental health programs by more than 30 percent — more than all but three other states. Experts say that makes it much harder to identify and help people whose mental illness may lead to violent outbursts.
But State Senator Sam McCann, appearing live on 970 WMAY, says the system doesn’t necessarily need more money, it just needs to spend it more wisely.
Sangamon County’s chief judge says cameras and microphones are coming to the county’s courtrooms… she just can’t say when.
Judge Leslie Graves tells the State Journal-Register that the experiment to allow greater access to court proceedings seems to be going well in more than two dozen counties that are taking part in the pilot program.
She says the judges in the 7th Circuit will have more discussions about cameras in the court, but thinks the idea could be implemented here in the next year.
Republican Representative Raymond Poe is a co-sponsor of legislation that could take Springfield’s ban on underage indoor tanning and make it statewide.
Poe is teaming up with Democratic lawmaker Robyn Gabel of Evanston on the bill, which would prohibit anyone under 18 from using commercial tanning beds. He says the increased risk of skin cancer from indoor tanning means it should be off-limits to minors.
The bill is based on the local ban that was approved by Springfield aldermen last year and which took effect on January 1st.
State health officials say 58 people in Illinois have now died of the flu or related complications during the current outbreak. A spokesperson says all but one of the people who died were 50 years of age or older.
Unemployment fell to 7.2 percent in December locally, compared to 7.5 percent in December of 2011. Local employers added a net 400 jobs from one December to the next, according to the state Department of Employment Security, with the biggest increases in the government, retail and information sectors.
Springfield’s jobless rate remains below the state and national averages.
The Ball-Chatham School District is taking a closer look at reimbursements for travel expenses paid to a former administrator.
A statement from the district did not identify the administrator, or say how much money was in question. But it says a review of records has found “insufficient documentation” to support expenditures made by the district. The school board has now asked an outside auditor to review travel and reimbursement records for the past several years.
A report is due by February 1st, at which time the board will decide what, if any, further action is warranted.
The State of Illinois is increasing immunization requirements for students in junior high and high schools.
The new rule applies to the “TDAP” vaccine against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. Last year, the state mandated the vaccine for any students entering 6th or 9th grade. Now all students between 6th and 12th grades are required to have the shot. Students who received it last year won’t have to get it again, but will have to show proof that they’ve had it previously.
The new rule takes effect in the fall, and students who don’t get the required vaccines may not be permitted to attend school until they receive it.
There’s good news and bad news in the latest round of tuition increases at the University of Illinois.
Tuition is going up on all three campuses, including Springfield, by one-point-seven percent for students entering college this fall. But that represents the smallest increase in nearly 20 years. The hike approved by trustees will increase the annual tuition rate at UIS by more than $157, to nearly 92-hundred-50 dollars a year.
The tuition hike only affects new students this fall… under state law, students pay the same tuition for all four years of their undergraduate education. Housing costs are also going up at all three U of I campuses.
A Springfield man wants charges against him dismissed in the wake of an appellate court ruling that struck down Illinois’s ban on carrying concealed weapons.
Donnell Jackson is charged with aggravated unlawful use of a weapon after police stopped him and found a gun hidden in his shirt.
Jackson’s attorney, Daniel Noll, says that since an appeals court has ordered the state to drop its ban and write a law to allow citizens to carry concealed firearms, the case against Jackson should be dropped.
Judge Leslie Graves is giving prosecutors two weeks to decide how they want to proceed.
Springfield fire investigators have concluded that a deadly blaze last week was an accident... although they still cannot precisely determine the cause.
Fire Chief Ken Fustin says investigators found the remnants of a space heater in the debris of the heavily-damaged home on North Ninth, and have found nothing else that might have sparked the fire.
Four people died in the residence... one of the victims was found just inside a door that had a double deadbolt lock on it. And Fustin says there was no indication of any working smoke detectors in the home.
The Sangamon County State’s Attorney’s office will get more time to determine how the recent ruling from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals will affect their handling of unlawful use of a weapon charges.
Judge Leslie Graves granted that request Wednesday afternoon in the felony case of 25-year-old Donnell Jackson who was arrested with a concealed firearm December of 2011. Jackson’s defense attorney Daniel Noll says the case should be dropped because the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals determined Illinois’ law to be unconstitutional.
Another hearing has been set for February 6th to allow the State’s Attorney’s office to determine how to proceed.
Springfield school board members are still trying to tweak a long list of proposed budget cuts, as they look for millions of dollars in savings ahead of a planned vote early next month.
Board member Bill Looby suggested Tuesday that the district consider deeper cuts in sports programs… and perhaps to apply some of that savings to alternative education programs that are also facing deep cuts.
Looby says sports and extracurriculars have to take a back seat to basic education of students.
But board member Judy Johnson says sometimes sports is the only way to motivate young people to take the rest of their studies seriously.
A high-profile school safety summit that was convened in Springfield in response to last month’s Connecticut school shootings has not produced any concrete proposals… but Governor Pat Quinn says he collected pages of ideas on ways to make schools safer.
The summit in Springfield brought together educators, law enforcement and others to talk about how to prevent similar tragedies in the future.
The Springfield Catholic Diocese has released new information about a priest who was placed on indefinite leave following a bizarre 911 call last year.
Father Thomas Donovan had to call for help after he became stuck in a pair of handcuffs.
According to police reports, Donovan was also wearing a bondage mask and gag when he became unable to free himself.
In response to what he calls “misinformation” about the case, Bishop Thomas John Paprocki issued a statement asserting that Donovan was alone at the time and that the incident was not sexual in nature.
Donovan’s therapist says it stems from a stress-related condition called “non-sexual self-bondage,” but acknowledges that is not a recognized mental health diagnosis at this time.
With the clock ticking toward a February deadline to approve budget cuts for next year, a Springfield school board member wants to discuss cutting even deeper than proposed into the district athletic budget in order to pay for alternative education programs or to prevent other academic cuts.
Bill Looby says that while athletics and other extracurriculars are important, they may have to take a back seat for the next several years because of the severe budget crisis. But board member Judy Johnson says sports are sometimes the only thing that keeps some students engaged and interested in their studies.
The board is expected to discuss the issue further at its next meeting, where it could take a final vote on millions of dollars in proposed cuts. A number of people spoke out against many of those cuts during Monday's school board meeting.
Springfield Aldermen will finally get a chance to sound off on a when the sound should be turned off for outdoor music events.
Mayor Mike Houston introduced an ordinance Tuesday that would make the cutoff time at midnight for outdoor amplified music.
Last summer Houston made waves after announcing on 970 WMAY's Jim Leach Show there would be an earlier cutoff time of anywhere between 10 and 11:30 ... an announcement made just before the annual SOHO Music Festival.
Houston rescinded the plans and said he would later have an ordinance to put on the books what time amplified music should be turned off.
Aldermen will vote on the proposed sound ordinance in two weeks.
