Chicago Sun-Times
Staff reports on all things politics - from City Hall to Springfield to Washington, D.C.

March 2013 Archives

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Thursday United Neighborhood Organization CEO Juan Rangel is "taking appropriate steps to clean his house" after allegations of contract cronyism and family hiring.

Rahm charming? You bet, says corporate CEO

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel is known more for his pushy politics and relentless fundraising than for his charm, but there might be some of that, too, when it comes to wooing corporate CEO's.

AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad

A majority of Supreme Court justices questioned the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act in the second day of gay marriage arguments before the nation's high court.

As that debate rages, Illinois Republicans are increasingly realizing that they must reconsider their stance on the issue. Meanwhile, gay rights advocates say if the Supreme Court strikes down a section of DOMA, it will be more imperative for the state to legalize gay marriage, allowing equal rights and access to benefits allowed to married couples.

A vote on the matter in the Illinois Legislature is expected before the session is out.

Audio of U.S. Supreme Court arguments on DOMA

Transcript: Supreme Court on DOMA

Bill O'Reilly says those opposing gay marriage fail to raise a compelling argument for their beliefs.
Instead, all they do is "thump the Bible," he said.
"The compelling argument is on the side of homosexuals," the Fox News host said.

While Illinois Speaker Michael Madigan said same sex marriage legislation is 12 votes shy of passage, quiet momentum continues to build among Illinois lawmakers - including Republicans - who believe now is the time to embrace the issue.

"The margin is smaller than what the Speaker had stated," said one state legislative source who asked not to be named.

Several sources said a small group of Illinois Republicans are considering voting in favor of the bill, which would almost certainly give it the 60 votes needed to advance. "There's some indication that there's more than one Republican supporting this bill," said one of the sources.

While the Illinois Legislature is on a two-week break, the issue re-emerged this week as the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments over whether voters in California were entitled to enact Proposition 8, which nullified a state Supreme Court decision allowing same-sex marriage.

In Illinois, the issue has quickly gained strength this legislative session. Republicans increasingly have realized that public opinion is siding with same sex marriage. State Sen. Jim Oberweis' effort to oust the Republican party chair Pat Brady backfired when high-ranking Republicans came to his defense.

That includes U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill) who supported keeping Brady in place.

On Tuesday, Brady stood by his position to support passage of the bill.

"Whether you agree or disagree with particular Republican beliefs ... we have to be gracious in a diversity of opinions," Brady said. "I think that's the way we can get more people to support our candidates."

Bernard Cherkasov, the CEO of Equality Illinois, said his group continues to hear of growing support within the GOP.

"We're hearing from more and more legislators. That includes Republicans and Democrats," Cherkasov said. "I think this is going to translate into strong Republican support when it goes to the House vote."

Same-sex marriage advocates say that if the Supreme Court strikes down a portion of the federal marriage law and Illinois hasn't legalized same-sex marriage, then same-sex couples here would not be entitled to many benefits and more than 1,000 laws.

"They were also making clear that there was moral authority here and that legislatures were empowered ... to act quickly," said Camilla Taylor, National Marriage Project Director at Lambda Legal.

The issue remains volatile, however, with lawmakers saying quietly they've felt the impact of heavy lobbying from both sides - including in highly-charged emails, phone calls and letters.

"It's important that some Republicans get behind it just for the future of the party," said one of the sources. "It can't be the party of exclusion, you can't win that way."

Earlier this month, state Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), the bill's chief House sponsor, said he believed the bill had the 60 votes it needed to advance in the chamber.

"It's going to pass because this is what the majority of people in Illinois believe is the right thing to do," he said then.

The legislation awaiting a House vote has support from more than 300 clergy across the state in a signed open letter, according to gay-marriage coalition Illinois Unites for Marriage.

However, one of the state's key religious figures -- Cardinal Francis George - had called Madigan urging against the same-sex marriage legislation and has led a group of clergy behind his cause to limit marriage to a bond between a man and a woman. Earlier this month, the Rev. James Meeks, pastor of Salem Baptist Church on Chicago's South Side and a former state senator, sent an "emergency message" against same-sex marriage in a pre-recorded call that reached roughly 200,000 households in 14 legislative districts.

One of the perks of being President of the United States is the jersey collection you build up while in office.

Teams large and small make the trek to D.C. to have a photo taken after championships, and the POTUS gets some new personalized gear for his closet. Sometimes, though, it's an awkward moment.

The Los Angeles Kings had their moment with President Obama on Tuesday afternoon. Normally no great cause for concern, but the Kings happened to humble the President's hometown Blackhawks last night after a late third period goal sent the Hawks down, 5-4.

"I'm a little resentful -- coming from Chicago -- that L.A. seems to be getting all these championships," Obama said.

Upping the awkward factor was Kings coach Darryl Sutter's vow to press Obama on the Keystone pipeline:

"I'm gonna ask him about it - damn right I am," Sutter - a former Blackhawks player and coach himself - told The Hill before the ceremonial White House meeting.

"It's 20 feet underground," Sutter, a ranch owner in Canada, told The Globe and Mail of Toronto. "How can we not want to keep North America (energy self-sufficient)? Why does the border have to separate that? It doesn't make sense. For sure, I'm going to ask him."

President Obama bounces a soccer ball off of his head during an event to honor the 2012 championship seasons of the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings hockey team and the Major League Soccer champion Los Angeles Galaxy on Tuesday in the East Room of the White House in Washington. Kings coach Darryl Sutter is next to the president at left, Galaxy forward Landon Donovan is at right, Galaxy coach Bruce Arena is behind Donovan. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Onetime GOP presidential candidate John McCain put his clout behind a candidate for president.
Arlington Heights Village President, that is.
McCain's endorsement appears on candidate Ron Drake's Web site.
McCain, a veteran U.S. Sen. from Arizona, notes that Drake served as mayor for six years in Avondale, Ariz.
Also running in the race is Mark Hellner and Thomas Hayes.
Here's McCain's endorsement.

"I am very pleased to endorse Ron Drake for the office of Mayor of Arlington Heights, Illinois. Ron was an extremely effective and energetic leader during his six years as Mayor of Avondale, Arizona, and I am certain he will bring those same attributes to serving the people of his home state of Illinois. I know that Arlington Heights would benefit from Ron's positive problem-solving agenda, his focus on economic and community development, and his commitment to open and honest government. I appreciate Ron's great spirit of community service, and hope the people of Arlington Heights will strongly consider him for their next Mayor." - U.S. Sen. John McCain

Durbin to energy drink companies: Stop targeting kids

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U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) on Monday announced he is asking energy drink companies to stop marketing their products to kids. Durbin said he is sending letters to CEOs of Red Bull, Rockstar and Monster
"requesting explanations for their sponsorship of high school sporting events and advertising at venues like Little League games."
Durbin said companies have gone against their own claims of not marketing the highly caffeinated beverages to children and adolescents.
"Over the past year, there has been growing concern about the potential health risks posed by energy drinks," said the letter, which he sent along with U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). "Your company has stated that it does not market energy drinks to children, however, we have learned about numerous instances which contradict that claim. In light of public health concerns regarding the consumption of high levels of caffeine by children and adolescents and your company's position that your energy drink products are not marketed to children, we are deeply concerned by evidence demonstrating direct marketing of your products to youth."
Over the last month, energy drink companies have been more aggressive in defending their product.
Monster held a news conference to combat claims in a lawsuit that a 14-year-old Maryland girl died after drinking the product.

The unofficial race to replace William Beavers on the county board is gaining interest with the onetime chief of staff to U.S. Sen. Roland Burris not only throwing his hat in the ring, but upping the ante.
Kenneth Sawyer, the cousin of Ald. Roderick Sawyer, said Monday that if a group of ward committeemen appoint him to replace Beavers, he would do it for free.
That is, for the term of the appointment, which runs until 2014.
Sawyer said he would take the county commissioner salary - which is about $85,000 - and create scholarships for those in the 4th District.
Sawyer, 45, who lives in the Chatham neighborhood, is in investment banking.
"I wouldn't think of taking a salary. I think people have been tired of looking at these things - the sequester in Washington, the pension issues in Illinois," he said.
In 2002, Sawyer ran for alderman against Dorothy Tillman and lost.
Tillman appointed Sawyer to her committeeman post for a short period, he said.
He also served as the Vice President of government relations for the Illinois Restaurant Association.
On Friday, the Sun-Times reported that former Cook County Board President Todd Stroger was also lobbying committeemen to appoint him to Beavers' seat.
Sawyer's offer to take the position salary-free would be a contrast to Beavers, who refused to take unpaid furlough days along with the rest of the county.
"At least send some type of message: we're in this together," Sawyer said of a financial sacrifice. "I don't think it's too much to ask."

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Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, was on Meet The Press on Sunday in a debate session opposite New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. During an exchange with host David Gregory, LaPierre took to task the Obama administration for what he defined as a poor record enforcing federal gun laws in dealing with gangs in Chicago:

WAYNE LAPIERRE: I mean, let me give you the real sad thing though. Let me hold up a mirror right now to the whole national news media and the White House. I just got the TRAC data from Syracuse University of enforcement of federal gun laws. Last time I was here, I brought it from 2011; it just came out from 2012.

Do you know where Chicago ranks in terms of enforcement of the federal gun laws? Out of 90 jurisdictions in the country, they ranked 90th. Why doesn't NBC News start with, "Shocking news on Chicago. Of all the jurisdictions in the country, Chicago's dead last on enforcement of the federal gun laws?" Why doesn't the national press corps, when they're sitting down there with Jay Carney and the president and the vice president, why don't they say, "Why is Chicago dead last in enforcement of the gun laws against gangs with guns, felons with guns, drug dealers with guns?

DAVID GREGORY, HOST: And you support those as felonies, being charged as felonies?

LAPIERRE: Absolutely. And we want them taken off the street. I mean, if you're the president and the vice president, and the attorney general, and your job is to enforce these laws against the-- I'm talking about drug dealers, gangs, and felons that are walking around with guns in the street, and you don't do it? You bear some responsibility. It is a tragedy.

