Illinois Issues

Peggy Boyer Long
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Illinois is building another maximum security prison.

This economic development plum will go to Grayville, a tiny town on a bend in the Wabash River at the southeastern edge of the state. And who can blame them for wanting it? Officials say the $140 million project, slated to be completed in early 2005, will generate 300 construction jobs beginning next year. Another 761 workers will be needed to run the place. That's a lot of jobs in a poor region of the state.

Aaron Chambers
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Race can't be the primary consideration in redrawing political districts. Geographically compact minority communities large enough to elect representatives of their choosing may be entitled to their own districts. And only voting-age residents who are American citizens should be counted.

Briefly

May 1, 2001
Pathway on the Manske-Niemann farm
Jean A. Fullest

Legislative checklist

The General Assembly's focus narrowed last month as the House and Senate met self-imposed deadlines to exchange bills before lawmakers took their spring break. The Senate sent 407 hills to the House, while the House sent 732 to the Senate. Lawmakers have until midmonth to finish second-chamber committee and floor action.

Prosecutors

Criminal justice reform took two steps forward.

The House approved a package designed to prevent so-called prosecutorial misconduct, while the Senate passed its own reform measure.

People

May 1, 2001

SHIFTS AT THE TOP

Democratic Rep. Douglas Scott of Rockford was set to take the oath of office as mayor of that city late last month. Scott planned to resign his legislative seat after party leaders chose a successor.

Nancy Cantor will be the next chancellor of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She's an educator at the University of Michigan. She'll succeed Michael Aiken.

In Tony Cappasso's article in your Spotlight on Medicaid series ("Why costs have gone up," March, page 28), Ann Patia, the former director of the Illinois Department of Public Aid, makes an astounding assumption. She seems to imply that by cutting Medicaid payments to hospitals earlier this year, the department was able to "control Medicaid spending without hurting Medicaid patients." Does Ms. Patia really believe it is possible to neglect the institutions that provide essential medical and social services to Medicaid patients without hurting the patients themselves?

Patrick E. Gauen
WUIS/Illinois Issues

"What do I do now?" Rodney Woidtke's lawyer heard his client's first words as a free man and had to explain that "not guilty" meant he would not be going back to prison.

It was a triumph for Ron Jenkins, who took the murder retrial on a token retainer. It was a triumph for Woidtke, a paranoid schizophrenic who began denying the crime after first confessing three times. It may even be a triumph for the court system of St. Clair County, which at times seemed more determined to blame Woidtke than to make sure of his guilt. 

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

The notion of democratic government rests on a very simple principle: Ordinary men and women have the capacity to govern themselves. They don't need kings or emperors or high priests to establish the rules by which they can live together amicably, settle their differences and provide for their common needs.

Something historic happened in Decatur last February. For the first time in more than 40 years, voters approved a tax increase for the city's cash-strapped public schools. But even that imminent infusion of new property tax dollars wasn't enough to stop the flow of red ink. The district is pressing ahead with $7.2 million in budget cuts, including the fall layoffs of 140 teachers.

Dollars for Dialing
Daisy Langston Juarez

In early February, an organization calling itself Connect Illinois convened a news conference in the state Capitol pressroom to brief reporters on telecommunications issues. The event drew a large crowd of speakers. There were three state lawmakers, two chamber of commerce presidents and members of three community organizations. Oddly, there were no official representatives of telecommunications companies.

Landowners in east central Illinois aren't alone. Neither are the Indians who are suing for the ground they live on. Throughout the nation, Native American tribes have gone to court to recover ancestral lands they say were illegally taken from them. And in some cases they're winning.

With an eye toward drawing new General Assembly boundaries for the next decade, legislative mapmakers are set this month to begin poring over detailed information about who lives where in Illinois.

Even as they begin, though, there are ongoing complaints about the accuracy of the U.S. Census Bureau's numbers, in particular that the nose count missed large numbers of the urban poor, minorities, or both. This concern is more than academic. In fact, at heart it's political. The legislative power that follows population under the rule of one person, one vote is at stake.

Light Bulb
Daisy Langston Juarez

It happened the way lawmakers often resolve big issues: months of debate, a series of all-nighters and, finally, a deal to restructure the state's regulation of electric utilities. Gerald Keenan, a former top manager at the Illinois Commerce Commission, remembers it as public policy by negotiation, "and it was truly a camel when it came out."

Maybe this isn't the best moment to bring up the subject of global warming.

Black-crowned night heron
Joe Milosevich

Illinois' best hope of protecting its endangered wetland birds may be to shore up their natural habitats.

Each spring, herons, egrets, blackbirds and terns migrate to this state's wetlands to mate, nest and breed. But these ecosystems, so rich in bird life, also are the most threatened, says Steve Bailey of the Illinois Natural History Survey. In fact, 90 percent of this state's original wetlands are gone. As a result, such species as the black and yellow-crowned night herons and the snowy egret are declining in Illinois.

Ed Wojcicki
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Once or twice a year I got together with former Gov. William Stratton, who had been on the Illinois Issues Board since 1978. He liked to joke that government spaces ordinarily bear the names of dead people, but he already had three named for him: a government office building in Springfield, a state park near his hometown of Morris and a lock and dam on the Fox River.

Peggy Boyer Long
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Political power is always relative. But at no time is this more apparent than in the period between the release of hard population numbers and the final draft of a new legislative map.