Longtime Springfield businessman and political dealmaker Bill Cellini is now a federal prison inmate.
Cellini reported to the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, this (Tuesday) afternoon to begin serving a sentence of one year and one day on federal corruption charges. He was convicted in 2011 for a political shakedown scheme involving allies of convicted former Governor Rod Blagojevich.
The facility is seen as one that has appropriate medical facilities for Cellini, who has suffered heart problems and other health issues in recent months.
That lockup in Indiana is the same facility that currently houses Cellini’s fellow Republican, former Governor George Ryan. But Ryan is scheduled to be released to a halfway house next week.
The Springfield Catholic Diocese is releasing new details on the sensational case of a parish priest who is on a leave of absence after having to call 911 for help when he became trapped in a pair of handcuffs.
Bishop Thomas John Paprocki has issued a statement which he says is intended to clarify “misinformation” about the case of Father Thomas Donovan. The statement confirms that Donovan did bind himself in handcuffs and required assistance to get free, but says the incident was not sexual in nature, and was an example of “non-sexual self-bondage”… a psychological disorder as a result of stress. The bishop says Father Donovan was under stress because of factors such as lack of sleep, poor diet, and unreasonable expectations of himself as a pastor.
[The information about "non-sexual self-bondage" comes from Donovan's clinical therapist, who acknowledges that the condition is "not a recognized mental health diagnosis at this time."]
The statement says Donovan is on indefinite leave and is receiving medical and psychological care. His case will be reviewed by an independent panel before he is allowed to return to ministry.
A local lawmaker says he’s still working on the precise language for the changes he wants to make to state law and the state constitution to strengthen gun rights.
Appearing live on 970 WMAY’s “Jim Leach Show,” State Senator Sam McCann says he wants to amend the Illinois Constitution to ensure that the Second Amendment rights guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution cannot be diminished in state law.
McCann also plans to introduce legislation for what he calls “constitutional carry,” which would loosen limits on carrying firearms. He says that could be defined in several ways, but expects his proposal would allow people to carry a weapon without a permit or background check… although a background check would still be required to purchase a gun.
Top Illinois politicians have spent the last several days doing more than just celebrating President Obama’s second inauguration.
They’ve also been assessing their own chances for the next big election in 2014.
Attorney General Lisa Madigan made her biggest statement yet about a possible Democratic primary challenge to Governor Pat Quinn, telling ABC News Chicago that she is considering whether there are ways she can be of greater service to the state.
And Republican Congressman Aaron Schock continues testing the waters for a possible run, saying that he is a candidate who could win in a general election.
As for Quinn… he says there is a time to talk politics, but this isn’t the time.
A southern Illinois prison has been placed on lockdown after an altercation over the weekend injured a guard.
Officials say the Menard Correctional Center went into the heightened security status after an inmate allegedly assaulted the guard… who had recently transferred to Menard from the Tamms supermax prison, which Governor Pat Quinn closed late last year. The guard suffered minor injuries. The Corrections Department says another guard fired a warning shot to break up the altercation.
AFSCME has been warning of greater dangers for guards and inmates alike because of Quinn’s closures, saying they have worsened the problem of prison overcrowding.
More reports confirm that former Governor George Ryan’s days behind bars are numbered.
Ryan will apparently be released from a federal prison in Indiana on January 30th. He will have to report to a Salvation Army halfway house in Chicago, where he will be required to hold a job and work during the day, then report back to the facility at night. He could stay there for several months before being allowed to return to his home in Kankakee.
Ryan has been serving a six-and-a-half year sentence for federal corruption charges.
It’s President Obama’s second Inauguration Day… and both guns and immigration will apparently figure prominently in the President’s agenda for the next four years.
U.S. Senator Dick Durbin says he doesn’t know how much of Obama’s recent proposal on new gun restrictions can pass, but does think Congress will support universal background checks for all sales, including those at gun shows.
As for immigration, Durbin says the outlook is good for comprehensive reform.
He believes Republicans are rethinking their views on the issue after the 2012 elections.
Durbin says he and other Democrats are working with Republicans to develop a bipartisan bill.
Children holding pro-gun signs in front of State Capital
While the Illinois General Assembly prepares for another fight over assault weapons, one local lawmaker wants to settle the issue once and for all.
Republican State Senator Sam McCann told a pro-gun rally in Springfield over the weekend that he plans to seek an amendment to the Illinois Constitution that he says would make this the most pro-Second Amendment state in the nation.
McCann did not elaborate on the language of that amendment, but does say he supports what is known as “constitutional carry” – which would allow Illinoisans to carry concealed or open firearms without a permit.
McCann told the crowd, quote, “The Second Amendment is my permit.”
Watch video from Saturday "Gun Appreciation Day" rally at the statehouse in Springfield below or at this link.
George Ryan’s time in prison is about to come to an end.
Ryan is scheduled to be released from a federal penitentiary in Indiana on January 30th, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. He will first be sent to a halfway house in the Chicago area for a period of time, but is likely to be allowed to return to his Kankakee home within a matter of months.
Ryan has been serving a six-and-a-half year sentence on federal corruption charges.
Investigators still don’t know what caused Springfield’s deadliest fire in more than a quarter-century.
That fire Thursday night at a home on North 9th Street killed four members of the same family. The victims are identified as 63-year-old Victor Hudson, teenage brothers Donald and Deonte Lewis… who all lived at the North 9th address… and 55-year-old Douglas Oaddams, a relative visiting from Chicago.
59-year-old Jacqueline Parnell was rescued by firefighters after climbing out a second story window onto the roof… she is being treated at Memorial Medical Center.
Tickets go on sale next month for the big Toby Keith concert at the Illinois State Fair… and for the first time, concertgoers will have the chance for a guaranteed spot close to the stage.
When those Grandstand tickets go on sale February 9th, the options will include a “VIP” ticket on the Grandstand track, allowing those fans a chance to stand up near the stage without having to wait in long lines on the day of the concert for track access. Only 1,000 of the VIP tickets will be sold, at a price of $65. Regular track tickets will cost $50, while seats in the Grandstand will range from 40 to 50 dollars.
Tickets for the August 14th Toby Keith concert go on sale Saturday, February 9th at 10am, and are available through Ticketmaster.
The four people killed in a fire late Thursday night in Springfield all appear to be members of the same family.
Fire Chief Ken Fustin says the victims are all males, ranging in age from 14 to 60.
One woman inside the home at 901 North 9th Street was able to escape by climbing out a second-story window onto a roof, where she was rescued by firefighters. She was taken to Memorial Medical Center, but there is no word yet on her condition.
The four deaths make it the deadliest fire in Springfield since a blaze killed five people in March of 1987. Investigators are still working to determine the cause.
It’s a big weekend for gun enthusiasts and gun rights supporters in Springfield.
A pro-gun rally is planned for the Statehouse at noon on Saturday, part of a series of events around the country to commemorate what’s being called “Gun Appreciation Day.”