Here's who will pick William Beavers' replacement

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A special group of committeemen will decide who to appoint to replace William Beavers. Beavers created a vacancy on Thursday when a federal jury took less than two hours to convict him.

Their votes will be weighted based on the vote in the 2010 election.

Here's the list:
Howard Brookins Chairman
Michelle Harris Vice Chairman
Other members are aldermen: Roderick Sawyer, Natashia Holmes, Anthony Beale, John Pope,
Carrie Austin and Thorntown Township committeeman Frank Zuccarelli.

SPRINGFIELD-Auditor General William G. Holland faces one year of court supervision after pleading guilty for drunk driving in Springfield.

A month and a half after being arrested by Illinois State Police for driving erratically and failing field sobriety tests, Holland appeared before the Sangamon County Circuit Court.

"In my job as auditor general, I am asked to hold people accountable for their actions. As a citizen, I must be held to the same standard," Holland said in a prepared statement.

"I made a mistake. I am grateful that no one was hurt and no property was damaged. I regret my actions, and I ask for the forgiveness of my family, friends and fellow citizens."

When pulled over on Feb. 6, Holland had been driving alone and "had a very strong odor of an alcoholic beverage on his breath," the police report said. Holland had refused to take a breath test for blood-alcohol concentration, an action that carries an automatic license suspension for one year in Illinois.

However, Judge Rudolph Braud decided Thursday to overturn the suspension and ordered Holland to serve a year of court supervision and pay court fines of $1,555. Holland will also have to attend 10 hours of driver remedial courses, 12 hours of alcohol counseling and a drunk-driver victim impact panel, Sangamon County State's Attorney John Milhiser told the Sun-Times Friday.

"Based on the facts of this case - looking at the stop, the fact that he plead guilty - it was the appropriate resolution," Milhiser said. "These are the standard terms for a first offender. This individual has no priors. He was treated no differently than anybody else would be in this situation."

The auditor general audits public funds of the state and reports findings and recommendations to the General Assembly and to the governor. Holland was first appointed to the post in 1992 and was unanimously reappointed to his third consecutive 10-year term last August.

Cook Co. Commissioner Earlean Collins. | Sun-Times file

A seething Cook County Commissioner Earlean Collins may once again consider reelection in 2014 if only to spite the media that "is so rotten to me," she said today.

In an interview with the Sun-Times on Friday, Collins lashed out against the media -- as well as the Cook County establishment -- saying that over the last year she was repeatedly unfairly linked to the now-convicted William Beavers. 

Beavers was convicted on Thursday of tax charges. 

"I don't know anything about Beavers. Every time they showed him they showed my picture with him," she said, singling out the Sun-Times for running a photo of her next to Beavers. "I have never been to any social events with him. I know nothing about Beavers, probably my whole lifetime I probably had five conversations with him... They have tried to do me wrong. Guilt by association because they want me off of the board."

Collins represents the 1st Cook County district, which includes Chicago's West Side.

Collins was often coupled with Beavers in 2011 because the two agreed on a hot issue -- the two rejected taking a 10 percent pay cut that was imposed on the rest of county workers. Collins defended that decision again on Friday saying she was unlike "the rest of them" who draw perks from the county. 

"I don't have any friends who contract with the county government. I bring home $1,500 every pay period. I don't take no insurance with the county," she said. "Then you think I'm not going to stand up for them?"

Collins was asked if she was indeed following through with plans to not seek reelection in 2014. 

"I don't know. You know why? Because of the press. The press is so rotten to me, I just may run," she said.
"I'm not going to retire, let's put it that way. Most of the work that I do, is not on that board." 

She took issue with newspaper reports in the past that she said portrayed her as a do-nothing commissioner. 

"I go out and meet with the veterans. I talk with the homeless and mentally ill people," she said, adding she takes part in an annual drive to bring coats to 300 children in need every winter. "They tell me I don't do nothing? I'm not going to have a press conference telling people that's what I'm working on. I have a higher calling. The man upstairs knows what I do."

alriley.jpegWhile Jesse Jackson Jr. and Sandi Jackson Jr. resigned respectively from Congress and the City Council before pleading guilty to federal charges, there were still some loose ends to tie up.

Now the two have been replaced in their political duties as committeemen.

Democratic Party Chairman Joe Berrios said the spots -- Jackson Jr.'s role as Democratic State Central Committeeman and Sandi Jackson's spot as 7th Ward Committeeman are filled.

State Rep. Al Riley (D-Olympia Fields) is the new Democratic State Central committeeman from the 2nd congressional district. Ald. Natashia Holmes, who replaced Sandi Jackson on the City Council, also replaces her as 7th ward committeeman.

"I was appointed to serve his unexpired term," Riley said. The term runs concurrently with the congressman's, so it will be up in 2014, he said. "They are charged ... with promoting the tenets, in my case, in the Democratic party throughout the state, and involving themselves where appropriate in slate-making and policy making for the state of Illinois."

The Democratic State Central Committee consists of two people from every congressional district, one male, one female, Riley said. (The other in the 2nd district is Ald. Carrie Austin).

"It's a very important position with off-year elections coming up in 2014," Riley said. Not to mention with the presidential election coming up, committeemen often serve as delegates for the national convention, he added. "They provide endorsements where they decide to do it with the state races. When those people run, you typically will hear what the Democratic State Committee is thinking about or what they're doing."

SPRINGFIELD-House Republicans pushed an idea Friday they say "has real teeth" to withhold salaries for the governor, lawmakers and non-essential public services until lawmakers balance the state's budget, which is beset by nearly $9 billion in unpaid bills.

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Bill Mitchell (R-Forsyth), would amend the state's Constitution to require the auditor general to assess the budget within 30 days of its passage and give lawmakers 10 days to fix the budget if it is declared unbalanced. But no specific ideas were offered in the area of cuts or new revenue.

"If [the auditor general] says expenses exceed revenues, then what happens? We don't get paid," Mitchell told reporters. "Members of the General Assembly don't get paid. Constitutional officeholders don't get paid. Services to the state of Illinois stop except for essential services. All payments besides those affecting public safety required by law or required by the federal government would cease."

Mitchell said he believed schools would still be paid but was not clear on whether public union workers with "non-essential" duties would receive paychecks.

"Remember, we say within 10 days," he said. "Within 10 days is just a mark to say you have to do it by 10 days. It does not mean we can't come back the next day after this declaration and get this done."

"We have a responsibility in the General Assembly to do our constitutional responsibility. That means passing a balanced budget. Other states do it. Why can't Illinois?"

House Republican leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego) suggested withholding lawmakers' pay could have an impact similar to current law that withholds "per diem" pay when the Legislature goes into overtime.

"The goal here is to put the pressure on us and to make sure that we perform the job accurately and don't do what we've seen happen over a number of years of not balancing budgets. So the pressure's on members of the General Assembly."

Changing the Illinois Constitution requires a three-fifths favorable vote in both the House and the Senate. Upon approval, voters in the next election at least six months later would have to ratify the measure by either three-fifths of those voting on it or a majority of those voting in the election.

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan had reason to celebrate Thursday when his COLA bill passed the House. | AP file photo

With reporting by Dave McKinney

SPRINGFIELD - The Illinois House voted Thursday to limit compounding annual cost-of-living increases for state retirees in a constitutionally questionable move targeting the largest driver of the state's $97 billion pension crisis.

The Senate-bound measure, sponsored by House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), passed the House on a 66-50 roll call and would affect current and retired state workers, university employees, legislators and downstate and suburban teachers. Judges weren't included.

Under the measure, current and future public employees would have to wait until age 67 or five years after retirement to begin collecting annual increases on retirement benefits. Public employees' annual cost-of-living increases would be capped at a compounding, 3-percent on the first $25,000 of their retirement annuities. Retirement income greater than $25,000 would increase by a flat $750 per year.

"This single benefit is the most expensive single component of the pension systems," said Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook), who presented the measure on the House floor. "As painful as it is we will never get the increasing pension costs under control if we don't address [the COLA's]."

Here are the schools and school programs that CPS has recommended to close or co-locate, shown with poverty levels in the city of Chicago. Click on the location to learn more about the school:

SPRINGFIELD-Against the will of Gov. Pat Quinn, the Illinois House Thursday easily passed legislation sought by Commonwealth Edison to raise utility rates by $70 million annually in an effort to resume the stalled modernization of its electrical grid.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), passed the House with little debate by an 86-23 margin with three voting present and now moves to Quinn's desk.

"What Senate Bill 9 does at its core is clarify the law," Lang said. "[The bill] is designed to modernize our electric grid and to create many jobs in the state of Illinois. The process has begun, but we need this bill to accelerate that process."

Under the proposal, ComEd would have 10 years to complete its so-called smart-grid modernization, and customers would not see their rates increase until 2014. The utility estimates the average residential utility bill will jump by about 40 cents a month and increase by 80 cents per month by 2017.

The measure would also restore funding to ComEd and Ameren Illinois that was lost when the Illinois Commerce Commission imposed rate cuts on the utilities last May and again in October. The utility had challenged the commission in court when it was denied about $100 million in rate hikes, of which only $65-70 million is addressed in the legislation, ComEd claims.

The bill passed out the Senate last week where it was sponsored by Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago), who said the decision by the ICC to cut rates was a misinterpretation of smart-grid legislation passed in 2011 to bankroll a $2.6 billion ComEd smart-grid upgrade over the next decade.

Quinn is against the legislation, but the number of votes the measure received in both the House and the Senate would be enough to override a potential veto from the governor. Attorney General Lisa Madigan has also indicated she opposes the bill.

Illinois State Senate President John Cullerton. | Jessica Koscielniak~Sun-Times

SPRINGFIELD-A scaled-back plan by Senate President John Cullerton to make suburban and downstate teachers choose between keeping a compounding, 3-percent pension boost or giving up state-subsidized health insurance as retirees eked out of the Senate Wednesday.

The proposal applies only to members of the Teachers' Retirement System and passed the Senate on a 30-22 roll call, marking the first pension-reform measure to pass the Senate this spring. Cullerton's bill now moves to the House.