The trends documented by this latest decennial head count have been known for some time: Illinoisans, who constitute an increasingly diverse citizenry, continue a long-running migration from country to town, from city to suburb, while the locus of the state's populace and the political dominion persists in a northerly march to a mere six of 102 counties.

Aaron Chambers
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Indian tribes that want land in Illinois may have a problem: Members of the state's congressional delegation intend to kill any ownership rights they assert and send them packing to the federal Court of Claims.

In fact, under federal law. Congress has broad authority to abrogate treaties made with Indian tribes, so long as lawmakers show their "plain and unambiguous" intent to do so.

Briefly

Apr 1, 2001
Olin Harris / Department of Natural Resources

Legislative checklist

The 92nd General Assembly kicked off the spring session with an ambitious load: 1,523 bills in the Senate and 3,618 bills in the House. By the end of March, committees had screened the bills and reported them back to their respective chambers, where lawmakers were deciding which ones to send across the rotunda this month. Only a portion of the proposed legislation - roughly 25 percent, by some estimates - will make it to the governor's desk. The legislature is scheduled to wrap up by the end of May.

 

Sentencing

People

Apr 1, 2001

 

SHIFTS AT THE TOP

Michael P. Madigan of Springfield has been promoted to director of legislative affairs for Gov. George Ryan. He had been a member of the governor's legislative liaison staff. He replaces Chip Woodward.

Chip Woodward of Springfield is now deputy auditor general. Woodward served as Gov. Ryan's director of legislative affairs. He worked for Ryan when he was secretary of state and for Gov. Jim Thompson.

Madeleine Doubek
WUIS/Illinois Issues

When it comes to O'Hare International Airport, there's noise, and then there's noise. There's the kind that comes from jets taking off and landing. And then there's the political rhetoric that pollutes the media to the point that the public pays it little attention.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

It's springtime in Illinois, and one can see signs of the season blossoming across the state: daffodils, tulips, forsythia, school referenda.

School referenda?

Yep. Local school officials pleading with local taxpayers for desperately needed dollars has become as much an annual springtime ritual as green beer for St. Paddy's Day and high hopes for the Chicago Cubs.

Senator Peter Fitzgerald
Lauren Shay

This first Thursday in February is a busy one for Peter Fitzgerald, the junior senator from Illinois. He's in Washington and in a few hours the U.S. Senate will hold John Ashcroft's confirmation vote for attorney general. It's Fitzgerald's turn to preside every Thursday afternoon, so, by chance, he will be wielding the gavel during the actual roll call on President George W. Bush's most controversial nomination. Fitzgerald's bit role in history will be noted in a press release his office will dispatch by nightfall. 

Medical Problems Reported by State Inmates
2001 Bureau of Justice Statistics report, based on a 1997 survey

Picture a pristine waiting room with two patients lying quietly on cots. Next door, a doctor checks someone who has a sore throat, while a nurse treats a man who complains of stomach pains. Just down the hall, patients file in and out of a dentist's chair for regular checkups.

Mike Cramer

Pharmacist Mike Schaltenbrand finds himself in need of a prescription. He needs something - and soon - to soothe his ailing bottom line. 

The owner of two inner-city pharmacies in East St. Louis, Schaltenbrand has been severely affected by the state's ongoing efforts to reel in its burgeoning Medicaid budget. In the span of two months, his income has declined by 25 percent because of changes made in Springfield aimed at cutting the state's costs of providing health care services to the poor.

Mike Cramer

Did Illinois push so hard to enroll children in KidCare that it broke the Medicaid budget?

Medicaid expenditures ran $60 million over budget last fiscal year, and were headed for nearly triple that amount this fiscal year if the Illinois Department of Public Aid hadn't applied the brakes.

Gov. George Ryan and outgoing public aid Director Ann Patia worked out a package of cuts that hit pharmacies and hospitals that treat Medicaid patients.

Did KidCare cause the shortfall?

No, it didn't, Patia says emphatically.

Mike Cramer

For more than a century. Cook County Hospital has served poor residents of Illinois' most urban and populous county.

Many of those patients have nowhere else to go.

Politicians and their aides are rolling up their sleeves and huddling around computers. Remap gets underway in earnest this month as the U.S. Census Bureau releases, state by state, necessary population data.

Better put on the coffee, though. This could take awhile. And it won't be easy.

Ed Wojcicki
WUIS/Illinois Issues

One test of leaders' greatness, says presidential historian Michael Beschloss, is how much they live on in the minds and hearts of future generations. 

"Every American has a relationship with Lincoln," Beschloss says, and every child knows that Lincoln came from the wilderness and emerged an extraordinary leader. 

Editor's Notebook: Meet our new Statehouse reporter

Mar 1, 2001
Peggy Boyer Long
WUIS/Illinois Issues

We managed to convince Aaron Chambers to slow down just long enough for a photographer to snap his picture in front of the state Capitol. He had a request, though. "Please choose one where I'm smiling."

Aaron doesn't take himself seriously, and we like that about him. He does, however, take his work seriously, and approaches it with awe-inspiring energy - or as he puts it, "blazing enthusiasm." We like that, too, of course.

These are only two of the reasons we're glad he joined the staff as our Statehouse bureau chief. 

Aaron Chambers
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Appearances are everything. Gov. George Ryan's moratorium on executions appears to have stopped in its tracks a flawed capital punishment system. He ordered a committee to review administration of the death penalty and said he won't sign off on more executions until he's been assured the system is fixed.

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