In addition, one of the biggest gun shows in the state will be held at the Illinois State Fairgrounds Saturday and Sunday. But even though that show has been there for years, its future may be up in the air.
A spokesperson for Governor Pat Quinn says the governor is considering whether gun shows should be allowed on public property. Several other states are considering similar restrictions.
The University of Illinois Board of Trustees has a new appointee—former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.
Governor Pat Quinn announced Fitzgerald’s appointment along with several other appointments to the board for Northern Illinois University.
Fitzgerald served at the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois and was instrumental in the prosecution and conviction of former Governors George Ryan and Rod Balgojevich, both are currently serving time in federal prison.
Quinn also announced the re-appointment of Dr. Timothy Koritz and James Montgomery to the U of I Board of Trustees.
Meanwhile Robert Boey, Dr. John Butler and Wheeler Coleman were appointed to the Board of Trustees for Northern Illinois University.
Four people have died in a house fire in Springfield, according to city fire chief Ken Fustin.
The blaze was reported shortly before midnight Thursday night, and the home at 901 N. 9th Street was fully involved when firefighters arrived. One woman had escaped the flames by crawling out a second-story window onto a roof, where she was rescued by firefighters.
But four others in the home... all believed to be adults... died. There is no word yet on the cause of that fire or on the identity of the victims. [Stay with 970 WMAY for updates throughout the day.]
A new report on poverty in Illinois places Sangamon County on a “poverty watch list” because of concerns about several quality-of-life factors.
The Illinois Poverty Report estimates that between 12 and 17 percent of county residents live in poverty. And it says the rates of poverty, unemployment, teen pregnancy and high school graduation raise concerns that the situation will worsen.
Sangamon is one of 25 counties on that poverty watch list… others include Christian and Macon. Montgomery County is one of 14 on the more serious “poverty warning list.”
A top Illinois House Democrat is pressing ahead with gun legislation in the General Assembly, rather than waiting for Congress to act.
Even though President Obama has laid out a list of ideas to bring before Congress, House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie says the ongoing rash of gun violence in Chicago and around the state puts pressure on Illinois to act.
But Currie acknowledges that despite large Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate, there’s no guarantee of enough support to pass controversial measures like an assault-weapons ban or restrictions on large-capacity ammunition magazines.
After decades of discussion on the idea with no action, Sheriff Neil Williamson hopes a new local commission may provide a push in the direction of a “metro sheriff’s department.”
Williamson has long been a supporter of merging the sheriff’s department with Springfield police for a single countywide law enforcement agency, which he says could provide greater protection at lower cost.
But Mayor Mike Houston and others oppose the idea.
Williamson hopes the Citizens Efficiency Commission will recommend the idea as a way to improve efficiency and reduce duplication of services.
Former Illinois Comptroller and one-time candidate for governor Dawn Clark Netsch has revealed that she is battling Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
Netsch, who is 86, told the Chicago Sun-Times that she has a difficult fight ahead, but wanted to make the news public to increase awareness about the degenerative and incurable nerve disorder.
Netsch was the state comptroller when she won the Democratic nomination for governor in 1994… the first woman to be a major party nominee in the state. She went on to lose to Republican incumbent Jim Edgar.
Sangamon County Sheriff Neil Williamson has once again raised the issue of a merger between his department and Springfield police.
Williamson has long been an advocate of the idea, and says it would allow for more efficient use of limited law enforcement resources. He says opposition from Springfield Mayor Mike Houston and others make it unlikely that the idea will go anywhere, but says the only other options are either a tax increase, or a reduced law enforcement presence in the county.
Williamson hopes that the county’s Citizens Efficiency Commission will produce recommendations in support of a merger.
A top Democrat in the Illinois House says state lawmakers should move ahead with action on new gun laws, rather than waiting to see what Congress does.
House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie says the continuing gun violence in Chicago shows the need for the state to take action, regardless of what happens with President Obama’s call for tougher federal laws on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.
But Currie acknowledges that similar bills in the state legislature are not assured of passage, despite big Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate.
City Water Light and Power’s budget would climb by four-and-a-half percent in the coming year… but the utility would have 22 fewer budgeted positions… under the spending plan now being reviewed by Springfield aldermen.
There were few objections raised to the CWLP proposal during a budget briefing Tuesday.
But chief engineer Eric Hobbie warns that there are looming problems for the utility… including the potential future cost of EPA regulations, and the loss of institutional knowledge from anticipated retirements in the next several years.
The bulk of proceeds from the former THR and Associates business empire will probably be going to the Internal Revenue Service.
The State Journal-Register reports a bankruptcy trustee has recommended that many of former owner Jeff Parsons’s remaining assets… including a $1.5 million home in Athens and hundreds of thousands of dollars in antiques… be sold to settle IRS claims and liens for back taxes.
The state of Illinois is also trying to recover more than a million dollars in unpaid taxes, and former former employees, customers and creditors are also in line for money they are owed from THR and affiliated businesses, like Treasure Hunters Roadshow and the Buy Sell Trade stores.
A Decatur man has been acquitted on murder charges stemming from the 2009 death of a Springfield man.
A Sangamon County jury returned that “not guilty” verdict late Monday in the trial of Ronald Hill, who was charged in the shooting death of Tyrone Harris and the wounding of another man in a dispute over a drug deal.
Although the jury cleared Hill of the murder charge and several other felony counts, he was convicted on one count of unlawful use of a weapon by a felon, and could still face prison time when he is sentenced in March.
Development on the east side became a contentious issue briefly at the Springfield City Council meeting Tuesday as a local developer accused the city of blocking several possible projects, an accusation the Mayor says is not true.
Local developer Dan Mulcahy told the city council about businesses that want to develop on the east side, but says the Mayor is blocking them.
Ward 2 Alderman Gail Simpson berated Mulcahy saying she is the one that works to get the ball rolling on future projects in her ward. Mayor Mike Houston said Mulcahy has not provided any proof of financial backing for the projects.
Meanwhile, City Water Light and Power have proposed their budget for the new fiscal year and it comes in 4.5 percent over last year with 22 fewer positions budgeted.
Chief Engineer Eric Hobbie says the Water Fund is up 14.5 percent and electric fund is up 2 percent for a total amount of $343.7 million dollars in Fiscal Year 2014.
As for staff levels, Hobbie says that CWLP is trending downward to have the lowest staffing levels in 12 years.
Some of the biggest threats to the utility Hobbie presented and were echoed by aldermen include the uncertainty from future EPA regulations and the loss of institutional knowledge of retiring employees.
Aldermen must approve a budgets for CWLP and other city departments by the March 1.
The Washington Park Botanical Garden just got a hefty award from Illinois’ 2012 Public Museum Capital Grant Program.
Nearly 319 thousand dollars will be used to update heating and cooling systems in the building to a more energy efficient method, make updates to the exterior lighting on some paths and grounds, and to help complete the final phase of the Garden’s Master Plan to install an outdoor educational and gathering plaza on the grounds.