"It's not often you can push a green button and save $18 to $40 billion over the next 30 years," Cullerton said, referring to the green voting switch senators use to cast "aye" votes. "We need to start with pension reform. We need to pass a bill over to the House, put them on notice we're serious."

Cullerton's approach involved scaling back an earlier version of Senate Bill 1 that he pushed. Originally, his plan represented a hybrid of House and Senate pension-reform packages.

The plan Cullerton (D-Chicago) settled on affected only one of the state's five retirement systems, but aides said other retirement systems would be brought up for individual pension votes.

The plan that emerged Wednesday represented what Cullerton regarded as the best chance to put a constitutional pension bill on Gov. Pat Quinn's desk because it would make teachers voluntarily give up a pension perk in the annual cost-of-living adjustment rather than taking it away.

The vote totals after SB1 failed to pass on the first attempt. | Dave McKinney~Sun-Times via Twitter

Sun-Times Springfield Bureau Chief Dave McKinney was reporting via Twitter from the statehouse as Senate Pres. John Cullerton's pension bill failed on the first vote. It would pass on a second try.

This vote came after SB35 - a pension bill brought by Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) - failed to pass.

How it went down, via McKinney on Twitter:

As Pres. Obama takes his first trip to Israel as president, he and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu will hold hold a joint press conference. Watch live video below.

SPRINGFIELD-The government employee union representing 35,000 state workers ratified a three-year contract reached with Gov. Pat Quinn's administration, formally ending a stormy 15-month round of negotiations and buying the governor labor peace heading into a possible 2014 re-election bid.

The deal approved by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31's membership gives union members pay increases of 2 percent in years two and three of the deal.

The contract's first year offers no increase, though union members will be able to collect backpay withheld by Quinn's administration from the previous contract.

Union employees agreed to a series of higher health-care premiums, co-payments and deductibles that will result in about $900 million in savings to the state over the life of the contract, both sides contend.

"While this contract doesn't fully keep pace with the rising cost of living, it will help employees meet those costs. At the same time, it will help the state to address its economic challenges," Henry Bayer, AFSCME's executive director, said in a statement.

SPRINGFIELD-In its fourth week voting on parts of a concealed-carry framework, the Illinois House Tuesday adopted more preliminary measures restricting who could carry a concealed firearm and where it could be done.

The first piece of legislation, sponsored by Rep. Ann Williams (D-Chicago), passed by a 67-44 margin and would ban gun owners from "knowingly" bringing firearms into bars or restaurants that serve alcohol. The restriction would not apply to street fairs and vendors, Williams said.

And the second adopted measure, sponsored by Rep. Robert Martwick (D-Norridge), gives police the option to object to a concealed-carry application when the applicant has been arrested five times or three times for gang-related offenses in the last seven years. The legislation passed by an 84-29-1 vote.

The two measures were adopted on the House floor, but they only have the potential to be passed at a later time as part of a more comprehensive bill.

A similar measure to the one banning guns in establishments serving liquor is included in a comprehensive concealed-carry bill sponsored by Rep. Brandon Phelps (D-Harrisburg). As in previous debates, many Republicans and some Downstate Democrats called for a new process using a comprehensive bill to debate the issue, rather than the piecemeal approach being used by House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago).

"This [legislation] is not done correctly because of the process that we're unfortunately forced to go through by the speaker," Rep. Ed Sullivan (R-Mundelein) said.

The second measure - which would allow local law authorities to object to granting permits to people with arrest records - received scrutiny for being too broad, especially since the permit-seeker would not necessarily have to be convicted.

"I could be arrested on the House floor if I start screaming and throw a box of Kleenex," Rep. Jack Franks (D-Marengo) contended. "I can think of lots of reasons people get arrested but not convicted. So, why are we using an arrest standard and not a conviction?"

Martwick, sponsor of the measure, said applicants could appeal any objections for a permit by law enforcement through an administrative hearing process set up by the state police.

"This draws a line," Martwick said. "In order to catch the egregious instances so this doesn't slip through the cracks, they are automatically going to have a hearing."

The initiatives that advanced in the House Tuesday join other steps approved last week that would require gun owners to register their firearms, report lost or stolen guns to state police within 72 hours and lock up their guns if living with someone who could be mentally ill or have a criminal history.

The dozens of piecemeal proposals are being debated in the House as a U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has ordered the Illinois Legislature to pass a comprehensive concealed-carry bill by June 9.

Other proposals ultimately rejected in Tuesday's debate included measures to require gun-owners to report private transfers of firearms to state police within 10 days; train and be certified separately for each weapon a gun owner wishes to carry; carry only one firearm per license; purchase a $1 million liability insurance policy; and give the Legislature until Jan. 1, 2016 before any legislation can take effect.

SPRINGFIELD-State-subsidized health care is not constitutionally guaranteed for retired public workers, a downstate judge ruled Tuesday in a decision that drew praise from top Illinois Democrats aiming to reel in government pension benefits.

"Health insurance benefits are not guaranteed pension benefits protected by the Pension Protection Clause" of the Illinois Constitution, wrote Sangamon County Judge Steven Nardulli.

The ruling stems from a lawsuit brought last year by former state appellate justice Gordan Maag and a group of other retirees, who challenged a 2012 state law that permits Gov. Pat Quinn's administration to set health-insurance premiums for public-sector retirees.

The new law, which took effect last July, means retired state workers, judges, university employees and lawmakers will have to pay premiums for state health insurance after not having to do so if they had met certain seniority requirements.

Nardulli's ruling sided with a request by Attorney General Lisa Madigan to dismiss the lawsuit.

"I am pleased with the court's action today to uphold this important law," Quinn said in a statement. "This is good news for the taxpayers and another step forward in our effort to restore fiscal stability to Illinois."

The decision also represented good news for Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago), who has made state-subsidized health-care insurance a linchpin in pension-reform legislation he's pushing this spring.

Specifically, in legislation he's sponsoring, Cullerton wants retirees to choose either between getting continued health-care coverage from the state or a compounding, 3-percent annual increase in pension benefits, but not both.

Cullerton believes that choice will make pension reductions palatable to the Illinois Supreme Court, assuming lawmakers pass a pension deal this spring and public-sector unions challenge before the state high court.

"The real impact of this ruling is that it reinforces my position that a guarantee of health care access can be negotiated as part of a contractual change to protected pension benefits," Cullerton said in a statement.

A call to John Myers, a Springfield attorney representing one of the retirees who sued, was not immediately returned Tuesday afternoon.

Tammy Duckworth next to her helicopter in an undated file image.

As the world reflected today on the 10th anniversary of the war in Iraq, U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) who lost both her legs in combat there said that congress owed families like her an "honest discussion before waging the next conflict."

"Military force must always be an option, but never again can we fool ourselves into thinking that war will be easy -- or quick," Duckworth said in a statement today. "It is families like mine, the ones whose spouses, siblings, parents and children continue to serve in uniform who will pay when we wage war. We owe these families a responsible, honest discussion before waging the next conflict."

The newly-minted congresswoman of Hoffman Estates was a helicopter pilot in Iraq when she was shot down. She lost both her legs and one of her arms is injured. Earlier this year, Duckworth became the face of a new directive expanding women in combat.

Today, she noted that more than 4,000 people have died, more than 32,000 have been wounded in Iraq, "and the scourge of suicides and untreated mental health and brain injuries claim more lives each day," Duckworth said. "More than $1 trillion of our national treasure has been spent, not to mention the $8 billion a year we will spend for decades to care for our Iraq War Veterans."

In a new You Tube video released today, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton releases a pitch for gay rights, saying America is at its best when it embraces all of its people.

"Gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights," Clinton said.

The video only further fuels speculation that Clinton is positioning herself for a future run for the presidency.

Details: More on the video announcement.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Hello, everybody! (Cheers, applause.) Hello, Illinois! (Cheers, applause.) Hello. It is good to be home! (Cheers, applause.)

Well, let -- let me begin by -- by thanking Ann (sp) for the great introduction, the great work she's doing, the leadership she's showing with her team on so many different amazing technological breakthroughs.

I want to thank Dr. Isaacs and Dr. Crabtree for giving me a great tour of your facilities. You know, it's not every day that I get to walk into a thermal test chamber. (Laughter.) I told my girls that I was going to go into a thermal test chamber, and they were pretty excited. I told them I'd come out looking like the Hulk. (Laughter, applause.) They didn't believe that. (Laughter.)

I want to thank my friend and your friend, the -- a truly great U.S. senator, Senator Dick Durbin, huge supporter of Argonne. (Cheers, applause.) An outstanding member of Congress who actually could explain some of the stuff that's going on here, Bill Foster is here. (Cheers, applause.) Congressman Bobby Rush, a big supporter of Argonne and -- (applause) -- glad he's here. We've got a number of state and local officials with us, including your mayor, Brian Reaves. (Applause.)

And I could not come to Argonne without bringing my own Nobel Prize-winning scientist -- (laughter) -- someone who has served our country so well over the past four years, our energy secretary, Dr. Steven Chu.

President Barack Obama, speaking from Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont, called on Congress to put a new $2 billion energy initiative into motion and get America off of its reliance on gasoline "once and for all."

"The only way to break this cycle of spiking gas prices is to shift our cars entirely, cars and trucks off oil," the president said to about 400 people in the Center for Nanoscale Materials.

Calling it the Energy Security Trust, Obama said there should be support for this idea "because it's not just about saving money, it's also about saving the environment. It's also about national security. Helps us free our families and our businesses from the painful spikes in gas once and for all."

"We can do this. The nature of America's miraculous rise has been our drive, our restless spirit our willingness to reach out to new horizons, our willingness to innovate. .. that's what Argonne National Lab is about."

The President's proposal sets aside $2 billion over 10 years and will support research into a range of
cost-effective technologies - like advanced vehicles that run on electricity, homegrown biofuels, fuel
cells, and domestically produced natural gas.

Obama said the proposal wouldn't cost new money. A fact sheet from the White House indicated: The mandatory funds would be set aside from royalty revenues generated by oil and gas development in Federal waters of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), already included in the administration's five year plan. These revenues are projected to increase over the next several years based on a combination of leasing, production, and price trends, with additional revenues potentially generated as a result of reforms being proposed in the FY 2014 Budget. The Trust is paid for within the context of the overall budget.