District 186 is floating a new idea as it tries to find money to help close a multi-million-dollar budget gap.
At Monday’s finance committee meeting, Superintendent Walter Milton raised the possibility of an intergovernmental agreement with the City of Springfield… where the city would seek a sales tax increase and share the proceeds with the school district.
Milton says there has been almost no discussion on the idea, but thinks the district has to look at every possibility.
Several other revenue ideas have also been suggested, but all have serious drawbacks.
The school board in the town of Washington, near Peoria, has agreed to keep talking about a proposal to allow high school administrators to be trained as part-time police officers and to carry weapons on high school property.
The town’s police chief raised the idea and suggested it could be a way around the state’s ban on concealed carry.
Board members say they will further consider the idea as part of a broader discussion on school security, but at least one board member is skeptical that professional educators can or should double as police officers.
Governor Pat Quinn has called a school safety summit for next week in Springfield.
Quinn wants to bring educators and law enforcement together at the state Emergency Management Agency headquarters on January 22nd for a discussion about next steps in the aftermath of the Connecticut school massacre.
Quinn has called for the state to reinstate an assault weapons ban, but has not discussed any specific school security measures that he wants to see implemented.
District 186 has added a new possibiliity to a list of revenue-generating ideas for Springfield schools: a possible sales tax hike with proceeds to be shared by city government.
Superintendent Walter Milton says he has had a brief conversation with Mayor Mike Houston, as a courtesy, to let him know he was floating the idea. But Milton says Houston did not immediately reject the idea, although no specifics have been discussed.
It's one of several ideasa floated to bring in more revenue and help soften the blow of multi-million-dollar budget cuts for the school district. Other ideas include the sale of working cash bonds, a property tax referendum, or relaxing the distirct's minimum fund balance policy.
The Central Illinois town of Washington, near Peoria, is considering a plan to arm high school administrators on campus… by calling them auxiliary police officers.
The town’s police chief and school superintendent presented the idea last week. They say training the administrators as officers would allow them to have guns on campus without violating the state’s ban on carrying concealed weapons.
The Sangamon County Health Department says it is getting some reports of sporadic shortages of flu vaccine at some local doctor’s offices. But Health Director Jim Stone says his agency still has hundreds of doses on hand, and should be able to meet the demand, despite a spike in those seeking flu shots in recent days.
But Stone does not expect to get additional vaccine beyond the two-thousand or so doses he has remaining. So he says anyone who hasn’t gotten a flu shot yet and wants one shouldn’t put it off for much longer.
And Stone says he hopes people will remember the current scramble for the shots next fall… when it’s time to think about flu shots again.
The trial of a Logan County man accused of killing five members of a Beason family has been moved.
The State Journal-Register reports a judge has approved a motion by lawyers for Christopher Harris to move the trial to Peoria County. The defense says sympathy for the victims would make it impossible for Christopher Harris to get a fair trial in Logan County.
Harris and his brother Jason are accused of bludgeoning Rick and Ruth Gee and three of their children to death in September of 2009.
For the second time in two years, Governor Pat Quinn is apparently set to veto a bill to expand gambling in Illinois.
The latest bill to reach his desk was originally passed in 2011, but was held in the Senate for months after Quinn threatened to veto it. The legislature passed a revised bill in 2012 and sent it to Quinn, who made good on the veto threat.
Then on the last day of the legislative session last week, Senate President John Cullerton released the original 2011 bill and sent it to Quinn. But a spokesperson for the governor says he will veto that bill as well, over concerns that it does not take enough precautions against corruption in the gaming industry.
With freezing rain, sleet and snow in the forecast for Saturday night, Illinois State Police have issued a driving advisory for motorists over the weekend.
The alert reads: "Extreme caution is advised if you have to travel on the roadway over the next few days. Take the following precautions: ensure you and your passengers are properly wearing seat belts; slow down to a safe speed; allow plenty of distance to safely maneuver; ensure you have your driving lights on to see as well as be seen; exit the road or pull into a rest area if the conditions become too hazardous. Although snow fall may not be heavy, when mixed with blowing winds, it may be difficult to see and visibility may be significantly reduced."
Stay with 970 WMAY News for updates on the developing weather situation.
Springfield’s school superintendent now says it would be impossible to implement his original plan for $8 million in budget cuts without causing serious disruption to the school district.
So Superintendent Walter Milton has offered a revised plan that cuts less than $7 million. But the plan still includes unpopular reductions in the number of teachers and other staff… and still calls for closing two elementary schools.
The school board hopes to adopt a budget cutting plan next month. District officials have talked about selling bonds to raise revenue that would close the funding gap.
Declining unemployment numbers around Illinois will actually mean more unemployment among the staff of the state Department of Employment Security.
The agency says it will close seven field offices, including one in Jacksonville, and eliminate 192 jobs. The shutdowns are blamed on a decline in federal funding and a dropoff in the number of new unemployment claims.
At least one credit rating agency is putting Illinois on notice to fix its pension mess soon, or else.
The Fitch rating agency has given Illinois a negative outlook because of the impasse over pension reform. The move doesn’t affect the state’s credit rating or borrowing costs yet, but the agency says it will downgrade the credit rating if no action is taken in the next six months.
Governor Pat Quinn has warned that credit downgrades are likely unless the state legislature takes action on the pension crisis.
State Republican Party chairman Pat Brady may have put his job in jeopardy with his recent support of same-sex marriage.
Brady says he was operating on his own… not as chairman of the GOP… when he reached out to Republican lawmakers this month and urged them to support a bill to legalize same-sex marriage.
The conservative website Illinois Review says Brady’s outreach angered party insiders, who are now making moves to line up votes to throw him out as party chair. A special meeting of the party’s state central committee could be called to decide Brady’s future.
A trucking company is responding to a wrongful-death lawsuit filed after one of the company’s drivers struck and killed an Illinois State Police trooper last year.
That suit was filed by the widow of Trooper Kyle Deatherage, who died when a trucker lost consciousness behind the wheel and struck Deatherage as he was conducting a traffic stop on I-55 south of Springfield. The suit names both the driver and his employer, Dot Foods.
But the company says it had no reason to think the driver could not operate the vehicle safely, and no indication that his medical condition caused the accident. Dot Foods says it was operating in compliance with federal regulations.
Child abuse and neglect deaths in Illinois apparently hit a 30-year high in 2012... and the Department of Children and Family Services warns that this year could be even worse unless lawmakers restore millions of dollars to the agency’s budget.
DCFS says records confirm 90 abuse and neglect deaths last year, but another 60 cases are still under investigation, which is likely to drive the total even higher.
The agency says it will have to lay off more than 19-hundred caseworkers around the state unless the legislature replaces 38-million dollars that was cut from its budget last year.
The long-discussed 11th Street extension, south from Stevenson Drive, could be back on the front burner.
The State Journal-Register reports the City of Springfield is preparing to go to court on an eminent domain petition to acquire land that would be needed to extend 11th down, allowing to eventually connect to UIS and making it a complete north-south route through the city.
The land is owned by Contech Construction Products, and the city would have to pay fair market value for the land if its court petition is granted.
The Ball-Chatham school district says a Glenwood High School student has taken responsibility for a bullet that was found in the school parking lot Thursday, prompting a “soft lockdown” of the high school and the nearby elementary school for a couple of hours.
The student told authorities that he dumped the bullet in the parking lot so that he wouldn’t have to take it into the school.
It was the second time in two months that a bullet had been found on school property, causing lockdowns in both cases.
School district officials say students were never in danger.
A Glenwood High School student has taken responsibility for a bullet that was found in the school parking lot this (Thursday) morning, leading to a temporary lockdown of two schools.
The student told authorities that the small-caliber bullet belonged to him, and that he dumped it in the parking lot to avoid taking it into the school. The Ball-Chatham District says it will take appropriate disciplinary action, but cannot comment further because of student privacy rules.
Glenwood High and the adjacent elementary school were placed on “soft lockdown” as a precaution while police searched the grounds, but district officials say students were never in danger. The “all clear” was sounded after a couple of hours.
It's the second such incident involving the discovery of a bullet on school grounds in as many months. Glenwood Middle School was locked down temporarily in mid-December following a similar incident.
40 Illinois children have died in the past year from accidental suffocation while they slept… as a result of parental neglect.
It was the leading cause of death for children in the state last year, followed by intentional homicide from abuse, according to the State Department of Children and Family Services. DCFS says the rate of child deaths related to abuse and neglect were the same in Chicago, the suburbs and downstate.
The agency is asking the legislature to restore 38-million dollars cut from its budget, money it says it needs to conduct effective investigations of abuse and neglect.
The new General Assembly that was sworn in Wednesday has an unwelcome distinction… it includes three members who are currently facing criminal charges.
It’s not the first time that many lawmakers have been under indictment at once, although it hasn’t happened for decades.
This time only one of the charges stems from alleged political corruption… the bribery charge against Representative Derrick Smith, who was sent back to the House by voters after being expelled from the chamber last year.
The other cases involve allegations of private misconduct… a bank fraud charge against Representative LaShawn Ford and a gun charge against Senator Donne Trotter.
All three accused lawmakers are Chicago Democrats.
The new Illinois legislature includes two new lawmakers representing part of Springfield... the first Democrats to represent part of the city in years.
Representative Sue Scherer is a Decatur schoolteacher who is so far keeping her plans under wraps, particularly in the area of pension reform. Appearing live on 970 WMAY, Scherer says the state should keep its pension promises to workers and retirees, but declines to offer ideas on how that can happen without raising taxes or dramatically cutting spending on other state services.
New State Senator Andy Manar says he is the first Democrat to represent Springfield in the Senate in more than 100 years. He is also holding back on particulars about pension reform, saying he wants to keep an open mind about everything.
But Manar does say he would not vote for an extension of the temporary income tax increase passed two years ago. Instead, he's calling for a comprehensive overhaul of the state's entire tax structure, including the possibility of a graduated income tax.
[To hear the complete interviews with Scherer and Manar, click here.]
The new session of the General Assembly begins with a situation the state hasn't seen for decades... three members of the newly-sworn in legislature are currently facing criminal charges.
All three are Chicago Democrats, but their cases are very different. Rep. Derrick Smith was expelled from the House last year after being indicted on bribery charges. But he ran for the seat again and was elected; under state law, he cannot be expelled twice for the same offense.
Rep. LaShawn Ford is accused of making false representations to get a bank loan. And Sen. Donne Trotter is facing felony charges for bringing a gun on board a plane in a carry-on bag.
All three could stand trial this year, and could face the loss of their seat if convicted.
Despite Governor Pat Quinn’s plea for immediate action, the Illinois General Assembly has once again failed to adopt any kind of plan to address the state’s growing public pension crisis.
A bill that would have scaled back cost-of-living increases for current and future retirees was never called for a vote in the full House, and a last-minute attempt to hand the problem off to a new appointed Pension Review Commission also stalled.
Now the pension mess is thrown into the laps of the new legislature, which will be sworn in later today.
Illegal immigrants will soon be able to obtain Illinois drivers licenses.
The Illinois House passed a bill Tuesday that will allow undocumented workers in the state to get a license if they go through drivers ed and show proof of insurance.
Governor Pat Quinn has vowed to sign the bill.
Supporters say it is a public safety measure that recognizes that illegal immigrants are already driving on Illinois roads, but seeks to make sure that they pose less of a hazard to other drivers in the future.
Call it the "contribute when and where we can plan." That's the approach the City of Springfield is taking to address it unfunded liability for police and fire pensions.
Springfield Budget Director Bill McCarty
That, along with headcount reduction, are some of the goals from Mayor Mike Houston's administration, but more aldermen are saying that may not be enough.
McCarty says the hard solution is either make significant cuts or increase taxes, something aldermen say there would be little support.
He also notes that Springfield is in far better shape than most other units of government and he worked to dispell the myth that the city has taken pension holidays, somethign the state is accused of doing. But, McCarty says future projections indicate a possibility that pension funds could eventually use up all incoming property taxes.
The Houston administration says that the best the city can responsibly do is contribute $1 million in the coming fiscal year budget. Once the city realizes an expected 2.5 million budget surplus, McCarty says the mayor will request another million dollars be contributed to the pension fund in the coming fiscal year.
Alderman Joe McMenamin, who has advocated pay freezes for city employees as a way to help ease the pension burden in the future, says the Mayor's plan will be a drop in the bucket and doesn't go far enough.
McCarty gave a presentation about the city's pension funds with an emphasis on some actions to curb the unfunded liability.
Meanwhile, the city approved the just over $3.5 million in TIF funds for the Hy-Vee grocery store development along MacArthur Blvd., and the council approved health benefits for civil union partners for city employees.
Governor Pat Quinn says he is looking forward to signing legislation that will allow illegal immigrants to obtain Illinois drivers licenses.
The bill passed the House this (Tuesday) afternoon on a vote of 65-45 after earlier winning approval in the state Senate.
Quinn says it’s an important public safety measure that recognizes that illegal immigrants are already driving on Illinois roadways. He says the new law will make streets safer by requiring that they take drivers’ ed and obtain insurance in order to drive legally.
Governor Pat Quinn is pressing lawmakers to get something done to fix the state’s pension crisis… but isn’t committing to any specific plan himself.
The governor spoke to reporters at the Capitol Tuesday morning (in comments heard live on 970 WMAY)… with just a day remaining in the current legislative session. He says that as more time goes by without a pension reform plan, the state’s unfunded liability increases by $17 million per day.
Quinn says lawmakers must “redouble” their efforts to pass a pension reform plan, but declined to say what it should include. Quinn says he just wants something that will reduce the unfunded liability and put the state’s pension systems on a road to solvency.