***corrected ****
Matthew Howard, Director of Communications from Argonne National Laboratory corrected an earlier statement that a president had not been to the site for 21 years.
In fact, he said the last presidential visit happened in 2002 under George W. Bush.

Howard said Argonne faces funding cuts under the federal sequester.
"We're anticipating a 5 percent cut. We don't have specifics on how that's going to play out. We just don't know what the short-term effects will be from the Department of Energy, but our main concern is the freezing of new ideas and the slowing down of new projects while the rest of the world is racing ahead. There is a long-term effect that could really damage science in this country and innovation."
President Obama,who has touched down at O'Hare already, is expected to make public remarks at about 1:30 after he tours the facility.
Argonne is one of the Department of Energy's biggest national laboratories, managed by the University of Chicago.
A White House official said Argonne Labs was selected for the visit to showcase Obama's package of energy proposals because the scope of the research at the lab "is incredibly wide ranging but for decades now, they have been at the forefront of research focused on high-tech vehicle technology."

Obama is expected to lay out his energy policies today, something he's calling an Energy Security Trust.

A White House blog post today lays out the details:

Illinois House passes first pension reform measures

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SPRINGFIELD-The Illinois House passed pension reform measures Thursday that would cap "pensionable" salaries at Social Security wages and would increase retirement ages on a sliding scale for employees under age 45.

Following another series of "test-votes" as part of House Speaker Michael Madigan's (D-Chicago) "weekly order of business" process, the House passed its first pension reforms of the 98th General Assembly. The measures now move to the Senate.

The measure capping salaries - $113,700 indexed for inflation - upon which pension benefits can be based passed in the chamber by an overwhelming 101-15 margin. The change would apply only to employees hired before Jan. 1, 2011.

The bill that raises the age at which state employees can begin collecting benefits passed by a closer 76-41 vote; however, the measure would not include Illinois judges. Retirement ages for employees hired before Jan. 1, 2011 would increase by one year for those ages 40-45, three years for those ages 35-39, and five years for employees under age 35.

Neither bill changes retirement benefits for state employees hired after Jan. 1, 2011, according to Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook), who presented the bills on the House floor. Nekritz said the bills are identical to measures included in a comprehensive bill she has been working on with House Republican leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego).

That bill passed a House committee by a 9-1 vote Thursday and now moves to the House floor for a full vote. When asked if she thinks the two measures passed on the House floor Thursday could be included in a similar comprehensive reform bill down the road, Nekrtiz said, "That would be my hope, but that's off my pay-grade."

While House Republicans have largely decided not to participate in the pension "test-vote" process the last two weeks, each bill received full participation this time with a number of Republicans supporting each measure.

In light of recent Securities Exchange Commission fraud allegations against the state, Cross conveyed his persisting irritation with Speaker Madigan's "piecemeal" process in the House to his colleagues.

"But when the SEC says to the state of Illinois, 'you've played games and used gimmicks in the pension area,' why wouldn't we come in and come before this body with a holistic, comprehensive approach to solving the pension problem?" Cross asked.

Still denouncing the process and its potential to set up a challenge in court, Cross applauded Nekritz for her efforts and threw his support behind both bills.

"I hope that were not setting the stage - we're rescinding a series of different bills to the Supreme Court and not in one big package, which I think could cause a lot of mischief for this issue and this problem," he said. "So I'm going to support the underlying bill...but this is not the process that works on the biggest issue facing the state."

House members also debated a measure that would increase the amount employees have withheld from their paychecks for pension benefits by 3 percent. But questions surrounding the plan's constitutionality prompted the chamber to vote it down by a 37-79-1 vote.

SPRINGFIELD-In a blow to Gov. Pat Quinn, the Illinois Senate Thursday overwhelmingly approved legislation sought by Commonwealth Edison to boost utility rates by $70 million annually as part of a push to relaunch the stalled modernization of its electrical grid.

The bill, sponsored by Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago), passed the Senate by a 44-9 vote, with one member voting present. It now moves to the House.

Before the Senate vote, the plan was altered slightly to require that ComEd complete its so-called smart-grid modernization within a year, instead of 18 months, as had been spelled out in an earlier version of Cullerton's bill.

Under the plan, ComEd's customers would not see a rate increase until 2014, with the average residential utility bill growing then by about 40 cents per month and increasing to 80 cents a month by 2017, the utility has estimated in the past.

The fast-tracked legislation would restore funding to ComEd and Ameren Illinois that was lost when the Illinois Commerce Commission imposed rate cuts on the utilities last May and again in October.

In its rulings, the ICC denied ComEd as much as $100 million in rate hikes, prompting a challenge by the utility in the state appellate court. Cullerton's bill would only address between $65 million and $70 million sought by ComEd, the utility said.

Cullerton said the decision by the ICC to cut rates was a misinterpretation of smart-grid legislation passed in 2011 to subsidize a $2.6 billion ComEd upgrade of its electric grid over the next decade.

The measure "corrects the ICC's interpretation ... and establishes processes to get infrastructure and grid modernization programs back on track," Cullerton said during floor debate Thursday.

Quinn opposes the legislation, but the margin of the Senate vote suggests his power to block the plan has been more than blocked. If the governor were to veto the package, the Senate would need 36 votes to override that action by Quinn. Thursday's roll call exceeded that threshold by eight votes.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan also opposes the measure.

ComEd praised Thursday's Senate vote.

"This legislation will help ComEd build a modern grid to reduce power outages, give customers more choice and control over their energy use and create thousands of much-needed jobs," ComEd spokeswoman Judith Rader said.

SPRINGFIELD-Gov. Pat Quinn said Wednesday that Attorney General Lisa Madigan should appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court a federal court order requiring Illinois legislators to move a concealed-carry bill to Quinn's desk by June 9.

"This is a serious matter where a federal court is ordering our state by a date certain to pass a law that would allow loaded weapons to be concealed on a person in a public place," Quinn told reporters.

Quinn said "the only hope" for Madigan to reverse the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals' decision and keep the state's ban on carrying guns in public in place would be to appeal to the nation's high court.

But Madigan said she doesn't "think that that's true," and that her office is waiting to see what happens in Springfield.

"It's a situation where we don't know what the U.S. Supreme Court would ultimately do," she told reporters Wednesday. "But right now the Legislature obviously looks at this as one of their priorities, and based on the 7th circuit court's opinion, one of their mandates."

"If the laws as they are now appear to be evolving or possibly changing, it could potentially be premature to move forward on this," Madigan said.

But what happens if the June 9 deadline arrives, and a bill has yet to reach Quinn's desk?

"That presumes that [lawmakers] aren't able to pass anything," Madigan answered. "We're not there yet. We will see what they pass if they pass anything."

SPRINGFIELD-A pair of pension-reform proposals advanced in the Illinois Senate Wednesday, setting the stage for a possible floor votes.

A package designed to solve Illinois' $96 billion pension crisis and carried by Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) passed the Senate Executive Committee by an 11-3 vote.

It is a two-pronged proposal designed to withstand an inevitable constitutional challenge by labor unions opposed to seeing their members' pension benefits diminished.

One facet of it would cap the salary upon which pensions could be based, suspends and cuts automatic 3-percent increases for current and future retirees, boosts employee pension contributions and requires the pension systems be fully funded by 2043.

The other piece of Cullerton's plan, which would take effect only if the other part is declared unconstitutional, would require current and retired government workers to accept either reduced cost-of-living increases or to give up state-subsidized health care.

The other plan to advance out of the Senate Executive Committee was pension legislation pushed by state Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) that hikes the retirement age, postpones cost-of-living increases and boosts how much existing workers have withheld from their paychecks for pensions.

The Biss plan passed 11-4.

SPRINGFIELD-With a federal court's deadline hanging over them, Illinois House members Wednesday debated concealed-carry measures for the third straight week in another series of up-or-down "test votes."

The House adopted measures that would require gun-owners to report lost or stolen firearms, register firearms within 90 days of a bill's passage, and lock up their firearms if there is a possibility someone with mental issues or a criminal history could access them.

However, none of the measures move to the governor's desk until both chambers of the General Assembly pass them in a comprehensive bill, which is likely to include more additions. Among the day's failed measures was a ban on ammunition magazine clips holding more than 10 rounds, which failed by two votes after taking up nearly two hours of debate.

The hours of discussion took place as part of House Speaker Michael Madigan's (D-Chicago) "weekly order of business," which he has used the last three weeks in search for a concealed-carry framework. And for the third straight week, Republicans decided not to vote on the measures due to what many of them consider a fruitless, political process.

"So what are you really after?" House Republican leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego) asked Democrats. "Are you after solving problems? Do you really want to [solve Chicago's violence problem] or do you want to play these sick, senseless games week in and week out?"

But the pressure is on because the Legislature has until June 9 to pass a concealed-carry bill since a U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals decision in December struck down the state's ban on concealed carry.

"I think were moving in the right direction," Madigan told reporters Wednesday when asked about the process. However, the speaker remained quiet on exactly what measures he'd like to see in a final bill.

"I'm not going to comment on that because I'll wait to see how it works through the House," he said.

SPRINGFIELD-House Speaker Michael Madigan, a decades-long constant at the Statehouse as Illinois' pensions entered their death spiral, minimized the impact on bond investors Wednesday after federal securities regulators accused the state of misleading investors about the true calamity facing the state's pension funds.

"It's important to understand that the buyers of Illinois' debt have all been paid their interest and their principal. We have not reneged on our debt payments," Madigan told reporters when asked about this week's damning Securities and Exchange Commission report against the state.

"So there are no victims here. Nobody's lost any money," Madigan said.

On Monday, the SEC accused Illinois of breaking federal securities laws and having "misled investors" in misstating the true health of the state's depleted pension funds between 2005 and early 2009.

The finding of securities fraud didn't subject Illinois to any fines or penalties, but it amounts to another fiscal black eye for a state burdened by the worst bond rating and the worst-funded pension funds in the country.

The SEC finding, the second such action against a state, focuses on misstatements linked to $2.2 billion worth of bond offerings issued during impeached ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich's administration. New Jersey was cited in 2010 for similar disclosure failures regarding pension underfunding in its bond offerings.