With time running out, Illinois lawmakers are still scrambling to find the votes to pass a controversial pension reform plan.
The latest proposal… which would dramatically scale back cost-of-living increases for retirees and require workers to pay more toward their pension for the next couple of years… passed a House committee Monday 6-3, but there’s no word on when it may be called for a vote of the full House.
Springfield Representative Raymond Poe voted “no” in committee, saying the state caused the pension problem by underfunding, and is now trying to make workers and retirees clean up the mess.
Add middle school teachers, parents and students to the growing list of people objecting to proposed budget cuts in Springfield public schools.
An overflow crowd attended Monday’s marathon school board meeting to urge rejection of proposals ranging from a reduction in the number of middle school teachers to the elimination of middle school programs at Iles and Ball Charter schools.
But board member Bill Looby says at some point, painful cuts will have to be made.
Looby says more than a million dollars in proposed cuts have been either taken off the table or restored by the board during the ongoing budget hearings.
Springfield aldermen have begun digging into a proposed city budget that funds 33 fewer positions than the current fiscal year’s spending plan.
Monday marked the first in a series of hearings on Mayor Mike Houston’s proposal.
One item that is not part of the budget is the consolidation of city garages, a recommendation included in the Maximus efficiency study.
City budget director Bill McCarty says labor, facility and equipment issues have proven to be complicated, and says he will have to come back to aldermen at a later time to fund the project.
There are some additions to next fiscal year’s budget including a new job and some revenue from gambling.
McCarty says there will be one position added to the mayor's office. That will be a paralegal to assist in video gaming licenses for $50,000 a year.
Some other additions in the overall budget includes a $400,000 program to assist Oak Ridge Cemetery, $1 million in payments to police and fire pensions, and $7 million in funds for infrastructure improvements, some of that coming from newly instated video gaming machines.
Aldermen have until the end of February to approve the budget before the beginning of the fiscal year.
The City of Springfield plans to consolidate their fleet of vehicles under one roof by the end of the fiscal year, but it's not included in the proposed budget. During a budget overview Monday, Budget Director Bill McCarty provided the projected numbers for the coming fiscal year.
There's an increase of just over 3 percent in spending and revenue with 33.5 positions eliminated in the overall city budget.
McCarty says there will be one position added to the mayor's office. That will be a paralegal to assist in video gaming licenses for $50,000 a year.
Some other additions in the overall budget includes a $400,000 program to assist Oak Ridge Cemetery, $1 million in payments to police and fire pensions, and $7 million in funds for infrastructure improvements, some of that coming from newly instated video gaming machines.
One thing that is not budgeted for the fiscal year is the potential cost of bringing the city's fleet of vehicles, from police to public works and utility trucks, under one garage for maintenance. That was a big topic last year with the creation of a new fleet manager position.
In other budget discussions, the Clerk's office says that there is an increase in the amount they have to pay for death certificates from the state while the Treasurer's office hopes to bring in even more money that is owed to the city for Fiscal Year 2014. There is and also an increase of about $2,000 raise for the Clerk and Treasurer.
The budget for Lincoln Library has increased for the coming fiscal year and one of things that's a sign of the times is the increase in licensing for electronic resources. Lincoln Library Director Nancy Huntley says there is an increase in use of electronic books by the public, mainly because the public has devices that can accept the digital books.
Some other increases for Library's coming fiscal year includes money for restoring and resealing tile floors on the first floor of the library and funds for repairing the a 35-year-old heating and cooling system.
Meanwhile, several aldermen asked if the library could use a part time security guard to help cut back on overtime hours and to fill in for when one of the two current security guards. Huntley says that she and the fiscal officer may fill in for an hour here and there when there is no security guard on the grounds.
For the Office of Planning and Economic Development budget, the requested budget for fiscal year 2014 is down 17.75. There is a decline of over 20 percent in grant dollars from a variety of programs.
As for Headcount, there's a decline by one person for the past four years in the headcount at OPED, according to director Mike Farmer. The department makes up just a little over half a percent of the overall city budget and is tasked with working alongside local commercial interests in increasing the economic development of the capital city.
The first of five different hearings was held Monday for the upcoming budget of Fiscal Year 2014. City Water Light and Power's budget will be discussed at the next hearing Tuesday January 15th, the same day as a council committee of the whole meeting.
The Springfield School Board continues to face a backlash against proposed cuts, with the latest objections coming from teachers, parents and students at the city's middle schools.
The initial proposal from Superintendent Walter Milton called for reductions in staffing levels and security at the middle schools. More recently, a Citizens Budget Review Committee has called for closing the Iles Middle School for gifted students, and moving that population to the gifted program at Franklin.
The board heard from an overflow crowd of people who say the cuts will be damaging to student progress, and will drive families from District 186, erasing any estimated cost savings. The school board is hoping to adopt millions of dollars in cuts for the next school year, but board members now say they may need to extend their self-imposed deadline of early February to finalize the cuts.
A bill to get pension costs under control... by decreasing the benefits to be paid to workers and retirees in the years ahead... has passed an Illinois House committee.
State Representative Raymond Poe of Springfield was one of three committee members who voted against the pension proposal, but the measure passed on a vote of six-to-three. Poe is siding with union leaders who say the measure is unfair and potentially unconstitutional. But supporters say action must be taken soon or the unfunded pension liability will become a full-blown fiscal crisis for the state.
It's not clear when the proposal will go before the full House, or whether the votes are there to pass it.
Sojourn Shelter and Services is looking for a new executive director. Tami Silverman, who has held the position since 1999, is leaving the position in the Spring.
The Board of Directors has begun the search process using internet postings and notices to domestic violence, social service and criminal justice groups. The new CEO must have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in business, non-profit or public administration, philanthropy, human services or related fields. The candidate must also have 5 plus years in management at a non-profit human services or similar agency.
More information on the position is posted on Sojourn’s website: www.sojournshelter.org.
The Central Illinois Food Bank just received a whopping donation from Isringhausen Imports.
During the month of December, the car dealer both collected cash and food donations to help the agency. For each car sold during the month, Isringhausen designated $100 to the Food Bank, and collected food donations during the month. All totaled between cash donations and employee contributions, Isringhausen presented the Food Bank with $16,500.
Once the Food Bank moves into the Cook Street facility donated by Springfield Pepsi, they will be able to increase their cold storage space ensuring they can continue to have fresh food available to partner agencies.
A high-powered coalition is coming together to support the legislature’s latest attempt at a pension reform plan.
Lawmakers of both parties, the head of the Teachers Retirement System, the leader of a taxpayers’ group and others are supporting the legislation, which they say is a bipartisan effort to address the looming crisis.
But public sector unions are vowing to fight the bill, which they call morally wrong and unconstitutional because it would reduce benefits for current and future retirees.
The assault weapons ban issue appears dead for the current legislative session.