The agency didn't immediately respond Wednesday to Madigan's assertion that bond investors weren't harmed by the state's lack of disclosure.

In making his statements after an appearance at an International Brotherhood of Electrical Engineers appearance, Madigan shifted blame for the problems cited by the SEC on his old nemeses.

"It's more Rod Blagojevich and John Filan," Madigan said, referring to the impeached ex-governor and the head of his budget office. "They got what they deserve."

Filan did not immediately return a call Wednesday seeking comment to Madigan's remarks.

Contributing: Zach Buchheit

When President Obama visits the mega science hub that is Argonne National Laboratory on Friday, he's expected to discuss his energy policies.

It marks the third Illinois visit from the Obamas in recent weeks. The president visited in February to talk about gun violence. First Lady Michelle Obama came through Chicago two weeks ago to urge kids to eat better and improve fitness in their lives.

The White House announced today the event will focus on "American energy."

The Argonne Web site notes that the White House announced his visit one day after the president discussed energy and climate change during a private meeting with business leaders and others from the clean energy industry.

Argonne is a not for profit agency that is one of the U.S. Department of Energy's largest national laboratories for scientific and engineering research.
"Our over 1,250 scientists and engineers aim to solve the nation's most important challenges in energy, the environment and national security," Argonne says of itself.

The event is open to pre-credentialed media but closed to the public.

Speaker Madigan: Gay marriage 12 votes shy in House

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SPRINGFIELD-The top Democrat in the Illinois House told reporters Wednesday that his chamber is just 12 votes short of moving same-sex marriage legislation to the governor's desk.

Madigan's assertion comes a month after the Illinois Senate narrowly passed the bill on Valentine's Day and a couple of weeks after a House panel advanced the measure to the House floor by a 6-5 vote. Gov. Pat Quinn has said he would sign the bill if it reaches his desk.

Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), the bill's chief House sponsor, thinks the speaker's claim may be a little off.

"I think it's a bit closer than that," he said. "I've not spoken to the speaker...but when we put it up on the board we're going to have 60 votes, and it's going to pass because this is what the majority of people in Illinois believe is the right thing to do."

A similar bill to the one Madigan is now supporting had failed to gather enough support during the Legislature's "lame-duck" session in January, but that was before certain protections for religious organizations were added to the language.

The legislation currently awaiting a vote in the House now has support from more than 300 clergy across the state in a signed open letter, according to gay-marriage coalition Illinois Unites for Marriage.

Among the clergymen are the Rev. B. Herbert Martin, former Mayor Harold Washington's minister, and the Rev. Otis Moss III, pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ, which is President Obama's former church on Chicago's South Side.

But one of the state's key religious figures - Cardinal Francis George - has stood staunchly against the same-sex marriage legislation and is leading a different group of clergy behind his cause to limit marriage to a bond between a man and a woman.

"This just shows the importance of why the government has to stay neutral in how we treat religion," Harris said. "And I respect the cardinal's position. That is a view of the faith as their church believes it."

Cardinal George had directly involved himself in the debate when he sent a letter urging lawmakers to vote against gay marriage legislation during the "lame-duck" session. Madigan made clear Wednesday that George is opposed to the current legislation as well and has called the speaker to make that view clear.

But does an Illinois House speaker outrank a Roman Catholic cardinal?

"Better be careful there," Madigan answered, smiling.

Lisa Madigan continues to dance around 2014 plans

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SPRINGFIELD-First hinting at a 2014 gubernatorial primary run in January, Attorney General Lisa Madigan on Wednesday again remained coy on the possibility but still flirted with the idea.

"I have not made up my mind," she said, adding that she has yet to set a timeline on the issue.

Just an hour earlier at the same conference, Madigan's father,Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), indicated that he thinks a Democratic primary challenge to Gov. Pat Quinn is a definite possibility.

"Well these are Democrats, and so everybody does what they want to do," he said. "Democrats do what they want to do."

So will Democrats do what they want to do? Lisa Madigan responded to her father's comment.

"That sounds like an accurate statement," she said.

She also said she has returned to Washington to speak with interest groups, including the League of Conservation Voters, and received positive feedback. But, for now, Madigan said she is focused on being attorney general.

"Well, I have a job that I very much enjoy that I think is an important one where we've been very successful...But there's a lot of work that needs to still be done in this state," she said.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

This preview of MSNBC's "The Ed Show" teases the Wednesday broadcast when the man who shot the now-infamous video of presidential candidate Mitt Romney talking about the "47 percent" will come forward.

"But in the end I really felt like it had to be put out," the as-yet unidentified man said. "I felt I owed it to the people that couldn't afford to be there themselves to hear what he really thought."

Mother Jones broke the story just before the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, causing a furor and debate over what Romney meant and what the true divide in the nation was. Romney would backpedal his statement, but later embrace the thoughts again following his loss in the general election.

The original video:

City Council's Progressive Caucus Flexes its Muscle

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On a "good day," they may have 15 aldermen. On a "bad day," it might be as low as nine. In no case is it anywhere near the 26 votes they need to pass legislation in a City Council firmly in Mayor Rahm Emanuel's control.

The Rev. James Meeks speaks during a candidate forum during his mayoral run in 2010. | Sun-Times file

SPRINGFIELD-With a vote looming in the Illinois House, Rev. James Meeks is taking a stand against same-sex marriage by sending an "emergency message" to Illinois households.

Meeks, pastor of Salem Baptist Church on Chicago's South Side and former state senator, said the pre-recorded call that reached roughly 200,000 households in 14 legislative districts beginning Friday was sent mostly to African-Americans.

"Please listen closely," the message began. "Your state representative in Springfield is under serious pressure to redefine marriage in Illinois. If marriage between one man and one woman is redefined to add same-sex marriage, our family structure, as we know it, is in serious jeopardy.

"While being a member of the General Assembly for the last 10 years, I maintained the fact that this decision is too big for 177 people to make. If we are going to change Illinois, as we know it on such a broad scale, then your voice and input are very much needed."

SPRINGFIELD-Illinois broke federal securities laws and "misled investors" in misstating the true health of the state's depleted pension funds between 2005 and early 2009, the Securities and Exchange Commission announced Monday.

The finding of securities fraud doesn't subject Illinois to any fines or penalties, but it amounts to another fiscal black eye for a state burdened by the worst bond rating in the country and completely underwater by inaction in solving its $96 billion pension crisis.

The SEC finding, the second such action against a state, focuses mostly on misstatements linked to $2.2 billion worth of bond offerings issued during impeached ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich's administration. New Jersey was cited in 2010 for similar disclosure failures regarding pension underfunding in its bond offerings.

"Municipal investors are no less entitled to truthful risk disclosures than other investors," said George S. Canellos, acting director of the SEC's Division of Enforcement in a prepared statement.

"Time after time, Illinois failed to inform its bond investors about the risk to its financial condition posed by the structural underfunding of its pension system," Canellos said.

In particular, the agency hit the state for misleading investors about the impact in 2006 and 2007 of "pension holidays" -- a happy-sounding budgetary misnomer used at the time to describe deeply diminished pension payments -- on the state retirement systems' overall health.

The Blagojevich administration also neglected to outline for investors how a 1995 pension-funding law created "systemic underfunding (that) imposed significant stress on the pension systems and the state's ability to meet its competing obligations." Between 1996 and 2010, the state's five pension systems took on $57 billion worth of red ink.

A spokesman for Quinn's budget office, which began including information about the state's perilous pension situation in bond documents in April 2009, said Illinois has "cooperated fully" with the SEC during its inquiry and concluded it was in the state's "best interests" to settle the matter.

"The state neither admits nor denies the findings in the order, which carries no fines or penalties," said Abdon Pallasch, assistant budget director.

The SEC report faulted Blagojevich's budget office, led during his first term by John Filan and by Ginger Ostro in Blagojevich's second term, for a series of "institutional failures."

Within that office, "the team responsible for managing the disclosure process purported to rely on its consultants, underwriters, underwriter's counsel and bond counsel to identify and evaluate the need for additional disclosures. Those parties, however, relied on the state to do the same," the report said. "The result was a process in which no one person fully accepted responsibility for identifying and analyzing potential pension disclosures."

The SEC launched its investigation after Senate Republicans in 2005 called for a federal probe into why Blagojevich's budget office, in a prospectus for a $300 million bond issue, overstated savings from a set of pension reforms enacted under Blagojevich.

In an October 2005 interview with the Bloomington Pantagraph, Becky Carroll, the spokeswoman for Blagojevich's budget office, stood by its disclosure standards and belittled the concerns as "just another desperate attempt by the Senate Republicans to twist and turn facts and rewrite the very poor fiscal history in Illinois that they created."

On Monday, Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) aimed to set the record straight.

"I am proud to note that the Illinois Senate Republican caucus was the first to sound the alarm in 2005 and call for the SEC investigation," Radogno said. "Our work to expose these deceptive practices led to corrective action and improved disclosure."

SPRINGFIELD-Illinois State Republican Chairman Pat Brady may be sacked Saturday for defying his party's conservative flank in expressing support for legalizing gay marriage.

But did Brady commit a more serious political sin by crossing Democratic powerhouse Michael Madigan by being the architect and lead pitchman for last year's "Fire Madigan" campaign by the state GOP?

Members of the state Republican central committee plan to convene in closed session Saturday in Tinley Park and could vote to oust Brady in a coup attempt led by state Sen. Jim Oberweis (R-Sugar Grove).

Oberweis said Brady's involvement in Republican primaries last fall, including the Kane County board chairman race, was problematic, but his gay-marriage stance taken without consulting the state GOP organization was "the final straw."

"When you start publicly lobbying against a plank in our state and national party platforms, without even discussing with or advising the board of directors, I think he's gone too far," Oberweis told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Oberweis estimated Friday that "70 to 80 percent" of the 18-member central committee favors Brady's ouster, which could come as backers of gay marriage in Springfield are feverishly working the Illinois House for votes to get the measure to Gov. Pat Quinn's desk.

Brady's fate is important because the state chairman represents the face of the GOP, both in relaying the party's message and in fundraising. If Brady goes, Illinois Republicans likely will tilt farther to the right and lose the kind of moderate voice that used to be the winning formula behind the GOP's uninterrupted 26-year hold on the state's governorship that ended in 2003.

Brady has secured backing from virtually every Illinois GOP bigshot, including U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, former Gov. Jim Edgar, former Gov. Jim Thompson, state Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, state House Minority Leader Tom Cross and state Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno.

Even with that seemingly solid show of support, if a vote happens Saturday, it's expected to be tight with a potential swing vote belonging to Jack Dorgan, a Rosemont Republican clearly from the moderate Brady wing of the party and a one-time staffer for both Thompson and Edgar.

Dorgan, who Friday wouldn't divulge his vote despite publicly expressing qualms about Brady's leadership, is also a lobbyist whose business partner is Jim McPike, a one-time House majority leader under Madigan. Their firm's success in Springfield hinges, partly, on being able to pass or kill legislation in Madigan's chamber.

"I have not made up my mind," Dorgan told the Chicago Sun-Times Friday. "I'm weighing and talking and hoping some kind of compromise comes up, but Pat doesn't want to talk to anybody other than those not on the central committee. Shouldn't he have gotten out in front of this and talked to the body who elected him?

"It's just the fact he cannot effectively lead anymore," Dorgan said.

Brady, who does not intend to be at Saturday's GOP meeting, countered that he has reached out to Dorgan but got no response and said Dorgan's stance "makes no sense."

And while saying he has no direct proof, Brady believes Madigan or his minions are pressuring Dorgan to cast an anti-Brady vote as revenge for the "Fire Madigan" campaign Brady devised last year. That campaign included setting up a website last fall that sold an array of goods emblazoned with the "Fire Madigan" logo, including dog t-shirts.

"The math adds up," Brady said of the possible Madigan link. "This is not an original thought by me. This is what a lot of people suspect is going on.

"No one has ever publicly taken him on," Brady said of Madigan.

But Dorgan denied talking to Madigan or any of his emissaries about voting out Brady and called suggestions to the contrary "ludicrous."

"Mike Madigan says as much to me as he says to anyone else, and that's 'Good morning,'" Dorgan said. "I got a text about this, and whoever's saying this is making the most ridiculous statement I've ever heard in my life.

"The speaker, none of his people have said anything to me," Dorgan continued. "My guess is the laughing about this."

A Madigan aide, in fact, did chuckle when asked if the speaker had a dog in the fight in the state GOP upheaval.

Madigan spokesman Steve Brown sided with Dorgan and insisted the speaker and chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois has no interest in tampering with the GOP's leadership structure, particularly when it failed miserably in stopping historic Democratic supermajorities from overtaking the Statehouse last fall.

"Brady should be there for at least two or three cycles. He's done a great job for Republicans," Brown said sarcastically.

Brown called Brady's attempt to tie Madigan into the dispute a "desperate" measure and said the speaker carries no enmity toward Brady for the "Fire Madigan" campaign.

"Everybody from Democratic side of the 'Fire Madigan' thing thought it was a terrific waste of resources," Brown said, "and we're happy to see them waste their money."

SPRINGFIELD-Colleges, universities and public schools would not be able to access students' social networking accounts under a bill passed by the Illinois House Friday in an effort to protect student privacy.

Following a flurry of last-second vote changes, the measure, sponsored by Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-Chicago), eked out of the House by a bare-minimum 60-54 vote and now moves to the Senate.

"I was surprised that we got just what we needed," Ford said. "It was a close vote."

The bill bans all colleges and universities from requiring students or their parents to provide access to student's social networking profiles.

However, a school would be able to make the request if it has "reasonable cause" to believe the student's profile contains evidence showing the student has violated school policy. But even then, the student could deny the school access, Ford said.

"It would be sort of like a [police] officer saying, 'open your door' or 'open your trunk,' and if you open it you subject yourself to whatever's in the trunk," Ford said.

In the same way, public elementary schools and high schools could also request access to students social networks if they have reason to believe a student's profile shows the student has violated school policy. The school would have to communicate this authority in its handbook or set of rules.

Last year, Ford was the driving force behind banning employers from demanding access to employees' or job candidates' social network accounts.

"This [bill] came as an addition to the employers [bill passed last year], and I have university students asking for me to add them as well," Ford said. "Last year this bill became an issue because they were not added."

Not quite persuaded by Ford's argument, Rep. Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) brought up last year's vote during Friday's debate and called the legislation a "solution in search of a problem."

"How would we regulate cyberspace?" Durkin asked. "I believe there is a way to solve these problems...but I don't believe this gets the job done."

But Ford is convinced the measure provides a vital protection for students engaging in online social activity.

"When you give your password, you give your email account information, you give credit card information, you give all sorts of information," he said. "And so this will not only protect the password for social media, but it protects your personal email accounts and credit card information."

Journalist Bob Woodward speaks at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center's Humanitarian Awards Dinner. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel offered a playful, but pointed response Thursday to legendary newsman Bob Woodward's claim that Emanuel left behind a legacy of "hyper-partisanship" in Washington D.C.

SPRINGFIELD-The Illinois House passed legislation Thursday to transfer $6.6 million to the cash-strapped fund that licenses and regulates the state's doctors and to increase the licensing fees doctors pay to cover the cost.

The measure, sponsored by House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), passed through the House by a 65-49 margin and now moves to Gov. Pat Quinn's desk for final approval. The bill had passed in the Senate last month with a 38-19 vote.

The funds would go to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation's medical disciplinary fund to be used to process the fund's growing backlog of doctors' license applications.

The agency's paperwork overload resulted from the agency having to reassign 18 of its 26 medical unit employees in January due to a fund shortfall of $9.6 million. The fund's revenue is generated from doctors' licensing fees, which have been set at $100 a year since 1987.

During debate of the measure, at least one House member brought up the issue of funds like this one being "swept" by previous administrations, meaning the money was borrowed from the fund to be used elsewhere.

"There are dollars out there that could have solved the problem without getting to this point," said Rep. David Harris (R-Arlington Heights). "Why should the doctors be any different than any other fund that's been swept?"

Harris actually endorsed the bill, though, because like others he fears the state will lose doctors and scare away medical students looking for a place to start their careers if the emergency infusion of funds is not made.

"If we're not able to say to those students, 'We can get you your license in a reasonable amount of time,' not one of them will come to Illinois," said Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, a chief sponsor of the bill.

Under the legislation, the state would borrow the $6.6 million from its local government tax fund, which contains more than $1 billion, and pay the money back in three installments starting July 1, 2014 and ending Jan. 1, 2015. If the state fails to repay the money, local municipalities could take the state to court, Currie suspects.

To cover the cost of the borrowed funds, doctors' licensing fees would increase from $300 to $700 for three-year licenses until July 1, 2018 when they would be lowered to $600.

With reporting by Zach Buchheit

SPRINGFIELD-In another pension-related test vote, the Illinois House gave a thumbs-up Thursday to capping the salary upon which a retired state employee or teacher could have their pensions based.

The amendment carried by state Rep. Michael Zalewski (D-Riverside), one of three pension test votes in the House Thursday, would tie a retiree's maximum pension to the most allowed under Social Security, which currently is $113,700 annually.

The step could save the state's pension systems about $1 billion.

"This would remedy the situation where teachers and administrators later in their careers have their salaries inflated to a significant amount and that particular salary becomes onerous to the system," Zalewski said.

The amendment to House Bill 1154 was positioned for a final vote by a 65-7 roll call, with one member voting present. That margin signifies enough support to meet a 60-vote threshold needed in the House to pass legislation.

A bid to suspend cost-of-living increases for state retirees for 10 years failed after drawing only two votes with 67 against. An amendment to boost employee pension contributions by 4 percent was voted down on a 11-58 roll call, with two voting present.

The up-or-down test vote process is a continuation of House Speaker Michael Madigan's (D-Chicago) "weekly orders of business," which began last week to debate gun safety and pension solutions.

Madigan called today's process in the House "a good step forward," even while all but two Republican members refused to cast any votes. Both Rep. David Harris (R-Arlington Heights) and Rep. David McSweeney (R-Barrington Hills) broke ranks with their GOP colleagues by voting "yes" on capping pensionable salaries.

When asked what the House's next move on pensions would be, Madigan told reporters, "Well, the next move would be for you to go ask the Republicans why they don't participate in voting.

"You know, in America you get elected through a Legislature to vote. That's the American system, right? So, you should go over there and ask them, 'Why aren't you voting?'"

On Wednesday, Madigan indicated that the point of the test-vote process is partly to help legislators understand the gravity of the decisions they will have to make to solve the pension crisis.

When asked if today's process helped achieve that goal, Madigan said, "Yeah, I would hope so. It's about time."

SPRINGFIELD-A Downstate Senate Democrat has donned a pair of "big-boy pants."

State Sen. William Haine (D-Alton) waded into an ugly fight for control of Southern Illinois University that involves Gov. Pat Quinn, his hand-picked choice for the SIU board chairmanship and former Democratic gubernatorial nominee for governor, Glenn Poshard.

Haine moved legislation to the Senate floor to blow up Southern Illinois University's governing board in a bid to get rid of the SIU's colorful chairman, Roger Herrin, a podiatrist who is backed by Quinn and is a campaign donor. Herrin and Poshard are enemies and were players in a public-relations debacle last week over who's in charge of a university that has more than 32,000 students at its Carbondale and Edwardsville campuses.

Haine's legislation, which has passed the Senate Executive Committee on a 9-4 vote, would fire the four existing members of the seven-membet SIU board and require Quinn to replace them with three members with ties to the university's Carbondale campus and three members linked to its Edwardsville campus. A seventh member would be a student.

"There seems to be some internal disputes on the board, a struggle for the chair. I believe that given the past week's events, it's time to reconstitute the board and have a rough geographic balance and give the Senate and governor an opportunity to reset," Haine said.

Last week, Quinn ousted Alton lawyer John Simmons, Edwardsville school Superintendent Edward Hightower and O'Fallon contractor Mark Hinrichs, who were all aligned with Poshard and opposed Herrin's push to reclaim his chairmanship of the SIU board. The Senate unanimously rejected Quinn's three replacements.