A series of bills to restrict semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips stalled in the Senate last week, and now the House sponsor says there’s no point in moving the bills there, since it appears there is no way to get them through both chambers before the new legislature is seated on Wednesday.
Supporters say they will try again during the next legislative session.
Springfield city officials say they are working aggressively to combat gun violence on city streets… and to prevent escalation and retaliation.
Police Chief Robert Williams says that when trouble is brewing, his department’s Street Crimes Unit closely tracks the movements and activities of people known to be involved in gang-type activity, in hopes of keeping the violence in check.
But Williams says it can be tough to know where to focus those efforts, because so-called “gangs” in Springfield are much more loosely organized than those in places like Chicago or St. Louis.
Even though a late attempt at an assault weapons ban was introduced in the House in the waning hours of the legislative session, a key Democrat says the bill won't be moved, because there appears to be no chance to get it through both the House and Senate in the time remaining.
The legislation would have prohibited many types of semi-automatic "assault-style" shotguns and handguns, as well as high-capacity ammunition magazines. Similar bills cleared a Senate committee last week, but were not called for a floor vote because there were not enough votes for approval.
And the lack of a clear path through the Senate means it would be futile to move the bills through the House, according to Democratic Rep. Elaine Nekritz. Sponsors say they will revisit the assault weapons issue in the next session of the General Assembly, which starts Wednesday.
Springfield police say they are actively monitoring gang-type activity in an effort to prevent problems before they happen.
Police Chief Robert Williams says the effort is complicated because most Springfield gangs are what he calls “hybrid” gangs, with a very loose structure and shifting alliances.
But he says when police get an indication of trouble, the Street Crimes Unit more closely watches the activities and movements of known trouble-makers and seeks to intervene before bloodshed breaks out.
He made his comments for our weekend "Podium" program.
Now it’s the Illinois House’s turn to deal with some of the unresolved issues of the current legislative session.
The House reconvenes in Springfield with still no deal in place for public pension reform. Governor Pat Quinn and legislative leaders have been meeting, but are still struggling to work out the most contentious issues and craft a plan that could stand up to a constitutional challenge.
Quinn and House Speaker Mike Madigan still say there's time to complete a deal before the end of the legislative session on Wednesday, but other officials say there are still major differences among the key players involved in pension reform talks.
New Congressman Rodney Davis says his top priority is to get federal spending and debt under control. But in one of his first votes in Congress, Davis supported a Hurricane Sandy relief package that adds $9 billion to that debt.
67 Republicans opposed the legislation because it did not have offsetting spending cuts in other areas of the budget. But Davis says not every dollar must be offset if it pays for urgent needs. He says he will apply that same philosophy to the quest to line up more federal dollars to pay for railroad consolidation in Springfield.
But Davis still has not decided if he will support raising the federal debt ceiling. Experts say failing to do so will cause the U.S. to default, with dire economic consequences. But Davis says the mounting debt will also lead to severe consequences.
Newly sworn-in Congressman Rodney Davis is confronting big issues immediately in his first hours as an elected member of Congress.
The Taylorville Republican is a longtime congressional staffer who is well acquainted with many of his House colleagues, including House Speaker John Boehner. But Davis says there is little to prepare one for having to dive right in and vote on major issues such as a $9 billion Hurricane Sandy relief package. Davis wound up supporting the bill, although some conservatives urged a “no” vote unless it was matched with spending cuts elsewhere.
Meanwhile, during a live interview on 970 WMAY’s “Jim Leach Show,” Davis says he’s still undecided about whether he will support an increase in the federal debt ceiling when that issue comes before the House next month.
Springfield’s Catholic Bishop is urging local Catholics to keep fighting against a bill to legalize same-sex marriage.
Bishop Thomas John Paprocki testified against the legislation in a state Senate committee Thursday, and has issued a letter to be read in all local Catholic churches this weekend.
The testimony and the letter say that the proposal endangers religious freedom and marriage itself, and promotes the “harmful ideas” that marriage is intended primarily as a romantic and emotional union or as a means for adult satisfaction.
A Springfield priest who requested a leave of absence for personal reasons last month did so after making a 9-1-1 call to request help getting out of a pair of handcuffs inside his parish rectory.
The Illinois Times website has audio of the call made by Father Tom Donovan of St. Aloysius parish, in which he told dispatchers that he had been playing with a pair of handcuffs and needed help getting out.
The website also cites sources saying that Donovan may have also been wearing some kind of gag when emergency responders arrived.
The diocese has acknowledged that Donovan has taken a leave of absence for personal reasons, but has declined to say why or to disclose his current whereabouts.
The city of Springfield put several big ordinances on consent agenda including benefits for the civil union partners of city employees.
With little debate, Aldermen moved an ordinance providing health benefits for civil union partners of city employees and retirees.
Meanwhile aldermen placed Tax Increment Finance dollars for a planned Hy-Vee grocery store on the consent agenda with praise for the project. The MacArthur Boulevard Business Association says the development will act as a vital anchor for the redevelopment to the once thriving thoroughfare.
Aldermen also gave initial approval for a Lincoln Library contract that will provide for a new and updated database system. The five year contract will allow for the library to better independently manage their catalog of materials with more features for digital conversions.
Items on the consent agenda are not considered controversial and are grouped together to be voted on all at once.
With upcoming budget talks just around the corner, Aldermen hashed out the dates they plan to go through all the various departments numbers for FY 2014.
Those dates are:
January 7th to go over the Library and Clerk budgets.
January 15th will be City Water Light and Power budget talks
January 29th will be discussions on the police and fire budgets
January 30th will be Convention and Visitors Bureau, Human Resources and Public works
February 4th will be the Office of Budget and Management and the Mayor's Office budget talks
Aldermen have until March 1st to approve the budget for FY2014.
There are a lot of questions about proposed changes to some of the codes for future residential construction projects in Springfield.
Aldermen went round-robin with a ton of different questions concerning an ordinance that would bring Springfield's building codes in compliance with the latest International Energy Conservation Code.
The state of Illinois mandates IECC codes be updated according to John Sadowski, Springfield building department manager.
Dean Graven, a board member on the State Home Builder's Association, says that some of the requirements are "totally out of control" and could increase the cost of building at 2,000 sq. ft. home by two to three thousand dollars more.
Aldermen also discovered the state has taken home rule out as an option when complying with the updated IECC.
Aldermen moved to keep the ordinance in committee so corporation counsel can find out what the penalty to the city will be if aldermen chose to not comply.
A state Senate committee has approved legislation to legalize same-sex marriage. The vote was 8-5 in favor.
But the bill is in limbo, because sponsors say they don't have the votes for passage right now. It's unclear when, or if, the bill will be called for a final vote before the end of the legislative session.
Springfield’s Catholic Bishop is continuing his effort to defeat a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in Illinois.
In testimony before a state Senate committee, Bishop Thomas John Paprocki says the bill represents a threat to both religious freedom and marriage. Paprocki says the proposed same-sex marriage law promotes “harmful” ideas that marriage is primarily an emotional or romantic union, or is intended for adult satisfaction.
Paprocki makes similar comments in a letter that he wants read in every Catholic church in the diocese this weekend.
A TV star who lobbied Illinois lawmakers in support of marriage equality says he’s not discouraged by setbacks that have postponed a vote on the bill. Jesse Tyler Ferguson… a star of the hit ABC comedy “Modern Family”… says the path to civil rights is often long and difficult, but says it is still moving toward approval of equal marriage rights.
Ferguson and his fiancée, Justin Mikita, have started a foundation that sells bow ties they designed, with proceeds going to support the fight for legalization of same-sex marriage. The bill did not come up for a final vote Thursday, as sponsors are still lacking the votes for passage.
As Springfield wrestles with ongoing problems of violence in some corners of the city, Mayor Mike Houston hopes to enlist more citizens in the fight to get illegal guns off the streets.
Houston insists Springfield is a safe city overall, but acknowledges that certain demographic groups, especially young black males, are at greater risk. Appearing live on 970 WMAY’s “Jim Leach Show,” Houston says one strategy will be to more actively promote a Crimestoppers program that pays cash rewards for people who provide tips about individuals who illegally possess guns.
A holiday enforcement detail aimed at stopping drunk drivers appears to have caught a lot of them.
Springfield police say they made 21 DUI arrests during the two-week “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign that ran from December 17th through January 1st. The heavier patrols and roadside stops focused on late-night hours, and the SPD says the majority of arrests came after midnight.
Four citations were also written for seat belt violations as part of that enforcement blitz.
Controversial measures on gun control and same-sex marriage have both hit snags in the Illinois Senate. A spokesperson for Senate President John Cullerton says it’s now clear that despite the Democratic majority in the chamber, the votes will not be there to pass either measure without help from some Republicans.
The Senate Democrats’ statement says there is still work to do before either measure can be called for a full vote, quote, “in the near future.” But it’s not clear if the Senate leadership plans to bring either issue for a final vote during the current lame-duck session, or if both are dead until a new legislature is seated next week.
U.S. Senator Mark Kirk is back on the job. Kirk made a triumphant return to Capitol Hill for the start of the new Congress, the first time he has appeared in the Senate since suffering a debilitating stroke almost a year ago.
Even though his mobility on the left side of his body remains clearly limited, Kirk climbed the 45 steps of the U.S. Capitol, supported by Senate colleague Joe Manchin and Vice-President Joe Biden, and surrounded by cheering well-wishers including fellow Illinois Senator Dick Durbin.
The Republican senator says climbing the Capitol steps was a symbolic but meaningful goal as he continues his recovery.
The suspect in a New Year’s Day murder in Springfield has been apprehended… in Colorado.
Springfield Police say 20-year-old Jodeci Commer was arrested without incident by the U.S. Marshal’s Service and Denver police. There was no immediate information as to how or why Commer went to Colorado.
He’s accused of fatally shooting 24-year-old Deshawn Jones at a home on East Cedar. Commer will face several felony charges, including First Degree Murder and Unlawful Use of a Weapon by a Felon, once he is returned to Springfield. There was no immediate word on whether he plans to fight extradition.
Authorities have identified a suspect in the New Year’s Day shooting death of a Springfield man.
Police are looking for 20-year-old Jodeci Commer on charges including first-degree murder and unlawful use of a weapon by a felon.
Commer is accused of fatally shooting 24-year-old Deshawn Jones on the front porch of a home on East Cedar.
Investigators are asking anyone with information about the case to contact Springfield police or Crimestoppers.
Autopsies performed on the bodies of two people found dead in an apartment on Springfield's North End confirm that their injuries are consistent with homicide.
Coroner Cinda Edwards says 24-year-old Larry Grice died of two gunshot wounds, while 24-year-old Andrea Pocklington had one gunshot wound and several stab wounds. The autopsy also confirmed that Pocklington was pregnant when she died.
Springfield police have still made no arrests in the killings, and have not divulged a possible motive for the crime. The investigation is continuing.
Rumors of an assault weapons ban proposal for Illinois turned out to be true Wednesday evening, despite speculation that the measure would be too controversial to garner enough votes.
Found as an amendment to a bill about sexual assault, the legislation would ban the purchase, sale or possession of any firearm that is considered an assault weapon. It would also ban the sale, purchase or possession of assault weapon attachments.
Under the proposed legislation, magazines that hold more than 10 rounds would also be banned, as would pistols weighing more than 50 ounces.
The proposal would only make ownership of so-called assault weapons legal for shooting range owners or anyone who owns the weapons in question before the effective date of January 1st, 2014, but the weapons would have to be registered with the Illinois State Police.
After just over two years of operation, the National Museum of Surveying in Springfield has closed its doors.
Plans for the museum, highlighting the history of surveying and Abraham Lincoln’s early work as a surveyor, were announced in 2007. But sluggish fundraising postponed the opening until 2010, and the museum has struggled financially ever since.
Organizers say surveyors around the country were unable to contribute financially or in terms of exhibits and artifacts.
The museum’s board says it will go into foreclosure next month, unless new donors can be found to help reinvent the downtown facility as a more broad-based center with a focus on science, technology, education and mathematics.
A potentially historic vote on same-sex marriage is expected this week in the Illinois Senate… and while supporters say they have the votes to pass it, State Senator Larry Bomke isn’t so sure.
Bomke continues to oppose legalizing same-sex marriage, and says he doesn’t think the votes are there to approve the legislation.
Supporters and opponents are gearing up for a final battle on the legislation. Chicago’s Catholic cardinal Francis George is telling Illinois Catholics to contact their lawmakers to urge a “no” vote. And actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson of the TV show “Modern Family” visits Springfield Thursday to lobby in favor of the bill.
It’s the start of a new year, and Springfield still does not have a mechanism in place for providing health benefits to the civil union partners of city employees.
But that could change soon.
This week, aldermen will consider a proposal to update the benefits package for union and non-union city employees and retirees … including a provision to provide health coverage for civil union partners.
An earlier vote to provide civil union benefits was tossed out because it was improperly taken in closed session.
City officials say no city employee is currently seeking benefits for a civil union partner.
Mayor Mike Houston says the homicides over the past 48 hours in Springfield are not random acts of violence, but were targeted killings… and says police were well acquainted with the victims. But Houston vows that the full force of the police department will be used to find the killers.
And the mayor insists that Springfield is still a safe city. He says there is no neighborhood in the city where he would not feel safe walking.
The Sangamon County Coroner has identified the two people found dead inside an apartment on North 9th Street.
Autopsies will be conducted this week on the bodies of Larry Grice and Andrea Pocklington, both age 24. Initial reports indicated Pocklington was pregnant, but the statement from Coroner Cinda Edwards did not confirm that.
The press release refers to the deaths as a "double homicide," but neither police nor the coroner have indicated how the two died. The Springfield police investigation is continuing.