On Thursday, after the remaining members tried but failed to hold a board meeting because they lacked a quorum, Poshard and Herrin staged a nearly hour-long press conference, taking turns at a mic and engaging in a back-and-forth of fingerpointing, name-calling and allegations of improprieties.

Poshard, the 1998 Democratic nominee for governor, has battled with Herrin in the past, claiming he micromanages the university. But last week, Poshard accused Herrin of trying to "rig elections" for the board's general counsel and to "punish" university staff who'd run afoul of Herrin.

"I can go right down the list of hundreds of things. It doesn't matter if it's a friend or anybody else, I'm the president, and I'm going to protect the university. At all costs," Poshard said to Herrin, a Quinn donor. "Don't try to get me to do something illegal."

"Wait a minute," Herrin snapped back at Poshard. "You're saying I tried to get you to do something illegal? You better be able to back it up. I'd never do that. And you damn well know it."

"OK. Don't worry," Poshard said with a chuckle. "There's plenty to back it up."

"Then put your big-boy pants on and go after it," Herrin fired back. "Accuse me of doing something illegal, and you've crossed the line."

The whole encounter was recorded and posted on the WSIU-FM website.

Haine characterized the exchange, with its "barking back and forth" and "personal comments," as "unseemly" but placed the blame on Herrin.

"This is a major university. And for someone who's a chairman of the board to make a spectacle like that ... what in the heck are you doing to this university for which you have a fiduciary duty?" Haine said.

"I have no quarrel with any other member. If I could carve him out," Haine said of Herrin, "I'd do it."

Republicans on the Senate panel balked at Haine's maneuver, with Sen. Dale Righter (R-Charleston) calling it a "dramatic overreach" by the Senate. Others agreed.

"It seems a pretty dramatic step to take, merely because there's some internal divisions on the board," said Sen. Matt Murphy (R-Palatine). "Are we going to inject ourselves every time there's a board that can't get along in this manner?"

City Hall reporter

Mayor Rahm Emanuel bemoaned the cuts Gov. Pat Quinn proposed Wednesday for education funding in a proposed 2014 state budget, where one in every five dollars would be consumed by skyrocketing pension costs.

Emanuel noted that his own "kids-first" 2013 budget managed to hold the line in taxes, fines and fees and still make a major investment in pre-school, after-school, summer jobs and eye care programs for children.

"Budgets are a reflection of values...We're investing in our children. Those are the right choices for the future. We made choices--tough choices, but we put our kids at the front of the line to get the first set of resources," the mayor said.

If that sounded like a thinly-veiled criticism of Quinn, it shouldn't.

The mayor said he's well aware that 19 percent of next year's proposed budget goes to pensions in Illinois and that means "you've got to make changes that adversely affect" the state's school children.

The governor's $35.6 billion budget blueprint for the state fiscal year that starts July 1 calls for $400 million less in spending for public schools and universities, a direct result Quinn said of lawmakers failing to solve Illinois' $96 billion pension crisis.

"I don't think the governor relishes this. I know he doesn't. I know his values. My view is, let is show the political will around the pensions and health care, so we don't look at our kids and start cutting. That is the wrong future," Emanuel said.

"There are states like Florida right now that are increasing their investment in education. Now, which state, which children, which families are gonna have a brighter future?....I said when I did my budget that if we do not reform pensions, we're gonna make a set of choices that are wrong for our children and wrong for the future," the mayor said.

"And I do not think we should balance the budget on the backs of our children. I understand all the difficulties associated with making reforms to pensions. But, those difficult choices pale compared to the difficult choices of balancing the budget on the backs of our children," he said.

SPRINGFIELD-Just two days after Gov. Pat Quinn vetoed a gambling expansion bill, a Senate panel advanced a similar bill Wednesday that would bring a casino to Chicago and allow online video gaming, with profits going to fund education and the state pension system.

Having supposedly received the thumbs-up for the program from the federal government, state legislators moved the online video gaming proposal known as iGaming under a broader gambling expansion bill through the Senate Executive Committee by a 10-4 vote.

The iGaming proposal is the latest addition in a gaming expansion bill, and this most recent bill also includes up to 4,000 new gaming machines in Chicago that could be used on land or water and even at airports. The bill also provides for more than 2,000 new machines at racetracks, 1,200 of which would be allowed in Cook County.

In addition to a Chicago casino, the bill mimics previous legislation in allowing four more casinos to be built in Rockford, Danville, Lake County and the south Chicago suburbs. Committee members say they had only two hours to look over the more than 500 pages of gaming legislation, which appears to be on a fast track to the Senate floor where it is expected to pass.

Sen. Terry Link (D-Waukegan), the bill's sponsor, estimates the state could see about $150 million from iGaming, all of which would help fund state pensions. Revenue from new machines at casinos and racetracks could generate $200 million to $400 million, which Link said would be used to fund education programs.

He also told the committee that similar online gaming programs already exist in Nevada and New Jersey, and at least two states - California and Delaware - are considering them.

"It would be like video poker and types of games like that," Link said. "You know, like what they're doing right now in foreign countries. They're offshore betting.

"You put your credit card up there, you put X amount of dollars up there and you can bet. But this would be precluded to Illinois only. I couldn't bet with Nevada or New Jersey. It's Illinois residents in Illinois."

In recently approving online Lottery games in the state, federal authorities also consented to iGaming as long as no sports betting would be allowed, Link said. The Illinois Department of Lottery would administer and oversee the program and could issue licenses to anyone who already holds a gaming or wagering license in the state.

Anita Bedell of the Illinois Church Action on Alcohol and Addiction Problems testified against the legislation. Bedell classified the federal government's consent to iGaming as "muddy water" and thinks the online program will lack proper protection for children.

"How are they gonna track that?" Bedell asked. "How are they gonna control all that. You know, it's the Internet. People are anonymous.

"The public does not want this...and again it's the children. There's no stop on the Internet. It's 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There's no controls there."

The committee hearing came just a couple of hours after Quinn gave his annual budget address to the General Assembly, in which he suggested any new gaming revenue should fund education, including teachers' pensions.

After vetoing a gaming expansion bill this summer, Quinn again rejected a similar bill on Monday, claiming it lacked ethical oversight and regulation. However, neither of those two bills contained any online video gaming measures.

The gaming measure is expected to move to the Senate floor Thursday for a floor vote, but any bill must also pass the House before moving to Quinn's desk.

Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), the House's point person on gaming, indicated the governor might not be ready to sign such a bill.

"I have made myself available to the governor for the last several years on gaming," Lang said. "The one or two meetings I've been invited to in his office have not been recent, and they've been meetings that have not moved us forward on the discussion."

Lang also said he has been told by Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) that Cullerton believes he has "more than sufficient votes" to pass the bill in the Senate.

Within the crystal ball of House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), the bill's chances "might be pretty good" and there "might be a gaming bill."

"I'm not certain how it will be received in the House because I'm not sure of the details of the bill," Madigan told Illinois Lawmakers, a public television program, Wednesday.

"There seems to be more cooperation now among all participants."

Former Mayor Richard M. Daley used to have a field day ridiculing the many attempts by Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th) to become the food police.

SPRINGFIELD-In a series of test votes Tuesday, the Illinois House advanced legislation that would ban semi-automatic "assault" weapons in the state but did not provide enough support to pass the bill as law.

The series of legislative measures would ban popular "assault" rifles like the AR-15 and the AK-47 along with certain types of weapon attachments and large-capacity ammunition magazines.

The measure sparked heated dialogue between Chicago gun-control advocates seeking a solution to an unprecedented murder-rate in their city and Downstate pro-gun members looking to protect what they view as a constitutional right.

"What we have here today is just a full out attempt to ban every gun in this state," said Rep. Brandon Phelps (D-Harrisburg), who sponsors concealed carry legislation backed by the National Rifle Association. "More than anything, we're really going after the law-abiding gun-owner and going after the sportsman.

On the other side of the issue, Rep. Edward Acevedo (D-Chicago), who sponsors part of the assault weapons ban legislation, reminded his colleagues of the recent mass-shootings in Aurora, Colo. and Newton, Conn.

"These weapons are not for hunting," Acevedo said. "These weapons are meant for mass destruction. It's to kill. Remember that it's to kill a group of individuals all at one time."

While members voted to add the measures to an overall bill, the closest any vote came to meeting the minimum 60 votes needed for a bill to pass in the House was still two votes shy. The legislation cannot become law until the House passes the entire adopted piece of legislation, which is sponsored by House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago).

The speaker scheduled Tuesday's debate as part of a "weekly order of business," the same way he was able to call last week's lengthy concealed carry debate. As in that session, the Republican caucus and a few Democrats decided to sit out on the voting, with several denouncing the process as a political stunt.

"This is week number two or three of an entire system that is flawed," Rep. Dennis Reboletti (R-Elmhurst) said. "It is dismissive of how we should be putting legislation together. It's like putting Legos together with no real purpose but to find out what we did in the very end."

Acevedo, who's been working on an assault weapons ban for more than a decade, said he thinks the method at work in the House is appropriate.

"Lets do the process," he said. "If it's slow, it's fine. But don't call this a game. This is our government at work.

"And if they're so dead set against it, vote. Why not vote at all? You're here. Vote. Put your true colors on the table. Simple as that."

SPRINGFIELD-Venture capitalist Bruce Rauner moved a step closer toward running for governor by announcing Tuesday he is forming an exploratory campaign committee and embarking on a 60-day "listening tour" across the state.

"Near the bottom in the nation in unemployment and tax rates. Worst in the country in debt and credit ratings. Rampant corruption in government. Failing schools and violent crime that destroy the future of too many of our children," he said in a prepared statement.

"We need major changes in the way we tax and spend, the way we treat businesses and workers, the way we deal with our state budget and pensions, and the way we run our schools. The political class in Springfield [is] either unwilling to, or incapable of, making the kind of changes we need," he said. "That's why I'm considering running for governor."

Rauner, who first floated his name for 2014 three years ago, is an investor in the parent company of the Chicago Sun-Times, Wrapports LLC, and is part of an already crowded field of Republicans eying a 2014 bid for the Executive Mansion.

Among those also weighing a possible gubernatorial run are state Treasurer Dan Rutherford; state Sen. Bill Brady (R-Bloomington), the 2010 GOP nominee for governor; state Sen. Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale); U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.); and former U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.).

A poll commissioned last November by the Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling firm had Rauner at the bottom of the pack among potential 2014 Republican candidates for governor, drawing support from 7 percent of the poll's respondents.

Rauner's exploratory committee is stocked with prominent Chicago business leaders, including Miles White, chairman and CEO of Abbott Laboratories and also a Wrapports investor; James Kenny, former U.S. ambassador to Ireland and former owner of Kenny Construction; Ken Griffin, founder and CEO of Citadel; Jack Roeser, founder of Otto Engineering; and John Rowe, former CEO of Exelon Corp.


An Illinois business and civic leader may be throwing his hat in the ring for Illinois governor in 2014.

Bruce Rauner, a Republican, filed papers with the Illinois State Board of Elections, and for the next 60 days, he will significantly increase his events and meetings, while looking to make a final determination on a candidacy well in advance of the March, 2014 primary election, a press release said.

"I was born and raised in Illinois. I've raised my family and grown businesses here. And I love our state. That's why it's so heartbreaking to see the mess we're in," Rauner said in the release.

Rauner works at an investment company Golder, Thoma, Cressey, which later became GTCR Golder Rauner.

SPRINGFIELD-Gov. Pat Quinn vetoed legislation Monday that would have brought casinos to Chicago, the south suburbs and downstate, arguing the 2011 measure that had been sent to him in early January was a "bad bill for the people of Illinois."

The governor's move kills the chance of Chicago getting its own casino, meaning state lawmakers will have to start from scratch this spring with another gambling-expansion bill.

The measure that Quinn acted on Monday, which also would have permitted casino wagering at the Illinois State Fairgrounds, was sent to him at the conclusion of January's lame-duck legislative session after Senate Democrats had placed a parliamentary hold on it after its May 2011 passage.

"This bill allows for an excessive expansion that is simply too much, including a casino at the fairgrounds where families bring their children," Quinn said in his veto message to lawmakers.

Previously, Quinn had belittled the effort as "top-heavy" and "excessive," and the top state gambling regulator appointed by the governor called it a "pile of garbage."

On Monday, the governor said the legislation, Senate Bill 744, didn't contain enough ethical and regulatory safeguards nor provide money for schools.

"This is a bad bill for the people of Illinois. As I made clear when I vetoed Senate Bill 1849 last summer," the governor said, alluding to a later gambling expansion package sent to his desk, "I will not approve of any gaming expansion without strong ethical standards, comprehensive oversight and dedicated resources for education.

"Unfortunately, Senate Bill 744 is even more significantly flawed than Senate Bill 1849. Senate Bill 744's most glaring deficiency is the total absence of comprehensive ethical standards and regulatory oversight," he continued. "This bill also lacks a ban on campaign contributions by gaming licensees and casino managers, which is essential to keeping corruption out of the gaming industry."

Quinn also told lawmakers that they were mistaken to think that a casino package would solve the state's pension crisis.

"We cannot gamble our way out of our pension challenge," the governor wrote. "Any gaming revenue is a drop in the bucket compared to the $96 billion unfunded pension liability that Illinois faces. I urge lawmakers to prioritize public pension reform the most urgent issue facing our state. The people of Illinois deserve no less."

The plan, sponsored by Sen. Terry Link (D-Vernon Hills) and Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), would lead to casinos in Chicago, the south suburbs, Lake County and Downstate plus permit slot machines at racetrack and, possibly, the city's two airports.

Even before its passage, Quinn had communicated his displeasure toward the bill and later demanded a series of changes in order for him to consider accepting it, including prohibitions on gambling contributions.

Shortly after its passage, Quinn characterized the gambling legislation as "top-heavy" and "excessive" and last August vetoed similar casino expansion legislation. Lawmakers did not mount an override of that veto last fall.

Because the 97th General Assembly that passed Senate Bill 744 is now in the history books, Quinn's action Monday means the Legislature can't override Monday's veto.

After all these years, The Worm is still in foul trouble.

Former Chicago Bull Dennis Rodman, fresh from a trip to North Korea, is on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" Sunday morning to talk about his new "friend," Kim Jong Un.

In Rodman's first post-Korea interview, he drops several Rodmanesque bombs, including the assertion that Un wants to call President Obama to talk not going to war with the U.S. and Rodman's suggestion of a basketball summit:

"He wants Obama to do one thing: Call him," Rodman told ABC's George Stephanopoulos on "This Week." "He said, 'If you can, Dennis - I don't want [to] do war. I don't want to do war.' He said that to me."

"[Kim] loves basketball. And I said the same thing, I said, 'Obama loves basketball.' Let's start there," Rodman said.

Rodman, when questioned on Un's and North Korea's horrendous human rights record and general animosity toward the United States and Western allies offered this defense:

"I don't condone that. I hate the fact that he's doing that. ... I didn't talk about that. ...I saw people respected him, his family. ... "[He's] only 28 -- 28. He's not his dad. He's not his grandpa. He is 28 years old. ... He's very humble. He's a very humble man. ... He don't want war - that's one thing he don't want. ... He loves power. He loves control, because of his father, you know - stuff like that. But he's just -- he's a great guy. He's just a great guy. You sit down and talk to him."

Rodman, who closed his interview with "don't hate me," said he wasn't defending the North Korean dictator following his trip last week - a trip he hopes to repeat soon. But he also made an effort to equate the imprisonment of hundreds of thousands of North Koreans in concentration and work camps to the U.S. prison system:

Stephanopoulos: "It sounds like you're apologizing for him."

Rodman: "No, I'm not apologizing for him. ... He was a great guy to me. He was my friend. I don't condone what he does. But as a person to person, he's my friend. ... What I did was history. ... He's a friend to me. That's about it."

[Via Politico]

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un and former Chicago Bull Dennis Rodman speaking at a basketball game in Pyongyang. Flamboyant former NBA star Dennis Rodman has become the most high-profile American to meet the new leader of North Korea, vowing eternal friendship with Kim Jong-Un at a basketball game in Pyongyang. AFP PHOTO / KCNA


SPRINGFIELD-A bill to ban talking on hand-held cell phones while driving eked through the Illinois House Friday amid personal testimony and questions over enforcement of the measure.

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. John D'Amico (D-Chicago), passed through the House by a 64-46 vote and now moves to the Senate. State law already bans drivers from sending or reading text messages, but local municipalities have the right to completely prohibit using cell phones while driving.

"Seventy-six communities across the state of Illinois have this same exact legislation," D'Amico said. "As you're driving your car now, you don't know where you're breaking the law. I want to put everyone on an equal playing field."

But some members expressed concerns that police officers would have a difficult time discerning when drivers are actually in violation of the measure, and at least one Republican member thought the bill was too Big Brother-like.

"What about listening to ... the radio or shaving or eating McDonalds or having kids cry in the backseat?" asked Rep. Dennis Reboletti (R-Elmhurst). "There are so many things, we as a Legislature, can't say, 'Hey, we have to ban that practice.'"

Under the legislation, House Bill 1247, police officers and ambulance drivers would still be allowed to use their cell phones while "performing official duties." And everyday drivers could also use their phones when reporting emergencies; however, some legislators found the definition of "emergency" to be too vague.

Under current Illinois law, drivers under 19 years of age are completely banned from using cell phones while driving, and all drivers are prohibited from using them in construction zones and near certain emergency zones. Cell phones are also outlawed when driving commercial motor vehicles with the exception of emergency vehicles, military vehicles and RV's for personal use.

Drivers with hands-free, voice-operated or single-touch phones, including those with Bluetooth technology, would be exempt from the ban. And anyone parked on the shoulder of a road or sitting in traffic with their vehicle in neutral or park would be allowed to make calls or send text messages.

Even while the bill would allow drivers to use wireless cell phone technology, some members indicated people with hearing aides could be at a disadvantage.

"I truly believe that this kind of legislation is an absolute violation of the American Disabilities Act," Rep. Kay Hatcher (R-Yorkville) said. "I will continue to speak against hands-free because it's a greater danger to someone attempting to hear and lean forward and taking their eyes off the very road they're trying to navigate."

The mostly Republican resistance to the bill was met with personal testimony from the other side of the aisle. Rep. Cynthia Soto (D-Chicago) stood in support of the bill, saying she had once been stranded for two hours after being knocked off her bicycle by a driver who was on the phone.

"A bill like this is very important," she said. "I'd rather drive and pull over, stop and see what the issue is...than get in an accident."

Another member described a similar scenario that severely injured a loved one and said those opposed to the cell phone ban "don't understand."

"About three years ago, my husband was hit by someone who was distracted," Rep. Laura Fine (D-Glenview) said. "The driver crossed the center line and hit him head on, and my husband lost his left arm as a result of it."

"I really do believe that this will protect more families and save more lives than we can even imagine. People will adjust to it, people will get used to it, and it will save lives."

Still, at least one member held concerns over a possibility of increased racial profiling under the measure. Rep. Charles Jefferson (D-Rockford) called the legislation "an unfair bill" that is in essence "one more reason to get pulled over."

"We deal with this all the time in communities, where because of the way you look, because of the color of your skin [police are more likely to stop drivers]," said Jefferson, who is a member of the Black caucus.

A similar measure sponsored by D'Amico passed out of the House a year ago by a 62-53 vote, but the legislation, House Bill 3972, never made it out of the Senate.

"It's a huge distraction, and if we can correct it, save some lives and make the roads a little safer, we've got to do it," D'Amico said.


In a little over the three weeks, the Supreme Court of the United States will finally take on the case of California's Prop 8 which would ban gay marriage in the state. (If you're unfamiliar with the history of Prop 8, well, first of all, shame on you and second of all, catch up here.) And while amicus curiae briefs have little legal standing, two filed yesterday in support of ruling Prop 8 unconstitutional have huge symbolic meaning.

At 10:35 am, Pres. Obama will address the sequester deadline to the media. Watch live video below